Issue 38: Berkeley Kite Festival

Having first picked up a kite in the bay area, I always make a point to attend the BKF whenever possible… The first kite I ever owned was purchased in 1990 from the organizer of this incredible event, Tom McAlister of Highline Kites!

Established in 1986 or 1987, depending on who you ask, this years festival was held July 31st through August 1st to the delight of thousands who turned out to attend this well established kite show… I can safely say, this is truly one of the best in the USA!

Featuring sport kite competition, tons of events for the kids and one of the largest collection of giant inflatables to be found anywhere! In all, somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 spectators cycled through the Cesar A. Chavez North Waterfront Park to attend this year’s BKF.

Arriving mid-morning on Friday, Moon Kushner and myself checked into our room at the Doubletree Hotel (event headquarters) to get settled and unload our luggage… Wandering out onto the field right across the street, we were pleased to see Tom and his loyal event volunteers already working hard to get fields and tents set up. There were even a couple of big kites already in the air, including a Trilobyte… A tiny promise of the good things to come!

Sport kite fliers were a bit thin for practice on a Friday at the BKF, a couple of locals including John Chilese were out as well as James Thompson who was the only flier besides Moon who came down from the Northwest Sport Kite League to represent and get a few end of season AKA points… I had advised them of the stiff winds in Berkeley, so they were both set up and getting a feel for their kites, adjusting to the new field conditions, and training for competition the next day.

Over 20 entrants registered to compete in the Bay Area Sport Kite League’s West Coast Sport Kite Championships which are held in conjunction with the BKF… Since the AKA Conference season officially ends on July 31st, everything was run on Saturday in order for points to be counted towards qualifying for the AKA Grand Nationals to be held in Seaside Oregon come mid-October. This year events were held on both the upper and lower fields, featuring a number of categories right in front of the main crowd and providing excellent exposure for fliers.

The league did a great job running all aspects of the competitions as usual, including multi-line, fighter kite and hand-crafted events. BASKL also held many of its competitions in the main arena in front of the large, appreciative crowds. You can find full results from the competition at

The league’s raffle and auction raised over $1,500 this year to help fund league activities. The leagues’s largest fundraiser of the year, it is the biggest single source of revenue in BASKL’s history. Again, endless thanks go to BASKL and its board members for ensuring the future of full competitions as an integral part of the BKF.

Ongoing demonstrations were organized by Lori Morrison, featuring individual dual and quad line performances from many of the competitors and locals, as well as pairs and team routines from Avispados and Air Zone.

As always, a tremendous part of the weekend’s show was Ray Bethell… We’ve often heard that among the general public, Ray is the most consistently recognized entertainer at the BKF. With a unique style and presence all his own, he even gets his own private field at Berkeley, where you can find him flying nearly all day throughout the weekend. A great deal of credit goes to Fred and Gerri Adler for their ongoing job as a regular part of Ray’s Berkeley ground crew. There is even a rumor that the three of them will soon be flying as a three-person team.

Nathan Sendan provided a number of rokkakus for people to join in on the annual BKF rokkaku battle, and Highline Kites generously provided lines and winders for those who took part… And for the third year in a row (?), rokkaku champion and AKA President David Gomberg was cut out of the air by a local young man (I do not recall his name, sorry!) with much ribbing, whooping and hollering from onlookers.

Three major sponsors attended this years event to support the BKF and promote their latest products… Each with their own designated demo field, their fliers kept a regular flow of people exposed and educated about several kinds of kiting throughout the whole weekend!  And for those that got hungry, there was the usual and varied array of food vendors sending their lovely aromas downwind.

Mark Reed of Prism and his dedicated pilots set up a sizable ground display of dual line kites and banners near the sales tent… Mark, Tony Jettlund and others spent each day teaching tons of first timers and briefing other more experienced fliers on the various kites they have to offer… A new product was even unveiled on their field, the Quantum Pro. After a good deal of good natured ribbing they let me take one out for a demonstration, and it proved to be one of my new favorite dual line kites… We’ll have to see if we can get one reviewed for our readers in an upcoming issue of Kitelife.

Lolly Hadzicki of Revolution Kites was assisted by an able staff on her field, demonstrating the whole line of quad line kites they had to offer… Ron Despojado, Moon Kushner and Jack flew and taught on Rev 1.5s of all kinds, the Blast and Super Blast, as well as the new version of their Rev I… Being a stalwart Rev I flier, I’m glad to see this kite back in mainstream production as it offers the most precise control of any quad line kite I’ve flown to date… Plus, it now comes stock with an SLE (super leading edge) which gives it even higher durability, particularly in the stiff Berkeley winds.

Brian and Heather Schenck of the Windzup team were accompanied by Dave Sabilino, Christoph Riddle and Mike from who played hard on their ground board and buggies, flying power foils of various sizes… Executing freestyle tricks and catching some really sick air jumps, these guys were a crowd favorite with their brand of extreme kiting. Often times power kiters seem to be in their own world, but the Windzup team are truly excited about all of kiting and were very friendly in their work to educate the onlookers about our entire wind sport.

One of the unique facets of the BKF is the incredible number of families that show up every year, from tyke to elderly… Everyone was getting in on the fun! I don’t know that I have ever seen so many children flying so many kinds of kites in one place before… Coming in droves to fly their single lines and sport kites both, as well as the hundreds of kids who worked with Eric & Rachel Martin in their first time organizing kite making… They built roughly 1000 kites in only five hours! There were even kids pulling power foils through the sky (supervised by the Windzup team)… My hats off to all the organizers and sponsors for their incredible job of educating the public and truly making kiting accessible to EVERYONE!

The candy drops which were held both Saturday and Sunday drew one of the largest groups of children I’ve seen for these things all year… Joe Tate and others easily lofted several pounds of candy into the air for hundreds of kids to chase after! Michael Weingand did a terrific job of working them into a frenzy before each drop… After sorting them into age groups, he had them jumping on one leg, waving their arms, and yelling encouragement to the crew actually handling the candy.

Organizer Tom McAlister’s own daughter is now three years old, and will likely be a major proponent for including more and more kids events as years go on at the Berkeley Kite Festival.

On Saturday night there was a small reception at the Doubletree, with a cash bar and delicious appetizers including gourmet cheeses, chicken satay, mini quiches, turkey and more… It gave fliers a chance to mingle and chat, some of whom even wandered out into the hall for a bit of fun with a couple of Air Yos (much to the surprise of passing hotel staff), this was a nice discussion piece late into the night.

Now an annual occurance, there was also the Octopile… The Berkeley Kite Wranglers (Dave Hoggan, John Kahn, Mike North, and Joe Tait) lofted their Peter Lynn Octopus into the air on the upper field along with David Gomberg, Brian Champie, Rob Cembalest, and Dan Whitney… With eight large ones and two mediums between them, the group handily beat last years record of six thanks in part to Gayle Woodul’s loan of her kite to Rob.

By the time all was said and done, even the kites David Gomberg had brought to the event were purchased and added to the Wrangler’s corral of kites… The Berkeley Kite Wranglers deserve a standing ovation for organizing and providing such an amazing display for visitors to this year’s festival!

You want to talk about filling a sky? These do the trick… Topping out at 17 different giant Peter Lynn inflatables, so much fabric in the air, and dozens of tentacles flailing and grasping for invisible sky fish, it was an incredible sight to behold!

In what is now grand tradition, there was also the Awards Banquet & Dinner Cruise aboard the Princess Hornblower cruis ship which took us on a tour of the San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, Pier 39, Ghirardelli Square and past a Giants baseball game, we were nearly close enough to catch one hit deep!

Make sure to put this awesome event on your calender for 2005, it’s well worth the trip!

John Barresi
Kitelife Magazine

Report and photos by Kitelife