Issue 1: Quest for the World Cup

Phew……..What a year!!!

For Sky Dance 1996 had been quite a year. Winning the European title for the 2nd year in a row had seemed unbelievable, but when in Japan we had taken the World title from Airkraft our year was complete. We all had holidays to wind down from the excitement and attended a few more festivals through to October. Then, after a short rest we reassembled in December to put together our plan for 1997. We decided that having won the World title we had achieved our ambition and that this year we would take a slightly more relaxed approach to competition and would not place quite so much pressure on ourselves. Fat chance……….

As we got further into our practice schedule it became obvious to us that writing a new ballet which could follow a World beating routine, was not going to be easy. Every time that we put a piece together and flew it, at least one of us would decide that it wasn’t good enough. We were setting our sights high and that pressure that we had banished only months before, was quickly reappearing. Our season was due to start in Berck sur Mer, France in March, and we were determined to air our new ballet for the first time. Much effort and swearing was put into getting it ready and as the date approached we decided we would give it a try. Our biggest worry was that so many people knew our last routine so well and praised it so much that we did not want to disappoint. Was it going to work?

The Berck festival is always a big one and this year was no exception. The organizer had decided to have a fun competition, using the audience applause as the judges and this was a bit of a surprise for us. We had thought that we were simply doing displays for the weekend and now had a competition on our hands. Our main rivals for this event would be Airkraft who were also in attendance. Unfortunately for us, they were flying their established routine that they had used for the previous World Cup in Japan. We knew that flying an unseen routine against this well known ballet, with only audience response as the judge, would prove very difficult, but we decided that this event was for fun and would help us to prepare for the season to come. We flew a clean performance, but at this early stage of the year, it was far too unknown to take on the ‘Future of flying’!

Returning from Berck we had one month to our next event. We were fairly encouraged by the feedback that our new ballet had received and decided upon a few changes that would be made before our next outing. Three events in Belgium and France gave us the ideal opportunity to tighten up our routines before the heavy competition season would be upon us. At the end of May Basingstoke hosted the first round of the British National Pairs Championship and Sky Dance were invited to put on a display. As it happens we were to be in attendance anyway, since Jeanette and I had decided to fly as a pair by the name of ‘BI – DANCE’. The weekend brought some rough weather and strong winds, but in Sky Dance tradition, this only served to help us fly better. We put on a number of team displays and to finish off a great weekend, BI DANCE walked away with a 1st in the Pairs for this event.

The following week was Bath, another small English kite festival, this time situated on the west coast. This too hosted a round of the National Pairs in winds that were strong, gusty and unforgiving. Again BI DANCE flew pretty well and after the precision element were lying second. Unfortunately the ballet (our favourite part and no problem in strong wind), was cancelled due the conditions making it unsafe for some pairs. So 2nd it was………

On the Sunday a lot of people went home as the weather did not improve. For us though the journey is a few hours and we decided that we would stay and put on some displays. We took the opportunity to get out our Revolution 1.5’s which we are lucky enough to have provided by Revolution Enterprises. The wind was strong and we only have standard 1.5 sails, so it was hard work. Our quad ballet went well though and was appreciated by the remaining crowd. Just to add to the excitement, a single line kite which was tethered somewhere upwind of the arena, broke free and floated through our routine just before we finished. This made for some interesting shapes as we avoided the uninvited guest and 2 out of 4 kites completed the ballet as planned. We then went and removed the single liner from the 2 revs that it now held to ransom just above the ground. All of this though simply added to the enjoyment of the hardy crowd.

Bath finished on the Sunday evening and bright and early on Monday morning Sky Dance could be found in London. This time, along with Airkraft and a few others, we were at the airport on our way to Guadeloupe. The plan was to fly from London to Paris, where would meet up with the rest of the European squad and then to continue on to Guadeloupe. This duly happened and by Monday evening (local time), we were sitting by the pool sipping rum.

Guadeloupe itself proved to be a challenging festival for us. The atmosphere was relaxed, we practiced enough to feel that we were ready and the hospitality and facilities were great. However, every time that we stepped into the arena the wind did something strange. It wasn’t just when we competed either. We practiced early one morning in the arena and even then the wind changed in strength and direction many times. When it came to the competition itself the wind was no better. Not long in to our precision routine the wind came on strong, and despite our best efforts, it was far from perfect. Our ballet was effected similarly and in the end 3rd overall was the best that we could manage. We were certainly not the only people to get affected by these condition changes, but our own kite choice combined with the stronger winds left us well overpowered. Oh well, that’s kite flying!! After this slightly disappointing result we returned to England having had a good time and feeling that with a bit more practice the wins must come.

The following weekend we were off to another of our favourite events, the North Sea Cup in Holland. On our arrival the wind was strong and once again it looked like a tough weekend was in store for us all. The precision was hard work but went well leaving us in 1st place and definitely in with a shout for the overall title. The ballet day came and we went out and warmed up on a spare piece of beach. The wind by now was pretty heavy with gusts well in excess of 20 mph. Our warm up went well and when our turn came we entered the arena and selected our Sky Dance VVS kites (Variable vented version of the Northshore VIP). The correct amount of patches were removed from the kites and we were on strong line. Watching from behind us we had Viv Walters (Shanti UK) and Erez Borowski (Skyshark), both eager to see us put in a winning performance. The stage was set and with the wind swirling over the breakwater behind us the tape began to roll. In was called, the music began, up went the kites and about 30 seconds later down came mine in an unrecoverable spin. Something had snapped and it spun to the ground. For us this was another blow and left us feeling that a first place in 1997 was going to be a long time coming. The funny part for us was that neither Viv or Erez were sure what had broken, and both were hoping that it wasn’t their product. As it happened, it was neither. The tracer connecting the bridle to the line had caught on something and broken, leaving the bridle dangling in several pieces. With our sponsors reassured and a few beers inside we wandered off home looking all dejected and wondering which kite god we had upset!!

Over the next few weeks events came and went with differing conditions, until mid-July when we all arrived in Weston super Mare for the 1st round of the British National team competition. We have always enjoyed Weston, but the weather does tend to vary from absolutely no wind to a howling gale, all in one day, and this year was to be no exception. As our turn to fly precision arrived, the wind was dropping and the judges were due a 5 minute toilet break. We were allowed in to the arena to warm up until they returned. We started off flying around on Kona’s but shortly before the judges returned, the wind dropped to nearly nothing and we decided to land. Once the judges were back we then had our official 5 minutes set up. We began to fly around but the wind dropped off completely and we had to wait. We changed our kites to our Super Ultra Lights (2P Skyshark Frame, 3P Spine) and had just enough wind to move around the sky. The wind eventually made it above minimum and the time began. All went well during set up with no major wind changes and we began our first compulsory in 3mph. However, by the end of our last compulsory, we had a steady 8mph. It was now too late to change equipment and as we called ‘In’ for our precision routine, the wind was over 10mph. We began well, but by now the 2P leading edges were extremely curved and the kites were beginning to get hard to control. We were extremely impressed that the rods were still in one piece so far out of their designed range, but when a gust of 14mph came through, it was too much. Stephen was in the center of the window and his spine simply smashed in half. He managed to get it to the ground eventually but despite mine and Jeanettes best efforts our score was never going to be good. We must have upset someone up there because 1997 was proving to be a very ‘challenging’ year!!

The following 2 rounds of the team Nationals were flown in 20mph+ and about 1mph so not many good performances were forthcoming. It seemed that we were not destined to succeed in any event that we attended, and behind the scenes the pressure was intense. We were desperate to do well but no matter how well prepared we were or what equipment choices we had made, each event threw up a problem of its own. We decided that despite all of this we would do our displays as planned and would up our practice schedule to its maximum. By now it was September and as we stood in Bristol arena displaying our latest routine, only 2 more events lay before us. These were the biggest of the season and we did not intend to fail. Our Bristol weekend was also a success for BI-DANCE who secured 3rd position overall in the British National Pairs championships. The weekend after Bristol was the European Cup in Italy, with the World Cup only 2 weeks later. Having won the European Cup twice before we were determined to complete the hat trick, so the next week we were out practicing every evening and on the Friday we left for Italy.

It seemed like a long journey and at about 1.30 am we arrived in Cervia, Italy and played find the way in to a locked, foreign hotel. After many trips we were getting quite used to this problem and sure enough 10 minutes later we were upstairs in our room. We got our heads down quickly and early the next morning we made our way to the site with everyone else. This was a long awaited event for us and the nerves were obvious. We warmed up as much as we could and when our turn came for the precision we were ready. Like everyone else the wind we had was a little changeable and our performance was only good enough to leave us a few places from the leaders and about 7 points behind. Our disappointment was obvious and we knew that we would have our work cut out, but we were confident that if we flew well our ballet would be good enough to close the gap.

As morning came on the ballet day it was evident that the weather had changed for the worse. The wind had rotated to come from behind a thin row of tall trees and was now blowing somewhere in the 20’s. It was going to be another tough day! As the day progressed it was not improving and the organizers were wondering whether they would be able to run all of the planned events. The wind was gusting from single figures up to about 25mph, so conditions were challenging but still within the competition limits. There was some discussion as to whether it was safe to run the event, with each team supporting the idea that did their current position the most good!

As it happens the organizers eventually decided to go ahead and half way through the day the team Ballet began. Teams went on and put on displays of differing quality. Some found the conditions too difficult, but overall most people coped admirably. When our turn came we tested the wind and once again selected our Sky Dance VVS kites. They handled the 25mph gusts beautifully, but like most others were sometimes underpowered as the occasional lull in the wind appeared.

Despite these problems though we put in a good performance and felt we had certainly done the best that we could. All that remained now was to see if we had done enough. The weather worsened just after the event ended and people could be found all over the field rapidly putting away their equipment. When the scores eventually appeared it was like being in a dream. We had so wanted this title, but with the luck we had been having during the year, I don’t think any of us believed that we would do it. That evening there was a presentation ceremony and as it was announced, it at last seemed true…….’Sky Dance – European Champions 1995, 1996 & 1997.’

Just one week later we touched down in the USA for the start of our defense of our World title. We began our preparation in Ocean Shores with 4 days spent tuning our routines on the beach. For us this was heaven, since our home site is a local park, nowhere near the sea and certainly not with good wind! World Cup was due to start on the Friday, so on Wednesday evening we made our way to Long Beach, accompanied by our Ocean Shores hosts ‘Don’t Panic.’ Thursday brought the All American championships which finally decided who would represent the USA in the World Cup. The stage was now set for the biggest event of the 1997 season.

As the sun rose on Friday it was immediately evident that the weather was taking a turn for the worse. The wind was strong and gusty, the rain was occasionally horizontal and the sky was full of electricity. Not ideal conditions for a kite competition!!! The morning pilots meeting brought everyone together and head judge (Hans Jansen op de Haar) made it plain that with the weather as it was the start time of the precision would be postponed and re-announced on the field. The nerves that were already jangling were now stretched as we all wondered if we would have to fly in these conditions, whether they would improve or if the event would be moved to the following day. The pilots were called together 2 or 3 times during the day for an update. Each time we were all on tenterhooks awaiting a decision and each time all we got was a further postponement. It was becoming too much to bear, but part way through the afternoon the decision was made. The precision would take place tomorrow.

When the precision finally got underway the following morning the wind was significantly better. As team after team entered the arena the wind increased in strength. As was usual for 1997 our performance was once again timed to perfection as the wind strength varied in the upwards direction!! We held on and put in a performance to be happy with and which left us in number 1 spot at the end of the event. The ballet was run in the afternoon, making for a rather busy day, but putting the organizers day plan back on track. The wind strength was still rising as the ballets began and this combined with a somewhat erratic sound system made for a nerve racking wait for our turn. We had a late draw and it was unbearable watching everyone fly as the wind constantly increased. The sound system found 2 victims, namely MOVE and AIRKRAFT who were both given a re fly. With the wind increasing as it was, we just hoped that our music would be OK and we would only have to fly once!

With 2 or 3 teams left to go before us, it was time for us to go out into the back field to select our equipment. It soon became obvious that not for the first time this year, it was going to be the VVS’s that were used again. Heavy line was selected and patches removed until the correct balance was achieved. The wind was varying quite a lot, so what ever we chose was sometimes powered up and sometimes a tad soggy!! Our turn came and into the arena we went. After a short acclimatization we landed and prepared for the most important 3½ minutes of 1997. The music began and the wind eased a little; so much so that if anything we were a little under powered! The routine went well with the wind fluctuating throughout, but the VVS’s didn’t fail us. We landed dead on the music and as ‘OUT’ echoed across the field our hearts lifted. For what felt like only the second time during 1997 no tragedy had befallen us and we stood a real chance of fulfilling our dreams. Once the final team had finished AIRKRAFT closed the event with their re fly. At this point the only scores missing from the board were ours and AIRKRAFT’s. AFTERSHOCK were the current overall leaders and with only 2 scores to come it was going to be close. AIRKRAFT’s first flight had not been good, so the fact that the dodgy sound system gave them a re fly was a bit of a blessing. They took full advantage of this fact and put in a fantastic routine to their new musical creation. The crowd loved it and everybody, competitors and spectators alike, realized that the result was going to be tough to call.

We all huddled around the scoreboard and the Picnic table which would double as a podium, awaiting the moment when the judges would emerge from their lorry. Eventually they appeared and the results where read. Everyone had put on a great show and all the teams deserve thanks for the marvelous efforts they put in during some absolutely horrible weather. As the fourth place team was announced and their applause faded, a hush came over the crowd as we waited to see who had done enough. AFTERSHOCK, AIRKRAFT and SKY DANCE all stood around nervously and all deserved to win. The performances had been sound, the conditions equally difficult, it was now down to who had gained those extra 1 or 2 points that would matter. As AFTERSHOCK were announced 3rd, the tension increased. Of course 2nd at World Cup is a great achievement, but like all the teams, we had come for one place, 1st!! We waited in agony as the announcer dragged it out just a little longer, then as he said ‘In 2nd place …… AIRKRAFT, it was all too much. We made our way to the podium when we were called and collected the cup. It was a truly magic moment and one that was definitely worth the heartache and effort that was put into our season. It is difficult to describe the feeling of winning the World Cup once, but believe me to repeat the achievement was a dream come true!

1997 was a real challenge for Sky Dance with difficult conditions, unfortunate luck and a never ending list of events which took us all over the world. We would like to thank everybody that invited us to events and flew with us throughout the year, as without you none of this could have happened.

Our year has ended, holidays are over and we are now relaxing prior to the 1998 season, but as for 1997:

European Champions 1995/1996/1997 
World Champions 1996/1997
Phew……..What a year!!!

Mark Lummas