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High as a Kite

As the hot air of the inland valley merges with the cool coastal winds, magic happens for many San Francisco kite enthusiasts. Winds sweep across Ocean Beach and the Marina Green and set the stage for a visual playground. Kites leisurely billow in the air. Like kids induced by a sugar coated high, you'll find kite flyers looking to the sky in wide-eyed excitement.

You'll be amazed how much kites have evolved. Designs and materials have advanced to develop sophisticated flights of fancy. Suspending your kite in air is elementary in comparison to the acrobats today's kites can perform. But whether you place your kite on cruise control or perform stunning aerials, San Francisco is just the right landscape for the kite enthusiast in you.

During an afternoon in Chinatown, stop by one of San Francisco's hidden treasures. Weathered from many hard years on Grant Street, the yellow "China Town Kites" sign beckons you from the street. Look directly below the sign and you'll know exactly which store to walk into, as kites ebb and flow from the store's doorway. Step inside and be prepared to duck. Kites of all colors, shapes, and sizes dangle from the ceiling. Don't fret, you're not the first store patron feeling claustrophobic from the store's hustle and bustle.

After 34 years of business, the Chinatown Kite Shop is one of the oldest (and few remaining) in San Francisco. Owned by the Albert Chang family, it has been in the same location since 1969 and has been frequented over the years by tourists and locals alike. It's only fitting that one of San Francisco's oldest kite stores remain in Chinatown. Although entrenched in American history by Benjamin Franklin, kites were invented in China approximately 3,000 years ago. As kites gain and lose popularity, Albert Chang's kite store remains a permanent fixture in Chinatown.

When you're finished walking the four corners of the store, you'll get the American itch to consume. But what should you look for in a kite? Kites are made from a slew of materials including paper, mylar, polyester, and ripstop nylon. Kite rods range from bamboo, wood, and plastic, to carbon fiber and graphite. There are also several different types of kites ranging from the traditional diamond shape kite to box kites, dragon kites, delta kites, single line kites, 2 line and 4 line kites, and parafoils. Confused? Let's ask the owner of the Chinatown Kite Shop what he recommends for the first time flyer.

When talking to store owner Albert Chang, he recommends a single line, medium sized kite. Most kites range from $10 - $30 so this won't be a big bite to your wallet, but it also won't be a simple decision. Just like picking the right puppy in a pet store, you'll be lost in the sea of choice. You'll be sure to find something that matches your personality: from Winnie the Pooh, Pirate Ships, Chinese Brown Eagles, to the Dolphin Deltas, and Sid the Squid. Next, Albert Chang recommends buying kite string and a spool. Braided Dacron lines are good for single line kites and pick a spool that will prevent your string from tangling, such as the figure eight.

Now your shopping experience is complete, you're ready to roll. Albert Chang suggests several tips for kite flying beginners. The essential ingredient for flying is a 5 - 10 mile per hour wind. If you have a hard time calculating this, look on the sidewalk next to the field you're going to use. If a cigarette butt roles like tumbleweed, you're good to go. Next, pick an area that is flat where no obstructions lie in the distance. Albert Chang favors San Francisco's Marina Green, Chrissy field, Ocean Beach, or any open field in Golden Gate Park. Place your back to the wind and let out approximately 100 feet of line while a friend holds your kite directly across from you. As your partner lets your kite go, grab the line hand over hand.

As you let nature's elements do their thang and your kite rises in the distance, don't forget to admire your Bay Area surroundings. Whether it's the Golden Gate in the distance or the grove of Eucalyptus trees, you'll discover the Zen of kite flying.

Chinatown Kite Shop
717 Grant Ave.
Monday - Sunday (10 am - 9 pm)
www.chinatownkite.com