Soaring on the Wind

The breeze carries rainbow hues at the Olan Turner Kite Day.

By: Daniel Shearer


Photo by Constance Cambareri
Many kite flyers use serious equipment, such as the Fanatic, by Prism Designs.

   Of the many joys that accompany kiting, sharing the activity with others surely ranks as one of the most satisfying.
   Lower Makefield, Pa., residents Olan Turner and his wife, Bernice, brought happiness to many people with their hobby. Besides visiting schools in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to present hundreds of elaborate kite workshops, Mr. Turner and his wife founded a kite day, now celebrating its 23rd year at Core Creek Park in Langhorne, Pa.
   Renamed the Olan Turner Kite Day in 1999, a year after Mr. Turner passed away, this year’s kite day takes place May 5. Volunteers from a number of kiting organizations throughout the Mid-Atlantic region will participate, including the South Jersey Kite Flyers and the Lehigh Valley Kite Society.
   "The event is unique in that it always has had an educational twist to it," says Morrisville, Pa., resident Roger Chewning, who owned a gift shop and kite store in Morrisville for 10 years. He now runs Sky Festival Productions, which launched a number of events with the Turners’ help, including the three-day Wildwood International Kite Festival, held annually over Memorial Day weekend.
   "The Olan Turner Day is a showcase of kite types and people who build their own kites," Mr. Chewning says. "There’s a roped-off area where demonstrators fly kites and announcers talk about the kites, the materials and the history behind them.
   "There’s a kite-making tent for kids, and then of course there’s lots of people who go and fly kites outside the little arena area. The park fills up with kites. So do the trees."
   Kiting doesn’t require a lot of wind. Festival planners say a steady 6-8 mph wind is just about perfect. On the opposite end of the spectrum, 30 mph gusts can shred most kites. Even if there’s no wind, Kite Day offers activities that don’t require a breeze. The Core Creek boat rental will be open, and kids can take pony rides, visit a petting zoo, have their faces painted or make sand art. A number of kite vendors also will be on hand.


Photo by Marianne Gump
Kite merchants holding a box kite at the Olan Turner Kite Day. This year’s event takes place May 5 at Core Creek Park in Langhorne, Pa.

   "No matter how much publicity we do, if the wind blows, lots of people come," says Bucks County Parks and Recreation Supervisor Marianne Gump. "We go from 2,000 to 8,000 people, depending on people’s perception of the wind."
   If the wind dies, experienced fliers will have ultra-light kites in their trick bags, usually flown on relatively short lines. Unlike homemade lightweight kites made of paper, cloth and balsa wood, many commercially available ultra-lights are built with exotic materials like Mylar laminates and polymer-resin-coated polyesters.
   "There will be a kite show, whether there’s wind or not," Mr. Chewning says. "It’s still possible to demonstrate a lot of kites, even if there’s no wind. With ultra-lights, basically your footwork creates the wind. We have guys who run in circles and bring their kite the whole way around them, out of the wind and back into it.
   "Usually, too much wind is the big problem. We have lots of big kites that if you put them up in really high winds, they become dangerous."
   The festivities also will feature kites with Asian influences, like flat, six-sided rokkakus. Also known as fighter kites, flyers try to touch their opponents’ kites, and, if possible, sever their lines.
   "With a rokkaku battle, it’s generally a free-for-all until there’s one kite left," Mr. Chewning says. "You get points for winning and for taking down other kites, that kind of thing. It’s fairly complicated, one of the reasons we’ll have an announcer to explain it."
   Some kites need no explanation. Philadelphia resident Michael Dallmer, formerly president of the 160-member South Jersey Kite Flyers, has a passion for building. Since constructing his first kite about 20 years ago, he’s amassed a collection of more than 200 kites, not counting his store-bought kites.
   "I build mostly large, single-line kites," says Mr. Dallmer, who’s helped to plan the Olan Turner kite day for the last six years. His wife, Cecilia, enjoys kiting as well. She’ll be one of the people making sure everyone flies safely at the festival.
   "The largest kite I’ve made so far is 200 square feet, rip-stop Nylon with carbon spars," Mr. Dallmer says. "It’s called a double parasled, 20 feet wide and 10 feet tall. It’s got three tubes, one on each end and one in the center. Something like that takes about 50 hours to build. I also have a 3-D dragon that took over 100 hours to build and design. It’s got a 20-foot wingspan, and from nose-to-tail it’s 30 feet."
   With kites that big, Mr. Dallmer secures them to the ground with large, screw-shaped aircraft tie-downs, flying with line rated at 1,400 pounds.
   "I use it to lift what’s called ‘line laundry,’" he says. "I have all kinds of animals and spinning things that I put up on the line. I have an elephant that took 60 yards of fabric. There’ve been times when I’ve had 30 kids inside it, just sitting on the ground, bouncing around."


Photo by Constance Cambareri
A stack of vintage Trilby kites takes to the sky.

   With enough wind, Mr. Dallmer’s son, Michael Jr., will demonstrate power kiting, pulling himself around the park on a steerable kite buggy.
   "I love the family aspect of this event," Mr. Dallmer says. "All around the outskirts of the field, people are flying kites. People show up with banners. It’s a beautiful thing."
ALTHOUGH OLAN TURNER ENJOYED KITING in many forms, he was particularly interested in flying kites to music, known in competitive circles as kite ballet. His efforts, with help from Mr. Chewning and others, led to the birth of one of kiting’s first rule books, which was eventually adopted by the American Kitefliers Association and is now in use by kiting organizations around the world.
   "Olan really loved to fly sport kites, two-line kites," Mr. Chewning says. "He really helped establish kiting as a legitimate sport. Before that, there were lots of people flying at sport-kite competitions, but the rules were never clearly defined. He helped take sport kites from the novelty of a kite festival and take it up a notch, into the realm of sport."
   Since Mr. Turner spent a number of years as a national sales manager for Breyers Ice Cream, it seems appropriate that he managed to combine sweets with kiting. Mr. Turner’s daughter, Marilyn Lesko, fondly remembers some of her father’s more unusual kiting events, among them, the International Invitation Open Peanut Butter Cookie Kite Fly and Bake-Off, held in Seaside Heights, N.J., in 1988.
   "He loved peanut butter," says Ms. Lesko, a Perkasie resident. "The whole idea was you couldn’t enter the contest unless you submitted some kind of peanut-butter cuisine. And the kites had to be somehow connected with peanut butter. It brought people together from all walks of life."
   Bernice Turner, who now lives in Harleysville, shares her husband’s love of kiting. Together, they assembled a number of award-winning designs, working tirelessly to promote the hobby.
   "Even to this day, Mom talks about getting flyers out for kite day," Ms. Lesko says. "That’s no longer her responsibility, but it matters to her that people come out and be exposed to the possibilities of kiting. It’s such a family activity. Mom and Dad were always excited to have new people to be a part of it."
The Olan Turner Kite Day takes place at Core Creek Park, Bridgetown Pike, between Route 413 and Newtown-Yardley Road, Langhorne, Pa., May 5, noon-4 p.m. Free admission. Fee for petting zoo, face painting, hayrides, children’s kite workshop and some other activities. Core Creek Boat rental open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. For information, call (215) 757-0571. Sky Festival Productions: (215) 736-3715. On the Web:; American Kitefliers Association: