I cannot remember ever seeing a kite when I was growing up. I
never held a kite in my hand until I was 56 years old, and it was a sport
kite. Until this time I had never even thought about kites, especially
single-line kites. In all the 30 years I have been into kite flying I
have never made or flown a single-line kite! I held the line for a few
seconds of one that Jock Walker made. Jock is a well-known single-line
kite maker in the UK, who had made a single-line replica of me flying three
kites. This was shown across the UK and Canada.
2. What event or experience triggered the desire to attempt
multiple-kite flying in the first place? Do you have any funny or
interesting stories relating to mishaps or accidents while Ray Bethell
himself tried to "get the hang of it"?
One day in 1980, while flying a sport kite in our local park, a
group of children came across the field in front of me. So I put the
kite on hold in the center of the window and put both kite handles into
my left hand. A few seconds later a gust of wind came up and just about
tore the handles out of my left hand! I had no time to separate the
handles so for a few seconds, with great difficulty, I was controlling
the sport kite with one hand. Then I crashed the kite well away from the
children, then out of the blue I thought "Hey, maybe I can fly with one
This was my start and six years and hundreds of hours of practice
later, I was flying three kites. Looking back at old videos and comparing
with what I do today I say to myself "Is that really me?" There was no
one in the whole world that I could copy or ask questions—I was
strictly on my own. It was trial and error, 6–8–10 hours every day,
walking countless hours back and forth to pick up the kites then back
again to try again, over and over again.
Today, every time I fly I am still practicing to be better than I
was five minutes ago. My philosophy has always been "Practice does not
make Perfect, Perfect Practice makes Perfect." Just because you own a
golf ball and a golf club does not make you a golf player. You need pro
help plus a little bit of a gift and then hours of practice. If it was
that easy everyone would be a Tiger Woods.
3. Can you remember your very first homemade sport
kite? What prompted you to make it, what design was it, and did you have
any inkling about your future in kiting at that time?
The very first sport kite I made was a Hyper kite, which was a
kite that won many sport-kite competitions in the 80s. This design was
by Randy Tom from California and is still flown today all over the world
by his world-renowned team, the Bay Area Sundowners.
In the early 80s I palled up with another kite flyer, Rob Riley.
We decided to fly together as pairs so we could compete at the US
Nationals in the USA. We both made our own kites and my design had a
Canada Maple leaf on it. After many years of flying together we won many
first places at competitions on the US kite circuit. Then we added
another really good flyer, Cal Yuen. We won the right to participate at
the first World Cup in 1990 at Seaside, USA and also again at the 1991
World Cup in Bristol, UK.
But at every event we participated in I also was asked to give
multiple-kite demonstrations, for this was a great crowd-pleaser at
every kite festival. So many times I was asked not to fly because they
wanted all the spectators that were watching me to go to check out the
rest of what was happening at the festival.
4. Having lost your hearing due to a rare virus, how do you
co-ordinate your kite-ballet routines with the soundtrack? At kite
festivals, what other challenges do you face because of the deafness,
and how do you overcome them?
Ever since I started flying I have always flown to music, using a
Walkman and headphones that I also used in my early
competition days. Then one day I went to bed hearing and woke up deaf.
This was due to a very rare virus which the Vancouver Hearing clinic,
after weeks of tests, said only happens to one in a million. There
was no choice but to accept this challenge and get on with my life.
I found that multiple-kite flying was a tremendous help in my
solitude. I found I could and still do concentrate 101% as there are only
my kites and myself. The rest of the world is in silence, so I put my
whole heart and soul into my kite flying. I found that while I was
flying I felt completely at peace with myself and the whole world. I
learned another aspect of flying, where I could fly not only with my
hands, waist, and feet but with my whole being, which portrays love,
grace, and beauty.
People that stop to watch me thank me for touching a secret place
in their hearts. They cannot explain it in words; it is something that
touches them very deeply when they watch me fly. I can fly for hours
and not get the least tired.
In Europe they hold some of the biggest kite festivals in the
world. Take for instance Berck and Dieppe in France and Cervia in Italy.
They have between 200,000 to 300,000 or more spectators! I am in the center
of their 200x200 square foot main kite-arena. I have one person
standing next to me that will tap me on my left shoulder at the very
first note of my music. Then the duke box in my head takes it from
there. I only fly to music that I knew before I became deaf.
The biggest challenge I have to face, being completely deaf, is
traveling the world from airport to airport and not hearing the sound
systems. I must ask for directions and, not being able to understand what
they are telling me, most times this is so very frustrating. Yes you can
ask for help when you arrive at an airport to get to your connecting
flight, but say for instance one arrives at the Frankfurt airport in
Germany... Everyone is loaded onto a bus and driven to the airport—then the frustrations begin. There are tens of thousands of people going
in all directions, and I am completely lost concerning which way to go.
Yes, this is one of the biggest challenges I have to face. I have
hearing aids that only give noise not speech; they are called
weariness aids, which help me to cross the street safely etc.
5. I have read that you make your own kites these days. Can you tell us a little about that?
Now I make replicas that I have modified, copied (with
permission) from existing designs. I have over 100 sport kites. A kite
will last me for one kite season, but I still use these kites for
practice. So many sport kite manufacturers would like me to fly their
kites, which I would love to do if I had the time. But I am on the road a
lot, and when I do get home I like to enjoy relaxing, which also means me
flying in our local park. I've been flying in the same spot since 1980;
for me it is the best place on this planet to fly a kite and only a 15-minute drive from home. There are nice 10-mph winds off the ocean, and the city
estimates that well over a million people use the walkway around the
park each year to Grandville Island. They all pass the Ray Bethell Flying Spot as it is called.
If I copy a perfectly flying sport kite I do not change the
design. I modify it where it is most vulnerable to the stress and strain
sections of a sport kite. When flying for 4, 5, 6, or more continuous
hours, if I did not do this then I would be doing more repair work on
the kite than flying it.
6. Being a very good craftsman, you have turned out a range of
kiting accessories with your own hands. Can you list a few examples?
Have you ever been approached by kite-gear manufacturers regarding any
of your designs?
I have designed and made many multiple-kite handles which have
been copied by kite flyers from around the world. Also, I made very special and
personal ground stakes, which I have presented to very special kite
friends. Also, line windups were made. No, I have not been approached by kite-gear
manufacturers, and besides, I am not at all interested in that end of it.
7. When making a sport kite from an existing design, do you
copy the sail graphic design as well? Or do you involve friends who are
in the graphic art industry?
One thing I like to mention: Graphics do not make any kite fly;
it is to make the kite look its best and is a great selling point. Nice
graphics will attract a new kite-flyer, because they like the colorful
design. Every good sport kite made is first made as a mock up, and
everything is done to make the kite fly perfectly. Then it is copied and
made with the desired design. Most manufacturers do not mind you copying
their kite as long as you call it what it is and not your own label and
as your creation. And of course you cannot sell it; it must be for
your own use only.
Myself, I like to stick to flying the one designed kite and have
done this for 20 years, so that at any kite festival I am performing at
anywhere in the world, people will recognize me by seeing my kites in the
air. It is my trademark. I have been flying the Kestrel kites for over
20 years and for the last six years I have been making my own, and I have
made four world records with them. One record was flying three Kestrels
simultaneously for 12 hours and 12 minutes of continuous flying without
a tea, pee, or beer break!
8. Since starting multi-line flying, have you ever made a single-liner just for fun or relaxation?
No, I have never been into flying single-line kites; it is not my
bag. I was interviewed on TV, and the interviewer asked me to explain my
definition between a single-line kite and a sport kite. I said "Imagine
a Christmas tree: single-line kites are the decorations on the tree—what I do is the presents under the tree. Single-line kites fill and
decorate the sky, they also attract people from far and wide to come and
see what is going on."
9. Have you ever experimented with flying quad kites? What was your most interesting experience with one of these?
I was given three quad-line kites when they first came out, well over
25 years ago, and they are still in their bags. They do not do enough or
excite me. I have nothing against them, every one to their own. The very
best and only way they look good to me is when they are flying as a
team, which is now realized by hundreds of quad-line flyers.
Around the world, Go Fly was a team which was first started 25
years ago by the famous Team Decorators from the UK, then followed by
another UK team a few years later, then by a French team, and three years
ago Team I-Quad from the USA. Last year, at the Long Beach International
Kite Festival, they made a new quad-kite record with 60 quad kites in the
Ray's videos have long passed the one-million-views mark! Check
them out on YouTube (which is just one of the places you can find
Here's Ray Bethell in action, doing what he did best, before his passing in December 2018. It's not hard to spot the three large delta stunters flying in formation: