DURHAM, N.C. (AP) -- Attentive drivers riding along Duke Street on a recent Sunday morning may have noticed pirate ships or a dolphin floating by.
But these seemingly water-bound objects took flight, a couple of the many kites that hung high in the sky above Durham County Stadium on this spring morning.
Long considered a pastime for children, flying kites has become a serious sport of adults -- and not just in the spring.
Hundreds of kite-flying festivals are held in the United States each year; and hundred of shops nationwide supply the needs of kite fliers or ''kiters,'' many of whom belong to kite-flying associations in metropolitan areas.
There's something about watching a kite climb into the clouds, born on a stiff breeze. It makes some folks feel less earthbound. Showered with sunshine, fresh air filling the lungs, kite flying lasts year round for Don Dixon, store manager of Kites Unlimited at Northgate Mall in Durham and a member of the Carolina Kite Club.
''Most people think about it come March and April because it's a season change and the weather warms up,'' he said. ''A lot of people think you only fly kites at the beach. That's OK. It's a great way to fly a kite, but you don't have to wait to go the beach ... I don't know how that mentality started.''
Novices and experts alike are at the Durham County Stadium, putting on a colorful and spectacular skyward display.
On this particular Sunday, a couple flew a multicolored delta kite of purple, yellow, red, orange and light blue hues.
Jonathan and Heather Hughes took turns guiding their newly purchased aircraft -- Heather Hughes bought it two days earlier -- nearly 400 feet high in the sky.
''It's something we can do outside on a nice day,'' she said. ''Today is a beautiful day.'''
The Hughes kept their kite airborne for about 90 minutes before calling it quits. They moved around the large parking lot as the kite swayed from left to right.
''It's sort of out of your control,'' she said. ''You have to be relaxed about it.''
While Dixon flies kites winter, summer and fall, he admits he looks forward to the spring months the most.
''If the weather is 72 degrees, and the wind is blowing 10 mph, it's better than if it is 40 degrees and the wind is 30 mph,'' he said.
For the past year, Dixon has traveled out of the stadium in northern Durham along with several employees on Sundays to fly kites and help other kiters when problems arise. Anywhere from six to 40 people show up for the weekly sessions, Dixon said.
''It's not a come-and-watch-me-fly-my-kite kind of thing,'' said Dixon, who began flying kites as a kid on an Ohio dairy farm. ''You can do that, but it's more of a come-and-fly-your-own-kite type of thing.''
While Dixon spends most of his time around kites, he relishes his time outdoors flying them.
''I find kite-flying relaxing,'' he said. ''There is enough stress in today's world, and kite-flying relieves that. It's fun. It's colorful. You get to show off, and it can be athletic as well.''
The lore of the kite began 2,000 years ago in China. One legend suggests that when a Chinese farmer tied a string to his hat to keep it from blowing away in a strong wind, the first kite was born. The earliest written account of kite flying was about 200 B.C., when Chinese General Han Hsin of the Han Dynasty flew a kite over the walls of a city he was attacking to measure how far his army would have to tunnel to reach past the defenses.
Kites have been used to ward off evil, deliver love messages, raise banners, drop propaganda leaflets, catch fish, spy on enemies, send radio signals, forecast the weather, photograph the Earth, tow vehicles, advertise, and lift passengers into the sky.
But in the stadium parking lot, the kite flyers were more concerned with keeping their kites aloft than with their history.
Dixon helped Reyna Upchurch launch a multicolored pirate ship kite for the first time. Reyna, the wife of John Upchurch, a Kites Unlimited employee, bought the kite in October.
''I saw it at a kite show and had to have it,'' she said.
She kept the longboat hung from her vaulted ceiling, waiting for the right weather to set it aloft.
The Upchurches enjoy kite flying so much that John's New Year's resolution was to fly a kite. So, on New Year's Eve the two set out to Chicago's Navy Pier and rang in the year 2000 in high-flying fashion.
Dixon has traveled around the nation flying his kites. The Oregon Coast is good place to fly he said. The southwest deserts and the Midwest states such as Oklahoma had good flying conditions as well, he added, but the best place he has flown is in North Carolina.
''I really think the North Carolina coast is as good as it gets,'' he said, citing a past survey that labeled it as one of the top ten spots in the nation for kite flying.
But just about any park, school playground or church parking lot will do the trick, he added.
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