History of Sport Kite Competition – Pt 1

The Wanderings of a “Kite Addict”

Editor’s note: This is the first in a 10-part series originally posted by the late AL Hargus on the GWTW forum in 2004 and although the posts became unavailable to the general public after GWTW owner Steve Hall upgraded their forum a couple years ago, he’s given us permission republish here for the benefit of our readers at Kitelife… We’ll do our best to beef up the plain text stories with appropriate images and videos whenever we can, but please realize they were not originally included in the article(s).


This History was originally written in the Gone with the Winds On-line forum throughout November of 2004. In this History I have only included my own personal posts.

The comments, posts and submissions of other “Long Time” sport kite fliers have been included in my own words, and I have given others quotes and credit, when included.

Before I begin these “recollections of Sport Kite Competition History” I would like to menbtion that much, if not all of what I write here are from my own personal experiences on the flying fields over the last 25 years.

This all should not be considered “Facts in stone” but as simple memories. In many cases I have “researched” different subjects, from kite publications and discussions with “eye witness” fliers that were actually on the fields when this “History” took place. So, because “memories become eroded over the years, my writings here are not perfect.I do tend to “jump” around in my narratives, so all of what you read isn’t in chronological order, but,“In story order”, and shouldn’t be too confusing!

I also have another reason for writing this “History” Those of you that have been introduced to kite flying in the last 2-3-4-5 years are now the kite fliers that are “volunteering” and doing a lot of the “decision making” in the AKA and other committees and at sport kite events across the country!

All this “history talk” is OK but many of you are “now in the drivers seat” Some of what occurred in the beginning of Sport Kite Comps was experimental, hell we were “Guessing!” So, some of my “commentary” is to help all of you to “Learn from previous mistakes” or maybe to “see something good” that we didn’t “run with” 15 years ago, that might be beneficial to the Sport/hobby today. You ARE in charge!!!

I like to write, I’m kind of a “Story teller” and I did “Sit in the middle of it all. “Communication” can be a wonderful thing. I don’t want to see our “Roots” lost! I hope you enjoy my “story telling”?

The First American Kitefliers Association Stunt Kite Competition:

The first Official AKA stunt kite competition was held at the Detroit National Convention in 1982. Randy Tom was the winner (only one event, no categories) He flew an early version of the Hyper kite stunt kite.

There were NO large winged stunt kites in 1982. No one had a clue how a STUNT (sorry we weren’t a sport in ’82) kite competition was supposed to be run. Just as the Hot Tricks gang of today are complaining that their event is always held off “till the end” so was the SKC in Detroit!

I think there were 6 contestants (I was not one of the 1st six!) and the competition was called “Figure Kiting” The object of the “game” which was just about how it was run was to do 3 figures in the shortest time possible! It was a “timed thing”.

The only two of the “Incredibly difficult” maneuvers I remember were “Loop to the left and loop to the right” and another was “Fly along the ground as close as possible without touching”

So the event was put off about 10 times mostly for lack of wind. I do have to remind all of you that in 1982, “Light Winds” were any wind less then 8 mph! All the stunt kites entered were some “diamond stunter” variation!

On late Saturday afternoon with trophies to hand out they decided to “FIX” the low wind problem for the Stunt Kite Fliers. The 82 Nationals were held at a Golf Course, so there were plenty of Golf carts. Corey Jensen (ex-AKA prez and all around “weird guy”) gets one of the carts and “Straps in” each contestant driving across the “Fairway” while the “competitor” flew their maneuvers. Red Braswell, early AKA prez, almost filed the first “Stunt Kite Comps Protest” when he complained that he felt “unsafe” as the golf cart strap wouldn’t fit around his “somewhat” ample waste line.

The winners: 1st – Randy Tom, 2nd – Don Tabor, 3rd – Rick Bell

There were no Stunt Kite Comps held at the ’83 Nashville, TN. and the ’84 Columbus, OH AKA conventions, but several were held else where.

Try this statement on for a “View in History till around 1986-7” and compare it with what you have on the comp fields today.

There were no standard rules and procedures, and ALL events made up what they thought best (and all were different)

  • There were no classes!
  • All maneuvers were made up “on the spot’ for each event, and there was no standardization!
    Sometimes you wouldn’t know them until you “showed up”

The 1986 ECSKC fixed all that, as well as the 1986 AKA Convention both of which had the “Copyrighted stunt kite competition Rules Books”

Wildwood 1987 – East Coast Stunt Kite Championships

First, about my previous comment that “…. There were no wing stunt kites in 1982…” wasn’t entirely true. At the Detroit Nationals Don Tabor entered what could be best described as a “Prototype Hawaiian Team Kite” in the Kitemakers comps. Don won, “Most Innovative” (I think) BUT the History of the Sport Kite and the “War” between Top of the Line and Action kites will show up later!

I was in Wildwood for the second ECSKC 1987. I skipped all the individual “stuff” and went directly to Team! (Chicago Fire’s 2nd official competition)

Nearly all of what was in the 1986-7 ECSKC Rules book is VERY similar to what you will find in the latest IRBC book!

The three classes were called Novice, Experienced and Open. Open, pretty much was the same as Masters Class today with the exception that if you manufactured kites you had to fly Open.

You didn’t DQ, you “washed out” either name is just as bad Five judges, Pit boss and Field Director, Stage in and Stage out, Wind Rule was 7 mph for all classes and wouldn’t you all like that The field size listed was 400′ X 400′ (easy on the Wildwood Beach)!

Novice precision got six “prepublished” compulsories, Exp. and Open got five published, and one surprise! All those ’87 maneuvers are still on the books!

The real “dinger” for comps in 1986 was what they called “Planned Ground Touches” In ’86 we all ‘sorta” figured out that “The Ground” could be part of a routine, so you had to “Tell the Field Director” before you started your routine how many times you planned to touch.

Do too many = Penalty! Do to few = Penalty

It was kinda silly, because fliers would always add one or two extra “Touches” to CYA for unplanned “ground touches” so at the end of a routine fliers would land for really “unnecessary” reasons, just to “Make the Count” Rules changed over the years to accommodate the fliers who, “Bent the Rules” to their advantage, but that’s another post.

I wrote about the ECSKC and the beginnings in a KITELIFE article back in 1998.

San Diego AKA Convention 1985

I got a little ahead of myself talking about the 1986 ECSKC so I’m gonna step back a year!

1985 was a pretty hot year for stunt kite flying. All of us in Chicago were VERY big into Flexifoils, and that was my “Kite of Choice” There were so many Flexi’s in Chicago that we made a World record attempt with them. But that’s another story in July 2000 KITELIFE @ http://www.kitelife.com/archives/00july/tangents_and_trivia.htm

In 1985 I also made plans to take a “marathon” four week vacation that would start at the San Diego AKA National Convention

There were Stunt Kite Comps scheduled for the San Diego Nationals. BUT a major stunt kite “happening” occurred there. Don Tabor premiered a new kite at the San Diego Nationals that he called the “Team Hawaiian” Team stunt kite flying, what the heck is that?

For many years stunt kitefliers would, on occasion, get kites into the air together at the same time, and a sort of random/togetherness usually resulted. Or one flier would follow another around for a while, until they’d get tired and move apart!

Out to the beach comes Don Tabor, Ron Reich, Eric Streed and a fourth by the name of Joel Bargabus (I think)? They were all flying “Team Hawaiians” The kites were big, and really slow!

BUT they actually “DID STUFF” and didn’t just randomly fly around. Looking back it was really simple stuff, that looked like today’s Precision Team Compulsories. BUT “My Gosh” they were doing real, planned “stuff” all AT THE SAME TIME. Talk about “… just like the Thunderbirds…” yadda yadda. Within a year everyone across the US was trying to fly “Team” TOTL wasn’t the VERY first team, but they made sure we all knew what TEAM flying really was!

BUT here’s a BIG difference between “then and now” Until 1991 in AKA official stunt kite competitions Team was defined as two or more fliers, so there were no Pairs.

Teams made up of two fliers flew against 3-4-5 person teams. After a while everyone began to complain that it wasn’t fair. Contrary to what you might think, the complaints were mostly coming from the 3-4-5 or 6 person teams, and not the 2 person “teams”

The “Terrible Twosomes” (which is what some of us called them)” were frequently beating larger teams. Judges were ” … not allowed to give consideration for the difficulty of a larger team…” Two person teams like Spectrum Flight (Lee and Sue Sedgwick) were consistently taking home “wood” in Team events! It really made sense, imagine Pairs today flying against a team of four or five in precision, not very fair! But we were learning.

The eventual out come was the present discipline called, “Pairs”.

Some of the changes that were made to the early rules, and got us to where we are today, were changes to keep fliers from “Bending the Rules”,

Imaginative (and sometimes sneaky) competitors would “scrutinize” the rules and look for “Loop Holes”, or little “omissions” that they could use to give them an advantage out on the field. Best examples of “Imaginatively Bending of the Rules” was accomplished by two fliers in particular, Ron Reich and Lee Sedgwick. Although there were many others I mentioned these two guys because I was the Field Director for both of them on one of their “Bending of the Rules” routines.

In 1986-7 Ron Reich realized that nowhere in the Individual Ballet rules did it “specifically state” that you had to use just one kite. No one could fly two kites so, why put it in the rules? Ron was 3rd – 4th in the flight order at the 87 ECSKC, I watched Ron walk out from the pit on the beach at Wildwood and his ground crew was carrying TWO kites?? Ron wore a belt and hooked up one set of lines, he held the other set in his hands! After Ron called IN and The crowd went WILD. Not only did Ron fly two kites alone, but to the “Love Theme of Superman” (One kite depicted Lois, and the other Superman graphics included!) he did an excellent job, better then most any real pair of fliers I’ve ever seen!

That same WW event, Lee Sedgwick “Bent the Rules” Previously fliers had tried to incorporate acrobatics, and dancing as a pilot, to add to their scores. The rules had already been “amended” to say, “Only the kite will be judges and not the flier, or any flier dance or acrobatics”

Lee’s “Rules bend’ was simple. Put the kite AND the flier in close proximity so that the judges can’t help but see the flier, and also allow the flier to “interact” with the kite. Lee walks out to the field and he’s carrying a dog stake (you know, one of those screw things) He walks down field and screws the Dog stake into the ground! He then walks back to where I’m standing. He calls IN, the tune, Lady in Red (kites Red of course)! A minute or so later, and he’s clipped into the dog stake with his line and has move “downwind” and finishes the routine right next to his kite. Classic part of the routine (and my favorite) was when the song said, “…and they danced cheek to cheek…” at that same moment Lee moves the kite to “caress his own cheek” and the crowd went WILD! Lee alternated with Ron for 1st or 2nd for several events. Of course, several of those Individual Ballet comps came close to holding the Worlds record for the most protests, as anyone flying “just one kite” or without “hardware” couldn’t possibly win!

The SK rules were changed days before the 1987 AKA Convention (Washington, DC). So, no more two kite flying, and no more hardware in Individual Ballet. BUT guess what? Lee flew Lady in Red ‘straight” (with no dog stake) and Ron flew Superman with only one kite. In those Nationals finals Ron and Lee were in the Top three anyway! (Ultimately proving REALLY great fliers don’t need “Gizmos” to win!)

The changes to the rules made Individual ballet a lot fairer, but in their wisdom, the stunt kite committee knew that all this “Rules Bending” kite flying that was being done by Lee, Ron and many others was also VERY entertaining and the committee wanted to “encourage” the idea! The major outcome of the “Bending of the Rules” problem was the creation of an event called “Innovative” Grandfather of today’s, Freestyle. By the time the 1988 ECSKC event came around, there were 16 entrants for Innovative.

P.S. Wildwood 1987 was also a “Milestone in Stunt Kite Flying History” in another way. During the Individual and Team Ballet comps at the ECSKC, the music from Chariots of Fire was used 12 times, occasionally by two fliers flying back to back!

Definitely a date to remember in “Bad Kite Music History”.

Al “bends the stunt kite rules” on the field!

During the 80’s I was frequently on the field as a Field Director. It was a great job, and did selfishly give me the “best seat in the house” I always ‘volunteered” for the Novice comps. The “Greenies” sort of “looked up to me” as an Old Timer even 15 years ago. Kitefliers like Bevan Brown, Gary Engavall, Scott Skinner and myself were “literally” writing the book about how the FD’s job was to work, so we had plenty of latitude about what we did our on the field.

One “technique” I employed was to “Cheat Fairly” meaning I would do one thing or another that would “appear” to each flier that entered the field as an inside piece of info only they were getting! For example, when a Novice came out to compete. I would tell them, “winds are shifting, and no one else is paying attention so watch for shifts, and you’ll beat them all”

Of course to be fair, I told every single flier the exact same story! If they all compared notes they would have realized the “scam” but none ever did. They all just thought that Al Hargus was personally helping them out!

So, here comes Als big confession afterso many years as a secret (and how I bent the rules). At ECSKC 1990 I was given the job of Field Director for “The worst field in Wildwood” Those of you that have flown Wildwood know the one I mean. Farthest south and right in front of the 20 story Adventurer Motel. The wind ALWAYS sucked there. That day the winds were exceptionally light to boot.

As is often the case the coordinators “shoved” Novice Precision out of the way, and right into the “Dead Zone”.

As Field director I held the wind meter, and determined speeds for Wind Checks! For all intents, it was gonna be BAD for all the beginners, and they were really worried! (I could smell the FEAR in that Pit) Official Novice minimum speed was 6 mph (IRBC was around then)

So, I confess I BENT THE RULES during that Novice competition.

I added 2 MPH to the Official minimum, and never told anyone till now! When the wind meter read 6 mph, I said 4, when the meter read 8 mph I called 6 mph.

I did my “cheating” accurately and consistently for all 15 contestants. ALL the Novices flew their entire routines under the EXACT same “alteration by Al” None dropped out for lack of wind. All the novices did what they planned to do! And the event went off well!

Their REAL minimum wind speed for that event was 8 mph not 6 ….. I CHEATED

Was it wrong? Damn right it was! Did I give anyone unfair advantage? NOPE! But ultimately the Novices didn’t get “screwed” their first time out and many are “hopefully” still out on our comp field fifteen years later.

Am I suggesting you do the same “ABSOLUTELY NOT” Am I suggesting that the staff alter existing rules to make things easier ‘ABSOLUTELY NOT” I was just trying to give that new crop of stunt kite fliers a chance to “Compete” and encourage them to continue “competing” (Better then the “encouragement” thats handed out during Fly or Die. Right??)

I did break the rules. Sorry I apologize, BUT I don’t regret it. (By the way I only “bent those rules” that one time, but it seemed a good idea at the time)

Some of my encouragement also came from “after the event” comments I would make to contestants that I Field Directed for during the day out on the field! (Especially those Novices) As each flier flew their routine. I’d make a note of some part of their routine that was exceptional. All of you know that even for the last place finisher there’s at least “One thing that they did GREAT” even if the entire rest of their routine sucked.

At the banquet or party off field each evening I’d search out all those Novices that I took notes on. (especially those that came in at the bottom of the pack) I’d tell them that I really liked what they did out on the field and would mention that “One Good Thing” that they did. (in some cases playing up 1% of a 99% bad routine!)

In a small way, they all thought it was a BIG DEAL that I had talked to them. My efforts were “To Pump Them Up!” and help them not to be discouraged, AND especially to help them to KEEP TRYING AGAIN! Some of those Novices of 15 years ago are still around today, hopefully my “encouragement” kept them around!

Some did just “blow us off” gave up, and never came back, but “…their loss, not ours.”

I know that some of you don’t think your around long enough to “encourage anyone” BUT trust me, on today’s kite comp fields 5 years of calling “IN” makes you an Old Timer, by todays standards!

Encourage the “Newbies” it will all help us all and the sport in the long run! (Even if it means “stretching” the Truth just a little!)

Manistee Michigan and Cris Batdorff 1989

First Street Beach was the place to fly in Manistee, MI! That beach field wasn’t very big, but it was right in the center of Manistee’s tourist beach area. Along with the beach field back in 1989 there was a field which (I think?) was North of that field, and I believe is now filled with factories!

That other field was where Cris Batdorff hosted an event he called the Western Michigan Stunt Kite Championships in 1987 (Forerunner and grand dad of the Great lakes Stunt Kite Championships in Grand Haven). It was the first official team competition for myself and the Chicago Fire and the first time I meet Cris.

At the event, Cris, Eric Wolff and I talked at that event about a Midwest newsletter, that might have been called “Stunt Kites Only” that on field conversation was the seed for Stunt Kite Quarterly (which almost got nicknamed SKO, for Stunt Kites Only instead of SKQ) The idea was to create a “mouth piece” for the growing interest in stunt kite flying, as well as a place to report the ever expanding area of stunt kite competitions, and comp events that were being held all across the USA.

I was pretty “tired” of Chicago at that time. 3.5 million neighbors was something of a drag I had considered “getting away” from it all, for some years and with Cris’ prompting and help, I moved to Manistee Michigan in January of 1989 and I moved into an apartment with Cris over his kite/gift shop called Sand Castle! I helped Cris with the kite part of the shop, and helped him with the first couple of issues of SKQ. For a “Real” Job I worked at the Manistee News Advocate (town newspaper) Owned by Cris brother in law (I think??)

WOW, no one ever told me what winter was gonna be like BUT being the hard core “kite junkies” that Cris and I were we flew in that HUGE parking lot by the beach all winter (one of the places that they did plow up the 100 or so inches of snow that we got that year ) I literally wore the bottom off a FlexifPrint Page.

Cris was an “unusual” guy, including/not including Kite Flying!

Before getting into Kite flying Cris publish and edit a national magazine about antique bottle collecting. He had this cabinet at his place that contained about 30-40 old bottles. They were pretty “Old and Moldy” from my “uninformed” point of view! Cris told me that that small part of his collection was worth $45,000.

His family, a fairly rich one in Northern Michigan wanted a more responsible “relative” in their company businesses. Cris sold, stuffed animals, flew kites, collected bottles and guns! He was just enjoying what turned out to be the last couple of years of his life!

Cris was on the Manistee City Council for a while, pretty responsible, far as I’m concerned! As you all know Cris Batdorff died of a heart attack in 1991 while at a sport kite competion in Northern Michigan. This seemed appropriate and fitting because Cris often said that he considered the kite fields his “work office” He is “truly” missed on all the kite fielkds everywhere!

Ultimately, my year in Manistee taught me lots of things, but the the most remembered was:

“Kite flying will get you through times of no money, but no amount of money will get you through times of no kite flying”

AL Hargus

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Author:Al Hargus (RIP)

A leader and expert on all things kiting for over 20 years, Al Hargus III was regularly involved in all aspects of the community, he could often be found walking through the audience at various events, speaking with and educating the public while they were there, experiencing what kiting was all about... We lost him to the great unknown in December of 2006, he is dearly missed.

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