Kite enthusiasts dotted the skies around the Monument grounds yesterday with a spectrum of whirling, floating and darting kites in countless shapes and sizes.

Leslie Willson, 7 years old, stood anxiously as her father, Wayne Willson, pulled on her kite string, jerking the triangular-shaped kite higher and higher into the sunlight.

Willson joined 174 others who entered homemade kites in the 14the annual kite flying contest at the Monument grounds.

More than 500 people, many who were ineligible for the contest because they had purchased their kites, and others just there to enjoy the show, came out in 60-degree temperatures and light breezes.

At one point, a record-setting 132 kites, some dragon-shaped, some box-shaped and others of geometric configurations, drew applause as they drifted or fluttered in the breeze.

It was a day for the young and the young at heart to experience, perhaps vicariously, the thrill of flying.

"I get a certain sky-high feeling, like a natural high, just doing this," said Al Simmons, a D.C. resident who works at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He stood on the soggy ground maneuvering his 8-foot red, blue and green triangular-shaped kite.

"It's a relaxing feeling, and your thoughts wander when you're dealing with the wind, a part of nature," he said.

Around him, small children screamed and jumped for kites floating dozens of feet above. It was a day for lovers, for families who spread out blankets laden with the season's first picnic lunches, and for nature buffs who strolled about, backpacks in tow.

"You can make a kite out of just about any material, but it must be strong but also light enough to fly," said Steve Bernstein, a retired Air Force engineer who was one of the contest judges.

Bernstein, like others interviewed, said he adopted the kite hobby after watching adults fly kites. His experience came during a tour of duty in Taiwan where he saw older adults fly dragon kites. His first homemade kite was a 25-foot replica of something he saw in Taiwan, and it won him a prize. He was hooked thereafter, he said

Potomac resident Rolfe Gregory entered a kite shaped like Snoopy's doghouse in a 1971 contest and won the novelty trophy. This year, he entered a kite shaped like King Tut's coffin.

His wife, Nancy, and two grandchildren all entered homemade kites.

"When you get on the field to fly a kite, you feel 14 years old," said Gregory.

Nancy Gregory entered a kite with the figure of Martha Washington dressed in a replica of an inaugural gown. She said she copied the dress pattern, including the lace collar and shawl, from a post card picture of Martha Washington.

Around her, grandsons Victor and Kirk Nazarian, ages 15 and 9, put the finishing touches on kites ready for the test. Victor's was a circular spaceship made of white paper and balsa wood. Kirk's, a traditional four-sided kite with a long extended point. On the front of Kirk's kite was a spaceship. Grandfather Gregory helped both of them.

"This is a way to get together with our grandchildren for some fun," Nancy Gregory said. "When the granchildren make their kites, it makes them feel like they have some worth.

"For me, I like the feeling of seeing a kite take off the ground and see nature take over," she said, turning her head upward to the dozens of kites.

Bruce Kennington, of Clarksburg, Md., called the feeling, "peaceful."

"Your mind is cleared and you are removed from the current situation, enjoying the fact that you made something and it's working."

Some kites did not work despite the many hours of painstaking work.

Rockville resident Eric Wallgren's kite, a replica of the Curtis NC4 airplane, the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic, crashed and broke up seconds after lift off.

Light, variable 10-mile-an-hour winds prevented several of the larger kites from lifting off the ground, disqualifying them because of the 1-minute flying time required.

Dozens of people gathered around Oxon Hill resident Martin McNamee as he assembled one of the most elaborate kites of the day -- a seven-sectioned, 12 foot-wide tetrahedron, made almost entirely out of 2,235 soda straws.

"It took me 72 hours straight to make this kite and I sure hope I have enough wind to fly it," McNamee said, applying the last touches of glue to straw ends.

But as the contest closed and winners were announced, McNamee still could not get enough wind to lift his kite off the ground.