The spirit soars as the kites fly

The Baltimore Sun

Allen Ault swooshed a multicolored stunt kite back and forth against a blue sky while Paul Hines stood about 100 yards away holding a black baseball cap in his outstretched hand.

Using his thumbs, Ault made the bat-shaped kite twirl and swirl in the gusts above Rockfield Park in Bel Air. Slowly, he lowered the tip of the kite into his friend's cap. Then, with a quick jerk, the kite soared upward again.

"My kites just need the touch of the master," Ault said with a chuckle. "They know when I am on the other end of the string."

The 71-year-old Bel Air resident has been on the other end of the kite string for 30 years, flying them and collecting them and teaching thousands how to go fly a kite.

Last year, he added the role of kite ambassador to his resume when he co-founded the Bel Air Kite Festival, which will be held April 14 at the park.

"There is nothing that makes me feel better than to come to the park and find people of all ages out here flying kites," he said.

Ault and Hines started the festival to provide an opportunity for people try kite-flying.

"Kite-flying is therapeutic," said Hines, a Churchville resident. "It's something people can do outdoors together with their children."

Ault and Hines will provide demonstrations and lessons, talk about the history of kite-flying and provide an overview of the styles of kites.

Ault began flying kites when he was 10, using one made from newspaper and pine sticks. He constructed the kite in the morning and crashed it by the afternoon.

It was 25 years before he flew another kite, after taking notice of kites in the air during a vacation in Ocean City. Eventually, he purchased his first kite, a 5-foot-long , diamond-shaped nylon kite that he bought for $12. A single line controlled the kite.

On a subsequent beach vacation, he saw a man flying a two-line kite and was intrigued, so he bought one.

"It took me several months to learn to fly a two-line kite because I am the typical man - I never ask for help," Ault said. "You have to be coordinated, and I struggled with it at first. You have to figure out which line to pull on when the kite is in the air. The kite looks like it is totally out of control, but it isn't."

Once he mastered the two-line kite, he moved to a four-line model. A wooden handle attached to two lines in each hand makes such a kite controllable, he said. But it took some time to get used to.

"I got the lines tangled and had a difficult time knowing which line to use," Ault said. "It was a lot of trial and error for me."

Now Ault can fly a half-dozen four-line kites simultaneously, he said.

He practices for a couple of hours every afternoon - except when snow or ice cover the ground - at the Bel Air park. In the spring and fall, he travels almost every weekend to festivals where he flies kites as much as eight hours a day.

Despite the time he spends at the activity and the skill he has acquired, Ault said, he always has steered clear of competitions. He prefers to fly for the fun of it.

"Kite-flying is exhilarating," Ault said. "You are out there with the wind and nature, and it's very calming and relaxing. I don't want to ruin the fun of it by competing."

Nonetheless, he draws attention at festivals.

"He's a hot dog at the festivals," said Evelyn Rossbach, 58, a friend from Parkville whom Ault taught to fly kites. "He flies his kites and shows off with all of his tricks. He's amazing to watch."

Kite-flying presents travel opportunities. Almost every weekend in the spring and fall, Ault travels to festivals at places as distant as New York and Florida. Recently, he attended an event in the Bahamas.

Collecting has been another aspect of Ault's passion for kites. He has amassed a collection of more than 500 kites, ranging in size from a miniature to one that measures 81 square feet. Some are simple, and others are custom-made. They range in cost from $10 to $400.

"There isn't a kite out there that I can't fly," he said. "But the large kites are for adults who know what they are doing."

The first time he took the 81-square-foot model out to fly it, it almost flew off with him, he said.

"I learned very quickly that you have to tie the kite to a tree or a car before you even think about flying it," he said.

The most fulfilling part of kite-flying is teaching others, Ault said.

"I tell them not to run with a kite and not to fly near streets or power lines," he said. "And then I let them fly the kite. I feel so good when young people learn, because someday one of them will have to take over for the older fliers when we are gone."

The Bel Air Kite Festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 14 at Rockfield Park. The event is free and open to the public.

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