Good Stuff! - A Look At Ray Bethell
By Craig Rodgerson
At this year's AKA convention in Muncie, Indiana I had the opportunity to meet Ray Bethell. It made the ENTIRE event special. If nothing else had happened the entire week, meeting Ray was worth the drive and expense of traveling to the convention. For a couple of days I had the joy of watching "the kite ambassador" fly and the constant grin from hearing his wondrous stories. Before I get too far, I must give 2 pieces of advice.
FIRST: See Ray Bethell at an event near you. This is not difficult, Ray travels the globe and will be at an event near you sometime. I have friends on the net from around the world that have seen Ray in their neighborhood.
SECOND: Visit Ray Bethell's Web Site.
I first met Ray on Wednesday at the AKA convention. The cabana was just barely assembled when some guy dropped his kite bag next to it and asked if it was "OK" to stow his gear next to our camp. Ted Zekos and I looked at each other with the same question on our faces: "Who is this Tanned-Man?"
Obviously, it was Ray Bethell. We can read those clever laminated name tags. Up till that time, the "Tanned-Man" was just a rumor, a legend that kiters tell their kids to get them to practice their routines. "Do you fly fighter kites?" I wondered why Ray was asking this. Then it dawned on me. We had set up next to the fighter kite field. I can read name tags. I hadn't bothered to read the map of the grounds. I tried to explain that I flew fighter kites, but also fly anything else with strings. This is when I found out that Ray "listens" more with his eyes than his ears. He quickly explained that he was PROFOUNDLY hard of hearing, and that the "aids" he wears in his ears are his way of saving on the starters he kept "grinding" away on the car at home. They amplify noise but don't clarify it.
Ray took to the fighter kite field with 3 dual line sport kites. It was empty and nearest the entrance to all the activities This should have been my first indication that Ray was a very savvy showman. He knew that everyone had to pass this area to get access to the other fields. He uses a set of 2 "customized" handles that are similar to quad-line handles. Each handle controls a kite. The third (center kite) is hooked up either side of his belt to special attachments.
Three kites in the air at once. Sort of makes the normal kite flier envious. I am not talking about the things he does with them in the air? just the fact that he gets three of them up at once, not stacked in a train? that comes later? after he gets comfortable.
The morning I met Ray was a "long sleeve" morning for this Michigander. It was a "no-shirt" morning for Ray. Some kiters have said he is made from "teak and leather". Being a Canadian, Ray is used to morning chills that are more extreme than those in Muncie, and seemed comfortable.
There is one thing that most competitors agree upon. Spectators (the non-kiting community) love 1) Teams, 2) Trains, 3) Tails, Ray does all of these things. Team flying? Well, Ray is his own team, although he will join any other team at the drop of a handle to have some fun. He eventually gets out the stacks of kites then adds tails, Everyone that sees the sky filled with kites assumes that a team is practicing. Nope, just Ray having fun. Ray says that 30 years of gymnastics has helped him do the things he does on the field, Breathing is a major factor for controlling the center kite(s).
No one really had the answer to Ray's actual age, just that he has been over 70 for several years. I was too humble (for once) to actually ask this guy his age I am 45 and I know I will never be in the same condition that Ray is. It seems as though everyone has a story about Ray. Most end with Ray's favorite phrase "GOOD STUFF".
As the days progressed, Ray made room for the fighter kite competitions, moving closer to the entrance of the flying area. Years of being a "Sponsored" Kite Demonstrator have sent him around the world each season. It has also taught him the basics of where to be to entertain the most people. Some of the best things that Ray has to share are his stories. As good a flier as he is, he is even more entertaining when telling a story. If you are given the opportunity, hang around after Ray has landed the kites and talk with him. Let the kids help him wind up the tails. The time with Ray is worth it. Buy him a beer and hear about things and places that are both amazing and exotic.
Saturday in Muncie featured the Past Masters "competition". Great performances were turned in by so many great fliers. Ray flew to his signature "Wind Beneath My Wings". One has to realize that Ray remembers the music, but doesn't hear it over the speakers.
The rain kept many casual fans of the sport away, but didn't dampen Ray's performance. The crowd was reminded that applause wouldn't be heard, so we all came out from under tents and umbrellas to wave our appreciation.
Ray is more than a legend. He is the kind of guy we hope to be when representing our sport to the world. Ask anyone that has seen him. Or better yet, look him up at an event next season. He will be some where near you.
It seems as though "Everybody Loves Raymond".
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