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Soaring memories at Blossom Kite Festival

Kids of all ages fly kites at Mall event

- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2011

With surgeonlike care and precision, Don Stark gently replaced a splintered kite dowel with a new one, tied a series of loops in the white string to demonstrate its sturdiness, returned the kite to the relieved owner, then turned to the next person waiting for the "kite doctor" at the Blossom Kite Festival on Sunday.

"We haven't lost a patient yet," Mr. Stark said good naturedly as he inspected a improperly tied kite line.

Joining Mr. Stark at the examination table — actually a folding table covered by a red tarp and laden with strings, dowels and tape — was fellow Wings Over Washington Kite Club member John Oxenham, a stethoscope around his neck.

"We've been about average for this time," Mr. Stark said. "We've seen about 25 customers. There have been problems with bridle lines, broken sticks and we've helped people put their kites together."

With the worries of a government shutdown in the past, the annual kite festival was in full swing by midafternoon, as fliers of all ages flocked to the Mall near the Washington Monument to watch experts maneuver their rigs across the gray skies and try their hand at the high-flying hobby.

"I have memories of kite flying off a spool in Florida," said District resident Richard Briggs, who brought his 5- and 7-year-old children to the festival to fly their marine-themed Delta kite, named for its isosceles shape.

"I came across this festival two years ago," he said. "I just happened to be down here, and I came back last year and had a great time."

Though the hundreds of cherry trees around the Tidal Basin were the main attraction for the past few weeks, visitors over the weekend appeared to turn their attention from the fading, blush-colored blossoms to the kites.

Master kite maker Kaziah Hall has been coming to the kite festival since 2003 and making kites since 1968. He and other members of the West Indian American Kite Association were on hand to help visitors put together sled kites, which were available to make on site as a quick-fly option.

"It's a frustration-less flier," Mr. Hall said of the half-cylinder shape. "It's reliable, inexpensive and it flies very well."

Mr. Hall said the weather wasn't optimum because the cooler air created a downdraft. But that didn't stop Harrisonburg, Va., residents Keith Ebeltoft and Edda Duff from getting their black-and-white striped Delta flag to soar high above a cluster of other kites.

Sitting in his folding chair and using a hand-cranked spool, Mr .Ebeltoft said this was the pair's first Washington kite festival.

"It just looked like a fun time," he said.

The two had watched the news for the threat of a government shutdown, Mr. Ebeltoft said "since we had a two -hour drive to get here."

Ms. Duff said flying the kite was the opportunity to get outside and be a kid again, which she suspects is why the festival always attracts a good crowd.

Said Ms. Duff: "I think it brings out in you that childhood innocence."

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