Canadian multiple kite world champion Ray Bethell was a late bloomer.
He was 57 when he first picked up a kite, but in that instant he found both a passion and a hobby he could enjoy well into retirement.
Fifteen years ago when he woke to find himself unexpectedly deaf from a rare virus, he saw kite-flying as a hobby he could take anywhere, anytime, without relying on the need to hear.
Mr Bethell is now 83 and his ability to fly a kite in each hand and one from his belt has taken him around the world and has sponsors queuing.
He will make his debut at this weekend's IGA Coolum Kite Festival, alongside internationally renowned kite flyers Liu Zhiping from China and Californian kite flyer Ron Gibian.
More than 40,000 people are expected to flock to Stumers Creek this weekend when the annual festival takes off.
As the festival enters its eighth year, international and national kite flyers will display colourful feature kites of all shapes and sizes.
Students from across the Coast had the chance to fly their own kites as part of the festival’s Schools Day at Coolum Beach on Thursday.
Mr Bethell has travelled to the United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium, New Zealand and Fiji with the help of his companion, Dolores Taylor.
He has learnt to overcome the initial sadness over his hearing loss with a positive attitude and steady gig travelling the globe.
“The doctors said I was one-in-a-million, because the virus is very rare and I woke up deaf,” he said.
“I went for my last test scan and saw seven or eight children playing around who were so happy and I was so upset.
“The nurse said they were terminally ill, and it was a good lesson for me to get off my backside and go on.”
Ms Taylor was watching her first kite festival in Washington Beach four years ago when she saw “three kites doing a beautiful ballet” in the distance.
She was surprised to find Mr Bethell flying all three kites alone and was “smitten right away” with his talent and character.
“Ray reads lips well and had been going okay for years without me, but it’s nice to be able to see the countries together,” Ms Taylor said.
“What Ray does with the kites is truly wonderful, and he taught himself everything about kites as there was no one to teach him.”
Festival chairman Noel Mooney said he had tried for three years to bring Mr Bethell to the fast-growing festival.
“I knew about Ray from other festivals, but this is the first time I’ve been able to get him for Coolum.”
Mr Mooney said the festival had steadily gained interest from international kite flyers.
“I’ve been to a couple of festivals myself, and this one is starting to get really renowned,” he said.
He said ideal conditions for the festival would be 10 to 15 knots.
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