50 Years: The Kitty Hawk Kites Story

Words from John Harris, Founder and CEO

“In 1973, I was captivated by a picture of someone flying a hang glider in Utah. Seeing this hang glider reignited in me a passion
for flight initially sparked by the joy of building and flying kites as a child on the farm where I grew up in Missouri. By the time I saw that
photograph in the Winston-Salem Journal, I had moved to North Carolina after graduating from Missouri University of Science &
Technology with a Bachelor of Science in Geological Engineering and was working for AT&T as an ocean engineer. I had spent all my
spare time exploring North Carolina, from the coast to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by the story of the Wright Brothers, who had traveled to Kitty Hawk for its wind and sand, I just knew Jockey’s Ridge would be the ideal place to learn to fly. I couldn’t imagine a
better mountain site than the majestic Grandfather Mountain on the opposite end of the state to fly this portable, inexpensive flying
machine, the hang glider, the Rogallo Wing; and all I could think about was how I was truly going to fly! Feeling inspired, I bought a mail order hang glider for about $600 and set off for Jockey’s Ridge to learn to fly with friends. We ran up and down the dunes until we figured it out. Just like the Wright Brothers, we were lifted from the soft and forgiving sand dunes with nice steady winds, and experienced the thrill of personal flight. The experience was even better than I expected so I couldn’t wait to share my passion for flying with everyone. As soon as I flew, I knew I wanted to spend my life Teaching the World to Fly.”

p081 ntbr1 002994 01 450x349 - 50 Years: The Kitty Hawk Kites Story
John Harris founded Kitty Hawk Kites out of a love for the sport of Hang Gliding. He is pictured flying his glider off of Grandfather Mountain in 1974, a historic flight for the sport.

The Story

Slide63 e1712863840215 450x324 - 50 Years: The Kitty Hawk Kites Story
The original garage shop of Kitty Hawk Kites in 1974

In the Spring of 1974, we founded Kitty Hawk Kites, with a business
plan that included teaching people to fly and selling hang gliders. We began operating in an old garage with an outhouse across from
Jockey’s Ridge in Nags Head. We offered hang gliding lessons, sold and repaired hang gliders and sold T-Shirts and kites. Business
was tough going and very seasonal, but it was fun and so personally rewarding to see others experience flight for the first time!
After operating out of the garage for 5 years, we were able to get a loan to build a building for a store location. This is the current flagship location of Kitty Hawk Kites in Nags Head, featuring the Rogallo Tower. We had lots of help and support from the local community, the hang gliding community, and Francis and Gertrude Rogallo, inventors of the flexible wing, who then lived in Southern Shores, NC.

Since then, we’ve grown into a beloved retail and outdoor recreation venture with more than 28 stores up and down the East Coast and more than 30 adventure related activities in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We also host more than 25 large-scale events throughout the year aimed at community engagement and sharing the joy of kite flying with  It hasn’t been easy, but it sure has been fun. Continually, we’re fueled by a passion of creating uplifting experiences for all customers by holding tight to our mission of teaching the world to fly.



Outer Banks Adventures

Find an Adventure Adventure Gifts
0 Bucket List
Chat With Us