Forty years later and Kitty Hawk Kites is still going strong!
If there is such a thing as a homegrown retail chain on the Outer Banks, it would have to be Kitty Hawk Kites. From their first location in Nags Head across from Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the company has expanded with stores from Ocracoke to Corolla. Actually, they’ve expanded beyond that with stores in Virginia Beach and Florida.
It didn’t start as a kite store. The business began when John Harris and his early partner, Ralph Buxton, became fascinated by a new kind of glider that had just become available: the hang glider. John and Ralph taught themselves to fly on the dunes of Jockey’s Ridge.
The partners then founded one of the first hang gliding schools anywhere. “Teaching the world to fly” became the mission of Kitty Hawk Kites, but hang gliding was only the beginning. John and Ralph’s partnership ended over time, but John continued expanding with new products, recreational activities and locations.
The stores are everywhere on the Outer Banks, and walking into one can seem like a step into a toy and kite wonderland. There are kites of every size and type, including four line stunt kites, dual line kites, fighter kites, huge single line kites that are designed to decorate the sky, and kites for kids of all ages.
Our recommendation for a family searching for the easiest kite to fly is the Parafoil 5, a frameless kite that will fly in winds as low as 6mph.
There is also a huge selection of toys in each store with popular toys as well as juggling kits, yo-yos, and more. Kitty Hawk Kites is also a great place to shop for t-shirts and souvenirs.
Describing the products doesn’t do justice to the concept behind the business though. From the company’s earliest days, John understood that to be successful everything the business did should focus on family. That idea has continued to present day.
Every Wednesday during the summer is Kids Day at the main store in Nags Head, and some of the outlying stores feature the same thing on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. There is face painting, kite making, toy demos and more. It’s all about the kids, and it’s a lot of fun… for free.
The Nags Head store also features a rock climbing wall that kids of all ages-permitting that they can fit in the harness-and adults are encouraged to try. You may also see their portable rock climbing wall at various Outer Banks events.
The recreational arm of the company has grown to include almost every activity imaginable on the Outer Banks-hang gliding, parasailing, kiteboarding, kayaking… the list goes on and on. The name? It’s not actually about the kites they sell, although they may be the largest kite store in the world. The story goes that hang gliding pilots call their gliders kites, and with a little imagination, Kitty Hawk Kites was born.