Issue 42: Freestyle World Cup

This was my first experience going across the ocean, let alone to a country where English is not the native language. Months of preparation landed me literally in Paris where I had a four hour layover.  That is when it first hit that I am in France, “the land of the cyborg kite fliers.”  As soon as I boarded my next flight south to Montpellier, I saw a man sitting in the first seat wearing a Cutting Edge Kites hat!  My first thought was, “excellent, a fellow English speaking kite flier!”  Obviously my 5 words of awful sounding French was not going to help me much over there (as long as I had the most important word: “toilet”).  Egan Davis, from Vancouver, Canada quickly became a friend.

The first scheduled event was a meeting of all of the competitors and staff for drinks and hor’douvres.  Everyone was overwhelmingly friendly.  We were all in the same situation.  We knew very few people, but that was going to change quickly.  It was a bit like the kite version of speed dating at times. You would introduce yourself to people and they would tell you what country they were from and then chat about the travel experience and general kite stuff.  I felt a mix of both apprehension and an incredible comraderie at the same time from everyone.  The one thing that drew everyone’s attention was the table of glass trophies for the winners at the end of our long week.

Next, everyone started to slip into “game mode” when we had a flier’s meeting to discuss the rules.  Here I found out that the great majority of fliers, including the Americans, have never competed in a Tricks Party.  Some things in the meeting became more clear, while other things remained clear as mud. None the less, everyone was excited to be here.  I was surrounded by many of the best fliers in the world.  This was such a great feeling knowing that I was getting the honor of being here with everyone.

The Competition

The beach was beautiful.  Lots of flying space, sunny skies and as much wind as you want. Mother Nature had blessed us with not a drop of rain, but decided it would be hilarious to add a few days of winds gusting over 35mph coming over the land and hotels.  The flier’s meeting from the night before talked about the wind rule.  There was none, because the town had paid a lot of money for this event.  There was going to be a show even if it meant your arms where about to get a couple of inches longer.

There were so many differences between our AKA rules and the ones for Tricks Party.  Some of the highlights include:

Music must be between 1 and 3 minutes.

You are required to submit a list of the tricks you plan on executing in your ballet in the exact order that they will appear in your routine.

The competition field is circular.

You may go out of bounds for a limited time.

While you are flying your ballet the field director is aloud to coach you by telling you what the next trick is on your list to execute.

The most impressive thing I noticed when the competition began was how relaxed it was run.  There were no fliers’ meetings for most of the events. There was no pit boss.  With 32 individual fliers you would think there would need to be someone helping the fliers know when they were next.  You get on the field for the Imposed Tricks (the precision tricks event) and once the judges are ready you are in control of the situation much more than in our AKA precision events.  You have 3 minutes to complete all of your Imposed Tricks.  The first day we only had two tricks to execute.  The rules allow the flier two times at each trick.  This greatly reduced the pressure knowing I could take up to two tries on each trick.

The trade off is the scoring on the second time has a lower maximum point value then if you only did it the first time.  The best part is your best score is taken of the two.  The only restriction is you have 3 minutes to get everything done. For me I tried to wait for the best wind moments.  However on the last day of competition in pairs Ron and I had to complete four tricks within the three minutes.  Because of this many people do not take two tries on each trick.

The judges were very impressive to me.  Their method of scoring was very fast; almost immediate.   These judges must have been robots.  Imagine yourself standing for 3+ hours judging 32 individual fliers.  In fact there were only 5 judges for the entire week.  They changed between events.  There was only one field director and he was excellent at his job.  He was very helpful throughout the week.  Imagine being the only field director for many full days of competition.  The first event would start around 9:00am and last one would end anywhere from 5:00pm to 7:00pm, depending on the day. All of the fliers I talked to agreed with me that the first day of competition felt like an entire regular weekend competition.

The caliber of competitors

Surprisingly to me, there was wide range of flying capability amongst the competitors.  Everyone could obviously fly well, but there were a hand full of fliers that are so isolated from other great fliers.  Many of the fliers normally practice in winds between 5-10 mph.  With the winds blasting, it put many of the fliers in an uncomfortable situation.  Trying to execute tricks in winds over the maximum wind rule of 21mph is not fun (especially when you are in competition in a world championship event.  Then there were the other fliers who are just incredible.

Look at the top 10 finalists and you will see the names that turned heads.  Ron Graziano made a great impression throughout the week with his excellent control on his self made kite “The Machine”.  I am sure I must have heard at least 15+ people wanting to buy one by the end of the event.  It was great. I was cool by association!  As Ron’s pairs partner as the Wright Brothers (no he is not my brother) I am one of the few lucky ones to fly The Machine.  In all, I saw many great flights throughout the competition but every last flier (no matter how French they may have been) had trouble with the awful winds.

Rob Autrey on FWC:

The event format was awesome. Fast paced, well thought out, everything moved along really smooth, and never a dull moment. I would hope we here in the US can get this kind of format going. Much easier for the crowd to understand and get into, and just a lot more fun to compete in. The announcer was the best I have ever heard. My French vocabulary is pretty low, but this guy was fantastic.“The judging for this event was very good. They worked really hard the entire event and always seemed to have a smile on. Also the field director Maya was outstanding. This guy worked his butt off and never let anyone down. The entire staff that did this event was very very good.” “All the fliers that were at this event were just really cool to be around.  The whole UK group was a blast. They kept me laughing every time I was around them. Great bunch of guys they are.  The French crowd surely gets into it more than the US crowd does, and really seems to like and appreciate kiting.” “I hope I can continue to share and promote kiting here and help get some things rolling here in the same or similar format that we experienced there.  I had a blast, and look forward to the next time.”

Memories of a life time!

This was an experience that I will never forget.  Not only did I meet tons of great fliers I made friends from literally around the world through one of my loves: kite flying.  Some of my highlighted experiences include:

Rob Autry and I going out to buy lunch successfully on our own. I got by with my entire 5 words of French and a lot of make shift sign language.

Putting one of the fliers from Greece into an ambulance on the last night we where in France.  (Ask any of the American fliers or Egan if you want to know.)

Bombarding this little Italian restaurant with 40 fliers.  There was only one waitress.  When I asked Steff Ferme and another French frienc to help ask the French waitress if she would take our table’s order the situation got funny.  The waitress gave them a pad and pencil to start taking orders.  The next thing I knew they were going into the kitchen to help server the food!  We tried to tip them but they would not hear of it.

Receiving a bottle of Russian booze from Mike Loskov for helping him bring a Blue Moon kite he purchased from Ken McNeil. Mike also gave me some rubles.

Andy Wardly buying sorbet for a huge group of us one night.  This was the first time I met Andy.  He is a great guy, fun to hang with, and a great flier too.

I ate a snail for the first time (and last!)

Got to love the baguettes in the morning!

Through all of the great people I met I am sure I can stay any where in the world for free.  The invitation is open here too.

See you on the field,

Ari Contzius