Friday, July 23, 2010

The Kite

When I was younger, I really enjoyed flying my kites on the beach at Seaside in California. I had a big kite called a Hawaiian that was a huge dual-control delta wing, 1.5 meters tall and 3 meters across the bottom. It had so much surface that I could launch it in a 5 mph wind and, with an offshore breeze, put a wingtip in the water kick up a rooster tail. At one time, one of these was radar clocked over 90 mph.

One day, I went down to the beach and found it empty save my kite-flying mentor Corey. The wind was coming onshore at about 35-45 mph. Corey was sitting on top of a dune in his tuxedo jacket and tails and hot pink shorts, his long blond, trending to grey pony tail flapping in the wind.

Cool, I've got the whole beach to myself. I lay the kite down on the dune, pushing the bottom slightly into the sand. I rolled out the twin lines, hooked up the kite on one end and the wrist straps on the other. Slid my hands through the straps, squatted slightly and pulled the lines, bringing the kite upright. Then, elbows at my side, I gave just a quick tug, launching the kite.

The kite went straight up, I glanced over at Corey. Corey wrapped his arms around his knees and leaned forward in anticipation. Of what, I didn't know. He had taught me to fly kites, so knew that with my mentor there, all was well.

As I said, the kite went straight up. Normally, it will get to the top, reduce the angle of attack and then you start steering it from there. That's normally. Normally is flying a Hawaiian in a 7-15 mph wind. If you're especially daring and have a bunch of mass (i.e. over 200 lbs), you might fly it in an 18 to 20 mph wind. Weighing 125 lbs and flying a Hawaiian in a 35 mph wind is contraindicated in the instructions that hit the garbage, unread and unloved, along with the plastic wrap from the Kevlar lines.

The black, red and gold kite continued to rise. 60, 70 then 80 feet off the ground... I had only 100' feet of line. The kite is now at 90 feet and climbing. The straps have tightened around my wrists like a Chinese finger trap. My feet have left the ground. I'm flying.

I'm now the weight in a perverted human pendulum. The kite climbs higher and I'm 20, 30 now 40 feet off the ground and swinging forward. I now see that things are going from bad to worse. If I don't release soon, I'll either fly too high and drop to my death or, if I don't get that high, I'll be dragged across Hwy 101. My scream is torn from my throat.

I'm directly under the kite, the kite's angle of attack is neutralized, I drop quickly and I slam into the sand like the Great American Hero on his first day in the Super Suit. I'm down, the wind knocked out of me, but down. Oh shit, I'm still moving.

I've become a human sled. Acrross dunelets and flotsam, rotting seaweed and chunks of wood. My wrists are still locked in the straps, the kite is pulling ever forward. There is no fence between me and the highway and the Saturday morning tourist traffic. I'm actually going faster.

I realize that my struggles to release from the wrist straps have turned the kite. It's now going parallel to the ground, increasing its pull and speed.

There's a log in the sand about 40 feet ahead of me. I angle the kite so it will drag me to the log. Maybe I can grab it. 35, 30, 25.. The sand is abrading my stomach, filling my shorts. My eyes are mere slits and I'm spitting sand castles. I look at the log for a place to grab.. Oh shit!

Its not a log. Its the rotting carcass of a sea lion. A cloud of flies fills the air and the stench fights its way up my nose, against the wind. I pull in my right arm and rub the wrist strap off against my shoulder, my elbows digging twin furrows in the sand. Wham, the right strap releases and the kite tries to dislocate my left. Without the balanced control lines, the kite spins its death spiral into the ground somewhere near the Pacific Coast Highway.

The roar of a passing truck is in my ears. I'm not that close to the road, but I only realize it afterwards. I thought I was gonna be road pizza. I've stopped two feet from the corpse of the sea lion. Flies buzz around my head sensing fresh meat.

I take off the other wrist strap and stand up. Corey is standing there on the sand dune, laughing like a hyena. I pick up my kite and follow the trail my body has created in the sand back to where it all began. There's almost 150 feet of drag marks and I've gone more than 250 feet from where I started.

I ask Corey why he didn't stop me. He knew what was going to happen. The wind was too strong for that size kite.

"Man, sometimes you have to learn from the experience. You have to experience to have a life. 'Sides, it was a hell of a show."

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