Did Peter Lynn kill kites?

Look at photos or video of any major kite festival almost anywhere in the world, and what do you see? Almost certainly the answer will be mainly huge line laundry items from the Peter Lynn Kites factory, held up by pilot kites from the same source.

These items – the whales, octopuses, dragons, pigs, horses, turtles and more – are undoubtedly decorative and sometimes spectacular. But most of them are certainly not kites, and without the pilot kites would not take off. They have, however, largely replaced real kites as objects of interest at what are nevertheless still called kite festivals.

These items have also given spectators the impression that size is the most important criterion for judging whether something is worth looking at. The PLK factory produces the world’s largest kites, which appear at major festivals from time to time and are usually commissioned as vanity items by oil-rich middle-eastern men who want to show off by having the biggest of everything. These “kites” usually take the form of a gigantic pillow, perhaps with a flag or some other identifying design, and when launched by a large team of helpers never rise far, but completely monopolise the flying field and make it impossible for others to fly. They are, I think, quite pointless.

Leaving the behemoths aside, the “normal” range of PLK items dominate any display by their sheer size and increasing number. The factory team will often attend events, and there are likely to be others too who have invested in a string of big items, and together they will swamp any real kites in the area.

While Peter Lynn started this trend, he has not owned the factory for a number of years, and most of the newer (and better) designs are the work of Simon Chisnall, a very clever man who is now part-owner of Peter Lynn Kites. The Lynn influence is still there, of course, and some of his own designs still sell well.

Because of the success of these items, more and more companies have started producing line laundry in various designs, though not usually to the enormous size of some of the PLK products (nor, it must be said, to the same quality in most cases). And more and more kite-fliers (including me and most fliers I know) have been sucked in to the purchase and flying of inflated bags of air on our kite-lines just to keep some sort of interest in our displays.

The results of this trend are unfortunate in a number of ways. Firstly, it has led to a general lack of knowledge as to what a kite is. People talk about a 90-foot whale as a kite, but it’s nothing of the sort. And because such huge items dominate events, they have become many people’s idea of the normal kite, which is naturally unattainable to those on an average income even if they fancied owning one.

This in turn is surely one reason why kite-flying has greatly diminished in popularity. It’s not the only one, of course, as the growth of electronic gadgetry and “social media” means that many people are too “busy” to take part in what used to be considered a fairly normal, healthy, and enjoyable pastime.

Not only has flying become far less popular; the number of people and companies building kites, and the number of new designs produced, has fallen too. There are fewer and fewer retail kite outlets, and many stores that do have a few kites available sell mostly cheap and not very good items and have no real knowledge of what they are offering.

Kite festivals are now mainly a spectator event pure and simple, like a circus or a concert, with a few star performers providing the entertainment and nowhere for “ordinary” people to fly a kite of their own.

Smaller events, like the Kite Day we have annually here in Christchurch, New Zealand, sometimes offer the chance for anyone to join in, and many do bring their own kite or buy one on the day. The fliers are very rarely seen again, and the kites are probably thrown away or put aside for next year, when they can again be flown with what are thought of as the “real” kites from the always-present PLK team.

So kites today are mainly for looking at, and not for flying, and I think that’s very sad. Yes, a sky full of big items can make an interesting sight, but if it has caused, or helped to cause, the death of kite-flying as a popular way to spend fun time outdoors, then it has done a great deal of harm.

Is there any hope? Well, I can think of one aspect of the kite industry that might be helping to preserve the joy of actually flying a kite.

Mr Ma Qinghua, in China, has designed a wonderful series of kites that, while having the virtue of being soft (without spars) like the line laundry items, fly extremely well without requiring a lifter. I refer to the hugely popular Trilobite (not to be confused with the Peter Lynn object of the same name), now in its fifth year of production and known among kite-fliers everywhere, and its cousins the Frog, Tadpole, and Ladybug, all of which are true kites.

Since these conform more closely than sticked kites to the new idea of what kites are, and are priced very reasonably, they have given an interest to a lot of people who would not have flown otherwise. These kites are very scaleable, too, so have now been produced in small sizes that can be bought and flown by almost anyone, up to very large ones for those that must have something big but want a real kite and not a piece of line laundry.

Others, too, have designed and made such kites, and if this development continues, perhaps the number of people flying will not just stabilise but start to grow once more.

Maybe after flying these real but soft kites, people might also take an interest in the many kinds of sticked kites which once were so popular, and are actually a lot more fun to hand-fly. For now, though, the new soft kites may keep kite-flying alive among at least a small proportion of the population.

I’d love to see Simon Chisnall turn his skill to producing more such items. PLK do have some (expensive) designs that really fly, of course, like the Rays, but with Simon’s inventive mind I think he could come up with others, and perhaps produce them in sizes, and at prices, that are attainable by a lot of fliers.

So if Peter Lynn almost killed kites and kite-flying, perhaps the factory he founded can play a part in their revival. I hope so. In any case, I think we fliers should all do our utmost to spread the word about the joy of kites, especially among young people, and help revive interest in this wonderful pastime.

Putting on the occasional “show” for spectators is fine, but wouldn’t it be nicer to encourage everyone to experience the fun of actually flying kites – real kites, that is?

Jim Nicholls

Christchurch, New Zealand

P.S.

Since writing this, I’ve read a boast by Peter Lynn that a recent festival in Kuwait (which he describes as among the very best he’s ever attended) had no fewer than 89 Maxi-sized “kites” in the air at once, plus the three biggest kites in the world – all produced by Peter Lynn Kites, of course. Certainly a spectacle, but a kite festival? Not in my opinion.