The high art of kite flying
Hugh Hall never truly retired from building, he just switched mediums.
"When I was a home builder, the delight was always at the end when homeowners walked into the house for the first time, when everything was done and beautiful," said Hugh, who recently started building show kites. "Building kites or building anything, gives you the same feeling, a feeling of accomplishment (and) having done something with your hands — a visible goal that's completed."
Hugh, 73, and his wife, Lyn, 70, took up kite flying after retirement. Since 2011, the Gresham couple have sent their colorful art in the sky at several kite festivals and events in Oregon and Washington.
"We wanted something to do together," Lyn said.
"Skiing is a little risky for people our age, so why not fly kites?" Hugh added, with a laugh.
Two years ago, an idea sparked. Hugh's hands were meant for more than just flying kites.
"I think the kite making started when the neighbor across the street gave me her old sewing machine," Hugh recalled. "I had taken a couple of kites across the street to ask her to mend them for me, and so she decided maybe if I had my own sewing machine, I could mend my own kites."
In 2016 he had the opportunity to attend a kite-making conference in Washington, where he built his first 27-square-foot kite.
But he wanted to build even bigger.
"We (had) watched (people) fly big kites and decided that was something we would enjoy doing," Hugh said. "Last (November) I decided to go ahead and build my own 200 (square-foot) Jordan."
Jordan-style kites are soft kites that use air cells — rather than rods — to lift the craft.
Panels of coated ripstop nylon — which gives the kite the ability to hold air — covered his living room for two months. Throughout 100 hours, he crafted Toots — a black, red and white 1940s-era design named after his father's nickname for Hugh's mother. He then built a 120-foot tail, which stabilizes the kite by creating drag, that also took about 100 hours to complete.
To match the Jordan-style kite, he built a crown or bol — a circular, parachute kite that stays low to the ground — to match.
"We tend to, at kite festivals, build up the festival in a layer," Hugh explained. "You have kites way up high, in the middle and down below."
Hugh and Lyn currently own more than 20 kites. Of those, Hugh designed some and built three. He also sewed 15 beach flags that mark where they have flown, along with other kite accessories such as tubes for visual interest and stabilization in higher winds.
But the couple's favorite thing about flying kites is the social atmosphere it brings them.
"We have just grown as a kiting community over meeting at beaches and getting to know each other," Hugh said. "Now we just call each other up and say 'Well, you wanna be in Grayland (Beach State Park) this weekend? Lets go fly kites.' So we all show up and fly kites together. It's a loose group of friends and it's something to do on the beach."
Tangling kite lines is also a great way to chat with fellow kite-flyers and make friends, he noted.
While Hugh and Lyn occasionally fly inland, they usually pack up their Yukon with all their gear and head up and down the Oregon and Washington coasts.
"He always tells me, 'You have room for your clothes, one suitcase, one cooler, and that's it,'" Lyn said.
They usually bring all of their kites because the wind is unpredictable and different types of kites fly best at certain wind speeds.
"One of the things we like about our favorite beaches is that we can drive onto the beach so we don't have to pack our stuff ... we can just fly out of the back of the Yukon," said Hugh, adding that they dig a hole in the sand to place the anchor before piling sand on top of it so the kite can fly on its own.
Hugh and Lyn's future plans involve building another large kite this fall. Their son, John, is a scuba diver, so the idea is to build the kite to look like an underwater scene with a shark and diver.
"Instead of buying the material in a certain color, we are going to have to dye it. It starts off dark on one side and goes to light on the other side without any break in the transition," Hugh said. "It's a whole new challenge."
Whatever kite they choose to fly, the couple is happiest when other people are enjoying it.
"It makes people smile," Hugh said.
"Life is good when you're flying a kite," Lyn adds.