IRRIGON - "Chaos effect" may not be the phrase you would associate with kite flying, but piloting kites that can lift someone off the ground and carry them hundreds of feet through the air makes it a little easier to picture.
Alan Cunningham and Kyle Wright are the two faces of Chaos Effect, a partnership that has given them the title of Northwest League Champions for paired kite flying in 2004.
The name Chaos Effect is taken from a math principle that says tiny actions can set in motion huge repercussions. The adage of a flap of a butterfly's wings one side of the world can cause a hurricane on the other is important in a sport where wind is the key ingredient. Cunningham thinks of it with a slight twist.
"A butterfly flaps its wings in Malaysia and then our kites fly into each other."
Cunningham is a high school science teacher from Arlington, Kyle a 16-year-old junior at Riverside High School in Boardman. Cunningham has known and flown with Kyle's father, the owner of Columbia River Kites in Irrigon, but Kyle has taken flying to the competitive level. At his age, the sky is the limit, and he knows it.
"I want to go to world," said Wright.
World refers to the world championship events, where France is the current powerhouse in the under-the-radar sport.
"There's a lot of things I want to do. I want to get sponsored really bad," he said.
Cunningham, who is sponsored by a major kite company, said he doesn't get much more than free kites from it, but that is more than enough to keep him going.
"It's not about the money," Cunningham said. "It's about the fun."
In order to compete both of them have to be certified with the American Kite Association, entering them into an elite world most people have never heard of. There is no prize money for winning and there are no cereal boxes with their faces on them, but the two of them love flying and that is all that's important.
"It's actually dangerous," Cunningham said. "It's an extremely dangerous sport." The danger comes in some of the larger kites that can literally lift a flyer off the ground and carry them on wind currents for staggering distances. Kyle said he has been lifted high by kites.
"Your thinking 'this is crazy I can't believe I'm doing it. But I'm going to do it anyway,'" Wright said with typical 16-year-old bravado.
They fly everything from six foot monster kites to flyers so light a breeze will tear them. Those kites are used for indoor exhibitions where everything the kite does is guided by movements from the flyer.
Competitions have dozens of small events in them involving different styles of kites. Judges look at tricks, control and presentation when they are rating a flyer. It's as much of a performing art as it is a test of handling skills.
"It's a finesse sport," said Cunningham. "It's scored and competed in the way that figure skating is. It's definitely not as well promoted as football and soccer."
Wright and Cunningham travel the Northwest for competitions. They won their prize for Experienced Pairs Ballet, a choreographed routine where kites must mirror the other perfectly, sort of like synchronized swimming in thin air. The level of control is so precise they can make a 3 ounce kite hover six feet above the ground, and, with a slight movement of the wrist, make it do a 180 degree turn without losing altitude.
The pair is looking forward to competing more this year and next, building up points toward competing at the national level. From there, if they have the skills and the right wind, they could go on even further. As with any sport the competition is tough, but even if they don't make the majors, both of them are flyers to the bone.
"I'm going to do it even if I'm in a wheelchair," Wright said.
"We're going to do it until we can't do it anymore," said Cunningham. "As long as the wind blows we'll be flying."