Issue 3: Interview with Roger Chewning

Roger Chewning was one of the four founders of the East Coast Stunt Kite Championships (ECSKC). He owns “Sky Festivals Productions”, the leading kite event promotion company in the US.

We caught up with Roger at the end of the Wildwood weekend to get his thoughts on the event.

Roger Chewning

KL: First of all, Roger, congratulations on another fine event. Thirteen years here at Wildwood! Can you give us a quick overview on the history of the event?

RC: It started as the first sportkite competition, ever. It began exclusively for sportkites, then the festival grew up around the sportkites. I’d say it has grown pretty well, the festival is larger than the sportkite portion, with all the different components that we now have; the buggies, the indoor fly, the single-line activities. We have always thought of the ECSKC as the innovator, and it always was. We were the first festival that produced a rules book, we did our own up through the fourth year. We always tried out new events here, like we did with Open Pairs Precision this year. That’s how we look at the event.

KL: It seems your work never ends. How do you pull off such a large undertaking?

RC: This year was fun. I just had surgery; it made me reevaluate how we run a festival. I took the work that I normally do, interfacing with twenty people, and divided it by three, and created three event coordinators. One handles the administrative side of things, like registration, sales, vendors, etc.; Andy Gelinas handled Operations – auctions, children’s workshops, stationary kites… Suzanne Edison was the overseer of the competition part of the festival. The Eastern League has helped foster this, where we have a cooperative situation, from event to event, and a lot of the fliers are looking for opportunities to help out, and help defray some of their costs. As you know, not everyone can spend the money to compete on the circuit, with entry fees, lodging, etc, so many fliers help the event and get help with a room, a break on a banquet ticket; every little bit helps. We have a workforce of about 80 people here.  If you were doing a regular festival, you would have to have a paid staff of 80 people. We have found the best groups of volunteers are kite fliers. These folks work together as a team at Eastern League events.

KL: Over the seven years that I have attended this event, I have seen the growth in the non-sportkite activities – the stationary kites, rokkaku battles, learn-to-fly classes..where do you see this event heading in the future?

RC: All of our events are becoming more spectator-friendly, the goal, the real big goal behind what we are doing is growing the sport, and that’s a win-win for everybody in kiting. I had a conversation with someone today, we were talking about the infighting; you know, “he stole my design” or any of the other bullsh* may be between companies, circuits, or fliers themselves…but the bottom line is when we deon’t pull together, we are counter-productive at accomplishing what should be our main goal – pulling more people into the sport. What we are going to do in the next several years here is add more festival things, more things that will bring people here who maybe have nothing to do with kiting at all. It doesn’t mean that we are going to detract from the kiting aspects, it means that we are going to get more people here to be involved with the kiting, and from there, we will give them a sportkite lesson. I was disappointed this year that no one gave sportkite lessons on a routine basis. It happened sporadically, but what needs to happen at festivals of this magnitude is that people need to get their hands on a sportkite, and there has to be somebody on the microphone driving them there…that is the deal that is missing here. I want to have one good lesson field, just hoppin’, have things for people to do, get involved, let them experience the great sport of kiting.

KL: Let’s dream for a minute. Tomorrow morning, Coca-Cola is going to call and offer you $250,000 towards your next festival. How would the next Wildwood be different, with that type of backing?

RC: With that type of money, every aspect of the festival improves. We would work the “Showcase Field” idea into a bigger deal, more guest kite artists would be here….we would provide transportation to international sportkite competitors, we could provide enough prize money to make it worth people’s while to come here…some combination of travel subsidy and prize money. It would help in every aspect, we would look to internationalize our judges, you wouldn’t want to run an international competition and be accused of having East Coast judges. I went to Guadaloupe and said, “This is great”, World Cup was the only game in town, and I think what needs to happen is a series of international events like Guadaloupe, Malaysia, maybe a dozen events, and they need to be on a regular basis. If Wildwood can grow to the position of being an international competition, I say “Good.” That’s where we would like to go. I would like to see sportkiting on an international level.

KL: Along that same line, today we had “Evolver” from England do a superb demo, which was enjoyed by a large crowd. Many of the people spectating had come down from the boardwalk to see the event. It seems that the event draws a larger spectator base every year. What is making this happen?

RC: What having Morey’s Piers as a sponsor did for us was enable us to put a budget together that had good advertising…people were asking, “What is that radio station doing down here?”  What they were doing were live remotes. We had ads on their station, in print media, we decided to put our ad budget toward the general public. Morey’s themselves advertised this festival on no less than 15 radio channels, and in no less than several hundred thousand fliers. Picking up a sponsor like Coke would mean billboards, lots of advertising and promotions, a lot of reasons and ways to get people here. That’s what a major sponsor would do, give us major marketing clout to introduce more people to this great sport.

KL: Roger, we at Kitelife wish to congratulate you on another successful festival. See you next year!

RC: East Coast 14, see you here!