CAMBRIA – Ted Shaw was coming off a depressive period when the sight of people painting the sky with kites along the Niagara River at Gratwick Park was the beginning of a hobby that opened up his life again.
“It helped bring me back to normal,” he said of kite flying. “Just being outdoors in the sun and watching the kite in the sky, it’s uplifting.”
In the 20 years that have gone by since, his collection of kites has grown to about 80, including one painted by hand with flowers and a 125-square-foot model in rainbow colors. And as past director and current president of the Great Lakes Kiteflyers Society (flyglks.com), he flies with the group of about 30 at Gratwick twice a month – noon to 4 p.m. the first Saturday and third Sunday – and goes to special kite events.
For the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, he’s arranged for two Canadian guest flyers to come to Gratwick Park with giant kites and kites shaped like eyeballs, a penguin family and an octopus. The appearances will be part of the May 25 kite fundraiser for homeless veterans. From noon to 4 p.m. organizers will collect donations, serve hot dogs and give away 800 free kites to children. Registration is encouraged, but not essential, at kitesforvets.com.
When Shaw, 66, first got into kiting, he was attracted to kites with two lines that steer and control direction. Now he prefers single-line kites because he can tether them to the ground and visit with fellow kite flyers.
“We put stakes in and it flies by itself, and then we walk around and talk to each other,” said Shaw, a retired former highway engineer with the state. “If it’s a steady breeze, you don’t have to stand there and manage it. The advantage of staking down is you can put two or three kites up. You’re not stuck with just one.”
What kind of kites do club members fly?
We have kites that are anywhere from 2 square inches to 450 square feet.
One of our main purposes of our club is to expose people to kiting and get ’em started if they want to … There are a lot of people that don’t have any idea that this is going on.
Two square inches?
You use a sewing thread for string. It could be made out of a turkey feather. Anything light. Toothpicks and light fabrics or paper. Those are miniature kites. You only use two or three feet of thread. There’s a whole field in that. For some people, that’s all they make.
Do you fly those?
I like the bigger stuff. I used to fly two-line and four-line kites. Now it’s mostly just single-line kites. The four-line kite goes in every direction. It can go forward, reverse, stop, sideways and spin.
I like the social aspect of it. When you’re flying stunt kites, you’re kind of removed from the crowd.
Several of us have taken up sewing, too. We have workshops where we get together and make our own kites. It’s like a room full of 25 men sewing kites and a couple of women. It’s fun. You can save some money. It’s fun to work with a group. These kites can cost a few hundred dollars, and you might be able to make one for a hundred dollars.
Can you tell me a memorable kite-related story?
There was an amusing incident this weekend. There was this guy that made a kite that had a red hat lady on it. Appliqued. He made the kite for his wife. She was flying it and she dropped the spool of twine. It flew up Gratwick Park to the other side of Grand Island. About 30 minutes later, it came back in a boat. Two men brought it back. We thought that was pretty amazing. The boaters see our kites all the time. A lot of times, you’ll see them shut the motors down and just kind of drift by.
A few years ago at the Niagara International Kite Festival at Reservoir Park, in Niagara Falls, there was a fellow here from Japan who flew his 10,000-square-foot kite. I think it was called the “Mega Moon.” It’s the size of an Olympic swimming pool. But it’s open on the long side. It takes about 20 people to fly it. You want to see it in action search for “mega moon” on YouTube.
It’s a $50,000 kite. There’s only three of them in the world, or maybe four. You could park 22 school buses inside it. Just to be that close is just amazing.
What do you love about kite flying?
One of my biggest joys is to stand in a crowd of observers and hand the kite to different people and let ’em fly it. It’s just sort of magical to see people’s faces. Sometimes they’re afraid to take it. They think they’re going to break it. I’ll explain to them why it’s flying and give them instructions on how to fly it.
Why do they fly?
The air hits the front of the kite and gives it some lift. The other part of the air passes over the front end of the kite and that creates a vacuum on the back that lifts the kite just like an airplane wing. It all works because the kite is tethered and the air flows over.
Was Benjamin Franklin’s kite experiment with electricity one of the more famous kites in history?
He discovered static electricity. I don’t fly in the rain or lightning. One of the most interesting events in this area, though, was the story of Homan Walsh.
When they wanted to build the first bridge across the Niagara Gorge, they had a contest to see who could fly a kite across the gorge. As a young boy, he made two attempts; he finally got across on the second attempt. And then they used his kite string to pull successively larger lines across. And, eventually, steel cables to build a suspension bridge. It wasn’t too far from the whirlpool I think, but I think it’s gone now. (Find the story at kitehistory.com.)