Lift and Bridles in Newport (Day 4: Left Coast Mosey)

Heceta Beach, Oregon. Photo by kajmeister.

The southern coasts of Oregon are just as breathtakingly scenic as those in California, but with a little less of the “look at me” vibe. As I recall, the further north you go, the less pomp and circumstance there is about the scenery and the more scenic it becomes.

We spent the afternoon and evening with friends, admiring their little town of Newport and yakking away about books, food, and other topics–in that order of importance, of course. Also, since this might be the last opportunity, we passed a delightful time out on the beach flying kites that we had brought. This would also fulfill my tourist rule that You Must Use Everything You Packed.

Lighthouse at Newport, Ore. Photo by kajmeister.

Still Don’t Get the Hang of Kite Physics

When you become a parent and you take your children out to do the things you did with your parents, you assume you will automatically know how to them. Such as kite-flying. The first time I took my kids out with kites, I thought it would be obvious, or I would remember doing it, but it turns out not to be easy.

There is a lot of trial and error involved. Kites get away from you, while you can only watch, helpless, as they land on a roof a mile away. Strings always get tangled. You learn what stabilizers are for (tails, and two balanced are better than one) and why too much wind is even worse than not enough.

Kite-flying physics, Courtesy of

I tried doing a little research to see if I could understand the mechanics better. Kites, like airplanes and anything else that flies, require a delicate balance between Lift and Force (up vs. down) and Drag and Thrust (back and forth). To translate that science-speak, Force is the gravity part that pulls the weight of the kite downward and Lift is whatever you can do to get it up. Wind can provide the Lift, but moving the kite also changes the relative air pressure below and above it, which further allows it to go up. That’s why running can lift a kite until it can catch a windstream that flows above the trees.

Thrust is the pull or effort that you (or a plane engine, say) uses to move the kite forward, while the wind resistance Drags it backward, allowing those air pressure and wind pockets to do their thing. All the forces need to change for the kite to move, upward as you prefer, then stabilize for it to stay.

The easiest kite to work with is one well-balanced on all four sides–or five as the case may be–with a tail stabilizer and strong, easy-to-clip, bridle where the tether string is attached. Our family uses Pentacow to test the viability of the kite-flying conditions because she is so easy to put together and goes up in practically no wind. We tested the wind at both Heceta Beach and Driftwood Beach, and she flew like the champ she is.

The famous Kaj kite, Pentacow, in all her glory. Photo by kajmeister.

Kites Are at Least 11,000 Years Old

Most kite histories talk about their invention by the Chinese, who used them for military, scientific, and ceremonial purposes as well as for recreation. But German archaeologist Wolfgang Bleck, who was familiar with ancient Indonesian cultures, discovered in the 1990s that evidence of much earlier use could be seen on Muna Island, near Sumatra.

Not only were there histories that described how they were built and evidence that kites were part of ancient burial mounds, but he ultimately was shown by locals what might have been a cave painting of a kite. Bleck speculates that they might have been used as early as 9,000 B.C.E.

Ancient kite cave painting on Muna Island, courtesy of

The early kites were formed probably as they are today, using a bamboo frame, a skin of woven plant leaves, and handspun pineapple fibers as string. The simple design was the standard diamond-shape. Chinese kites used thinly rolled paper atop hollow branches, probably also bamboo. However, the Chinese used varying shapes, from boxes to arcs to (wingless) dragons with long waving tales.

The Results of Our Kite Experiments

As the Indonesians and Chinese knew, good flying relies on a simple and light design but also the skill of the operator. I will admit, then, that though I own nearly a dozen kites, I am still in the learning stages. I do know that letting out string is key to help it reach the high, strong winds and pulling as it starts to drop can re-establish the Lift to get it back up.

After we got Pentacow up, I turned next to a mystery kite we had brought. It had a really nice buttoned-down storage holder, so I knew it would travel well, even though I didn’t know which one it was.

It turned out to be Batzilla, which is the second easiest kite to fly. The back frame only requires one connecting spring point. She went up nearly as easily as Pentacow, although I felt the design to be less well-balanced, since it’s much wider than it is tall. Batzilla listed. But she flew.

Batzilla and the one going back to the bottom of the pile. Photo by kajmeister.

The third one, the EZ pocket kite, was a real pill. Every part of the strings kept getting tangled. The two stabilizers were tangled and even after being painstakingly untangled, were uneven, which made the kite just swirl in a circle, retangling the strings. The tether string immediately tied itself in a knot, which we never could untie again. We left it unnamed and, foolish thing that it is, it will have to go back to the bottom of the bag under the other two of similar design. Some kites just don’t know how to behave, despite a stern talking to.

Another important kite fact is that their activities are well-concluded by a dish of ice cream, especially Tillamook ice cream. It can function both to celebrate and to commiserate. My favorite ice cream as a kid was black licorice, so I was happy to turn my tongue black with nostalgia. You can enjoy your chocolate peanut butter salted caramel ribbon chip espresso fudge chunk, if you prefer.

Ice cream is an excellent follow-up to kite flying. Photo by kajmeister.

Even better is an evening passed with friends. After a few days in hotels, sleeping in a houseful of books was so comforting.

Good food, good friends, good conversation, good winds, and sunset next to a lighthouse–could anything be better?

Sunset at Newport, OR. Photo by kajmeister.

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