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A letter from Charles (Stoney) Stonestreet

Originally published in the AKA Journal, March 2000

Hour after hour he stands -- bare to the waist, back to the wind, sun ablaze over head; wind sand, heat or cold, fatigue and curious spectators fail to interrupt his concentration. Ray Bethell guides his matched kites through intricate patterns, controlling three dual line kites with exquisite accuracy. A Mapleleaf split, a starburst, then, almost casually, a triple refuel -- curiosity turns to amazement and morphs to awe as the show continues.

The audience stands transfixed then tires and drifts to another activity but Ray fliers on, awaiting the next wave of spectators and exploring the wind window for a new pattern to trace across the sky.

I knew Ray only by reputation until we met at the Nationals at Long Beach Washington. I had been assigned as field director for the Open Innovative event. Ray came striding across the beach towards me, "Mr. Field Director," he called beckoning, patiently, Ray explained that he needed only a tap on his shoulder to signal the beginning of his music.

At 70 plus years, Ray is a miracle of conditioning and endurance but his talents extend beyond the mechanics of flying. It is remarkable that he fly's to music, that he hits his cues on the beat, that the movement of those kites evoke deep emotions. Not so remarkable until you realize that Ray is almost deaf, "I hear the music in my head," he says. Ray brings more to kiting than technique.

He brings creativity and a strong love of people, all of which blends into an astonishing show, a presentation in demand around the globe. He came to kiting late, in his late fifties. He spotted a few fliers with stacks of Hyperkites while on holiday in Hawaii. The kites spoke to him in a strange new way and he invested $208.00 in a pack of six. Back home in Vancouver, he and his son worked for many hours, attempting to launch the stack with no success. His son gave up in disgust but Ray stayed on, studying the situation with the same persistent curiosity that he brought to bear in his job as a millwright. He puzzled with the problem until a sudden burst of insight revealed that the bridle points were trapped beneath the lower spreader. (Greatness springs from a humble beginning, Ray.) A simple correction launched a new career when those birds soared aloft.

Hours of practice turned into weeks, weeks to months, and months to years as his fascination gained strength. He taught himself to fly a dual line kite with one hand, and then three at once, people noticed, sponsored appeared, events beckoned and Ray flew on. Today, Ray Bethell is in demand around the world. Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South America, North America, wherever events organizers stir their magic brew, the first invitations always include Ray as honored guest.

Why does he keep at it? He has the awards, the recognition, World records, accolades and testimonials. "No problem," says Ray, " I love my job and I love people, everywhere I go, men, women, and children seem to understand what I do, I taught a man to fly who had no body from the waist down, and a helicopter pilot, paralyzed from a crash. A man in Singapore gave me his hat. He spoke no English but his meaning was clear, he gave a gift in return for a gift he received. I still wear that hat today as a reminder that I speak a universal language, which allows me to relate to people across the world. I know of no other activity that allows such high level of communication between people of diverse backgrounds, customs, and languages." Salute, mate.

Written by Charles (Stoney) Stonestreet
Richmond, VA.

© 2000 Charles Stonestreet. Do not reproduce without author's permission.

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