An Interview With Ray Bethell
This interview with Ray Bethell was conducted on the 16th Mar., 2010, by Tim Parish at http://www.my-best-kite.com/index.html
1. What kind of kiting influences were around you during your childhood? Did you make any simple single-liners at this time?
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 3 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 hand'.
This was my start and 6 years and hundreds of hours of practice later, I was flying 3 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 5 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 every one would be a Tiger Woods.
3. Can you remember your very first home-made 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 80's. This design was by Randy Tom from California and is still flown today all over the World by his famous world re-known Team the Bay Area Sundowners.
In the early 80's 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 1st 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 1st 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 head phones, to music which 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 it 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 is 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 my self 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 tiered.
In Europe they hold some of the biggest kite festivals in the world. Take for instance Berck and Dieppe in France and Cervia Italy. They have between 200,000 to 300,000 plus 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 challenges I have to face being completely deaf, is traveling the world from airport to airport and not hearing the sound system. 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... Every one is loaded on to 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 which only gives noise not speech, they are called weariness aids, which helps 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 which 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. Nice 10mph winds off the ocean and the City estimates that well over a Million people use the walk-way 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, very special and personal ground stakes, which I have presented to very special kite friends. Also line windups. 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 perfect. 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.
My self 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 trade mark. I have been flying the Kestrel kites for over 20 years and for the last 6 years I have been making my own, and I have made 4 World records with them. One was flying 3 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, it also attracts people from far and wide to come and see what is going on.'
9. Have you ever experimented with flying Quad-line kites? What was your most interesting experience with one of these?
I was given 3 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 3 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 air.
Ray Bethell, the 'Multi-Kite World Champion', is extremely well known for his mesmerizing sport-kite performances at major kite festivals around the world. He holds numerous sport kite world records and titles. Ray flies 3 steerable kites, or even 3 stacks of kites, simultaneously. Ray has also produced 2 short movies which showcase his amazing flying skills: 'Good Stuff' and 'Romancing the Wind'.
Ray's videos have now passed the 'one million views' mark! Check them out on YouTube (which is just one of the places you can find them)...
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