Indira Naidoo on the joy of kite flying: “Like walking a dog in the sky” | Hobby
Iit’s 4:30 a.m. This is my favorite time to write. Typing on my keyboard almost in the morning when Mark is sleeping in the other room and the city hasn’t moved yet. When I only have the wind for company.
I can’t see the wind but I know it’s there. I can see how it plays out. How it hisses through the seam of my balcony window, turning the wooden blinds into a vertical xylophone, how it quivers through the winter seedlings I’ve just planted in a row of pots, or how it skates over moonlight reflecting off Sydney Harbour.
It must be fun to be the wind, to dive and dive and rumble and roar or just quietly disappear without a whisper. I have observed the wind more closely in recent months. Of all the forces of nature, it is the most elusive, always hidden, only its actions reveal its presence. I want to harness those powers.
That’s why I plan to do something I haven’t done since I was 10. I’m going to fly a kite. And I’ll do it with Michael Richards, who knows a thing or two about kites – and the wind.
Michael and I meet in front of the Domaine’s art gallery. The lawns are buzzing with crowds arriving to see the finalists for this year’s Archibald Prize for Portraiture. At this time of year, I would normally be with them, in the dark, going back and forth from portrait to portrait, carefully examining the walls of famous faces.
Yet these days the interior has so little appeal. I want to shout to the crowd: Hey! Stay with me instead! I have a date with the wind! My re-enchantment with nature has rekindled my inner child. I can’t wait to scamper through the grass, under the sun, squinting up at the vast blue sky, tethered to a long-tailed comet. I can feel the joy rising just thinking about it.
Michael arrives with a long canvas bag big enough to hold a canoe. what’s in there? A kite this size could take us to the moon. With his soft, weathered features under his dented hat and khaki outfit, Michael could have walked out of a Waltzing Matilda verse. People often use the term He walks with a spring in his step – Well, Michael is one of those people who really does.
Michael has been teaching people to fly kites for 30 years. In fact, seven years ago, Michael and a group of his friends broke the world record for flying a kite at the highest altitude. Their base camp was an isolated sheep station in the New South Wales outback so as not to disrupt flight paths. Their determination was impressive: after 40 attempts over 10 years, they finally cracked, sending their kite an extraordinary 5 km into the Earth’s atmosphere.. Five kilometers! I’ll be happy just to fly my kite. I feel a flutter of performance anxiety.
The estate will be a perfect launch pad for my first takeoff – a large field of open grass, trees in the distance on the fence line, no power lines or obstructions. I fear there is only a breath of wind, but Michael assures me that the wind will appear when we need it. It blows differently this time of year here near the Royal Botanic Garden. It tends to come out of the water and change direction quickly. I’ll have to keep my wits about me.
Michael unzips his bag of assorted gear and pulls out a bundle. It contains the kit of the first kite that I will test in flight. It’s a design similar to ones from my childhood – a diamond shape with a long tail. It has a paper-like texture, but Michael explains that it’s made from Tyvek, a lightweight, durable and waterproof polyethylene fabric.
I glue the two fiberglass rods crosswise to the back, then I thread a string attached to a pin. The finishing touch – tie two long blue and red sparkly ribbons to its bottom point which will act as a tail, giving the kite drag and balance.
My flying machine is ready.
We stride through the middle of the field, following in the footsteps of all the great aviators who have gone before us. Michael lifts my kite and asks me to walk a few yards west of him, then pull the string. The breeze is surprisingly much stronger here. Small gusts swirl around my head, throwing my bangs into my eyes.
I follow Michael’s instructions and watch my kite gently rise through the air as if powered by magic. It stays there for a bit until I release more string, then it’s like walking a dog in the sky. The kite pulls on its tether, demanding more slack as it veers left then right, climbing higher and higher.
I start laughing inexplicably as the sunlight bounces off the trail of shiny ribbons. Something as simple as watching this little kite dart and curl in the breeze fills me with giddy pleasure. It’s as if the kite is an extension of my body and my hand can touch the sky. It’s as close as it gets to being in flight myself.
Michael appreciates my reaction. That’s why he loves teaching so much. And the teachers in his school groups are just as affected as the children. Michael is increasingly being asked to use the kite to help students develop a greater interest in science and nature. He sees children struggling in class come out of their shells during a kite session. They love to be freed from their four-walled enclosures and engage in a battle of wits with the wind.
The enchantment of a kite is that it draws you towards a new goal. It takes you to periphery of your ordinary attention, as biologist EO Wilson so perfectly describes it. There is no room in your head for worry, anxiety or rumination. You are completely absorbed in the moment and the urgent task at hand – to keep your wing in the air.
Sometimes this can require the utmost concentration, pulling the rope when the wind drops, releasing more slack when it picks up, taking a few steps here, then doubling back just as quickly. And then, the next moment, nothing more is required of you, other than just holding on and letting the current you’ve picked up do all the work.
Flying kites is all about finding the right balance. It’s the art of knowing when to hold on and when to let go. Successful kite flying is about being in a waltz with the wind, you and your dance partner drawing on each other’s strength, supporting each other one moment then letting each other be carried away the next.
I’m not very good at letting others carry me. Too used to being the big sister, the prefect of the school. As I flew my kites I could see how I was holding the string too tight, not letting the wind do some of the work. You will always lose if you try to fight against the wind. Surrender to its currents and, like a kite, it will propel you forward.