Issue 1: First Flight Workshop

The ‘First Flight Workshop’ is intended to decrease new flier anxiety (in regard to competing for the first time) and highlight the most important aspect of competition … which is TO HAVE FUN. In addition, highlights of the International Sport Kite Competition Rules (AKA Rulebook, Fourth Edition) are presented and discussed and demonstrations of precision flying are performed so that new competitors can get an idea of what the judges expect.

The event is sponsored by the Southern California Sport Kite League. Larry Bush, the President of Aire Affair Kite Productions, presides over all of the SoCal Sport Kite League activities which includes a series of four AKA/AKM sanctioned competitive sport kite events. I met with Larry prior to the start of the workshop and found him to be a very friendly and personable man. In fact, everyone associated with the workshop was friendly and helpful.

I don’t know why I’m always surprised when the people I meet in this sport turn out to be some of the nicest people. You’d think, after about 12 years or so of this, I’d get used to it … but I haven’t. I’m always pleasantly surprised and I like it that way. One of the best things about flying kites is the people you meet and the friendships that are born. Sometimes those friendships last a lifetime. Every time I go somewhere to fly kites, I meet new people and make new friends.

Such was the case when my kitegal (Susan Shampo) and I headed up to Long Beach, CA, for the ‘First Flight Workshop’ on Saturday, March 7, 1998. My interest in the workshop was purely from the standpoint of covering the event for Susan, however, wanted to learn as much as she could about competing prior to her first competition (which is scheduled for the 28th of March).

We arrived in Long Beach promptly at 10:00 a.m., met Larry, his wife Sandy, and David Bui, a former AKA Grand National Champion and American Kite Magazine ‘Kite Flier of the Year’ (1995), who presented the workshop. After making all the proper introductions we walked out to the flying area to set up and to chat for a while.

If you’ve never been to Belmont Shores, it’s a huge, flat, sandy beach with enough room for several dozen fliers. Susan and I are accustomed to the rather congested flying field at Mission Bay Park in San Diego and were pleasantly surprised at the amount of flying space available to us on this particular occasion.

David Bui (not surprisingly) is a warm and relaxed individual. His philosophical approach to flying in competition is to be prepared for ANYTHING. Upon arriving at the beach he immediately set up a low wind kite and started warming up for his demonstration on precision flying. As others started to arrive and set up their kites, Susan and I followed suit and it wasn’t long before there were half a dozen kites floating in the warm morning breeze.

Everyone was called over to begin the workshop and handouts were passed around. The handouts consisted of highlights of the rules for sport kite competition and included time limits, wind rules, penalties, etc., and three pages of figures that David had put together to illustrate how to make a precision routine “flow” together seamlessly.

Aside from being a phenomenally good flier, David’s forte seems (to me) to be his ability to choreograph a routine. We put him on the spot and forced him (at risk of great bodily harm) to create a routine around the three compulsory figures that the Novice Class fliers will be required to perform in the next competition at Long Beach on the 28th of March.

The end result was a rather spectacular display of kiting skill that netted him a 9.8 from the crowd … a crowd which consisted of several active judges and other professional fliers. This was, by the way, performed with a kite that David had never flown before. Since we were already standing, the ovation that followed was appropriate and well earned. Nice job, David.

A gentleman by the name of Tom Stoner was also on hand during the workshop to contribute to discussions centering on judging of competitors and the scoring system. Tom is a judge and an active competitor as well, so his insight covered both sides of the coin. He made several valuable contributions to the overall discussion on rules and a competitor’s responsibilities during a competition.

I’m tempted to cover each and every detail of the workshop … list each question from the crowd and resulting answer … but then what would be the point of any future workshops? All one would have to do is refer to this article and not bother attending.

That’s not the point of the workshop at all. It wasn’t just the information and demonstrations performed that made it a valuable lesson for potential competitors. It was the people and their relaxed attitude toward competition, their knowledge of the sport and their enthusiasm that made it a worthwhile experience.

I’m just a kite flier and a writer. I have no aspirations to compete but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in competition. The simple fact that I can attend these events, meet some really great people, watch them fly kites and maybe make a few new friends is reason enough to keep me coming back for more.

Susan, on the other hand, is highly competitive by nature. Her impressions of the workshop were very favorable. She feels that above all it decreased her anxiety, and being able to meet and ask questions of active judges made her realize that they are REAL people too … and in some cases competitors as well. Their standards are high, sure, but isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

Competition separates the great from the not-so-great … as does life itself. Some are born to compete and excel in life, no matter what the reward, and some simply stand by and watch. People who fly kites in competition see beyond the kite and focus more on the pictures they paint across the canvas of the sky. Therein we find the nature of sport kite competition. It’s what we see in our mind’s eye that we attempt to recreate for others. The recognition for greatness or the humbling experience of defeat is what drives us onward. Achieving our goals, both in life and in competition, is what separates us from the mundane. To get there … we fly.

AL Stroh

*Notes on Long Beach – Belmont Shores is South of Long Beach. Be prepared for changing weather and wind conditions. When we arrived the winds were very light … around 2-3 mph … but as the day progressed they increased to approximately 12-14 mph. The general rule of thumb in kiting is, “Be Prepared”.

After the workshop Susan and I were famished and Tom Stoner offered a suggestion for dinner (thanks, Tom). He directed us to an Italian restaurant named “Christy’s”, on the corner of Broadway and Termino. The food was fabulous and the service second to none. If you’re ever in Long Beach and REALLY hungry, pay them a visit.

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Author:AL Stroh

Al Stroh is a veteran kiter originally from Southern California (now a resident of Brookings, OR), has been contributing to various kiting publications for years and is currently very involved in organizing the Southern Oregon Kite Festival .

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