Issue 40: Full Circle… Got Kites?

In the late 80s kiting saw the spread of home grown kite events around the country, inspired and created by daily fliers who simply wanted to share their passion with others in a more organized fashion… This eventually brought us to the heyday of kiting through the early and mid 90s which saw dozens of successful festivals all over the country, quite a few teams and thriving kite stores all over the place!

So, what happened?

After my recent visit to the Kite Trade Association trade show in Nevada, I came back with a whole lot of ideas rattling around in my head… With the nationwide decline of sport kite competitions and festivals over the last few years, and the common sentiments I’ve heard from a number of retailers, it ‘s clear that the kiting community is undergoing quite a few changes and is still figuring out how exactly to deal with it.

After spending a fair amount of time interviewing store owners, festivals organizers and fliers in general, the reading I got is that many of them simply aren’t doing what got most of us started in the first place… Actually FLYING!

In various places around the country people are already starting up grassroots efforts to revitalize the kite scene through “shoe string” festivals, competitions and regular local fun flies…. Cutting out huge banquets, t-shirts, pins and many of the other frills that have long been a part of events, these organizers are helping to make kiting accessible once again.

Here are a few aspects to consider…

Kite Stores

For the last several years, I’ve very much gotten the sense that a large number of established kite stores have been riding on their history… Not flying as much themselves, not being as passionate about putting on local events and flies to expose kiting to the public, cutting back on making sure there are store fliers at their local field, and generally not being as excited as they used to be.

This would be understandable, if not for the apparent mental block many are exhibiting.

It seems that a large amount of their focus is going towards traditional advertising such as TV and newspapers, filling their stores with a larger proportion of toys and other tourist merchandise “in order to survive”, etc.

Now, that being said… Let me ask:


I’d bet even money that better than 9 out of 10 fliers were introduced to kiting simply by seeing it happen… Maybe a kite festival, someone flying at a local park, or even that good friend who turned you on to it.

All of the stores that I’ve talked to who are thriving have done so through developing a community of fliers and customers by way of organizing local events or fun flies, connecting fliers within their region, and most importantly… Simply by still being active fliers themselves!

There is one store in the Pacific Northwest that offers nothing but high performance sport kites, has an excellent selection, and is successful… Why? Because they fly several times a week, and work with their customers (both potential and existing) on that essential level.

They are passionate enough to go out of their way and speak with nearly everyone who merely looks at the kites from afar, even if they have to seek them out… They’re not pushy, but are truly sincere and friendly.

If you’re stuck behind the counter all day, ask yourself… Do you still enjoy flying kites? Since the answer is probably yes, take the steps to give yourself time to fly at least once in awhile… That is the energy that will sell kites!

Festival Announcers

One of the things that I’ve found entices people and stimulates them to participate is “star factor”… Shortly after I began flying, there were quite a few excellent announcers at events around the country who had a knack for colorfully introducing high profile fliers and their achievements. I for one found this to be quite inspirational, since it provided me with role models (or icons) and instilled in me sincere aspirations to participate at a level where I too could someday be a “star” in kiting.

It’s not baseball or Indianapolis racing… Anyone can do it, whether you’re 8 or 80 years old, an athlete or in a wheelchair.  Given this, the announcer is our front line, the one who more often than not reaches the audience first!

I would very much like to see greater attention put towards delegating announcing to those who have a clear agenda in mind, and feel it deep down in their gut…

  1. Sharing the excitement that got us started.
  2. Educating about kites and our sport without being too technical or using “jargon”.
  3. Pumping up competitors and demonstrators with honest, but flattering introductions.
  4. Inviting the public to actually come “say hello” and talk with kite fliers, to learn more.
  5. Exciting spectators to try their hand at flying with “learn to fly” workshops.

If we sound like a tiny hobby (no offense) and believe we are at some level, then we simply won’t attract the wide range of spectators and participants that we need to grow on… We all know what kiting is, we just have to convey that to our spectators with more consistency and not let them get away without offering a better look at what we do.

Sport Kite Competition

As a member of the 2005 AKA Sport Kite Committee, I’ve been pleased to see specific research and investigation being done into how fliers enter the sport, what their average “life span” is, and why many of them stop competing or even attending festivals… Sure, there is always turnover due to family obligations, marriage, new jobs and the like which cannot always be addressed, but we can certainly stand to learn from those who have left as a result of being disillusioned in one way or another.

Following on the heels of such discussions, entry costs at quite a few events will be coming down to some extent, programs to encourage new novice fliers are already going into place in select areas, and a handful of manufacturers are donating kites to some of these events so that those new fliers have suitable (and enjoyable) equipment to use their first time out!

I look forward to more “home grown” competitions being introduced by kite clubs and local fliers, even using a boom box if they have to… It’s accessible, laid-back and doesn’t require anyone to expend tremendous amounts of resources in order to accomplish.

“If you build it, they will come”

Believe it!

The key that I’m outlining here is simply that our success as a whole relies on those who understand, and take a degree of personal responsibility for sharing what they love and exposing even more people to it… Or taking more of an organizational role, assisting with the creation, restructuring and streamlining of events and clubs in their region.

While I acknowledge that there are those who are simply “weekend pilots” and have no interest in more than leisure flying in private (which is respectable)… It’s up to you to look inside, and ask yourself if this is a movement that you believe in.

Otherwise, just start up a conversation with a stranger on the field who you might notice is watching with interest, offer them the opportunity to fly your kite and you might make us a friend.

In my opinion, another untapped resource are organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of America, troubled teen groups, elderly homes, and other centers where there are people who could really and truly benefit from the joy of watching or flying kites of various kinds.

Another huge untapped venue is amidst the recent surge that kite surfing has experienced over the past couple of years… Why not try to position a traditional kite festival and/or sport kite competition on land at the same time these kite surf tournaments are happening on the water?  It could prove to be a powerful alliance with just a little bit of planning and communication!

This is a wonderful pastime, with much to offer… Young or old, rich or poor, athletic or disabled, kiting can bring that special feeling to anyone.

This isn’t a call to arms, so much as a reminder to look within and recognize what is possible with a little work, and an absolute belief in what we do.

See you on the field,

John Barresi

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Author:John Barresi

Involved in the greater kiting community since 1990, John is an avid kite flier in several disciplines, has served as President of the American Kitefliers Association, and is co-founder of the Revolution sport kite team iQuad. View John Barresi's Profile →

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