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Issue 10 (Jul/Aug 1999): Ocean Shores Kite Challenge

report ocean shores competition

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#1 Mike Gillard (RIP)

Mike Gillard (RIP)


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Posted 01 August 1999 - 04:00 AM

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After sweating my ears off at Wildwood, I headed home to Ohio, re-packed my bags, and headed for Ocean Shores, Washington. What a difference a few days and a plane flight make... from bright sun and mid-90's at Wildwood, to cool 60's and on-and-off drizzle in Washington. To tell the truth, I loved it!

We pulled into Ocean Shores on Friday afternoon and immediately headed for Cutting Edge Kites, the official unofficial headquarters for the event. We got the rundown on the prospects for the event, and had a great visit with Jim and Monica Barber, owners and organizers.

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On to the shore, and faced another huge contrast from the Wildwood weekend. East Coast beaches generally are, well, touristy, with boardwalks, bad pizza, boom boxes, and hyper-hormonal teens underfoot and in your face. The beach at Ocean Shores is nature at it's naked best. No foo-foo crap here. Wide, dark sand beaches, lots of driftwood, and a majestic surf pounding out the soundtrack. Either you are the type that can find nirvana staring at waves, or you create your own fun. It is no wonder that the Pacific Northwest is such a kiting hotbed. Legions of happy kitefliers are up there on those beautiful beaches creating major-league fun.

Holy Cow, It's A Schoolbus!

I have always thought of Junior Class as somewhat of a novelty. One of the adult fliers gets their 10 year old to the point that they can fly for ten seconds or so without crashing. Dad chases the crashing kite all over the field for three minutes or so, and kid takes home a first place trophy, and Dad brags about it all week at work.

Not so at Ocean Shores. Saturday morning, I was scanning the entry list, planning my weekend activities, and noticed, in the words of NASA, "a gross anomaly". Junior Class had *21* entrants! Sure that this was a misprint, I sought out chief judge Eric Forsberg to find out what his scoring computer had been smoking. Eric assured me that the number was correct, and told me to keep my eyes open, that I would see something unusual.

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Well, not since the two-headed calf at the county fair in 1962 have I seen something quite like this. Mid-morning, a school mini-bus pulled up on the beach and disgorged a whole flock of kids, each of them clutching a kite bag. It was a whole class of Middle School kids, led by a forward-thinking teacher who is using kitemaking and flying as an education module!

Each of the children had constructed a sportkite, using one of Goodwind's kits. On close examination, the kites were all sewn and assembled pretty well, though many showed evidence of several attempts at sewing a seam. Imagine, these kids took the time to redo a seam that wasn't perfect!

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Many of the students had not flown a sportkite before, so the beach was a wild hairball of excited kids attempting to fly their new kites, aided by the teacher, and several of the master's class fliers from the event. What a great scene. Watching the kid's faces, in the space of seconds you could see every emotion in the human repertoire, all unfiltered by age and it's wear and tear on the psyche.

After an hour or so of flight lessons and bridle adjustments, the intrepid students faced the stern test of the competition field. A good time was had by all, especially those of us who have been wondering about the future growth of our sport.

This is the fourth year that students from this school have participated in this fashion, and we hope that more schools consider doing the same.

Holy Cow, Watch Those Teams!

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The second highlight of the event were the performances of the three teams in attendance. Experienced Class saw the debut of team Wind Dancer, flying Pizazz kites from Dick Barnes. In gusty winds, they flew a nice ballet, and certainly didn't look like the new team that they are. Should Wind Dancer continue to fly through the season, I would rate them as the favorites to take home the crown at the AKA Nationals.

In Master's Class, I eagerly anticipated seeing team Visual Impact perform. Visual Impact is the result of a combining of efforts on the part of two of last year's top teams, "Don't Panic" and "Bumperkites". After seeing both of those teams develop over the previous two seasons, I expected excitement, and I certainly was not disappointed.

Jim Barber of team V.I. told me on Saturday morning to watch for their refueled axels. I responded "Sure Jim, hehehe". Jim is somewhat of a leg-puller, and I was sure he was up to his old stunts.

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I was wrong. In team precision, sure enough, they paired up in a docked pass, stalled, and axelled the docked pairs. Wow. Wow again.

When it came time for team ballet, I was asked to judge. I gladly agreed, knowing I would be in the catbird seat for V.I.'s performance. I didn't know that another surprise was coming my way.

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First up, was a new team, "Swarm", made up of Paul DeHope, Dan Brown, and Kerry Haines. They took the field with their California Wasps, snapped them to a tight formation landing, and waited for the music to start, poised like greyhounds at the starting block. To the Wagner opus "Ride Of The Valkyries" (remember the helicopter scene in "Apocalypse Now"?), they flew an intricate, crack-snap-stab-lunge routine, very reminiscent of Airkraft in their prime. When they stabbed the final landings on the last beat of the tune, my mouth was hanging open.

Visual Impact took the field, and set their North Shores on the ground in a combat spread. To a show tune, they flew a very tightly-choreographed routine, that showed very strong influence by Skydance, two-time world champs. Using the sky, ground, varying formations, and the *very* Sky-Dancy kite wiggles, they showed that they had been working hard.

For one of the first times in my kiting career, I left my judge's book in the scoring tent without having any idea who won, but I did know that I had just seen two of the best team ballets in recent years.

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As it turned out, Visual Impact won by a nose. They should be extremely proud of their performance, and excited about their future. Swarm joins VI as the next American challengers to win World Cup. With practice and more competition exposure, the world will be their oyster.

Lending an even more surreal air to Swarm's sneak attack is the fact that team captain Paul DeHope has just finished chemotherapy in his battle with cancer. He doesn't sport Michael Jordan's hairdo by choice.... in his case, it is the sign of a warrior.

Ray Bethell and the Dead Whale

Don't get any sicko ideas here. Ray isn't that type, at least not that I can prove. The whale, like Ray, was out there on the beach doing his thing all weekend. The whale had the easier job, all he had to do was lay there and smell bad. Ray, on the other hand, stood shirtless in the cool rain flying three kites in flawless formation for hour upon hour.

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Ray Bethell

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Dead Whale

Watching Ray, my wife Julie asked why no mass media has picked up on Ray's story, and given him huge exposure. I guess that it would be too good of a story, no bleeding bodies, no sensation, just a man who, in his mid-70's, performs feats that only a few people in the world can do, regardless of age. Ray is an inspiration. 60 Minutes, USA Today, wake up.

I would like to thank the North Coast Skypainters for their hospitality. The Ocean Shores event is a wonderful time, in a great setting, inhabited by people who's middle name must be "Nice". This was the 9th year for the fest, and I forecast that it will continue to grow in the future.

Next year, 40 in Junior Class?
Mike Gillard

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