Kiteman Jobe started out with a flat wing five years ago and did not like it. "You are tossed about with every gust," he says, "and you hate to be under tow all the time." Then one day he watched some flyers experiment with a triangular kite designed for free flying. Jobe saw a great many crashes and abortive take-offs, but they did not dissuade him. "I know this thing can fly," he figured, and he proceeded to seek out anybody he could find who had ever fiddled with or thought about a glider kite, including two engineers at Boeing who were able to solve some of his technical problems.
Two summers ago he bought his first free-flying kite, and he took off over the lake on the same day. "It was blowing 25 mph," Jobe recalls, "and that is forbidden. You don't fly a kite on a windy day like that, but I couldn't wait. Before I knew it I had caught a wing tip and was going down on my ear. The whole kite doubled over and dived straight into the water. I found myself, strapped into the seat, 10 feet below the surface. Well, I was learning." (One thing he learned was to pour foam into the aluminum tubes. The foam sets and keeps out water that would drag the kite to the bottom of the lake.)
By last May, Jobe had become such an expert at aeronautics that he made his own kite. He has built 30 since, at a cost of about $350, and sold them all for prices ranging up to $500. He claims that his kites are aerodynamically sounder than any ever built before, but few of his buyers have come close to performing like Kiteman.
"I don't know what it is," says Jobe, "but I keep getting these phone calls from people who tell me, 'Your kite doesn't fly.' It takes time. It's like learning to snow ski. Often they make the mistake of taking off with a downwind. Usually, when a guy buys a kite from me, he thinks if I can do it, he can do it. He doesn't even want to listen."
Jobe probably inherited the flying craze from his father. Joe Jobe is a commercial pilot for Air West and during World War II he flew combat missions in the Pacific. "He received many honors for what he did in the war," says Jobe, "but he never talks about it. That's where he and I are different."
The senior Jobe is a hearty outdoors-man and he brought his four children up to share his interests. Before the Jobes moved to their home in Redmond, Wash, and bought the summer house, they lived on a beach at Puget Sound. They spent their summers water skiing and cruising to remote islands, and in the winter they skied in the Cascade Range. They did everything together, though Kiteman himself was at first reluctant to get into the act.
When Jeff was about five, it was of some, concern to his father that he could not get the boy to water ski on the sound. The water was too cold. "One day it was Jeffrey's turn to sweep the patio," he recalls. "It was a chore that he hated. So I promised that I would sweep it myself if he tried water skiing. He was not tempted. I had to bribe him with a quarter before he took me up on it."
Unlike his older brother and sister, Jeff does not much care for school. At one point father Jobe had to resort to bribery again, warning Jeff that he would not have any snow-skiing lessons unless his grades improved. Jeff made enough of an effort to earn four lessons, but that was the end of it. It mattered little because four lessons were all he needed to become a parallel skier. He went on to earn money as a ski instructor at 16.
"When I do sports," says Jobe, "I like to do them as hard as I can. I'm often asked why I didn't become a ski racer. The reason is that I didn't want to break a leg. It's too dangerous."
The first sport to which Jobe really applied himself was water skiing. As soon as the Jobes moved to Sammamish Lake, where the water temperature was more to Jeff's fancy, he started on tricks. At the age of 15 he was an accomplished water skier. It was at this time he met a neighbor, Herb O'Brien, then one of the best skiers in the area. O'Brien started his own water-ski factory and Jobe worked for him for a while; his skis are the ones Jobe now advertises on his kite.