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Adults embrace childhood fun of flying a kite

Forget what you know about flying kites.

If you're like most people, that's probably not much.

Yet, more than 2,000 years before Charlie Brown's comical failure to launch, kites were used by fisherman in the South Seas and Micronesia to drag baited hooks across the water. Legend also tells of kites used for wartime reconnaissance in ancient China.

For modern-day devotees, flying a kite is akin to fishing in the sky -- an exhilarating and meditative experience that connects them with the mystical wild blue yonder.

"Most of adults think of kite flying as something that only kids do," says Con Engels, kite enthusiast and owner of Windstar Kites in Beaver. "But if you get into the sport-kite thing and power kiting, it's something that's really not for kids."

Engels, 50, is a member of the Fly Pittsburgh Kite Club, a 17-year-old organization that meets for informal monthly "flies" at Cooper's Lake Campground near Moraine State Park in Butler County. The terrain allows for a "clean" wind that is unimpeded by the rolling hills farther south, he says.

The club numbers about 100 members, who range in age from 8 to 70 years old, Engels says. He started Windstar Kites in 1996 because he says he couldn't find anybody who could tell him about kites.

"I've always loved kites," Engels says. "I've flown kites all my life. As a young man in my 20s, I got into sport and power kiting."

He sells various kinds of kites, from basic diamond-shaped models to triangular "delta" kites, box kites and sport kites, which are controlled with double and quadruple lines and often constructed of carbon fiber rods and ripstop fabric. He also conducts kite-building workshops for Scout troops and schools.

"It's just like fishing," Engels says. "When you start out fishing you might start out with a rod and a reel and a little tackle box. "But if you really get into it, you might end up with all kids of rods and all kinds of tackle and even a boat. It's sort of like that. You can get very well into the sport of kite flying. It can be very addictive."

Lisa Bookman and her husband, Michael Moore, have dozens of sport kites in their Robinson home. Moore flies sport kites in competitions and festivals around the country, from Newport, R.I., to Seattle, Washington.

"It's analogous to figure skating," Bookman says. "There are precision competitions and ballet. The ballet is choreographed to music."

Their collection also includes elongated Japanese fighter kites called Rokkakus, as well as miniature kites. They even have kites that can be flown indoors.

"You feel connected to the wind and the wind is connected to the universe," Bookman says. "It's really very peaceful."

Moore will perform kite-flying demonstrations at Kites for Kids, Saturday at the Carnegie Science Center on the North Shore. The event's organizers, KidsVoice, hope to collect 5,000 decorative and functional kites. Church and school groups, kids and seniors can contribute by printing out and coloring a kite template from the KidsVoice Web site, www.kidsvoice.org.

The advocacy organization serves nearly 5,000 abused or neglected children annually in Allegheny County.

"Some of them have never flown a kite," says KidsVoice executive director Scott Hollander. "Kites symbolize hope, a happy childhood and the chance to soar."

They'll close the street between Heinz Field and the Science Center for the kite-flying demonstrations. Weather permitting, they'll even fly kites from boats on the Ohio River. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and National Kite Month.

Pittsburgh's topography makes it a tricky place to fly kites because hills, buildings and trees disrupt wind flow. Kite fliers should look for flat, open land such as a soccer field.

It's also best to seek the high ground, such as the hill near the Oval at Schenley Park in Oakland, or Wilson Park in Greentree. The Fly Pittsburgh Kite Club also stages community flies at Treesdale Community Center in Gibsonia.

"In the winter is actually a good time to fly," Engels says. "We actually get more sustained wind in the winter than we do during the rest of the year. "

He and other members of the Fly Pittsburgh Kite Club even stage night flies, where they decorate their kites with lights. An occupational hazard, Engels says, is that occasionally someone might mistake the dancing lights for a UFO.

Kites For Kids

What: Kite flying demonstrations, crafts, games and live performances from Frank Cappelli, teen singer Sarah Marince and Jamie Bruno.

Where: Carnegie Science Center, North Shore

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday

Admission: Included in admission price of $14; $10 for children 3-12 and senior citizens

Details: 412-391-3100 or www.kidsvoice.org

Big Spring Kite Fly, Fly Pittsburgh Kite Club

Where: Cooper's Lake Campground, Currie Road, Slippery Rock, near Moraine State Park, just west of the Route 422 exit of Interstate 79.

When: 3 p.m. Friday-Sunday, weather permitting

Admission: Free, but nonmembers should check in at the campground office. Spectators and picnickers are welcome.

Details: 724-869-4488 or www.windstarkites.com .

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