Issue 43: Southern Oregon Kite Festival

Despite a few organizational changes within the Port of Brookings, and false rumors that the festival might not even take place this year, the 13th annual Southern Oregon Kite Festival (also known simply as “Brookings”) went off beautifully and brought yet another great kite event to the Southern Oregon coast.

Most of us arrived on Friday, the 15th of July, and participated in a “meet ‘n greet” reception put on by the Driftwood RV Park. Only a few blocks from the event location, the owners were gracious enough to treat invited pilots to an amazing meal featuring fresh BBQ salmon, shrimp, salad, hot dogs, cold drinks and an assortment of other goodies that left all our paltes satiated and our stomachs very full.

We all say this every year (because it’s true) but of all the events we’ve attended in our collective years of flying, the SOKF has always been the most personal and personally rewarding festival on our rosters. The very nature of the festival brings fliers closer to the spectators and to each other while also doing an amazing job of showcasing the inner spirit of each performer.

The flying field is roughly 110′ deep by 300′ wide with average wind speeds in the 2-5 mph range, blowing across the narrow width of the field. On the upwind (west) side, there is a blocked off service road that allows several rows of spectators to gather, giving them an up-close and personal view of every performer. Interaction between fliers and spectators is both comfortable and frequent and is one of the biggest attractions of the Brookings event.

Both sport kite and single line fliers usually start at the north end of the field and work their way laterally along the field, directly in front of the crowd. Every spectator can really see what is happening within the flier’s performance arena, right down to being able to see the expressions on their faces as the music and choreography moves them.

And the audience … oh my. Rarely have any of us experienced a warmer, more encouraging and appreciative group of spectators than in Brookings, Oregon! People come back year after year to set up their chairs along the west side of the field on the day BEFORE the event begins, just so they have a great seat for watching their favorite performers.

This is a town that remembers and lets you know what your efforts mean to them. With that kind of support and encouragement, fliers really reach down and give everything they have to make the event a special one. Not just for the audience but for each other. All you have to do for inspiration is turn around and smile at the crowd. They’re right there with you, heart and soul.

Rather than fliers being lost amidst the flow of impersonal demos we often see at much larger events, every performance comes off like a singularly unique jewel in a perfect string of gems, each in turn adding to the overall impact of the festival. In that sense, many of us believe that it is the very intimacy of this smaller arena that makes Brookings such a special place to fly.

Saturday morning, the first day of the event, always kicks off with a patriotic opening ceremony led by the Coast Guard presenting colors followed by the Star Spangled Banner. And then “the show” begins. Run on a tight yet flexible schedule and right on queue, most invited guests get two to three performance slots during the course of each day. Rather than listing them in order, we’ll showcase what we remember best about those performances and hope we don’t leave anyone out.

A local Brookings flier, Steve Blasdell attended the festival last year as an observer and showed so much zest and natural ability with kites that he made a return visit this year as a featured guest. Steve is a relatively new flier but showed real perseverance and style by flying in some difficult conditions and holding his own. Steve was found to be very passionate about kiting in general and about improving his skills (traits we all admire and aspire to).

A more experienced local flier and well known kite builder, Gary MacEachern wowed the crowd by flying a pair of his handmade “Gull” dual line kites at the same time. Every once in awhile we see something we haven’t seen before and early on Sunday morning before the event even began, Gary absolutely amazed us by running a 360 with BOTH kites. Incredible!

After having a lower leading edge spreader connector break on a borrowed Inner Space (DURING the first performance of the day on Saturday), Al Stroh was fortunate enough to talk Gary Mac into loaning him one of his SUL Gulls to fly for the remainder of the event. Al fell in love with the kite instantly and was heard to remark that it was the closest thing to a Herb Weldon Synchro he’d ever flown. That’s pretty high praise for ANY kite.

Another flier, J.D. Fabich hails from Rogue River Oregon, which is only two hours from Brookings. He’s an experienced flier at the ripe old age of 16 and his repertoire includes flying two kites at once, trick flying and his well known Austin Powers innovative/freestyle routine.

An Ashland Oregon resident, ten year old Nathan Ostovar first came to the Brookings festival with his father Bruce in 2003, where he received sport kite lessons from some of the fliers (John Barresi being one of them). Having been happily adopted by the SOKF family, Nathan has been coming ever since and has shown real grace and talent while improving his skills every year.

From Portland Oregon, ten year old Aaron Washington is the grandson of “Dancing Man” Al Washington. Aaron has been showing up at a few festivals along the Oregon coast over the last year or two and is already demonstrating the enthusiasm of a great flier. Kids and kites naturally go together and Aaron proved that fact effortlessly.

The “One Man Kite Team” is surely one of the SOKF highlights every year and people always want to know when he’ll be performing next. Carl Bragiel flies THREE dual line sport kites simultaneously, blowing the audience away with his style and ballet skills and making excellent use of the challenging winds. Carl and his wife Lisa are a huge and integral part of the festival every year.

Lisa Bragiel and Sheri O’Brien are the field directors for the event and you’d be hard pressed to find a better pair of directors anywhere in the country. Their efforts weren’t truly appreciated by a few fliers until Lisa wore a pedometer on Saturday. Sunday morning she reported to us that she and Sheri had walked 6 (SIX) miles on Saturday! Our hats are eternally off to these two amazing ladies and in the future, we can only hope they’re hard work and dedication is appreciated by ALL those who attend the Brookings event.

Another crowd favorite, the Bay Area Sundowners made their annual trip up from San Francisco to show off their team flying skills. Each with a 12-stack of Hyperkites, team members Gordon and Ken Osterland, Barry Nash and Randy Tom (the world renowned kite builder) are all veteran fliers who perform at air shows nationwide, rubbing shoulders with the likes of the Blue Angels and other notable dignitaries. During one of their performances at the SOKF this year, Barry Nash hyper-extended his knee, but did that stop him? Not a chance! The show must go on and that’s exactly what it did.

San Diego resident Ron Despojado missed last year’s SOKF but made a resounding and welcome return this year with his stunning quad line and innovative/freestyle performances. An 11 time national champion, Ron is definitely one of the best showmen in the country. Ron put forth such a mighty effort on Sunday that he suffered a mild case of heat exhaustion (it was a fairly hot day). Thankfully there were paramedics on site and he was taken care of immediately.

Just the last two paragraphs alone should give you a pretty good idea of the kind of dedication and commitment each and every flier in attendance at the Brookings event possesses. We all go there to perform for the community and the community itself is just as big a part of the festival as the fliers themselves. It is this symbiotic relationship that keeps us coming back for more, year after year.

A consummate team (Too Much Fun) flier, Susan Shampo drew more than her fair share of OOoos and Ahhhhs this year by once again returning to individual performances, in addition to her quad-line pairs routines with Ron Despojado (as Despo-Shampo). Seeing Susan flying again as an individual is something we’ve all missed and it was a real treat to see her flying solo again.

Penny Lingenfelter always puts on an amazing show and this past weekend at Brookings was no exception. A master indoor flier, Penny wowed the crowd with numerous jaw-dropping and innovative routines.

Brian Champie and Miguel Rodriguez once again returned to the pairs routines we’ve all come to admire. They’re both such great fliers that no matter what they do, the crowd goes wild. They also performed as individual fliers with routines that kept the crowd mesmerized.

John Barresi once again dazzled all those in attendance with both his dual and quad-line flying. Always the consummate flier and crowd pleaser, John performed his Bugs Bunny quad routine to perfection and treated us all to a special performance of his latest competition quad ballet. We lost count of the number of 360s John turned in over the weekend but it was “excessive,” to say the least.

John seemed to have a special connection with the crowd at Brookings this year and the following quote by John puts more eloquently into words what most of us who fly there every year could only hope to verbalize;

I don’t think I’ve ever hit a higher show wavelength than I did at this year’s Brookings. I felt like I was floating across the surface of the whole thing. Inner energy, chi and all that, due much in part to being surrounded by good friends, but also to Arnold’s great announcing and a truly appreciative crowd (more so than ever, I think).

He’s back — Arnold Stellama is rapidly becoming THE announcer at West Coast events and proved his worth beyond a shadow of a doubt at this year’s SOKF. Not only does he keep the music flowing and the crowd informed but he knows kites and kite people well enough to keep us ALL entertained. We can only hope and pray that Arnold keeps coming back every year to complete the magic Brookings formula.

The show would be nothing without the dozens of single line kites being launched over the course of the 2-day event. Some of the most beautiful sky-candy on the planet was seen at Brookings this year, from some of the most famous kite designers and builders in the country. They included Ron and Sandy Gibian, Barry Poulter, Deb Lenzen, John and Mary Gabby, Rhonda Brewer, Ellen Pardee, Tim Helwig, Bob Serack, Doc Counce and Rod and Cindy Thrall.

This year gave us all (single and multi-line fliers alike) the opportunity to launch and fly single line kites as featured kite artisans displayed their wares to the crowd. Given the opportunity to fly those gorgeous creations had even the most dedicated multi-line fliers fighting over who would get to fly which kite. The sky was literally filled with aerial wonders of such beauty that it rivaled even the perfection of a rainbow.

The banquet on Saturday night gives the fliers a chance to repay the Port of Brookings and the community for everything they do. We, as fliers, are asked to provide a kite or kite related donation for the auction and this year’s efforts brought close to a record dollar amount. That money then becomes part of the funds to help pay for next year’s event and the cycle continues.

Along with her amazing staff of volunteers, Nita Rolfe deserves a standing ovation for everything she does in putting this event together every year. Steve O’Brien, the master mind of the Brookings festival, also deserves a hefty share of the credit for bringing his dream to fruition and putting together the list of fliers. Everyone involved in the festival, all the volunteers and sponsors deserve ALL the credit for making the event what it truly is — THE premier West Coast event for kite fliers.

For whatever reason, this year’s event seemed to really “click”. A lot of it had to do with the spectacular announcing by Arnold but the credit also goes to the field directors, Sheri and Lisa, for getting all the fliers staged and keeping the performances rolling along. The performers themselves obviously contributed a great deal as well but it doesn’t end there.

We, the invited guests, are more like a family than just a group of kite fliers. We help each other whenever we can and more often than not, we don’t even need to be asked. We all share a common bond and we all get the community spirit, one that extends right down to the pancake breakfast at the Brookings Fire Department every year. That fire department, by the way, is made up of 100% volunteers.

The oddest thing about the Brookings festival is that before we even realize that time has passed, it’s over and it’s time for us all to go home. That is the ONLY down-side to the entire weekend … and that is that it has to end. For most of us, we have to resign ourselves to the fact that it’ll be another full year before we’re back in the fold again, back where the winds are gloriously light and the crowds incredibly grateful.

To say that Brookings is special or the SOKF is just a festival is like saying that Ron Gibian or Jose Sainz makes kites. It isn’t that simple or straight forward. Both imply a great deal more to a reader if they’ve actually been to Brookings for the SOKF and seen a Gibian or Sainz kite. All we can do here is try to convey what it means to us to be a part of it all and tell you how it affects us. And affect us it does.

No matter what your beliefs, when the creator of all things sat down to design Brookings and the folks who now call it home, He (or She) did one heck of a job. If you ever get a chance to go there, don’t pass it up, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget and one we highly recommend.

AL Stroh
John Barresi
July 2005