I first met Ray Bethell in 2009... or maybe it was 2008 at WSIKF in Long Beach, Wa. I was there as a demo kite flier for HQ Powerkites and was trying to find a place to set up on the otherwise busy field. The organizers found a space for me down field of a guy named 'Ray Bethell', with a field dedicated to just him. I hadn't spent a lot of time on these kind of kite fields, and had never seen a dedicated field to just one person. Perhaps to one kind of kite, but not a person. When I first set up it was early in the morning, and there was only a handful of other fliers out on the field. Out comes this guy, shirtless in the cold morning sun, skin the color of a deep leather couch, and he set ups 3 red, white and blue kites. There are no crowds yet, so I have nothing to do but watch and see why this guy gets his own 'dedicated field'. He was 'dancing' in the deep sand smoothly. Each hand made pulling sweeping motions while his hips swayed side to side. The movements of his body reflected in the three kites circling and dancing overhead. It was the first time I had seen someone fly 3 stunt kites and control them all at once.
Throughout the day people filtered on over to try out the demo kites I had on hand. I walked them through the safety and everything else. Ray kept flying nearly the whole time. As the day came to an end I walked over to introduce myself. Told him that I was impressed, and that I felt a little nervous. I didn't want the folks trying out the powerkites (which are rather large in comparison) to detract from the visual performance he was giving. He laughed, looked downwind, and said he liked "having ya' there. Ya keep the riff raff out of my field". I didn't know exactly what he meant but smiled and said, "Okay, well, let me know if I need to move". Over the course of the weekend I would see him each morning and each evening and chat. I learned that he was mostly deaf, and he had a wicked sense of humor. (He also introduced me to his friend Chuck, a local resident of Long Beach that I became friends with as well). Every year for the next few years, I would set up at the same spot, and he would welcome me to 'box in his field'. The second year or so, I found out that what he meant by 'riff raff' was some other multi kite pilots that would come set up right next to his field. I don't think he was bothered by someone stealing the limelight or attention, more a safety thing. Those kites sometimes came across the line and into his field. I was happy to be his buffer.... and share a shot or two of peach schnapps with him and Chuck at the end of a day of flying.
Ray was a true ambassador of kite flying. Flying for tens of thousands of people around the world, in more countries than any other kite flier, and set many world records. I was pleased to call him friend, and to watch as he continued to wow and amaze people.
A few weeks ago a member of Team Island Quad reached out to me and asked if I* could help them set up, and spread the word on a special tribute to Ray Bethell at the upcoming WSIKF. Gladly.... and thus here is my small part to help pay tribute to a man that I know inspired generations.