Issue 81: Cape Fear Kite Festival

Nov 5-6, 2011 in Wrightsville Beach, SC

Some years ago, Mike and Judy Agner decided it would be fun to get some “big kite” friends together near the end of the year and just fly for fun. Mike and Judy are an honored guest flier at festivals across the country and the world, specializing in flying “the big stuff,” and are well-loved in the mega-kite community. Residents of Wilmington, NC, the Agners are fortunate enough to be close to some excellent flying beaches, and the North end of Wrightsville Beach is just about an ideal spot for a little kite get-together. Most years, the beach is pretty wide, the folks at Shell Island Resort are a welcoming “host hotel,” and area attractions range from a WWII battleship, the USS North Carolina, through a “serpentarium” and a state aquarium – so there’s plenty to do if the weather doesn’t cooperate!

Being affiliated with the Wings Across Carolina Kiting and Okra Society (WACKOS), the Charlotte, NC, based group of eclectic kite nuts, the Agners extended an invite to fellow okra-eaters, and in so doing opened the door to kiters who fly just about everything (not just jumbos!) and the Cape Fear Kite Festival was born: a good-time event where you can expect to see almost everything that flies at some point. (With fliers from Germany and the Middle East showing up in recent years, I guess it would be appropriate to call it the Cape Fear INTERNATIONAL Kite Festival now!)

There was a brief scare earlier in the year, when a passing Hurricane knocked off some of the glass across the front of Shell Island, but luck smiled on us and the damage was sufficiently repaired for the event to go forward with only one out-of-order elevator to remind us of that near miss.

It has become somewhat traditional over the past few years to have one day of – shall we say – challenging kite flying, and one day of perfect conditions. This year was no exception.

Rain Friday night and winds gusting into the 25 mph range were an ominous start to the weekend, and the traditional WACKOS night fly was a wash-out. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that the traditional WACKOS night fliers are getting a bit older, and might have an earlier bedtime than in past years. I deny that unequivocally.

By Saturday morning, the rain had moved offshore, though the cold winds were still howling, and were forecast to build as the day went on. Having your ankles blasted by sheets of sand skating across the beach has never deterred this crowd though, and after a buffet breakfast in the resort dining room hearty souls began to make their way cautiously onto the beach. Most of the big kites were wisely left in the bag, but Pete Dolphin began staking out a display of flame-colored deltas, and the local crowd was not about to let some Yankee outdo them. Some big fish swam into the sky, an arch appeared, and various small-to-medium kites braved the air. A super-sled lifted an Air Banner (reading “Cape Fear 2011,” and casting a neat shadow on the sand) that normally would fly under a much bigger lifter. Fortunately, the multi-line guys were on hand, and it was not long before an assortment of vented this-and-that’s were darting around.

And then the kite surfers showed up. They had apparently been flying down at the South end of the island, and whether they heard that there was a kite fest going on up at the North, or they had just gotten tired of being blown down to the next island, they moved camp up to our end. Given conditions, it seemed all too likely we might see somebody flying through the air holding onto their kite, so it was nice that it turned out to be guys who were doing it on purpose.

As the winds got stronger in the afternoon, and the sun began to set, the beach was quickly abandoned, and kiters re-convened at Mike and Judy’s house for the traditional Cape Fear Shrimparoo (a Carolina low-country boil of shrimp, sausage, potatoes and corn) augmented this year by the best fried flounder you ever put in your mouth.

It has been a few years since there was an auction associated with this event, but this year there were special circumstances. Long-time WACKOS kiter Gerhard Foeller passed away this year, and his wife Beverley wished to recall their love for this event and good times had there by donating some of his amazing collection of kites to be auctioned to support the event. Mike took the opportunity to add some great art kites that he had acquired in his travels, and so a silent auction was held. I will not name names in wagging a finger at the guy who outbid me on the stack of Prism Microns – You Know Who You Are!

Sunday morning dawned with winds that were much more moderate, and with warmer temperatures, and one of those perfect autumn kite days began. While most of us were still eating breakfast, Jeff and Joyce King and friends were already laying out Mel, the life-sized blue whale, and getting him ready for flight. (If you want to fly something that big, it is wise to claim some field space early, but still, that was some real dedication!) Dennis Hawley added a few whales of his own, for good measure. The rest of us, fortified with French toast and scrambled eggs, made it out onto the beach before too much longer, and the sky quickly became crowded with all sorts of stuff.

One of my favorite things about this event is that there are no demarcated fields, fliers put something up where they can find space, and if lines cross and kites come down, well, that’s OK, we just untangle the lines and re-launch. If it turns out kites are just too close, anchors are moved or fliers step a bit further away. Yeah, all that turns into a little more work, maybe, but to me it is a lot more fun. Plus, if I want to pull out a Rev while flying a Peter Lynn Octopus, I don’t have to be in two places at once!
But you’d have to be in at least two places at once not to miss some of what went on!

Barry and Karen Ogletree lofted Neptune and a Mermaid down by the water (Barry remarked that, unusually, nobody had come by to complain about the mermaid’s 18-inch-across bare nipples), Stu and Jared made sure that fans of dual-line trick flying had something to look at, Cath and company had some Revs dancing, Marty’s “albino” octopus was spotted, Jim and Laura managed to sort out whatever the problem was and get their patchwork Manta Ray flying, the Gombergs added more whales to the show, and your humble scrivener, assisted by son James, “octopied” the sky in a totally non-political way. And, kiters being kiters, Jeff and Susie, though each recovering from past injuries, managed to hurl some fabric into the air, with maybe slightly more help than usual. But only slightly.

And that is missing a lot of what was flying and who was flying it. Everywhere you looked, something else was going up or, from time to time, coming down.

Video by naticen on YouTube

With all that going on, it is no wonder that cars were backed up for miles along the beach, trying to park and get out onto the sand to see what was going on.

And through it all, all over the beach, the joyful spirit of our hosts, Mike and Judy Agner, created the atmosphere that made the event not just a bunch of kites in the air, but a gathering of friends enjoying a truly special occasion together. Mike and Judy put the “festive” in “kite festival.” And I’m pretty sure Gerhard was enjoying the show as much as ever, though this year from a different angle.

For more information about this event, visit –

Jim Martin

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