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Issue 11 (Sep/Oct 1999): Sportkite Team Flying (pt 8)

feature guide team

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#1 Monica Orso

Monica Orso


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Posted 01 October 1999 - 04:00 AM

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Last fall, Team UP-GO! began taking shape out of a group of friends who flew pretty regularly at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey. We were all fun flyers (not competing individually) who happened to have at least one Prism Illusion of varying colors in our bags. Our first experience with team flying came about one day in the fall of '98 when Masters Class flying buddy Dennis Smith urged us to put up all of our Illusions in the air at once, <kaboom!> and although Dennis was not interested in joining a team he patiently called moves, gave us pointers, and led us through countless hours of playing "follow the leader" in the sky. After that, the seed was planted and there was no way we could stop from watering it!

Once we had formally committed ourselves to being a team and competing in the spring, the reality of what is involved in team flying set in. We quickly realized that team was more than just keeping kites up in the sky! There were a ton of issues that had to be resolved. What do we fly? How will our finances be handled? Where and when do we practice? Music and choreography? Who is in charge of what? How far do we want to take this? And all of those different personalities!

Mountains Back Into Molehills

You will most likely find out after spending so much time with your teammates that certain people are better suited for some tasks than others. While one person may excel in creative aspects, another may have the time and patience for making up linesets, and yet another may have the uncanny ability to calm the rest of the team, lift spirits, and bring that "mountain" back down to "molehill" status. As it turned out, nature took its course on this and we each fell into certain duties without a whole lot of conflict. I don't think anyone at that point wanted to (or felt the need to) be on top of the team totem...everyone was captain of their own domain.

Well, first things first...what to fly.... Although we all loved our Illusions, we felt them a bit jumpy for team flying. And yes, matching colors would look nicer out there too. No, it's not a necessity but we WANTED it! Somehow we all managed to have matching Prism Ozones in our bags (no one quite remembers how that happened!) so we decided to give Prism's new Prophecy a shot after doing some research and checking flyers reviews. Opting for custom colors, a vote was taken on sail design and the order was placed sometime in the late winter. As for a high wind kite fix, Art sewed up some wind dams for the Prophs... which would have to suffice for the time being. Several months later, we felt the need for a high wind kite and set out in search of a deal. We tested several kites that friends had, one manufacturer even sent us one of their vented models for a trial fly. We put out the word on rec.kites for used vented kites, we talked to everybody and anybody, and finally wound up getting some older model Speed Limits at a very good price….not our team colors, but they did the trick in the sky.

Now for lines...Same length or staggered? What weight? How many sets? Time to consult with the experts! We polled some teams out there and decided on 200#, 125' for most situations, and 140#, 115' for lighter wind. (Since then we have picked up some 75# for those ZERO wind nightmares, and are considering 300# for creating drag in hurricanes!) After considering pros and cons, we opted for using the same length lines, and deal with staggering our bodies if we needed to compensate for backwash problems. Keeping the lines all the same length seemed to make sense financially too (we are not sponsored...YET!) ...we didn't need to worry about having spare sets in all different lengths. We all liked Blue Line, so we ordered up a few spools and some sleeving. We also decided to have separate competition lines and practice lines. For our practice lines, we dug through our bags, got out the longest sets of old line we had, and equalized the lengths. Eventually our old competition lines will turn into practice lines as we replace new sets.

Caller? Headsets? I'm not sure how I got to be caller actually... default I guess. We all tried it at some point, maybe I yelled the loudest. :-) Anyway, I found out calling was not something that came all that naturally. There is anticipation involved (especially in ballet), memory issues, your eyes have to be in many places at once, and to top that off, you still have to fly a kite! Sheesh.. a real test of the brain's multi-tasking abilities! On occasion, Paul would do some back-up calling dealing with speed control...things like RUN RUN FORWARD NOW! We had our own lingo for calling, developed during the early days of goofing around in the park. (The name "UP-GO!" grew out of our calling lingo...up-go, left-go, single loop-go, under and back-go, crash-go, etc.) Any lingo should work, as long as everyone is speaking the same language.

As for headsets, we've done without them so far but haven't ruled them out for the future. One plus for headsets is that it's very hard to rehearse with a boombox, especially a finicky one like ours. With headsets, a Walkman could be rigged to feed the music to everyone directly, and it would be much easier to start and stop the music.

Positioning...well, this one changed around quite a bit, due to the fact that we had 4 people on the team, but only 3 would wind up flying most of the time for some reason or another. We got used to flying with the caller on the left, although the caller can be in any position...whatever works. Being caller, I always took the 1st position, but the guys didn't have it so easy. Different positions mean different moves. When you are programmed to go one direction for a month, switching directions required a little reprogramming. Also, your approach to spacing is very different when you are in the middle as opposed to bringing up the rear. I don't really recommend the route we took for our first season...no sense in creating more stress. Find the flying position you are comfortable with and stay with it.

Music?...We knew we had to decide quickly, because MASKC was right around the corner. Up until this point, we were just feeling out the sky together. We didn't get together much either in the winter and early spring due to some wicked weather conditions. We felt for our first piece, the music should be familiar to us all, not too long, and have a solid beat. After listening to a couple of suggestions in the park (this was not an agonizing process), we voted for Roy Orbison's "Blue Bayou". OK, kinda goofy, right?
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ABSOLUTELY! Hey, we wanna have fun out there too!

Weather conditions were still not the best, so instead of struggling with choreography outside, we cozied up to the CD player inside with the remote and some cardboard kite sticks. (pretty tricky when wrapping) Most of the choreography was done, at least the main sections, in one long session with most of the team present. Once we field tested it, we could iron out the rough spots and transitions...a process that would continue to evolve throughout the season.

Panic On The Beach

So, it seemed like we were pretty organized at this point…NOT! Panic set in as MASKC approached, and the local winds were still like a hurricane. Being geographically spread out, we could not all get together at the drop of a hat either. Our Prophecies hadn't arrived yet and we needed to get used to them. Then, when they did arrive, we were so desperate for airtime that we attempted to fly in miserable conditions, which resulted in damaging one of the kites. Nothing seemed to be going right and the team was a nervous wreck, but we registered anyway...not once, but 3 times! (as you can see, we really hadn't decided the "captain" issue yet!) …we were not as organized as previously thought!

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The final blow was while attempting a rehearsal the day before our debut in Ocean City. Some renegade line laundry found it's way to our lines, and in a split second, all the kites went down, destroying one beyond repair. As fate would have it, Art injured his ankle and we were down to 3 kites and 3 flyers...a trend that continued. We were pretty low (this is where the duties of the team "spirit-lifter" came in handy). We eagerly accepted comments and observations from Al Hargus of Captain Eddie's as he watched us practice. (Having attended their excellent workshop the day before, we picked up a lot of valuable knowledge for future implementation). Just before our event, we managed one decent run-through, so we quit while we were ahead and prayed for the best. Having never competed before, everything we encountered on the field was new too. The lingo, the procedures, and oh, those wind rules! (After a few times out, we were comfortable with all this...if you've competed individually, it's cake.) When the music stopped, we breathed a sigh of relief, and headed out for a team beer. We were just happy we got through it in one piece and expected nothing further...no one could even remember how we flew...it was a time warp out there! Amazingly, we placed 1st in ETB, and all the memories of previous ordeals just melted away into the background... Let's enjoy this moment!

I guess in summary, the things that stand out in the team process were:

- Talking to other teams... don't be afraid to ask questions on anything and everything, no matter how dumb they might seem. The best teams all had the same questions at some point.

- Communicating with your team members. Exchange ideas, vote on stuff. Be reasonable in expectations.

- Decide early on what you want to accomplish (and how much money you are willing to spend) for the season. Keep in mind that your goals as a team will probably change and evolve. Next season may be a completely different story.

- Practice Practice Practice! Know every beat of the music in your sleep. Know where you need to be in the sky at all times, so in case of a mishap you can jump right back in. Listen to the caller and be ready to improvise if needed to get out of a jam. If something happens to the caller, be ready to continue on in their absence.

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In forming a team, you have entered into a new family...there will be some rough times as well as all the good times. If you are flying with good friends, it may make some issues more difficult, but successes more sweet. But like any functional family, you stick with it and work through the rough times, hopefully coming out stronger in the end. The other option is to run the team strictly like a business, which may work out just fine depending on the personalities involved.

Team UP-GO! learned a lot in 1/2 of a season competing...and we are busy evolving as I write.
Monica Orso

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