Issue 2: Smithsonian Kite Festival

Saturday March 28, 1998 brought wonderful 10 – 18 mph winds and temperatures in the upper 60’s and 70’s to the Washington Monument for the 32nd annual Smithsonian Kite Festival. This may not be the longest running kite festival in the United States but it can certainly be called the most special. It was established in 1967 by the late Paul E. Garber, Historian Emeritus of the National Air and Space Museum , who felt that a kite festival would be a marvelous event. Thank you Dr. Garber. There is something unique about flying a kite on the grounds of the Washington Monument. Perhaps it is the view of the White House… or maybe the Lincoln Memorial… or the Capital… or maybe just the mall itself. Whatever it is, the Smithsonian Kite Festival makes for a pleasant day in the nation’s capital. There is plenty to do for the “non-kiters” in the family, so if a spouse or child just doesn’t get “it”, this is a festival I’m sure they would enjoy.

If you plan on attending this festival, I have two words to say to you – ARRIVE EARLY – before 8AM if possible. Remember you’re in Washington D.C., and parking is limited. There is a parking lot on the grounds of the monument, but there is a 2 hour limit on that lot and it is very small. My advice is to just get there early and try to park in the ellipse – just across the street, between the Washington Monument and the White House. Another reason for arriving early is to FLY. The grounds of the Washington Monument get crowded quickly and you will have to bring some SHORT lines and plan on getting all or your flying in before 10 AM if you are a sport kiter.

This event is extremely well organized and well attended – near the end of the day, I heard it announced that the National Park Service estimated the crowd at 26,000 – 28,000. There were dozens (and some times hundreds) of kites in the air at any given time…mostly children with deltas or eddy style kites. The previous Saturday a children’s kite making workshop was held and many of those kites were flown at the event. It is a great opportunity for our hobby/sport/activity to get introduced to the public. I KNOW that many people bought their first kite after the event, and many others were re-introduced to kiting on that day.

This is the third consecutive Smithsonian I have attended and each has been special. I am certain that you will see things that will make you ooooh and ahhhh at this event – each year there are new show stoppers. If you have heard that this is primarily a “single liner” or “kite maker” event, then I would have to agree with you. The focus is on hand crafted and home made kites. However, the organizers are providing opportunities for demonstrations by sport kiters. This year, the Valli Boyz team flew several demos with their Spectra Sport kites and commanded the attention of everyone when they flew their stacks of Dyna Kites. Nothing seems to impress someone new to our activity more than a stack of kites and long tails. People just love stacks and tails.

The kites that seemed to create the most ooohs and ahhhhs at the event were Peter Dolphin’s “Man in the Moon kite”, Pete Rondeau’s Centipede, and the parachuting teddy bears of P.A.W.S. However, there were others. There was a huge patchwork quilt kite and a similar designed kite of the American Flag which were SPECTACULAR in the strong breeze of the day and backlit by the afternoon sun. Felix Cartagena’s Bubble Machines delighted both the young and old. Also, a troupe of Cub Scouts, (Cub Pack 681 Den 7) had entered a HUGE Cody in the Adult/Child Joint Effort Category. The cross spars on this kite were “big” bamboo poles. Fortunately, the winds were cooperative for this kite on this day and it flew quite well. At one time, it lifted a “dummy” for a parachute drop. The scouts were having a GREAT time. This was their kite, they had helped build it… and they will have memories that will last a lifetime of how BIG their kite was and how well it flew on that day.

The Team Rokkaku Battle took place near the end of the day. This was enjoyed by both the spectators AND competitors. It’s really nice to hear play by play done at a kite event. There were several Rokkaku’s that had to be retrieved from cherry trees after each heat in the battle. This year’s Rokkaku battle was won by the AKA Team Kite team headed by Gary Engvall. Gary managed to win amidst such competition as Peter Dolphin, Steve Ferrel, and several teams of Girl Scouts who took my team’s kite out of the sky on a couple of occasions. (Author’s note… Another reason to attend the festival, the cherry blossom’s are either in full bloom or just starting to bloom during the festival. This year, they were beautiful.)

Finally, there was also a Kite Making Competition. At this event there are no registration fees or pre-registration. You simply fill out the form, get assigned a number, wait in line to have your kite craftsmanship judged, then walk the kite on the field and have it’s flight characteristics judged. An individual may participate with only ONE kite (self made or joint effort). This kite must be MADE AND FLOWN by the KITE MAKER.

You have the opportunity to see master craftsman from the U.S. and around the world demonstrating their best work at this festival. However, you also have the opportunity to see children competing with kites they have made and getting the same consideration and flying time as the masters. To me, that is what makes this event so special. It is the mixture of children’s homemade kites, Master Kite Makers, and newer kite makers, and cooperative categories that allows for a large number of competitors in the kite making competitions. You also see lots of ooohs, ahhhhs and smiling faces at the Smithsonian. I hope to see you there next year.


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Author:Phil Napier

One of the founding contributors at Kitelife, Phil Napier was highly involved in both the organizational and competitive sides of kiting during the 90s.... Although primarily a dual line sport kite competitor, Philhas flown quad and built kites (primarily single line) as well, and even saw time in Rok battles at the Smithsonian Festival. He would like to share with you, in this column, some tips and techniques that will make being a novice competitor a little less frustrating and a more enjoyable.

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