Issue 46: A Modest Proposal to Change the World

In the last issue of Kitelife (#45) there is an excellent letter from Terry “TeeCee” Cornell about the problem of few or no spectators at sport kite competitions. Terry makes some very good points. Here is my take on the situation.

First we have to recognize that there are two distinct kinds of kite festivals. There are festivals for kiters, and festivals for the non-kiting public. They are very different. Festivals put on to entertain the general public are not the places we have sport kite competition. Festivals like Kites on Ice, or the Smithsonian festival are very public events. These are not what we are talking about here. We’re talking about festivals for kiters. These are where the competitions take place. Sure, it would be nice to attract spectators, but we shouldn’t expect them at these events the way we do at the big festivals for the public.

That said, let’s see how many folks we can attract. There are two parts to this problem– getting people to attend, and getting them to stay and come again.

I know that the publicity for these events needs lots of help. This is not my area of expertise, but I’ll bet that the AKA club, with its thousands of members, has a few folks who could handle publicity in a professional and successful manner. Perhaps we could get a group of these experts to put together a plan for publicity that non experts could follow. Something that would wind up folks in the whole area around the upcoming competition.

We also need to attract people who are just passing by. Care needs to be taken in planning by having a flying area that is visible to people who didn’t know they wanted to see this competition. I am afraid I will let my prejudices show here, but folks passing by don’t stop because they are enthralled by the site of a guy doing the compulsory figures. Now, a nice sky full of kites of the Peter Lynn persuasion—that’s another matter. The stuff that our revered president specializes in– (pause here for a few bars of “Hail to the Chief”) that’ll drag them in off the highway. Banners help. Many times we have put up some banners on the beach and folks starts pulling up and bailing out of their cars saying “what’s going on here today?”

OK, so the publicity has gotten a crowd of public types to show up at an event. The fantastic sky display has dragged in a few more. How do we keep them there, and ensure that they enjoy it enough to show up again?

First—banish the compulsory figures. Compulsory figures are sort of like Bach played on the solo violin—perhaps lots of fun for the fiddler, but dead boring for the folks out front. I know, I know, they have to be done. So do them out of sight—and at the same time as the good stuff is going on. Sure, this will take more judges, and require a bit more planning and field management, but it can be done.

Second—make sure that the main field is always hopping with the good stuff—the stuff folks like to watch. The ballets, and the put-your-whole-heart-into-it free style flying. Sure, some fliers are more fun to watch than others (I’d walk a mile to watch Al Washington fly!) but mainly, some events are more fun than others. And please—we must—make that MUST—tighten it up. No ten minute breaks between contestants. How about if the next contestant isn’t ready and on the field in 45 seconds, he forfeits?

Third–Announcing. This is a tough one. To find an announcer who has the gift of speaking easily and pleasantly, and also knows what he’s talking about is a tall order. You see, I am not a sport kiter. Oh sure, many years ago I got sucked into the serious world of kiting by an eighteen dollar Trlby, but no polygraph would let me get by with calling myself a sport kiter. For me, sport kite competition and figure skating competition have a lot in common. In figure skating there is one basic maneuver—the skater jumps into the air, spins around, and lands again. Yeah, I know, they have seven different names for that move, but the Left Handed Quadruple Three Toed Klutz looks the same to me as all the others. Well, that’s pretty much the way it is with sport kite competition. We need announcers who can tell us not only what is happening, but make us see what is happening, and why it matters.

Fourth–Judging. Let’s again talk about figure skating. Have you watched the Olympics and noticed the expectant hush as the crowd waits the few seconds for the judges to show their scores? Show the scores? No waiting hours to find out how the competition went? Can’t be done. Of course it can be done. Give each of the judges ten cards with big numbers on them, and let them hold up one for the score. Sound familiar? We live in the age of instant gratification. Try to remember that. Announce the winners and give them their trophy/plaque/ribbon right then. These fliers are good. They are Really good! Let’s make the spectators understand that. (Besides pleasing the crowd it will make the banquet evening go a lot quicker!)

One other thing I personally would like to see: Since the days of Mike Sterling’s infamous Cyborg sport kite, they all look the same to me. Again—I know they aren’t, but I need educating. I would love to see a display of various types of sport kites staked at the edge of the field, with a sign for each telling what is special about it, what it does particularly well, and what there is about the design that makes it so.

So, how crazy am I? Why are your ideas better than mine?

Let’s have a discussion about it.

John Freeman