Diamond-shaped kites used to be a kite-flyer's best friend, but nowadays you're just as likely to see kites shaped like turtles, butterflies and even a great white shark hovering up there in the sky.

Box kites, stunt kites and 3-D kites also add to the rainbow of color and fanciful shapes flown at Long Island's state parks on a windy day in May.

WILD KITES

Those cheap paper and wood models you flew as a kid? They are pretty much gone with the wind, local experts say. They're been replaced by technologically superior models that fly better and last longer.

Keith Mumolo, 20 of North Bellmore, a sales clerk at Songer Flags and Kites in Wantagh, says that kite technology has improved with current models made of durable ripstop nylon. Plastic or fiberglass frames last far longer than those old dollar-store kites that wore out in a day.

"You can spend a little bit more money for something that has true quality," Mumolo says. At Songer, which is open only on Saturdays, prices range from $15 for a basic kite to $170 for the more intricate models. You can also choose from an assortment of tails, which help stabilize the kite, so you won't have to make one at home from a torn-up shirt.

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The sheer variety of kites nowadays is astonishing, local hobbyists say.

"There are some really intricate novelty kites right now, there's one that looks like a pirate ship," says Evan Reinheimer, 31, of Babylon, a professional aerial photographer who uses kites to take photographs but also flies them for fun. He says that stunt or trick kites, which are controlled from the ground by two hand-held lines, can do spins, loop-the-loops and figure eights.

NOW IS THE TIME

The hobby is popular on Long Island, thanks to the wide-open spaces at state park beaches and the year-round breezy shoreline.

"Kites are one of our best-selling items," says Lori Badanes, owner of Einstein's Attic toy store in Northport. For $15 to $30 you can pick up a seagull, parrot or butterfly-shape kite, or a kite that you color yourself with crayons, Badanes says.

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You can fly kites down the block at the village's harborfront park or at nearby Crab Meadow Park in Northport or Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park, she says.

The sport is especially popular in springtime because there's a "consistent straight out-of-the west wind" at South Shore beaches, says Reinheimer. But even after Memorial Day, you can catch a breeze. "Because we have the beaches so close, you can fly anytime," Reinheimer says.

WHERE TO FLY

Your best bet is to take advantage of the consistent breezes and wide open spaces at Long Island's state parks. But you need to obey the rules.

State parks spokesman George Gorman, Jr. says that kite flying is permitted east of Jones Beach Field 6, and between the park's West Bathhouse pool complex and Field 2. "These are areas that are the least trafficked, where you don't see a lot of people lying on the sand," he explains. Robert Moses State Park Field 5 in Babylon is also kite-friendly.

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Hobbyists can also let their kites go at the state's "picnic parks," Gorman says. They include Belmont Lake State Park in West Babylon, Hempstead Lake State Park in West Hempstead and Valley Stream State Park, although kite-flyers need to stay away from picnic areas.