Many years ago, BK (Before Kids), TJ and I got into flying kites. I’m not talking about the kind of kites we flew—or tried to fly—on a blustery cold day in March when we were kids.
You know, the little paper diamond strung on a bass wood cross with a tail made of rags that always aimed straight for the biggest branch of a tree.
That is IF (while your best friend held the popsicle stick that anchored the kite string and you ran your little legs off and tried to gauge the breeze and at the precise moment when you felt a tug of wind and tossed the kite to the sky—IF you didn’t puncture the thin paper first) the wind lifted it, THEN it headed for the tree and you lost the kite AND your best friend (for a few minutes, anyway).
I’m talking about the really cool kites, handmade of colorful fabric, that come in a variety of shapes and patterns, with long tails or spinners and little toys that scoot up and down the line. Beautiful boxes and triangular shapes—we even have one that looks like the Wright Brothers’ first flying machine. My favorite is my larger-than-life seagull that bobs and dips and soars like the real bird (without the screeching—or droppings—of the real thing).
Now we know that kite-flying can be as peaceful and relaxing as we want it to be, and it can be an almost year ’round pastime.
Just stretch out the line about 100 feet, have your companion hold the kite, grip the line winder and wait for the breeze to lift the kite upward. If you’re flying solo just place the kite on the ground and the wind will get beneath it. That’s right—no running required. At least, not with the kites in our collection.
If you want a challenge you can manipulate the line and play with the breeze. Or you can pull up a chair, release the kite to let it soar hundreds of feet in the sky above, and just watch it and meditate.Very relaxing. Since taking up kite flying I came across a Chinese saying (roughly translated), “Those who fly a kite can have a long life.” They should know; the Chinese have been flying kites for over 2,000 years.
“Those who fly a kite can have a long life.”
We “discovered” kites at Mackinaw Kite Co. in Mackinaw City, which was founded in 1981 by brothers Bob and Steve Negen who say it’s “one of the oldest kite stores in the world.” In 1986 they opened a second location in Grand Haven, which evolved into one of the world’s largest kite stores.
Mackinaw Kites & Toys is open seasonally (May-October) in Mackinaw City, and is independently owned but is a “sister store” and carries much of the same merchandise as the year ’round Grand Haven location, now called MACkite. In addition to a range of kites, from beginner to stunt, MACkite carries good old fashioned toys and games, beach toys and Stand Up Paddle surfing and kiteboarding gear.
The Lake Michigan breezes at Grand Haven State Park make it a great spot for flying kites, and is the site of the annual Great Lakes Kite Festival in mid-May (the weekend before Memorial Weekend) and One Sky One World International Kite Fly for Peace, the second Sunday in October.
The park was named by John Barresi, president of the American Kitefliers Association, as one of 10 Great Places to Fly a Kite in a USA Today article. The only other Great Lakes location he included is Edgewater State Park/Cleveland Lakefront State Park on Lake Erie in Cleveland, Ohio.
Check out the safety and flying tips at the MACkite site, and for information about the structure of kites, types of line, judging wind speed, a list of kite clubs and, of course, merchandise.
The beautiful kites cost considerably more than the dime store variety we grew up with, but—relatively speaking—can offer an inexpensive escape for a few minutes or hours. No running involved.
Got a favorite kite-flying spot anywhere in the Great Lakes region that you’d care to share?
Please send it along to The Gazetteer: kath (at) greatlakesgazette.com
All stories and photos by Kath Usitalo unless otherwise noted