Issue 72: Kites… Life.

Welcome to my ramble zone, there’s no shortage this time around and I’m feeling a little blunt at the moment so here goes…

One of the things I’ve become keenly aware of when I attend festivals is where the spectators and kitefliers actually meet or overlap during events, how often, in what context, etc, etc… At a time when “kite proponents” speak of a desire to increase our ranks (fliers, club members, competitors, whatever), I’m not sure that a “big picture” approach is being properly applied in many cases, or even realized.

And while I’m sad to say it, the most memorable example of this I think I’ve seen in awhile was actually at the 2009 AKA Grand Nationals (AKAGN) in Rochester MN this past October… Sure it was cold, it’s true that we didn’t have a lot of spectators, but we were there, and the message that we (as the AKA) seemed to be sending to the public who stopped to inquire was:

     “Hi, we’re the AKA, would you like to become a member?”

Does this seem like a case of cart before the horse or what?

While I may be dramatizing a little, based only on my own relative experience in Rochester both on the field and amidst the annual business meeting, I think it does illustrate a distinction in mindset and approach, perhaps an emotional polarity… Nevermind the fact that the AKA has basically taken the stance that the AKAGN is specifcally for members, an event where we’ve gathered some of the very best kiting has to offer, and there’s no dynamic public outreach.

Sure seems like there is something wrong with that picture… The more we lose ground (regular fliers, members, etc), the more we seem to end up with tunnel vision.

Of course, it warrants mention that the AKA isn’t some headless corporation or goverment, although it’s often portrayed that way… The AKA is a body of kitefliers, just like you and I, a broad sampling of our community, albeit just those folks who were willing to actually step up and take the heat that comes with trying to handle an organization… Point is, whatever you see “the AKA doing” is in fact what we’re doing to some extent, as the board is by majority a panel of folks that we’ve voted for, or not voted at all, which just might be worse.

Although I did qualify to compete for a championship, I actually ended up scratching my name off the list and instead spent the better part of my days at AKAGN wandering around the event with my Rev on short lines, just chatting people up, letting them try it out, sharing information and excitement about kiting… Out of that, even with the extremely small number of spectators and unpleasant weather, I turned out no less than three new fliers who I’m still in contact with today.

To play on an old question, for this particular discussion…

    “Which came first, the member/competitor, or the kiteflier?”

Yes folks, you need to grow kitefliers first, before they can become truly interested or loyal members, competitors, and so forth.

Of course, my train of thought here is unrelated to folks who consider themselves exclusively recreational fliers with no specific interest in kiting as a global community or industry… If you just want to fly, that’s good too… In this instance, I’m really bringing up discussion for activists, if you will.

At other events throughout the year, here are probably the most common, recurring outreach efforts I see:

  • A single tent or canopy where folks can buy shirts, pick up brochures and generally gain more information about kiting or our various organizations, local or national.
  • A “learn to fly” field, often on the outskirts of a festival, perhaps infrequently announced and sometimes staffed by folks who were obviously “wrangled” into doing the job and didn’t really want to or aren’t passionate about what their contributions can do for us.
  • Announcements over the sound system, educating listeners about kiting, aspects of the show they’re watching, our local clubs, the AKA and providing insight into our performers or artists as they cycle through the field.
  • The attending kite vendor (if there is one), often staffed with part time folks who may or may not have a practical understanding of all they products they’re actually selling.

Bear in mind, I’m not trying to say these are the par for North America, but you’ll likely agree there are enough examples to make it a point of discussion… These methods all have varying degrees of success, mostly determined by the audience demographic, as well as the skill, knowledge and level of interest demonstrated by those who volunteer for these jobs.

There’s no slight to these folks, they are often thankless jobs and really requre certain personality types to do effectively… My endless acknowledgement and gratitude to them for stepping up when often times, no one else will.

The point of my message here reaches outside of that, in terms of how we can enhance or evolve these outreach steps to more effectively entice and engage our audience so that they’re more likely to participate or become real fans of kiting.

As I see it, there are basically FOUR primary legs to the “front end” system which makes a festival work really well with regard to making new kitefliers and bringing the audience into the experience:

  1. The announcer.
  2. The performers.
  3. The learn to fly field.
  4. The attending kite vendor.

These should be all 100% complimentary, each one feeding people and attention to the other three, completing the circle, if you will.

As an example, after each performance or scheduled display, the announcer might simply run down these and other similar points:

  • Explain and simplify what they audience just watched, make it accessible, don’t tell them how hard it is to do, instead tell them anyone can do it with a some practice, and heck, did you know you can even fly most of these kites from a wheelchair if wind allows?
  • Be sure to say hello to these performers/artists and tell them how much you enjoyed their work, you might surprised to learn most of these folks were introduced to kiting at a festival like this one, or through a friendly flier on the beach somewhere.
  • Now we know anyone can do it, but where to go now… Well, go visit so-and-so (USE A NAME – it’s personal) on the FREE learn to fly field, he or she can put a kite in your hands without fear of breakage, give it a try, we’re positive you’ll enjoy the experience.
  • In the event you find kiting is something you really like, so-and-so has been kind enough to bring their kite shop to this years festival, right over there, and they’ve got a whole variety of fun kites for all ages starting at about $10, from beginner to advanced.
  • When you go home and are trying to explain these wonders to your family, a wealth of information and videos can be found at www.<insert-url>.com, YouTube, or you can also find us on Facebook!

If you’re a festival organizer and haven’t helped secure communication and mutual understanding between the announcer, store and learn to fly field, you’re missing the boat… Yeah, I’ll say it just like that… It’s not about business, it’s about dynamic, connecting the dots so they all compliment each other.

Too damned many times every year I’ll be at an event and see a total lack of communion between these core components of a festival… No common understanding, no team mentality, each area just trying to get by on their own merit… Orbiting points with no web or net between them with which to make contact with more spectators first-hand when we could be working together like the family we are.

In my opinion, if you’re really passionate about growing kiting or seeing it grow, the time for hanging out in the tent all day between performances is over… We’re the best kiting has to offer, and depending on your viewpoint, it might be a personal responsibility to be accessible to the audience, sharing an easy grin and your experiences, giving a sample of the joy you find in flying, kite making or performing.

With this in mind, I’ve specifically been starting a “roving flier” effort of my own at some of the events I attend throughout the year… Basically stepping outside the box a little, walking through the audience flying my kite or wandering into the outskirts of the event, striking up random “hi, how are you” discussions with people… Most of all, just doing what I do, looking comfortable and happy… That in itself, along with a little eye contact, is enough to get a lot of folks to say hello (i.e. open door).

Invariably, it turns to a little info about what I’m flying, how easy it is to learn, the friendly nature of the kiting community, etc.

  • We actually came all the way from Portland OR to visit this event, it’s one of our favorites… Really friendly folks, and wow, what a great place to fly!
  • Believe it or not, this is actually easier than it looks. (smile)

And of course, one of my all-time personal favorites…

  • So, what do you think about all this?
    (smiling and gesturing at the whole event)

A great open-ended question, and whatever the answer, it’s a great seque to casually explaining an aspect of the event, directing them to the learn to fly field, a web site or a flying field in their area where they can go and watch kiting more often.

All the while, above and beyond everything else, I try to be really conscious thinking about what I love in kiting, keeping my heart at the forefront, wearing the enjoyment I feel all over my face – the one great relevent truth:

“Look at him, he really enjoys it!”

I don’t ramrod folks into the learn to fly field or kite store, I just insert a little pearl of how kiting makes me feel, then an easy reference to Kitelife online, maybe iQuad on Facebook, little ways they can go home and revisit the experience through video or other textural content such as photos… I’m not thinking to myself that they should go buy a kite right now, my focus is on simply connecting them with as many rich examples as possible in the hopes of sparking an interest relative to their own style and situation, demystifying the whole thing and softening any sense of intimidation.

Another thing I love to see is something my late friend Al Hargus III would do at events, which is to actually wander up into the audience without a kite and just spectate with them… Listening to comments and discussions, chiming in to answer a question when appropriate, asking folks what their favorite part of the festival is, where they’ve come from, etc, etc.

A highly underused (and FREE) tool, this can provide a great deal of insight into what folks are interested in, what they don’t like, if they’re getting all the information offered through the announcer (did they know about the learn to fly field, etc), is there another festival they can see in their home town later in the year, and so on, and so on.

Too often, I think we tend to look out from our events and community as kitefliers, not often enough stepping out of our flying shoes to actually see what the public sees… It’s a whole ‘nother world, I assure you.

Slightly off-topic, but another good vein is what can be accomplished using some selective videos on YouTube, primarily featuring various aspects of kiting in their best light, and those made to highlight an upcoming event.

These are two distinctly different flavors as far as events go, but that primarily reflects the different demographic and style of the event… Inexpensive productions and freely distributed (hosted) by YouTube, videos like these seize an opportunity to give someone a sense of the event, motivation to attend.

Kudos to both Kites Over Grinnell and the Southern Oregon Kite Festival, as their videos not only serve to promote their specific events, but also help to promote kiting as a whole using a medium that becoming more and more used ever day all over the world.

I think an exemplary aspect of kiting at the moment is the Rev movement, to coin a phrase… The whole principle of the current ideaology in Rev flying is getting together with your friends without competition, working together as group in team flying, perpetually exchanging experience and encouragement, open doors to all… And running high throughout it all, having lots of fun, sharing it with every onlooker who comes close enough to chat with.

What we’ve managed to do is present something that is very accessible to anyone, regardless of age or inherent talent… A true friendly environment that is reaching out almost every minute of every flying day, infecting more and more folks with the enjoyment of it all, creating and helping new fliers all the time.

At WSIKF this year, we’ll have somewhere around 100 Rev fliers attending in an attempt to set a new world record for formation team flying, but that’s really the “headline” goal… If you take a moment to observe, it’s all about the dynamic… You’ll see folks working with each other endlessly, trading skills, speaking with spectators and giving impromptu kite lessons to the general public… Revs make this easier due to their controllability, sure… But it’s not exclusive to Revs, this is primarily an ideaology at work which can be translated to many other aspects of kiting.

As an experiement, at the next festival you attend… Go stand in the audience, center stage and close your eyes… Listen to the sounds of the festival, only using your ears, what part of the field is making the most noise and sounds like they’re having a really good time?

Might be the Rev fliers, and it might not be… But it’s a good place to start.

Forever flying…

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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