Issue 47: ProFile: Egan Davis

Although relatively new by “pro standards”, Egan Davis has been making waves as a competitive flier since the middle of last year! He’s got a few more years of flying than that behind him, but he’s really come into his own as of late.  One of my favorite pilots to watch, he has a style and sense of program all his own… Frankly, I find myself taking notes almost every time I share the field with him, and am inspired to reach for more just having spent the time soaking in his flying.

Yes, he has the skills to pay the bills, but you couldn’t hope to meet a nicer, more humble guy… Quick of wit, and even quicker to share a positive word or share a technique he’s figured out.  Enough with the introduction, let’s let Egan speak for himself.

Hi, Egan. Let’s start this thing off the easy way. First off, tell us about yourself… Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school? What do you do to pay the bills these days?

I was born and raised in Vancouver BC. To be precise, I am from the beautiful city of North Vancouver …right on the side of the mountains. After growing up on a lifestyle of skateboarding and swimming in cold rivers, I studied horticulture. Now I work at Van Dusen Botanical Gardens in Vancouver.

All right, Egan. Tell us a bit more about working at Van Dusen and what you do there… I actually went to the park’s website and I was fascinated by the variety of classes you teach, and the disciplines involved. How did you get interested in gardening?

Van Dusen is a world recognized botanical garden. Our goal at Van Dusen is simple…to connect people with plants. I work as a gardener and I manage a large, complex area. As you mentioned, I also am a member of the education department and I teach many classes. If any kiteflyers are in Vanvouver and they want a tour, I will gladly show you around. I developed a passion for gardening because, like kiteflying, it is an activity which is many sided. Just like kiteflying, gardening combines creativity with physical activity. And, like kiteflying, in gardening you develop skills of applied science. I could dedicate the rest of my life to both activities and never stop learning.

Next – How did you discover kiting? Yeah, we all flew those dime-store specials as kids, but how did you get into the serious kiting stuff? And then how’d you make the transition from being a casual flier into full-blown competition pilot?

After flying a cheap dollar store kite with my wife, I decided I wanted to make a kite. I got a plan for an Indian fighter kite, went to the local kite store for the materials and made my first kite. Luckily, I went to the right beach and this really nice guy, Alec Marshall, showed me how to fly a fighter. It wasn’t many trips to the beach until I got envious of people with stunt kites. I bought a Beetle, an Alpha and a Fanatic and wow, here I am six years later, loving kites more than ever.

Ever since day one, I have flown for up to six hours non-stop without any breaks. Typically, I will stop when my bladder is bursting, my skin is burned and my tongue is expanding from dehydration. I don’t know if that can be considered casual flying. I think the transition from where I started to where I am has happened slowly and gradually but at the same time I still go to the beach and fly non-stop for up to six hours. That hasn’t changed much. The only difference is I go to competitions now.

Okay, so what drives you to compete? Who are some of the people who influenced and inspired you, and who stepped up to the bar and actually taught you how? Tell us the kind of effort that went into that transition to competition caliber pilot, and how much you currently practice/fly.

The one thing that I love most about competing, especially in ballet, is that for 3 – 4 minutes you have the whole field to yourself and you get to play any song you like. My goal is to feel the music with my kite and reach a place in my mind that is focused and yet empty of all thought. In this state, I believe you access a higher performance ability that is often somewhat suppressed. I have only experienced this momentarily a few times, but it is magical. The challenge to attain this state during a competition is what drives me.

Fellow Vancouver based kiteflyer, Cal Yuen has been a tremendous inspiration for me. Cal has been flying stunt kites since 1988 and competing since 1989. Even after almost twenty years flying kites, he is the one person I bump into on the flying field most often. He is a very good flyer and a very modest flyer as well. I have always aspired to have the full range of skills and understanding of sport kites that Cal has. Cal introduced me to the concept of competition flying and he has encouraged me every step of the way. I should also mention Reid Wolcott. Watching him fly at my first event really opened my eyes. Wow! I was so impressed with every turn, line and curve that guy cut. His kite exudes the energy that he puts into it. I know he is busy with life and school these days but it would be cool to see him get back into the competition scene. Leading by example, guys like Cal and Reid have taught me how to fly.

I don’t think I ever really “practice” anything. But I am out flying as much as I can. Typically, on the weekends, I will spend one day (sometimes both days) flying. On my kite day, I will fly all day long. During the week, I try to get out 2-3 days after work at least for a couple of hours. On average, throughout the year, I probably spend 10-12 hours a week flying kites. I don’t know if that is a lot, but my efforts are certainly consistent.

Your Bio in Kitelife’s competitor profiles tells us that your first competition occurred in 2003 up at Steveston, BC. About how many competitions a year do you fly, and would you like to fly more events, or is the current number about right?

I have flown in 2 – 5 events a year since 2003. In fact, I can count the events I have been to on my fingers. I am planning to attend more events annually.

Okay, now let’s address what might be a “touchy” subject for you. Those of us who live elsewhere are amazed at the distances you Canadian people have to travel to compete. Can you tell us how you handle to difficulties of getting to all those events so far away?

The travel is definitely a challenge. Apart from the Steveston and Whidbey Island events, everything else is at least a 5-6 hour drive and a border crossing away. In fact, I had planned to go to more events last year but the travel logistics were somewhat prohibitive in my case. What I end up doing is waking up at 3:00 am and driving for 6 hours to make it to the beach by 9:00 or 10:00 am. But it is not such a big deal when you consider what other sportkite competitors do. I know people who make it to more events than I do and they travel greater distances.

And we might as well jump right in here with the nitty-gritty stuff too, Egan… We know you’re interested in the Tricks Party competition format, and that you also continue to compete in AKA sanctioned comp events. What interests/excites you about each format? Do you see the separate formats as “just a normal part of kite competitions,” or do you feel a friction between the two formats?

Yeah, I like competing in both formats. In the AKA sanctioned events, I particularly like flying dual line ballet. I am on a learning curve right now with my philosophy on “choreography” and I like the fact that good choreography is rewarded in the scoring. Tricks Party is cool because it specifically supports current, progressive kite flying. This is where sportkite flying is at right now.

Bravo to Roger and company over in Europe for pushing the boundaries of our sport. Tricks Party combines elements of traditional ballet with a heavy emphasis on trick flying while still recognizing controlled, precise flying. I think we are only starting to see how well tricks can be incorporated into a musical routine. Tricks Party will push North American kiteflying into a new level. I think that there are pros and cons to both formats and that it would be good to combine both worlds into AKA sanctioned events. I would not like to see two separate camps develop. Let’s all play in the same sandbox.

Tell us how you felt about going to the Freestyle World Cup over in France… We assume it was loads of fun for you, right? What did you learn over there? What were your successes (and perhaps any failures – you’d care to share?) while you were there? Would you be interested in flying in the Freestyle World Cup again?

FWC was the best thing that ever happened to me. My eyes were opened… I saw a style of flying that I had never seen before. Before FWC, I would spend hours flopping my kite around learning new tricks. Now, I aspire to apply my skills to a meaningful flying style with purpose and intention. Thank you to all the great European flyers who I met at FWC. You guys have provided a huge inspiration to a Canadian guy who loves to fly kites. Going to that event caused my passion for kites to grow immensely.

I greatly value the lessons I learned at FWC. As it was my first experience with that format, I was unsure how to approach it. I made the mistake of not flying the ballet the way I normally do. I planned every trick, turn and landing. That is just not me. I would have done better if I had loosened up a bit. I am also very proud of my successes there. I nailed the compulsory tricks on day one. I remember being especially thrilled to pull off a sweet Kombo landing and a double axel in a really choppy 25mph wind. In fact, I placed 4th in compulsories on the first day and made it in to the second round of competition. This proved to me that I can compete at the world level.

Would I be interested in going to another FWC? Yes please! My primary goal since FWC 2005 is to build my skills for another kick at the can. Now that I have some experience, I know what it will take to do well next time. I am hungry for it.

Speaking of international kiting, what influence do you think kiting might have towards creating an “international culture?” Have you an interest in what other kiters around the world are doing?

Going to FWC introduced me to the international kite culture. I really enjoyed meeting all the other competitors from around the world. At FWC, I thought it was cool that all these guys from all over the world were as crazy about kiteflying as I was. All of us had so much in common. Yeah, I am totally interested in what kiteflyers around the world are doing. We always hear about flyers in Europe and North America but what’s going on in Japan, China, Australia and South America? I know that there are sportkite flyers in these places. I would love to know more about these guys.

Now, tell us how you go about creating your comp routines? Do you simply sit down and write one out, or does it all start with the music, or do you just throw a disk in the player and “wing it”?

I know this approach doesn’t work for everyone but, for me, it certainly doesn’t work to script out a routine too carefully. It totally starts with the music. I like to pick songs that I like… Something that says something about who I am and touches a chord in my soul. I try to pick music that people are familiar with so that maybe the song touches a chord with the audience as well. The song also has to be dynamic. Dramatic tempo changes in a song, for example, make for an interesting routine. I also don’t like to edit music just to suit a routine that incorporates stuff that I know how to do. I will only edit to shorten stuff down to an appropriate length. Usually I am doing that the night before I leave for an event. As far as my choreography goes, I must know the music well enough so that I can anticipate the mood changes and queues in the song. But, if I know it too well, I lose some of my inspiration.

I might have a few specific goals… For example I might plan a long ground pass at a part of the song which is just asking for it. I may also want to know when I might time a landing or maybe one or two tricks that I think will work but for the most part, I try to let the music dictate what I do. If the music is descending I’m there descending with a rolling cascade or whatever works at the moment. I think this approach only works if you open up and totally commit to the song and the moment.

Here’s a funny story. Just last month at SASKC, someone came up to me after my ballet on the Saturday and commented that he hadn’t seen choreography like that for years. Wow, I was very flattered and at the same time amused because I didn’t have much of a plan. I had flown to that song once before so I repeated some of the same elements but 70% of it was created on the spot. I’ll tell you what though, I loved the song and I was right in the moment during my routine. Another reason that I can’t overplan stuff is that I have a big problem using personal music players like MP3’s while I am flying. I find them totally annoying and distracting. Because of this, I get really excited flying to music at an event. Free of headphones and wires, I can totally enjoy the music that I planned on flying to. It is like a long awaited treat.

Why did you start creating kites, and how did you get started? Were you pleased with your creations and what did you learn in the process? And do you feel you met or exceeded your initial goals in creating your own kites?

I like to build stuff in general so naturally I was drawn to kite building. As long as I have been flying kites I have experimented on and off with building them. There have been some kites which I have been very happy with. But my problem is that I can never leave stuff alone. I will take something that I like and cut it up and change something just because I want to see what will happen. Most of my creations only get flown a few times before I change them or start something completely new.

When I am in a kite building phase, my flying skills go on hold. I spend so much time walking back and forth from the kite tweaking and tuning that I don’t learn any new flying skills for weeks. I do, however learn so much about how and why kites do what they do. Every angle, measurement, material and knot influences how a kite flies. It really is fascinating. Have I met my initial goals with my creations? No. Had I left a few of the good ones alone I could say yes but my curiosity always gets the better of me and out come the scissors.

Do you plan to keep making these kites for yourself, or is that phase pretty much gone for good? If you happened to create a wonderful design, would you be interested in producing it for others?

Oh yeah, I plan on continuing with my kite building. I always have something on the table. I enjoy the activity of kite building in itself. I love spending hours in my kite room with the hockey game on the radio or a CD playing and my sewing machine going. Lately I have been experimenting with indoor kites. I don’t think I would ever be interested in building kites for others. I barely have enough time in my busy life to make kites for myself. Besides, that kind of production is serious stuff. I do it more as a hobby, for relaxation.

Tell us what you look for in your competition kite – or any kite you just love to fly, for that matter… And why did you give up making your own, and what makes the l’Atelier Masque your current comp kite?

I need a kite that has a solid, precise feel and fairly good trick repertoire. Lately, I have really enjoyed flying large kites. I haven’t given up making my own. My pattern over the last few years has been to buy a kite and fly that for a while, then build a few kites and fly them for a while. Regardless of what I am flying, I dedicate myself to only one kite at a time so that I can really learn that one kite well.

Let me tell you about the Masque. I flew one for about five minutes and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for two and a half years. It was so different than anything else I had flown. It has such a unique personality. I ended up getting one just this January and I am loving it. When this kite was designed 10 years ago, the guys at l’Atelier were ahead of their time. The kite is so simple yet so capable. One thing that I really like about this kite is that it flies so well without any added weight. Without any additional weight, it feels very light and lively. The precision characteristics are better without weight as well. Flying without weight ballast is fun because you can’t stop flying the kite for a second. I have flown weighted kites for the last few years and in many cases, tricks are initiated, the kite goes through the manoeuvre and then you recover it.

With the Masque, you have to feel the kite the whole way through or it tends to roll up unexpectedly or tip wrap. In fact, I would say this kite always needs some degree of tension in the lines. Instead of referring to “slack line tricks” with the Masque, you might say “not quite as taught line tricks”. I have to say though, if you want the full range of current tricks at your disposal, l’Atelier’s Transfer with a 20 gram weight might be more up your alley. I am just having fun right now reinventing my style with the Masque.

What else in kiting intrigues you? What do you hope to accomplish in the future that you’re not attempting now? Have you any interest in Team or Pairs flying? Any interest in the Quad-line genre? Are you doing any indoor comp flying? And also, have you any thoughts of running for positions in the AKA or in a league (Northwest Sport Kite League or otherwise)?

Everything in kiting intrigues me. Right now I am focused on individual dual line flying, but in the future I know that I have Team, Pairs, and Quad stuff waiting for me. Currently, my friend Dave Bredefeld here in Vancouver lent me some handles for individual pairs flying. I have fooled around with one handed flying and now I just need to rig up two Masques for one in each hand. A few guys up here in Vancouver (including Dave) are pretty good at it and they make it look fun. And man, do I enjoy indoor flying. I have spent many a Sunday morning at a not so local gym flying indoors.

The last couple of months, I have enjoyed flying Quad-line inside and I have made a few indoor quads as well. I haven’t made it to many indoor events. Each one that has come up lately has been logistically impossible for me to attend. I am really looking forward to the Lincoln City indoor festival/comp coming up soon. At the moment, I have no extra time to run for any positions in the AKA or in our league. But certainly, in the future, when I have more experience, I think I would like to participate on that level.

What are some of your favourite kite festivals, and why do you enjoy them? And which festivals or comps have you NOT attended, but would like to?

I really like the Whidbey Island Kite festival. Those guys do a great job with that one. Everything is at that event…single line, sportkite, indoor, mystery ballet, kite raffle, sale tent… It’s a great one and it’s close to home too. I also like our event at Steveston too because it brings all the American flyers up to Canada. It was at this event in 2003 when I attended my first comp. After watching all the amazing flyers I was so inspired to take my flying to the next level. I know that when everybody comes up for Steveston, somebody else in my hometown will have the light turn on watching everybody fly. I am looking forward to Steveston this year.

I have never been to the Long Beach festival and everyone who goes raves about how much fun it is. I also want to go to another European event. My trip to FWC was a mind expanding experience. I could do something like that again.

Okay, perhaps time for us to lighten up for a change. What’s the “fun” for you in kiting these days? Please tell us about the “best” day you ever had in Kiting. And for that matter, would you also care to share your “worst” kiting experience?

I can’t explain it, but I have more fun flying kites now than I ever have before. Every time I go out, I learn or think of something new. After every flying session while I am at home or work, I am thinking about what I want to try next time I go out. The best day I have ever had flying has happened a few times in the exact same way. I am flying alone at my local field, Garry Point Park, the wind is somewhere in the 10 – 15km/hr range and I have been flying for a couple of hours. Sometimes, when everything is just right like this, I feel at one with the kite and everything is possible. I will fly right through the sunset until it gets dark. On the left side of the window is the faint red glow of the sun which set one hour ago. On the right side, are parking lot lights to backlight my kite. Everything in between is dark and I can’t even see my kite but I just can’t stop flying. My mind is empty yet focused on what I am doing. It is almost a meditative, Zen like feeling. This exact scenario happens from time to time and these truly are the “best” kiting days. I love going for coffee and reading the paper after a session like that.

The worst kiting day I have ever had was when this stupid off-leash Bulldog came out of nowhere and destroyed my Gemini. A group of about 10 people were watching me fly and they felt inclined to step up and insist that the dog owners buy me a new kite. The dog owner was with a large group of people too who all had something to say and they agreed that I deserved $20 and a “Whoops, sorry about that”. Within minutes I had two groups of people yelling at each other about what they thought was fair for me. This one idiot had a video camera and was obnoxiously pushing it into the dog owner’s face while yelling racial slurs at her. It got really ugly and the dog owner and I were unwillingly caught in the middle of this embarrassing display. She and I were really just wanting to have an adult conversation about it. I stepped aside and phoned the police to break it up. Anyways, after a few long phone conversations, the dog owner realized she had an interesting clause in her homeowner’s insurance that allowed her to reimburse me up to $500 with no rate hike or deductible. I got a new Gemini and everything worked out well in the end.

And what is it about the sport of kiting that most appeals to you now and keeps you involved? I was fascinated to discover that you not only took the Masters Individual Ballet title at SASKC this year, but came back the next day to capture the top spot in the Tricks Party event the next day. Now that you’re near the top of the heap so to speak, do you mentor other pilots? And is there any advice you’d give to fliers, new or experienced, from around the country/world?

I want to stay involved in kiting because I feel like I am on a real learning curve right now and I want to ride this wave out and see where it takes me. I am also enjoying the social aspect as well. I like all the people I have met through competition and seeing everyone is a big part of what I look forward to going to events. I can think of a few new local flyers that are hanging out on the edge of becoming avid flyers or just dropping right out of kiteflying all together. I really hope that these guys can feed off my passion and enthusiasm for kiteflying and catch the bug in a big way. These brand new flyers are the kind of guys I hope I can have an influence on. As far as advice for any flyers out there, new or experienced, empty your mind and fly with passion.

Finally, do you think kiting will ever become “mainstream?” Why or why not, and how might we as fliers help to make it happen?

I think sportkites could break away from the fringe with the right exposure. It is interesting to me that while kite surfing is becoming somewhat mainstream, all these new kitesurfers (in Vancouver anyway) don’t seem interested yet in sport kites. Potentially, there is a lot of new blood there. Somehow, we should tap into that buzz and hype associated with kitesurfing and get some of those guys to trade in their wetsuits for a colourful new sportkite.

Egan, thank you SO much for taking the time from your busy schedule for this interview. It’s always fun yakking with excellent comp pilots like this… We wish you continued success both on the field and off. It’s been fun!

Thank you! It has been very flattering that you would interview me. I learned a lot about myself in the process.

Interview by John Barresi & Dave Shattuck

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