You see, we had this devious little plan. We’d sneak over to Long Beach a day earlier than the official start, and then we’d have the beach to ourselves! In fact, I’d left on Saturday specifically so we could get there at a nice time Sunday afternoon, after a stop at Chez Barresi to conspire with John and Ezequiel Fernandez, his guest from Argentina (making his first visit to WSIKF). But Sunday ended up being an excellent sign of what was to come in the next seven days at the Washington International State Kite Festival.
Many moons ago, I went to my first WSIKF, in 1998. There, I met Lolly Hadzicki and I began teaching people to fly Revs in their demo field. That year, there was certainly some quads scattered around the beach but, quads were overwhelming dominated by dual line kites in those days. But, slowly and surely, the number of quad flyers grew. A few years back, iQuad made their largest festival appearance at the time, descending on WSIKF like a bunch of quad hooligans (or, if you prefer, rogues, raconteurs or rapscallions!) and thus began a growth spurt in quads, with a megafly happening later in that week of about 18 flyers. Which, for the time, was monstrous, and in retrospect, a little rare.
These days, I haven’t been to a festival in quite some time where some manner of megafly didn’t erupt from all the quad flyers hanging around at festivals. And this is great! It never fails to amaze me how the dynamic has changed in such a relatively short period of time. The second year iQuad “did” WSIKF, we got past 25 flyers. Last year, we missed out as we were somewhat occupied over in Portsmouth and Bristol, though despite some really rather awful weather, quad flyers prevailed anyways. But, this year, with our return, we were hoping for bigger and better things. In fact, we’d carefully plotted and counted, and with our fingers crossed, we were hoping to get to maybe 40 flyers by the end of the week.
But let’s go back to that Sunday first off. We got down to the beach not long after lunchtime and lo and behold, there were already at least 8 other flyers down on the sand. By the end of the day, we’d already had a 12 person fly and wow, it was only Sunday, the festival hadn’t even begun and there were many more people to slated to show up. But, we were still cautiously optimistic we’d get about 40. Some people we knew were making significant trips across the country to join in on the fun. We had the McCowns from Texas (who, were amongst the Sunday early birds…), an east coast crew consisting of Rich Comras, Scott Weider, Laura Berg and Brad Weiner. We had the ever growing BC contingent coming down, both from Vancouver and Victoria. (I couldn’t honestly hope to name everyone who made it, so maybe I’ll stop here!)
Monday rolls around and yet more flyers roll onto beach. 20 megaflyers! All week, this trend continued. And, in what was a truly amazing thing, one of the few variable we could not control cooperated with us, that being the weather. I’ve seen it all at Long Beach, from snow on the sand to torrential downpours, to gorgeous sunny days. While we don’t get snow in the summer at Long Beach, most weeks tend to have a mix of both sun and rain, with the mornings starting off as foggy and somewhere around lunch, Mother Nature makes her decision for what the rest of the day will hold. This year was –easily- the best weather I have ever experienced at Long Beach There was no significant rain whatsoever! One of the days looked like it COULD rain but, it never really happened and every other day was simply sunny! And mostly windy enough too!
In fact there was really only one day of what I’d call questionable, light wind and this became the day to let the prototype Zen set we have been neating up out of the bags and put them into people’s hands. I remember one particularly amusing moment as I looked across the vast swath of beach that a small army of 1.5s were taking up and they were all pretty much grounded unless you felt like doing a lot of work to keep them in the air. However, the 4 Zens were quite happy with the minimal breeze and I’m hoping that everyone who wanted to get their hands onto one of these managed to do so, at least for a short period of time. We came away from that day with some new tweaks and adjustments to be made and with some luck, we may see it available as a retail kite sometime later this fall. I will say that we have seen a couple of more prototypes since WSIKF but, its very very very close to being completed and that’s due in no small part to the efforts of everyone who had comments and feedback while at WSIKF. Thanks!
By the time Friday rolled around, one thing was quickly becoming apparent. We likely didn’t have enough room in the area we were in to accommodate all the flyers. Heck, by Thursday we had gone beyond 40 flyers alone, and when you line up 40 1.5s side by side, on 120 foot lines, it manages to take up a fair amount of space! So much so that we wee at one point chided by festival organizers for completely overwhelming the pathway, due to a fire code access need. Sorry about that… We’d managed to get some flys together with the grid arrangement during the week and this became crucial to being able to get so many kites up in the air at once. Practically, the old standby of a single line begins to fall apart by the time you get past roughly 16 flyers. But on Friday, we managed about 48 flyers, which was a nice chunk beyond what our wildest expectations had been before the week had started. We also picked up a few tips with dealing with a grid from this as well. One thing that was immediately apparent was that you could significantly reduce problems with kites tumbling out from above by simply putting the lower skilled pilots in the lower end of the grid lines. Less room to fall and less possible wreckage on their way down too! Also, we tended to stack the middle of the groups on both days of the megamegamegaflys with the more experienced pilots as well, again because with kites tumbling, it’s a better place to have them out on the edges.
With Friday’s massive success in place, we came to Saturday and another run at the fly was underway. This time, someone had the brilliant idea of actually having everyone who took part in Saturday’s fly scribble their name down onto a sheet of paper and by the end of the afternoon, we had an astounding 64 names down on the list. 64 people! It was simply staggering in retrospect. That being said, I don’t think that at any point on Saturday there was 64 kites moving in a controlled fashion. I’ve spent some time counting what was seen in the videos (which, proved to be a little tricky!) and I can safely say we often had beyond 50 at a time, perhaps even 55 for a short while, which is nothing short of fantastic. Truly a great achievement and perhaps the most satisfying aspect of this was the level of flyers ranged all over the map, from seasoned pros to the most basic beginners. It’s one thing to mount such a fly with a large number of experienced pilots, it’s quite another kettle of fish to undertake it with such a wide variety of skill levels. As John and I mused at one point, it was much like herding cats. A huge amount of cats. And I’d do it all again in a heartbeart!
Though, this time, I think I’d opt for handouts that could explain some of the process a little more clearly. We suffered to some degree with the sheer amount of time it took to get everyone organized and up in the air and I suspect we’ll handle that differently next year. I also suspect we’ll be a bit further down the beach as well which will give us much more room and much more time to play with large groups without monopolizing the main demo field for long periods of times. Radios for all were essential and for the most part, people were well equipped with these during the week but, next year, we’ll make it an even stronger suggestion.
But by the end of the week, when it was all said and done, it was simply the best WSIKF I can remember being. Hanging out with friends old and new during the week was fantastic. The night fly with our new light set was truly dazzling! The sheer variety of revs was incredible. I’d be hard pressed to find anything bad at all to say about the week past that indeed, it did have to end. But, there was one last bit of cool fun to be had on Sunday afternoon. The first time two quad teams went at it head to head in AKA style competition in North America in a very long time, if it has even EVER happened before. Into the arena stepped the Rev Riders from the East Coast, up against Island Quad from the West Coast. The result? A win for everyone! Congratulations to both teams for such a momentous event. For me, it only took a few hours to rid the car of sand but, it took days before the smile left my face. With some luck, we’ll see even more people there next year. I know I’m going!