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Dancing in the Wind

A story by Joan Brown written for the News Tribune

Rainbows of kite color swirl across the sky, some diving and looping, others soaring and hovering, and all eyes turn skywards. Spectators and flyers gather from far and wide in Long Beach for the Washington State 19th International Kite Festival, taking place August 21-27, 2000.

Like enchanted airborne sculpture, kite trains, mass ascensions, lighted night flies and fireworks will surge across the usual tranquillity of Long Beach's wide, windy white shores, each day's events driven by a specific theme.

Not to be missed is Long Beach's World Kite Museum and Hall of Fame display of the birds, elephants, dragonflies, god and goddesses of Indonesian kite flyers, accompanied by the sounds of their native gamin orchestras and videos of kite fishing and bat catching.

In the midst of the hypnosis induced by seeing more kinds and shapes of kites than you ever knew existed, listen for love songs---the music to which Ray Bethell, world champion multiple sport kite flyer Flies, his kites to. You can also expect to see him once again shatter his own World records.

Worldwide, over three million people come out yearly to watch Bethell's hands, waist, and knees or feet orchestrate his aerial ballet. When not traveling to Europe, Australia, South America, Asia, the United States or Australia for international kite festivals, he can be found at home in Vancouver, BC. There the jean clad, leathered, six foot tall champion dances with the wind for 6 to 12 hours daily. Flying his kites in the skies above Vanier Park, near the Vancouver Planetarium, experimenting and rehearsing for the next Kite festival.

Although he admits to beginning life some 70 plus years ago in Salisbury, England, near Stonehenge, Bethell's belief in the importance of his competency at what he does, rather than how old he is while doing it, makes him shy away from answering the age question outright. Besides, he says, "I feel no different now than when I was in my 40's. I've always worked out and done gymnastics." Just watch his hip and stomach muscles control kite strings while his hand or legs manipulate the rest of multiple Kites. The oldest Boy of seven children, Bethell acquired "true grit" early in life, when he had to leave school at 13 to help support the family after his father died. A week after his 18th birthday, he was in the army, serving in France and Egypt.

In 1956, Bethell immigrated to Canada with his wife and two children, in hopes of finding a better life and spent 38 years as a millwright. But he only discovered kiting twenty years ago while on vacation with his wife in Hawaii. "There was no one to learn from then," Bethell says, recalling his early self-taught days. Four years later he'd mastered flying two kites at a time and used the skills he'd acquired as a craftsman to develop and manufacture special handles and kites. Next he added a third kite and his success and popularity in multiple kite events soon attracted the attention of kite manufactures and event organizers who began to sponsor him in kite festivals all over the world. He had gradually developed and refined a kite flying technique that he says is copied by many multiple kite flyers. He now travels over 150,000 miles a year to participate in close to 30 events.

"I try to do things with my kites that have never been done before in front of an audience" he says, "such as flying three kites while standing on the back footrests of a motorcycle which was driving around the flying field--or, stop traffic at high noon in Long Beach, with a police escort, while flying from the back of a red convertible". Other feats include flying blind--folded and with a kite flying youngster perched on his shoulder.

Bethell says the fact that he has been completely deaf for the past seven years helps him give 100% concentration to what he is doing. He needs only a tap on the shoulder, he says, to alert him to the beginning of the Hawaiian Love Song, Wind Beneath My Wings or whatever other music he has chosen to accompany his flight.

"Everywhere I go, men, woman and children seem to understand what I do. I taught a man to fly who had no body from the waist down, and a helicopter pilot paralyzed from a crash. Kite flying may not help you solve a problem, but it will show you a way to live with it." He says, "Kites impart an inner calm."

© 2000 Joan Brown. Do not reproduce without author's permission.

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