Tell Dianne O'Brien to "go fly a kite" and she'll likely smile and answer, "where?" and "when?" O'Brien, you see, is rather passionate about the concept of kite-flying.
Indeed, the now-retired Richmondite has been that way since the 1990s, when she caught her first glimpse of a wild new take on the old-school Ben Franklin electricity experiment. Called "dual line" kites because they were tethered to their pilots by two lengths of string rather than one, the objects of O'Brien's affections tore through the skies at unimaginable speeds and manoeuvred like barn swallows.
That they often did so in groups, in tandem because their operators worked as a team down below, only added to her fascination.
Soon, O'Brien would buy her own kite - a "Trilby" - which she promptly hid under her bed.
For the next year, she shied away from participating in the male-dominated pastime and wondered if she'd ever jump in the deep end.
But jump she did. Today, O'Brien is an ambassador for the sport in her role as workshop coordinator for British Columbia Kitefliers Association (BCKA) and one of the keenest team fliers you'll find.
Sari Becker, conversely, is a relative noob. Spurred by a festival at Vancouver's Vanier Park in 2011 where worldclass teams brandished newfangled state-of-the-art kites called "quad lines," Becker took the plunge soon thereafter and began flying.
She spent "four winter months, mostly flying alone, practising at a friend's place in Dewdney" and felt the obsession grow. Yet, it didn't take long to realize that watching and doing are two completely different things. She calls it the "I want to break my kite stage," and believes most serious fliers endure the very same sense of overwhelming frustration that ruled over her for the better part of the next year.
Bob Koga wanted to learn to kiteboard. He was "looking for a place to fly" and, like Becker a decade later, ended up at windy Vanier Park where he got his first taste of team kite flying. As low-key as they come, Koga nevertheless fell hard for the idea and spent untold hours over the next few years coming to grips with this most deceptively tricky discipline.
O'Brien, Becker, and Koga. Three distinctly different people, separated by vast distances (Koga and Becker live in the Fraser Valley) yet drawn together by one critical bond - the love of team kite flying.
It is that bond that keeps them coming back virtually every weekend to Richmond's Garry Point, where they spend the better part of the afternoon letting their imaginations soar.
Why Garry Point? For one thing, it's home to some of the most "reliable winds," as Becker puts it, in the Lower Mainland. (More on that in the sidebar.) But there's something else.
Garry Point is also home turf to the glue that brought the group together. Koga calls her the "catalyst." Becker speaks of her "tough love" coaching. Her name is Cathy Tung and all three point to her as the...ahem...wind beneath their wings.
It was a warm September afternoon when I chanced upon this informal group that, as usual, included Tung and her clearly talented kite-flying partner Steve Brown. At first, I couldn't grasp the magic. Viewing the spectacle from the side, kites to the left and operators to the right, is far from optimal. But shift your perspective 90 degrees and prepare to be dazzled.
In the foreground, a row of fliers. In the distance, a row of kites, flawlessly spaced and propped upright in takeoff position. The "caller," (here it is Koga) issues his first command and, in near-perfect synchronicity, the kites move skyward.
Just as suddenly, they stop, hovering in space as if held by an unseen hand.
Then they're off again, moving this way and that - perhaps a starburst, a game of chase, or any other equally impressive versions of aerial ballet. And all the while, the strings connecting each human to their device - all were quad-line kites, so that's four strings to each kite - somehow manage to remain tangle-free.
The soft-spoken Koga, a guy who can fly no less than three kites simultaneously, talks of the group's role in a world record-setting, 81-kite grid performed in Washington State earlier this summer.
Jung is effervescent, comfortable in her role as catalyst. Becker does not hide her past frustration - a feeling shared by the others as they learned the ropes - or her desire to become a better flier than she is today.
And O'Brien, a woman who regularly takes the art of kite-building to local classrooms and has seen kites evolve from singleline to double-line to the current quad-line beasts, just enjoys the day.
Soon enough, Koga volunteered a brief tutorial and handed me the reigns. That's the way this group rolls - seemingly never too busy to help out a rookie.
Though my 10 minutes of flying generated no less than a half-dozen painful crashes with the hard, hard ground, it also produced one brief dalliance with greatness - one moment where the slick contraption at the end of my tethers actually responded to my wishes. It was an amazing, freeing feeling.
© Copyright 2013