When I told my friend Amy I had never learned how to fly a kite, she was appalled. Her family made kite flying a tradition: “Every Easter we got three things – Silly Putty, bubbles and a kite.” She and her sisters would then race out back to see who could get hers flying first.
It’s family memories like these that have kept Jon and Marieanne Trennepohl in business in southeast Michigan for over two decades. As owners and operators of Kites and Fun Things in Plymouth, the Trennepohls love to see beginners come to their store.
“All you need is some wind and a kite,” says Jon Trennepohl. “You don’t have to pay to play. It’s just good, clean fun.”
Choosing a kite
There are more types of kites out there than you might think, but for beginners, you really only need to worry about two: the delta kite (triangle shaped) and the diamond kite. Both are simple to assemble and fairly easy to fly. As for size, there is no “right” answer.
A bigger kite will need less wind to get going, but it will have a lot of pull. So on more windy days, small children might have a hard time hanging on. Small kites will be easier to manage once they’re in the air, but might need a little more patience to get started.
Once you have your kite, Trennepohl says reading and following the directions is the most important step to getting your kite in the air.
Most people assume that the windier the day, the better the kite flying – but that’s not necessarily true. It can be dangerous to fly a kite in too strong or too gusty of wind.
For beginners, Trennepohl suggests flying in a consistent light to moderate breeze of about 5 to 20 mph winds. This means you should see leaves and branches moving, but whole trees – even small ones – aren’t swaying yet. Remember that the wind you feel in your neighborhood is only a fraction of what it will be in a wide-open field.
Never let your child fly his kite on a stormy, or even potentially stormy, day. Despite the example set by Benjamin Franklin, it’s a recipe for disaster.
See it soar
Once you have a kite and a clear, beautiful day, actually flying your kite is the easy part. Find a wide-open space at least the size of a soccer field, free from trees and power lines – an actual soccer field works just fine.
With his back to the wind, have your child hold his kite out in front of him. On more windy days, your kite will automatically catch the wind and practically fly itself. Have him slowly unravel the line to give the kite more altitude and watch it soar. To bring it back down again, slowly wind the line back in.
If the wind isn’t quite that strong, your kite might need a little help getting up in the air. Have your child hold the line while you walk the kite about 50 feet away, keeping the line taut. When your child says “Launch!” throw the kite straight up while he quickly pulls the line in, hand over hand. This will create the wind you need, much like running, but with a little more stability.
As the kite gains altitude, let the line back out. If you are still having trouble, have your child run with the kite and watch for odd movements. If the kite is spinning or swaying, it may not be assembled correctly.
If the thought of your Nintendo DS-playing, dirt bike-racing child being entertained by a simple diamond kite makes you laugh, Trennepohl says there still might be hope for kiting in your future.
Sport kiting is the extreme version of kite flying, done with multiple lines on one kite. More lines allow the flier to control the movement of the kite, making it dip and dive. This version of kite flying is action-packed – and Trennepohl’s personal favorite.
If you’re interested in learning about sport kiting or you just want to get together with other families out testing the wind, Jon and Marianne, along with other kiters, gather Wednesdays at the north side (Six Mile Road) of Schoolcraft College in Livonia. Newcomers are always welcomed and encouraged. To learn more about the events, call Kites and Fun Things at 734-454-3760.
This post was originally published in 2013 and is updated regularly.