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How a Pizza Maker Revolutionized the Stunt-Kite-Flying World

First, let's establish the fact that there is something in the United States called the American Kitefliers Association. And there's something called competitive stunt kiting

First, let’s establish the fact that there is something in the United States called the American Kitefliers Association. And there’s something called competitive stunt kiting.

Here’s what stunk kiting looks like:

Now, as you might expect, the people who compete in stunt kiting competitions are interesting folks. At Collectors Weekly, they’ve got a profile of Richard Dermer, pizza shop owner and kite-collector extraordinaire. The walls of Dermer’s pizza joint are covered in kites from all over the world, which is impressive enough. But it’s not his only accomplishment. Dermer worked at Hideaways, one of the first pizza places in Oklahoma in the late 1950s, when pizza was an exotic food. He bought the joint in 1960. He delivered pizzas in these weird Volkswagen Beetles painted like Herbie and lady bugs. Then, in 1970, his game-partner and manager at the Hideaway was the first to market the Japanese version of the game Go in the United States.

It was this game company that lead Dermer to kites, and from there he took off—eventually becoming president of the American Kitefliers Association.

Dermer now has a huge kite collection. He told Collectors Weekly:

“I was very much a novice, but I started learning. And the more we got into going to kite festivals and collecting kites, the more I discovered and the deeper the subject became. My kite-book library now runs over a hundred volumes. I learn stuff new every time I go to an event. And I think the kites out in the garage are multiplying when the lights are out.”

What Dermer’s collection and hobby brings to the United States is an international perspective and history on kite flying. In India, for example, kite flying is a fierce, sometimes violent sport. In Thailand, kite battles reflect the war of the sexes between men and women. Kites were used in World War II, to distract German planes and for target practice.

And when Dermer started stunt-kiting, it was pretty new. All the kits were triangular, they all looked about the same. But soon, Dermer told Collectors Weekly, that changed. “In the ’80s and ’90s, kites went through quite a developmental phase where they were getting better and better as new lighter, stronger materials were being developed. Tubular fiberglass became obsolete when tubular graphite came along.” Dermer, ever the innovator, set up the new rules for judging these stunt kite competitions, which take into account how much control the flier has, the difficulty of the moves, and the choreography. It’s a lot like ice skating or gymnastics, Dermer says.

Dermer’s next arena? Taking these stunt kites inside. He makes kites at schools, for kids and adults alike. He’s even made kites at weddings out of napkins. Really, Dermer sounds like the life of any party.

 

More from Smithsonian.com:

Weekend Events: Go Fly a Kite and Learn About Anime

Crash and Burn

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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