"He was just a little kid," recalls O'Brien, "but he was always asking me and my friends how we did this trick and that. At the end of the first summer he was telling us how. He started competing the next year and won the state championship. He could do 4,000 points in 40 seconds anytime, and that takes every tournament around here."
In the spring of 1970, just before Jobe took up flying seriously, he entered the annual water-ski race on the Sammamish River. One has to be something of a madman to try this race because the shallow slough that runs between Sammamish Lake and Lake Washington is a wild slalom with lots of tricky, 90-degree turns and such narrow spots that, at times, only one boat can pass through. O'Brien drove the boat for Jobe and remembers the race as a nerve-racking experience. "I knew Jeff had not been water skiing since the previous summer," he says, "and I was scared. But he made me go full bore at 60 mph through all those hairy turns and bottlenecks and damned if he didn't win. It is a pity he quit competing."
"Competition just didn't jazz me anymore," says Jobe. "So what if you get more points than another guy. It only makes people jealous. I'm told that I'm an absolute waste as a water skier. I think if you continue to compete in one sport for years and years, that is a waste. It limits you to one way of life, and I want to be free to try new things."
Jobe's next new thing became flying, and he tackled it with the same verve that he had put into water skiing. The first summer was full of smashups, and whenever father Jobe came to the lake house he was alarmed by the sight of broken tubes and bent bars strewn all over the lawn. "The flying began to concern me," says Joe Jobe, "but what can you tell a kid when he gets to his age? It is certainly better than having him on pot."
"Who needs pot?" says Jeff. Certainly not Kiteman, who can see Seattle's Space Needle from his lofty seat above the lake, who can fly from the top of Sun Valley's Baldy Mountain to the base lodge at Warm Springs in four exhilarating minutes. Jobe does not drink, not even beer. He thinks dancing is a dumb thing to do and he keeps dropping out of college—as did Charles Lindbergh—because of his flying. He has no eye for girls, either, unless they are both very pretty and very tough. When an attractive trampoline gymnast wandered into his bedroom at the summer house one recent night in an apparent expression of hero worship, Jobe sat up shocked on his water bed. Then, well, long as she was there anyway, he took the opportunity to ask her whether he could borrow her trampoline. "A trampoline is a useful thing," he says, "because it helps me to learn the flip."
Like a mad missionary, Jobe tries to convince people to join him in his daring feats. He has little regard for his older brother Tim's preference for philosophy, because thinking, in Jeff's opinion, is a waste of time. As soon as Tim arrived at Sammamish Lake this year on summer vacation from college in Santa Barbara, Calif., Jeff strapped him to a kite because he needed a companion up there in the clouds. "I can't figure out why I'm doing this," Tim said after one long session. "What an inane way to spend day after day. All through last winter I read books, and the most athletic thing I did was running on the beach. Now he has me sitting up there—800 feet above the lake—and he is acting like a clown, zooming around me and yelling into my ear."
At the end of one flight, Jeff came in for a shore landing and Tim, following closely, found himself in the slipstream behind Jeff's kite. With no air to hold him up, he dropped onto the shore like a rock, badly scraping his leg. "I fell out of the sky," said Tim. "How foolish," said Jeff, "but isn't it fun?"
Whatever it is, Kiteman seems to have a superhuman knack for it, even in disaster. He can drop out of the sky and walk away unscraped. One day last winter, flying at Whistler Mountain in British Columbia, Kiteman took a helicopter to the summit so that he could enjoy a longer trip than from the top of the ski lift. There was a strong crosswind when he skied down a ridge and took off. "I flew about 600 feet over a bunch of rocks," he says, "and that was real neat. Then I hit this head wind—well, it was more like a storm—and it just stopped me. I was coming down. There were tall firs under me and I turned downwind, trying to avoid them, but now I was probably doing 50 mph. Well, it finally got down to two trees. One had a branch sticking out, and that knocked me against the other tree and in the end I was stuck up there in the branches between the two. It really jazzed me—except that I broke my ski boots and every bar on the kite and the sail was ripped to pieces. I just had a few scratches, but I sure minded losing the kite."
To Kiteman, the future is an exciting game, as unpredictable as the sky. He can make $500 a day just flying over ski areas (it is cheaper to fly Kiteman than the Goodyear blimp) and admits that he would welcome a snow-ski sponsor but he does not worry about what he will do when he grows up. When he thinks about this at all, only fun things come to his mind. He might want to manufacture a monoski—a single snow ski equipped with a platform to accommodate both feet. Or take up golf some distant day, though not like ordinary golfers. "I'd buy one of those adjustable drivers," he says. "Wouldn't that be a jazz? Everybody else would be lugging all these irons and woods around, and then they'd see me. Wouldn't they just go berserk watching me with my one funstick?"
Whatever happens to Kiteman, it does not seem possible he could come upon hard times. After all, there is an old English proverb that promises: FLY AND YOU WILL CATCH THE SWALLOW.