Issue 67: Southern Oregon Kite Festival

Yeah, it seems strange… I’ve been doing Kite Festivals for Kitelife for a fair number of years now, and for some reason or other, I’ve never made it to “The Show.” Oh, John Barresi would come back – raving about how wonderful it all was, and telling me I aught to go, but when the time came to make those connections and reservations, I’ve always been “too busy” I guess, or had some other excuse – real or imagined. And for some unknown reason, through all those years, I’d never made it to “Brookings,” the show-kite “Mecca” event on the Pacific Coast.

Well, this was gonna be the year I’d finally make it to the Southern Oregon Kite Festival (SOKF) in Brookings, Oregon… So I hooked up with some pals, and got myself an invite, and just up and… WENT! And – ya know – they were all exactly right! I shoulda been there year, after year, after year. It’s my kinda place, and my kinda show, and they’re certainly my kinda people too! Wow, is it ever! And – as usual – you get to read all about my odyssey and join in the fun.

So without belaboring all of the phone calls and emails to eventually make it happen – all orchestrated way too late in the schedule for anything like “common sense” to prevail – I hit the road on Thursday, July 16th, headed for Grants Pass, Oregon – first stop on my “Next New Adventure.” I’d planned it that way so I’d overnight in Grants Pass before taking the Redwood Highway over the coastal range and I’d end up in Brookings about noon on Friday – my “Target” date and time as it were…

And with about 400 miles under my belt, in a new kite-van under my tail-bone… I ended up in Grants Pass right about dinnertime on a very hot day (100°F +), and pulled into the Shilo Inn in fine style. And if there was an indicator for this whole trip – booking a room at the Shilo Inn was about as fine a pointer as I could get.

When I’m paying on my own dime, I usually choose inexpensive as a major requirement, since I only need a clean bed, a shower stall, a fresh towel and someone who knows how to coordinate a wake-up call in the morning. All the rest of the stuff is just “fluff” as far as I’m concerned. So I opted for the Shilo Inn mostly because Orbitz advised me it was inexpensive… But Orbitz didn’t tell me it was really a 4-star place – but it certainly was… and IS!

So after a VERY nice stay in a plushly appointed room, I awoke refreshed and ready to traverse the fabled Redwood Highway, through the coastal range and the heart of Redwood country, down to California for a little bit, and then back up north to Brookings, Oregon – my destination. A lovely – even GLORIOUS drive – unless you want to get there quickly, which will never happen on that road. Yeah, it’s one of those “wanderers” that follows to contours of the mountains, with little “turnouts” so you can finally pass that semi that’s been there in your windshield for the last 20 minutes – at 15 mph… I’d really love to drive that stretch on a well set up motorcycle sometime, if only this old body of mine would be up to the chore. Well, maybe in my next lifetime… Anyway, I made it to Brookings just fine – on time – and found my designated “target” spot on the map almost by accident. Wow, again. Could this trip fall together any more easily?

So the first person I recognized when I found “the spot” was my old friend Ron Gibian – he of AKA’s “Lee Toy” award fame. Ron’s been a buddy for several years, and I love that man to death! He has a life full of life and laughter and delight, and it’s very contagious! So it was no great problem to stop, get out of the car, and start berating Ron because his lovely new kites wouldn’t fly well… (Never mind that there was only about 2 mph of wind – if that.)

So, Ron and I stood there together, laughing and joking after not seeing each other for a couple of years, and who walks up but Al Stroh – who is one of the real movers and shakers in the Brookings kiting organization. Oh, Al will loudly decry that, but it’s true nonetheless. Al’s a helluva writer if you can find anything he’s written (I’m still looking for a copy of “Kite Paradise” by Al if any of you happen to know where I can find it again), a computer software guru of some considerable note, and a passionate and very dedicate kite flier and collector – who has recently emigrated from Sandy Eggo, CA to the lovely location of Brookings, OR!

So, after offering all kinds of useless advice to Ron – who’s still having trouble launching 5 mph kites in 2 mph breezes, I pull out a Focus Manta, made precisely for these light wind conditions, which launches and flies – steady as a rock – for the rest of the day without a hitch. Ron is hardly phased at all, focussing on his own attention and efforts to tune these new kites of his, while Al and I marvel at the light wind capabilities of the Manta. And little by little, all of the other kite “performers” of this Festival begin to arrive and congregate…

Ellen Pardee comes in – she from far away Spokane, WA. John and Mary Gabby are in from Boulder, CO – and they have made and brought the hand-made “signature kite” for this festival, which will be raffled off tomorrow night at the SOKF Banquet. Gary MacEachern from right here in Brookings shows up and starts flying a trio of his “Gull” kites, and a pair of new kites he and Al Stroh are developing that he’s thinking of calling “Swallows.” Rod and Cindy Thrall pull in from my neck-o-the-woods in nearby Hillsboro, OR. As do Al and Aaron Washington – Al down from Portland, OR and grandson Aaron is out from North Carolina, spending his summer traveling the “show kite” circuit with Grandpa Al… And so it goes. John Barresi and the rest of iQuad pulls in – Barry “Bazzer” Poulter, and Steve de Rooy, and JD Fabich, who is the “local” on the iQuad team – hailing from nearby Rogue River, OR. Arnold Stellema is up with his family for this event, and will be the “Mouth” on the PA system for SOKF. And one-by-one, and in groups and herds, the performers continue to dribble in…

And, with all the chatting and a couple of photos taken, the entire afternoon somehow disappears without my even noticing… Time to wrap this thing up and get to the Barbeque, someone says… After all, it’s cocktail time! So everyone wraps up kites and paraphernalia and we all head over to the Driftwood RV Park for “barbeque…” Well, that’s where I get my first indication of how well organized and managed this event REALLY is! I’d figured the aforementioned “BBQ” amounted to some guy with a cooler full of canned pop, another cooler full of Bud Light, and a Weber Kettle making burgers and dogs, right? Well… ALMOST, but tone the whole concept up several notches. The cooler of beer was there – but it was a variety of local beers and ales from local brew-houses. The soft Drink cooler was there too, with about everything imaginable inside. And the Weber was replaced by a big open BBQ grill with chicken and salmon and all manner of other sumptuous meats – including grilled oysters for those of that persuasion. And it was all accompanied by a buffet table full of salads and desserts, fresh coffee, and all the other fine-dining accoutrements – all stocked by people in white jackets who’d get whatever you seemed to want. “Caesar salad? Right over here, Sir! May I help you to some?” Yeah – that kinda “BBQ!” And folks keep on rolling in… Dave and Susie Gomberg… The Bay Area Sundowners… Amy and Connor Doran… and others…

Finally however, my delight at this extraordinary “feed” was overshadowed by my tiredness of a long day, and a need to finally “settle” myself in my room for the night, so I bid my fond adieu to several folks and headed out to check in at the Spindrift Motor Inn on the north end of town. Reasonable place, decent furnishings, nice view of the Pacific Ocean, and a most restful bed. Besides – the nice office people said they’d be happy to call me at 6:30 AM. Who could ask for more? So I read a bit and then turned into a pillow – lights out!

I’d received a “packet” when I arrived containing an event T-shirt, a Program, an event parking pass, and a fist full of “food coupons,” good for meals at local establishments – including a nice breakfast place down by the harbor within shouting distance of the flying field. It turned out to be a fine place for my “Standard Road Breakfast” – eggs over medium, hash-browns, toast, and plenty of coffee. So, well-equipped for the day, I parked in the designated “fliers” zone, set up my lawn chair next to pal Ellen Pardee, unlimbered the cameras, and set about my day. Walk around… Say “Hi” to all and sundry… Shoot a few photos… Walk a little more… Engage in casual conversation… Etcetera. (Now – repeat that over and over – all day long – forever. Yep, it’s what I do at kite festivals!)

By this time Arnold Stellema has the PA system fired up and rollin’, so about 9:45 it’s time for the Pilot’s Meeting – the usual group-grope with:
– Fly Safe!
– Help each other!
– Watch out for kids – on and off the field!
– Keep the spectators involved!
– If there’s a lull, just jump in and fly something!
– Oh – and “Have FUN!
End of meeting – everyone wanders off to find their half-drunk coffee cups again…

Now begins the most amazing show… This spectacle is one after another, non-stop, “Demos” throughout the day. Sandy Gibian has “the clip-board.” Get your name on it, and fly your demo. If someone else has a bunch of kites to display, jump in and fly their kites for their demo – and they’ll do the same for you. And this goes on, ad-infinitum, for two days! That’s it folks – you can all go home now…

Doesn’t sound like much, does it… But I have to say, it’s a helluva spectacle. Think non-stop displays of some of the most original kites in creation. Some of the best-of-the-best in kite-making art and flying capability and skills. Ron Despojado and John Barresi out there on Revolutions – plus Team iQuad, of course. Penny Lingenfelter and her “cast of thousands” kid-mob covering the whole field. Susan Shampo flying Peter Betancourt’s finest kites in extraordinary demonstration flights. Dave and Susan Gomberg displaying G-Kites and other Gomberg offerings for the crowd. Al and Aaron Washington, both interpreting music with soul and emotion. The Thralls and the Gabbys showing fine, lovely, hand-made kites in the air. And The Bay Area Sundowners flying to “America The Beautiful” with grace, style, and elan… I have to say, the crowd was delighted and, at times absolutely mesmerized.

And throughout it all, there was “The Mouth!” I like to give Arnold Stellema a hard time one-on-one, but I also have to hand it to the guy. I’ve heard “the good ones” at a bunch of festivals, and Arnold is right up there with the best of ‘em. He keeps the whole audience – and all the fliers – pumped up and rolling. Everything is delightful, extraordinary, and flat-out gorgeous as far as Arnold is concerned. Nobody ever flies a routine that isn’t praiseworthy, and Arnold drags the crowd right along with him in the whole process – willingly – even to the point where I sense they’re pushing HIM, if that’s possible! Oh, he worries a bit about his “schtick” being a little over-used sometimes, but I have to believe that he’s just being a little super-sensitive toward the crowd. He’s truly a “Master” on that microphone and he is downright amazing!

So the day goes by, demos get flown, there’s enough air blowing this particular weekend that even the “wind-challenged” Bay Area Sundowners do just fine. It’s bright and sunny, shirt-sleeve weather out there with a minimum of about 5 mph winds that sometimes grow to a healthy 7-8 mph… More than enough for nearly everyone to fly – including that kid with the Wal*Mart “Special” kite out there in the parking lot.

And MY role in all of this is? Well, I make no bones about what my job is. It’s my job to shoot photos and gather the information and anecdotes in order to write articles like this for Kitelife. So I really have a couple of “jobs,” here… Gather the necessary info for the articles and then produce them. And – while on the kite field – intrude as little as possible. But if someone needs help – I help as much as I can without being in the way or becoming a burden to anyone. So I wander the field, and the vendor area, and the stage, and the back-lot and the “pits” where kites are set up and broken down – keeping out of the way, yet watching all the “action.” Yeah – there are things I miss sometimes, but that can’t be helped. Hopefully, I do a decent job of it – but I’m NOT part of the show. And when the day is done, I hopefully have enough info and photographic “records” to put together a decent piece for Kitelife. So that’s why you’ll sometimes see me avoiding things I might have captured – and conversely, you’ll sometimes see me right in the middle of the action too. I’m just doing whatever I can to get the info and the “shot” since those nuggets become grist for the Kitelife mill.

But on this Saturday at Brookings, there wasn’t much of the geezer’s intrusion into the proceedings… I got what I thought I needed without being too intrusive. Roll on, lovely Demos. It’s what everyone’s here to see!

Eventually, however, all good things must end… and so it was on Saturday at SOKF 2009, too. The sun headed for the horizon, 4:00 PM rolled around, and “The Mouth” faded it in for the day – and people packed kites and gear away and headed for a shower and clean clothes, then came back to the Brookings Inn Resort where the banquet was held. What a lovely place that is, and another sumptuous meal too! I happened to sit at a table with Al and Joan Counsilman over dinner, and Joan was out looking at all the lovely items that would be auctioned off that evening. When she came back to the table, she said, “Gosh Al, they have GOOD STUFF here for their auction” – meaning good stuff “in comparison” to most other auctions and raffles we usually attend. She was right, of course. This Brookings bunch is “Top Drawer” all the way as far as I can tell. And while I was heading outside, I noticed Randy Tom sitting at a table all by himself, so I wandered over and introduced myself and thanked Randy for all he’s done for kiting over the years. He said, yeah he’s working on another Rev Masterpiece again… and we just let it go at that. Nice fellow! But I was on my way out for a breath of fresh air before they started serving dinner. And the dinner turned out to be a fine one, and the auction was equally gorgeous. I only bid on one item, but reached my limit earlier than my competitor so I came away empty-handed. No matter, though… I’d already agreed to buy a Gibian Mini-Genki, which would cost me more than I was planning to spend at Brookings anyway. Then it was back to the Spindrift and a good night’s sleep.

Sunday broke bright and clear again – a carbon copy of Saturday. So I headed out to the harbor-area firehouse, and the all-you-can-eat Pancake Breakfast. And when I pulled into the parking lot, I thought – I’m not a big pancake fan anyway, so why am I doing this? So I turned around and headed for the little Mom and Pop restaurant where I’d breakfasted yesterday. Pancakes be darned – I’m up for my “Standard Road Breakfast” again… So, egged and hash-browned up – I headed for the field.

Yep – “carbon copy of yesterday” in spades, except the Pilot’s meeting was somewhat abbreviated is all. Then Arnold had ‘um up and rarrin’ to fly again, so I grabbed my picture-machine and we got Sunday underway. And everyone was really “up” for it, too. Seems like Brookings is rather infamous for lousy (low) winds, so with a sufficiency of breeze, the fliers were pumped to make use of it for a change.

Yeah – same drill as before. Demos all day long! But – there were several “exceptions” too, where fliers got a little creative and began nudging the boundaries of prudence too.

And Amy Doran for instance. I knew she’d been working on a Mary Poppins routine to go along with her award-winning Charlie Chaplin demo, but this was the first time I’ve seen her fly “Mary” all the way through. Nicely done, Amy. Well flown. And I really like the costume, too!

The Bay Area Sundowners in all their glory! A dozen-stack of RWB Hyperkites with tails, is impressive all by itself. Put four of them in the air together, flying a routine to patriotic music, and it sends shivers up and down your spine. Yup – they did it again.

iQuad – with enough wind to really make it work. They’re impressive even if the wind is crappy. With enough wind – and an appreciative crowd that “knows” them – they’re awe inspiring! They take my breath away when they get enough wind to keep their “compound blender” going strong…

And Brookings’ own Gary MacEachern flying three of his red “Gulls” complete with tails is incredible to watch too… Yeah, Ray Bethell flies three too, but Brookings is hardly large enough to attract the likes of Ray. But Gary – being local – gives the crowd the pleasure of seeing three-at-once kite-flying art to much acclaim from the audience.

And then late in the day, Team iQuad and The Bay Area Sundowners “broke the mold.” If we thought four stacks of twelve Hyperkites was tough, add four quad-line kites into the mix… Yep – the iQuad boys and the fellows from the Bay Area put ALL their kites into the air at one time – in formation. Yeah, I muscled my way onto the field and tried to capture it all, with only mixed results, I’m afraid. Still, you might search the Internet for “iQuad videos” to see if there isn’t a video clip out there somewhere showing this amazing feat. Rumor has it that someone got it all captured in their video camera.

And finally, to end the day… Gary MacEachern who just flew three of his own “Gulls” took a whack at flying three of the Bay Area Sundowners Hyperkite stacks at once – and almost got away with it, too. Gary had ‘em all in the air at once, and was involved in doing the necessary maneuvers (loops) for a Guinness World’s Record, but Gary lost control of the middle (waist) stack, and had to end the attempt. Well, it was a GREAT try Gary – especially since it was an entirely unplanned, spur of the moment, off the cuff attempt. Lordy – how great it would have been if Gary had actually succeeded in flying those three stacks into a World Record!

And what an extraordinary end to the Brookings festival!

Well, nothing for it but to pack it all in and say goodbye to the festival itself! The only thing left on the docket was the post-fest Pizza Party at a local Brookings pizza parlor. So I headed straight over there from the field, as did most of the other participants. Beer and Pizza… Lemonade for me instead of the beer. TONS of pizza though and good stuff too! I would leave Brookings with an awesome respect for the folks who headed up the whole “Committee” – and especially for Roger Thompson who did such a lovely job on the Friday night “Barbeque,” and Steve Blasdell, Committee Chairman for the entire event, who I met on the field on Friday when I first arrived and whose hand I happily shook at the pizza parlor affair on Sunday night after the festival was all over!
Steve is a competent Revolution pilot who demoed a time or two over the weekend – in spite of all of his other duties. Roger tried to get me to believe he wasn’t a kite flier at all – until Ron Gibian gave Roger a custom Pocket Rocket kite that Ron had made, and I saw Roger flying it well. To these “gentlemen” we tip our hats and bid a very fond farewell with a resounding THANK YOU behind it too. You people, and others like you all over this country, help keep our sport of Kiting alive and fun!

Oh, yeah… New kite van carried me home successfully and in fine style,too. All in all, I think it was far and away the most fun I’ve had at a festival this year!

Fair winds and Good Friends –

Dave “geezer” Shattuck