A letter from Alan "Pip" Piper
Alan and his wife Ronnie meet Ray at Vanier Park
In May this year my wife, Ronnie, and myself took our annual holiday in Canada. Apart from visiting friends in Vancouver, it had been our intention to tour parts of British Columbia Rocky mountains, the Yoho, Banff and Jasper Provincial parks and fly some of our kites in perhaps slightly more picturesque surroundings than our local school field in Tiptee or the sea front at Clacton on Sea or, indeed, the promenade park at Maldon (one-the-mud).
To this end Ronnie and myself packed away some of our flying machines... my Flexifoil, Stranger and Scorpion... I also included a vented Spectra kite just in case we happened upon particularly strong winds... and the wife's Joel Scholz Kestrel. The Kestrel, incidentally, having been purchased as recently as the Mayday bank holiday weekend while attending the beach festival at Weymouth. So impressed had Ronnie been by the design of this very striking kite when first seen hung against the sun bathed white of one of the trade stands on the prom' at Weymouth, it proved to be a must-have purchase. Her line of thought being "That?s a bit unusual... you don't see too many of those about?..that'll turn a few heads as we travel about won't it!?!' So taken by the kite and the noise it made in flight (and she does like a noisy kite) that she talked me into the purchase of a similarly designed Joel Scholz Humming bird?.and in truth, it did not take to much persuasion!
As we packed I ensured that there would be sufficient space in my nice new K.I.S (Airline proof) hard case to bring home one or two bits of kiting paraphernalia as souvenirs of our Canadian jaunt. From the outset you understand, it has been my intention to bring back another new kite to swell my collection. Thus prepared with the essential accouterments of our holiday we embarked upon our epic journey.
Prior to the Weymouth festival, however, as a subscriber to the "Kite Passion" magazine, I had read, with a considerable interest, an article relating to a chap by the name of Ray Bethell who apparently, when he is not jetting about the globe demonstrating his undisputed skills to the populace, can often be found flying a multitude of his kites in and around Vancouver. Whist reading about the profile of this fine flier, I felt certain that he would be the kind of guy I would really like to meet... a world record holder, a world champion, multiple kite extra ordinaire, and ex-patriot of Brit'!
I had been moved by the written character profile so much so that when, on the day after our arrival in Vancouver and the opportunity arose, I thumbed through the Vancouver telephone directory in effort to find his name with a view to give him a call to say "Hi!" perhaps even arrange a meeting to fly together or maybe just go out and have a beer (or five) together. His name was there! but I didn't 'phone... I 'bottled-out... there could be no possible way that man of his standings in the kiting world would wish to pass the time of day in the company of myself... A mere mortal and lackluster casual kite flier of very limited (but enthusiastic) ability.
This afternoon our friends with whom we were staying in Vancouver and who are both non kite fliers, took my wife and my self to Vanier Park where usually good wind blows off the Pacific, up the Fraser estuary and across the Vancouver skyline and where regular pilots gather to fly and socialize, I am firmly convinced that our friends were merely humoring us... allowing us, as big kids, time to go play with our big girls and boys toys. But as we ambled across from the car park, assorted kites and camcorder to hand, imagine my delight as I watched, in amazement, the bare bronzed torso of a flier who I recognized to be Mr. Ray Bethell performing an aerial ballet with three kites.
Our first glimpse of his kites gave us the impression of three units in a stack, flying, as they were above one anther... But as we approached, the kites split dramatically and sped off to different corners of the park (I looked for the other fliers... but there were none). This individual was flying three kites... one from each hand and one off his waist... each twisting, turning and pirouetting in it's own section of the wind window... each one precise in it's maneuver... each individual kite being handled probably with greater precision than I could pilot one... and each one a Joel Scholz Kestrel!
Undaunted we began to unpack my wife Ronnie's Kestrel. With our friends and myself standing in a huddle intent on erection of her kite, I was aware of a tap on my shoulder... I turned to find no one in attendance, Perhaps it was the wind causing my shirt to flap or maybe a leaf or a twig blown from a near by tree... I later learned that Ray, who had obviously noticed the striking turquoise of the Scholz bag, had flown one of his kites over to us, tapping a wing tip on my shoulder before then side sliding silently off, back to the center of his window where it once more rasped into the sky in opposite direction to that which I had turned.
As we prepared Ronnie's kite for flight we observed Ray bringing his kites to the ground... first the left then the right and then unclipped the third from his jeans' waist band, then with a flourish, carried out a few loops and twists before setting that one down... each of them a perfect landing in line abreast.
We and other impromptu spectators gathered together in the park to witness this spectacle, all applauded his astonishing performance and the next thing we new he was walking over to us... not ourselves in the groveling "Please mister, can we have your autograph?" mode going to him... but he was coming over to us!
This man is a wonder. A legend, if you like. And he was shaking us by the hand, introducing himself to us and we to him. Before we knew it we all stood in a very relaxed and friendly group chatting amongst ourselves as if we and this man had been long lost buddies; it was as though we had known each other forever. We expressed our utter amazement at his skills and smiled at the fact that Ronnie had thought that she had purchased something 'slightly unusual' in the Kestrel.
This man is deaf and you need to look him full in the face in order that he can lip-read you when you speak. Yet he laughed and joked with us with ease and gay abandon. There was no condescension in his manner... no airs nor graces... no pretensions. You could clearly see, as you spoke to him, looking at him full on, an almost boyish (despite his seventy odd years) enthusiasm for kites, kiting, kiting people and I'd wager, people in generally... he is, perhaps, the kiting answer to rock/pops' Status Quo... in his presence you simply get swept along like dolphins cavorting on the bow wave of his intense, infectious enthusiasm and enjoyment in what he does... he was so open, so friendly... so... er... well... so nice... a nicer man, in fact, you'd have serious difficulty meeting. Indeed, a perfect gentleman of the highest orders. OK... I'll grant you, he wasn't wearing a shirt... but surely every gentleman is allowed at least one idiosyncrasy.
And as we chatted, Ray took over the preparation of Ronnie's kite. He completed the assembly then proceeded to show us an adjustment to the bridle that would ease wobble at take-off and the next thing we knew, he was striding off towards his trio of Kestrels with Ronnie's kite tucked under his arm and us in hot pursuit. Within scarce-a-blink he was removing his central kite from its fling lines and replacing it with Ron' before flying his astonishing aerial ballet with my wife's kite as the central character.
Ourselves and the huge crowd that had stopped, looked on in disbelief as this man worked the sky and created his amazing display... How can he possibly do it?... Despite the noise generated by his kites, he could hardly fly by sound... he is, after all, deaf! It would be unlikely that he could fly entirely by sight since it must be very difficult to be able to see all three kites when each are speeding, spinning and coursing around at the furthest extremes of his wind Window. Indeed I have seen photographs of the man flying with a paper bag over his head... (I kid you not)... he must do it by feel... Instinct... magic... perhaps he sold his soul to the devil... at the very least it must be divine intervention.
Which ever method he brings to bare, we all stood back and watched in wonder as this man performed minor miracles with consummate ease... Ron's kite being flown, by a true master of his art, and art is what we were witnessing as he metaphorically painted huge sweeping arcs in the sky, intricate little swoops and turns and any number of perfectly executed maneuvers from any of your finest instructional books and videos... and probably some that haven't even been invented yet. Ronnie's kite is in pride of place in the sky flanked by two of his own.
His arms, hands and hips, aided and abetted by some deft and very nimble footwork, working in perfect unison... arms out-stretched with the wrists twisting the handles in exact precision, his hips flicking hither and thither as he ran across the grass, working the sky and creating this magic. For a man of his not so tender years he is quite obviously extremely fit, very strong... (in good winds these Kestrels are a mighty powerful kite)... and fleet of foot... I take my hat off to him and doff a well-tugged forelock.
At the completion of his display, he signed Ronnies kite, placing his signature next to that of the kite's designer, Joel K. Scholz, declaring the kite had been' flown by Ray Bethell, Canada', and then proceeded to offer us ideas and tips on technique to improve our flying (very welcome and much appreciated!).
He introduced me to other flyers in the park who were able to offer me advice on trick flying while he took Ronnie to one side for additional tuition... honing some of her flying skills?.not a bad teaching method ?one-on-one with the master! He stood behind her, arms about her (here?.hold on a minute Ray... that?s my wife!), guiding her through moves that she had previously only dreamed of.
Later with lessons over for the day, Ray demonstrated some of his party tricks as he took one of his Kestrels and flew it into the parks' pond in what might otherwise have been perfect wing tips landing. The kite submerged completely leaving only the flying lines floating and trailing across the surface of the water. Gradually he moved slowly backwards causing the water to fill the sails, as would the air in its' normal environment, until the kite could be seen rising, almost as a Phoenix from the ashes or Excalibur from the lake, through the surface. Once onto the wing tips, the kites were walked across the water, almost to the bank, before taking to the air once more... was this walking on the water the beginning of religion in kiting?
He then had Ronnie stand at the perimeter center of the wind window holding the camcorder towards the heavens and then proceeded to "dive-bomb' the camera at enormous rate of speed, spinning, twisting and swooping with a confidence born of his obvious expertise, These breathtaking maneuvers were being carried out barley inches from my wife's happy smiling and non flinching countenance and more importantly just missing the camcorder! (but I tell you we got some amazing film coverage).
He then used a large rectangular arch-like sculpture to further demonstrate his precision flying skills... brushing the front face of it to gauge the distance before landing, as he did, on top of it, in it, through it and behind it before marching his kite on its; wing tips, down the steps in front of it... Corny it may have been... thrilling and stunning it most certainly was!
This man is a kiting maestro, a genius flyer... Perhaps not in the same radical, free style sense as, say the Andy Prestons or Carl Robertshaws of this world for example, but genius never-the-less; and his total accessibility, approachability and his giving, friendly nature, in my view, makes him a just a little bit special. He was prepared to give freely of his time, advice, expertise and indeed of himself. There was no smugness in his manner, absolutely no pretensions and no hint of the "Hey look at me, watch what I can do," attitude. Oh yes this man is good... Extremely good... he has the records and awards that stand testament to that fact but you would not be made aware of his levels of skill through him singing his own praises... you need (must) see him perform, either at festivals or at his leisure having fun in the park... I just do not believe the man has a trumpet of his own to blow.
That day in Vanier Park, Vancouver he was so obviously happy to meet people, enjoying their/our company and to share his joy in kiting with others... he is so open and approachable... and this was further demonstrated when a young family strolled up to him. With a pink and black creation rolled up in the mothers; hand, and she asked, almost plaintively "Excuse me but are you the 'kite man'?" He beamed a huge smile in response as the young mother unfurled an odd shaped kite that her son, of probably six years of age, had bought at a garage sale, "He would so much like to fly it," she went on "Could you help please?" As Ray looked over this obviously homemade delta(ish) shaped piece of sail cloth my initial thoughts were "This thing will never get of the ground." How wrong could I be? Ray scratched his head as he picked up the pieces... one curved leading edge, the other dead straight and the bridle all over the place... an erstwhile impossible task!
But rising to the challenge and to the mans' eternal credit, not only did he fly it, complete with twists, turns and loops, but was soon standing behind the lad. He had placed the control handles in the boys' hand and was then guiding his arms, as a one-on-one teacher, as he had done with my wife earlier, through some basic maneuvers. The smile of sheer elation on the face of the boy and the rest of his family spelt out 'covert"... Be assured, it was a joy to behold!
This is a world record holder, a world champion, a man who has flown in major festivals all over the world alongside the very best?competed against the very best... beaten the very best... Yet this is every child's favourite uncle, the perfect granddad...
This is a very warm and giving human being. I was chuffed-to-monkeys to meet the man and very proud and honored to have been a part of his flying day. I was pleased as punch when, as we said our good byes, he removed his peaked pork-pie hat. Took off an enamel pin badge across which was emblazoned his name and handed it to me as a souvenir... Ok, perhaps not the greatest gift in terms of value but this was a very personal memento and the memories that this will evoke in the future will be enormous and treasured.
Even our friends, Jaqui and Dave, who were still living in a kite flying twilight days of running full tilt along the greensward at the seaside with a long trailing stringtail with sections of an old newspaper tied into it, left the park with a marked and happier disposition having had 'a whole mess of fun'. They were simply not aware of the dramatic advances that have been made in kite technology, air frames, fabrics, colors and controllability. I firmly believe that they drew probably as much enjoyment from that afternoon as we did... and it has to be, in no small way, down to Pay's passion for kiting, his accessibility, his very nature and genuine warmth as a person.
His generosity in giving his time, advice and friendship will remain with me for as long as I fly... even longer, I don't doubt... and (bugger it) next time I am in Vancouver... and there will be a next time... I'm going to make that phone call and I'm going to buy him that beer!
Well done Ray... congratulations... a finer ambassador for kiting we would all be extremely hard pressed to find. I look forward to meeting you again on some flying field in the not too distant future.
Long may he continue!
Cheers and happy Daze.
Sincerely, Alan (Pip) Piper
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