As a “pup” with only 15 years of kiting behind me, it seems like David Gomberg has always been a part of the community I love so much. Whether he’s filling the sky with colorful nylon in various shapes, calling the shots as world champion sport kite fliers duke it out, charging across the field with a Rokkaku, leading a meeting at the annual AKA Convention, or serving as MC at the auction of the week… His style, diplomacy, level of involvement and deep-rooted care for the kiting world has always been exemplary for me personally, showing so much of what it means to be a kite flier in the first place.
Attending his first kite festival in 1978, David has been a part of kiting’s development since the early days and is one of many who have helped bring it into the new millenium… We’ve all heard the expression, “He wrote the book”… Well, in this case it’s true.
Enough flattery, although it’s sincere… We’ll let David tell his own tale of kiting, past and present.
Okay David, first things first… How were you first exposed to the wide world of kiting that has become such a prominent force in your life today? Was it at a kite festival or in some other venue?
Exposed?? LOL If only kiting spread like the measles or an ivy rash. Well actually it does. Kiting grows as more people encounter it. You see kites and suddenly get an itch to try it yourself!!
I’m not sure when I first started scratching. I’ve always been a kiter. But my most prominent early memory was winning the Albert Einstein Junior High kite competition back in… well, around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I can’t tell you how many times I searched my mom’s house for that old trophy.
I kept kites in my dorm room, apartment, and in my car. But 1978 was a big change when I stumbled into the first Lincoln City Kite Festival. Festivals?? They actually have festivals for kites?? Cool! I won Highest Flying Kite and the award was a brand new style of two-line kite called a Rainbow Stunter. Suddenly I could drive a kite around the sky! That Rainbow changed my life in many, many ways.
Rumor, folklore, or legend (call it what you will) has it that your first date with Susan involved kites.
True story! We met on a Friday and I invited her to the beach the next morning. Brought along my stack of now 24 Rainbows. You can really get to know someone in the time it takes to untangle tails!! And she flew pretty well too! Knew right then that I had a keeper!
How did you come to author the Gomberg kite-books? And how did the books relate to the origins of GKPI?
Back in the mid-eighties, I’d collected several plans together that I’d been using for kitemaking classes and self-published them as Seven Kites. Our (very) small business was registered as Cascade Kites – for the Cascade Mountains that slope down to the Pacific here in Oregon.
It was a pretty simple book, but as I called around to kite stores trying to sell it, I heard that what they really wanted was a book on those new two-line kites. In 1988, we published Stunt Kites!
The great thing about self-publishing in small quantities was that we could update the book each year as kite technology changed. We sold 50,000 copies in the next ten years and printed new editions annually. And one day I realized that the book was making me more than my job was paying. So I left the job and became a professional kiteflier.
I had just been elected AKA president and the change let me focus on the Association. Business back then pretty much took care of itself. And over the next six years we published two more books – The Fighter Kite Book! and Sport Kite Magic!
So you were elected to the AKA post in 1990?
That’s right. I’d been president of the Associated Oregon Kiters for several years. Back then, local clubs ran the national convention, and when AOK applied to host “Seaside I,” I became the chairman. The convention was a huge success and that lead to an invitation to run for the AKA post.
Understand that AKA was at a turning point in 1990. We hired an Executive Director. We created phone conferences to involve all the elected directors in decision making. We began a major membership program that doubled our size.
A major issue was the emerging national role of AKA in sport kite competition. Each big event or regional league had their own rules back then. We were struggling to build a cohesive program from coast-to-coast.
So basically, AKA was a full time job then. And it still is. LOL. I served an unprecedented four years as president.
And what happened to the business in the mean time? We’d like to hear how GKPI came into being.
Well, like I said, the business took care of itself pretty well at first. Books were selling like crazy. But by the beginning of 1995, sales were starting to slow, and with AKA behind me, I had a lot of new time to invest. We changed the name to Gomberg Kite Productions and began a series of significant changes. Two years later, we were manufacturing our own designs and representing products from around the world. Our web page went online in 1996.
Who designs all of your products?
Many of our designs come from fliers we meet around the world. We’re licensed to produce for Peter Lynn, Charlie Watson, Robert VanWeers, Geoff Cambell, Frank Schweimann, Kevin Shannon, Kevin Sanders, Rolf Zimmerman, Robin Parent, Peter Batchelor, and several others. I’m pleased to say that we pay some of the highest commissions in the industry.
Many of our other designs come from David or Susan Gomberg. One thing that sets us apart is our ability to produce custom colors and special designs in about two weeks. We specialize in the small market of large kites and line laundry, but have expanded over the past three years into a new line of entry level kites and accessories.
We’re still a relatively small company. But it can be interesting competing with the big companies – especially when most other firms like us have gone away. Early this year, GKPI was named one of the top three micro sized family owned businesses in Oregon. That was a surprise!
What is it about flying a kite that’s kept you interested and involved in actually flying kites all these years as opposed to slipping entirely into organizational duties?
For a long time I was known as an administrator more than as a flier. I remember once hearing an announcement at an event in Germany. “David Gomberg will perform his specialty in the arena next!”. I went to the organizer and asked if he preferred me to make a speech or hold a meeting… But the truth is that I really enjoy flying – all kinds of flying whether it is giant inflatables, roks, fighters, or even
sport kites. And more important, I enjoy the people I meet
on the field. I’ve been fortunate to travel around the world and am blessed with friends in many far-away places.
I suppose there are other ways that you could make and maintain those relationships. I suppose there are other ways that you could travel, and experience history and art and competition and technology, and do it all outside on beautiful beaches and fields. But I sure couldn’t tell you what that other way might be.
Kiting has been good to me and I feel really fortunate to enjoy the life I live.
Ok, we have to ask – just how many different countries and festivals have you been to now?
Well, I know that I’ve been to 25 countries and 27 states. I know that we do 25-30 events a year. I know that United Airlines says I’ve flown more than 1 million miles. But I have no idea how many festivals I’ve been to. I guess I could sit down and figure it out. But not today… 😉
And out of all of those festivals, name one or more that stand out as the most memorable, and are there any festivals that you’d prefer NOT to re-do, or have you successfully repressed them?
Every festival is different. Each one is a special experience and a special joy. And at each you will find special people. That sounds corny, but it is true.
I tell people that life is all about the stories. Go to Hammamatsu Japan, or Weifang China, or Berck France, or Fano Denmark, and I promise it will change you. Each week we publish travel reports and photos on our site in the Weekly Update. And I’m amazed at the people who I meet on fields who tell me they log on frequently to read about our adventures.
A festival I wouldn’t go back to?? Ha! One year we were invited to Quebec for a February event on a frozen lake. We’d been to Kites on Ice for five years and were pretty cocky about our ability to fly in the snow. But no way were we ready for winds that were 30 degrees below zero!!! Great people!! And a great festival. Great story too. But I think I’d politely decline next time….
What differences do you see in the way festivals are generally done in the USA, as compared to Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world?
People ask me why the events in Europe are better funded and attended than those in the States. And my answer is, because they are in Europe. Europeans have more vacation time than we do. The travel times are shorter. They live in crowded cities and want to get out with the family and go someplace – anyplace – on the weekend. We live in the suburbs and want to get home, cut the grass and watch the game on Saturday….
Culture and economics have a huge impact on recreation. The Japanese all get together, do their events in one day, have a great party, and then take the midnight train home.
Our kite traditions are dissimilar from Europe or Asia. Kites are a significant part of their history and social tradition. We have traditions here too – from Ben Franklin to Charlie Brown. But we have to overcome the perception that kites are toys for kids. I tell people that the Wright Brothers took the lines off their kites, added an engine, and ruined the whole thing for 100 years.
Giant kites, kite surfing, and indoor flying are helping change that perception and expose kiting to new generations. See – there’s that word “expose” again.
Since you have flown to dozens of countries and hundreds of festivals over the years, what’s your worst international story?
The worst trips make for the best stories. And I told you – life is all about the stories…
It might have been when they cancelled my flight tickets out of the United Arab Emirates. Or when we landed in Bombay and were told 500 people died in ethnic rioting while we were en route. Being marooned on an island for three days in Thailand to sleep on the floor of bamboo huts with lots of mosquitoes and no toilets was interesting. (They later filmed Survivor on the same island.) Or maybe it was just being in Wildwood and having a roommate I thought had gas, who thought that I had gas, and later discovering that we were both wrong and the room itself had a sewer leak….
Is there anyone who has been a major influence on you, in regard to kiting?
Sue Sedgewick was a dear friend. She and Lee are wonderful role models – experimenting, pushing the envelope, sharing everything that they learned, and never complaining.
Pete Dolphin and I have been around the block a few times together. We have so many stories that we’ve starting referring to them by number. We are very different people, but also the closest of friends.
And Peter Lynn continues to inspire and amaze me.
But if you want influences – I mean real influences, then I have to say that Susan Oswald is the one that got me where I am today. BTW – her name is Gomberg now… 😉
You’re fairly well known on the field for gorgeous large inflatable kites. Please tell us how you got into flying and selling those superb inflatables.
Remember how I told you that Rainbow Stunters changed my life?? Susan and I were in Thailand. It was hot and almost windless. Tom Castleman and I had been trying to launch his giant one-eyed octopus and he finally gave up. I pulled Susan out of the shade shelter and said, “Come one – we’re going to fly this!!” It was hard hot work. But I was younger then. We got the kite up and as it filled the sky, I think both of us realized that we’d reached another kite turning point. We’ve been flying big kites ever since.
There is a remarkable sense of satisfaction that you get, putting a big kite in the sky. It’s something about controlling the elements, astounding the crowd, beating the odds… Dragging 500 pounds of gear to the airport each week wears us down. But I’ve never tired of the feeling I get when a big kite fills with wind and eases off the ground.
And of course, now we own one that is 10,000 square feet – the biggest in the world. Susie says I should be satisfied enough now.
Tell us more about this big kite.
The kite is an enormous inflatable American Flag – 130 by 80 feet. That’s HUGE! I mean, how many feet is the average house?? It was designed for us by Peter Lynn in New Zealand.
And yes – it is officially the largest in the world now – 20% larger than the MegaRay – although there is another giant flag in Kuwait the exact same size.
The “Mega Flag” is a business investment. The plan is to sell performances at air shows, fairs, and other big events. And we’d love to fly it at kite festivals too when sponsorship, space, and insurance is available. The focus right now has to be on recouping our mega-investment.
We’re beefing up the “productions” part of Gomberg Kite Productions. This year, in addition to the MegaFlag, we’ve organized performances for the SuperBowl and US Open.
You are also known as a fierce Rokkaku fighter. What attracted you to this aspect of the sport, and how long have you been involved in fighting Roks? And finally, tell us about your favorite Rok battle.
It’s funny what gets your competitive juices flowing. I can’t remember when I first started, but if I’m not mistaken, I’ve won at the Grand Nationals five or six times. And we sponsor the trophy now so that if we don’t win, we’ll have our name on the award anyway!
I fought in a battle with 72 kites once in Germany. In France they shrink the field as kites are eliminated until you are all wrapped up together in a 10 by 10 arena. And in Japan, they announce rule changes – in Japanese – as the fight begins.
I think my best memory was in Wildwood a few years back. I arrived too late for the first heat and Harold Ames racked up an impressive 13 point lead. I didn’t have a kite or a team, but the contestants encouraged me to enter and Harold even loaned me a kite. I went to the sidelines and recruited a ten year old kid to fly with me. In the end, we won by two points and I gave him the trophy.
BTW – Harold was a great sport. Good thing too. I pulled him off the sidelines for his first fight too – and gave him the trophy when we won!! LOL
Susan says I’m too old to go running around in the sand with fighters half my age. And it is true that I don’t fight, or win as often as I used to. But there are still a few tricks we older guys can teach the youngsters….
You’ve been the AKA President for quite a while, Dave. But it also seems to us you’ve also played a strong leadership role in KTAI as well, right? What did you do for/with the Kite Trade Association International over the years, and what is your participation level now?
After my first AKA term – “Gomberg 1,” I was asked to serve on the KTAI Board. And a year later I was elected to the first of two terms as president.
KTA is tough – in some ways harder than AKA, even though it is much smaller. As passionate as people are about their hobby, they are more intense about their livelihood. But we had two good years. That was when I proposed the KTA/AKA partnerships that became National Kite Month.
I still think NKM is our best ‘hook’ for promoting kiting to the mass market.
Just as I finished with KTA, I was the ‘subject’ of a write-in campaign for AKA president. About 400 people put my name on their ballots. The following year I agreed to actually run again. “Gomberg 2” has lasted a full six years.
At the 2005 AKA Convention you announced that 2006 would be your last year of AKA Presidency. What do you feel your biggest accomplishments are? And for that matter, what do you wish you could have done better or spent more time on?
I recently wrote a column for Kiting about all that has changed in AKA over the past few years. Our membership has doubled. Our competition rules are widely used and accepted. We have the World Sport Kite Championship and National Kite Month. Our magazine is printed in full color. We’ve improved communication with regular email reports to members. And our web page is a major resource to the kite community.
AKA is a lot of folks working hard for kiting and kite fliers. There are many, many people who deserve credit for what we have accomplished.
What could we have done better? The insurance thing makes me crazy. The industry basically dropped us. And I got some pretty nasty letters from the traction community suggesting that AKA had cut them off to save money. Absolutely not true! We’ve worked hard – and continue to work – to find a policy to cover our members no matter when or what they fly.
What do I feel best about? When I was elected the second time, AKA was losing $8,000 a month and was six weeks from bankruptcy. Since then, we’ve been in the black six straight years and have a $60,000 reserve. People don’t see that side of the Association, but if we didn’t have an AKA, it would make a huge difference to fliers – whether they belong or not!
At the Lincoln City Fall Festival this year, we saw a rare treat. You flew a dual line demo. And word is, you could even do it with a quad or two dual line kites at the same time.
Well, it’s important to surprise your friends occasionally.
Yep – I can fly two at once. I first taught myself in the huge grass turf fields north of Salem, Oregon, where I lived at the time. It was a hot afternoon and I was wearing khaki shorts. I stripped off my shirt and was using a bright yellow harness to hold the kites. That’s how we did it back then. Anyway, I hear a guy behind me and discover a reporter taking photos. The next day, I’m on the front of the paper, in full color, flying two Hawaiian Team Kites. You can see the harness but not the shorts. Headline says “Kiteman Struts His Stuff”.
It went out on the newswire and was seen all over the country. Maybe that’s why I don’t dual fly too often. Besides, I don’t want people to confuse me with Ray Bethel.
One of our usual interview questions, please give Kitelife readers your views on Sport Kiting becoming “mainstream” in the USA… Do you think it can happen? If so, what does the sport of Kiting need to do to get there?
That’s a tough one. In the early years, we missed the advantages that come with being new and edgy because we were divided by turf and control battles. And there was never enough money in our industry to buy us the coverage. Hell – there is less and less money in the industry all the time.
More events and more stores selling quality kites would help. A few years back, manufacturers cut the cost of good sport kites in half thinking they would sell three times as many. But sales remained constant and revenues plummeted. We’re actually losing events and stores now.
Tricks?? I really admire the new Tricks Party program. And I think it has a lot to offer for fliers. But I don’t think it is the answer for the ‘mainstream dilemma’. The public has enough trouble understanding sport kites in general without being asked to contemplate tricks. It may have worked well in Europe. But as I said before – Europe is different.
So what is the answer? First, I think we need to make some compromises so events are more spectator friendly. The biggest one is scoring. I can’t name another sport where the public is asked to watch a contest and not told the results. We need to actually post or announce points right after a flier performs. And it would be better if we could display them by judge.
We also need to get better about moving things along. We’ve made HUGE improvements with fliers being ready and minimizing wind delays. But dead time is still killing us. If we want the public to watch us, then procedures can’t all be about the fliers.
We need better commentary – with less inside jokes, more education, and just a bit of hype. The World Championship wasn’t quite the horserace we made it look like – but the drama sure kept people’s attention.
And finally, if we want major sports coverage, we need a deep-pocket sponsor. AKA has solicited several and will keep looking. Somewhere out there is a flier with the connections to make it happen.
Have you thought of competing in your retirement?
Sport kite competition?? See how well you can do a pancake or coin-toss after you turn 50 and then ask me that again.
Actually that isn’t true. “Mature” fliers bring a lot to the field, including finesse and the ability to fly plenty of tricks. And GKPI even has a pretty fancy trick kite from Australia on the drawing board. The main issue for me, as you know, is time.
A friend and I are working on a little surprise. I won’t say much except that I’ve won rok trophies, a fighter trophy, and a kitemaking trophy at Grand Nationals. And I’d really like to complete the collection….
Is there anything you would like to see our next AKA President focus on regarding the organization’s direction, and with regard to kiting at large?
AKA has suffered through ten years of my vision! LOL So I think AKA will benefit from some new ideas and initiatives. But there are also certain core issues for AKA – attention to all kinds of kites and kite fliers – solid business practices and budgeting – communication – and benefits that draw and keep members.
Do you have any advice or suggestions for the new people just getting involved in kiting, either in the single line or sport kiting arena?
Join the AKA! www.aka.kite.org. Do it now!! You are benefiting from the environment the Association has created. Be a part of the effort!! Thirty bucks a year is a small amount to give back.
Frankly, it ticks me off when I see frequent kiters who fly at AKA insured events, participate in AKA ranked competitions under AKA rules, get their photo in the magazine, or who join – and sometimes lead – AKA affiliated local clubs but say they don’t need to be AKA members. Yeah – I take it personally. I think it is an abuse of all the people working in the Association to promote kiting.
I’m not sure I’ve ever before said it quite that succinctly.
And besides, you’ll be better connected, better informed, and better prepared if you join. You’ll get a magazine, insurance at events, rankings, and a discount at stores. You’ll be a part of making things better. And you’ll meet the nicest and most interesting people.
What else do you do as a pastime or hobby outside of kiting?
There is life outside of kiting?? Really?? LOL
Seriously – Susan is very committed to animal issues and I was active in local government before AKA.
I was encouraged to run for the legislature a few years back. Give up a thriving business? Give up the travel – the friends I see around the world – the joy of doing something I love someplace different and exciting every week?? Not a chance. Besides, I probably would have lost….
With all the free time you’ll have on your hands after this last presidential term, what are you going to do now?
Hey – I have almost a full year to go! And when I finally do ‘retire’ from AKA next October?? Trust me when I tell you that our business will absorb every moment that is freed up.
I love my work and that makes it easier to be a work-a-holic. Our business is very, very busy. We pride ourselves on answering calls and emails promptly no matter where we are traveling. I have Updates to write every week – which are often done on airplanes or in hotel bathrooms at 5 a.m. while Susie sleeps. We have new products in the pipeline and new ideas to pursue. And we have the MegaFlag that we are trying to send on tour.
Free time? Yeah, right!
What thoughts do you have on kiting’s influence on global culture, as a pastime and as a way of life?
Sounds like an opening for a fifth book.
I once read that the three oldest toys are the doll, the ball, and the kite.
The remarkable thing about kiting is that virtually every culture has an indigenous kiting tradition and they are all distinct and significant. The Japanese fly flat paper kites; the Chinese have three-dimensional silk and bamboo; the Koreans fly fighters with holes in the center. The Europeans used kites for military and scientific purposes up through World War II. The Australians invented the box kite. We developed the delta and the parafoil.
What kiting gives us is a global commonality. Meet a kiter from anywhere in the world and you have something you can share and relate to. But you also have distinctions based on your experience, culture and background. So you can learn from each other as well. I think that’s a really neat thing.
Is there anything you’d like to say to the kiting world as a whole?
Yes. Thank you.
Thank you kindly David, for everything that you have done in kiting, and for taking the time to share your experience with us… We at Kitelife salute you!