Issue 44: Berkeley Kite Festival

As one of the original hot beds of sport kiting, Berkeley has been host to many of the finest competitors and performers in the world… With the climate of sport kiting having changed so drastically over the last decade, the Berkeley Kite Festival (BKF) and Bay Area Sport Kite League (BASKL) are apparently still dedicated to keeping kiting alive in Northern California.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the BKF is one of those festivals that have successfully evolved… Without the massive number of competitors (both single line and sport kite) to support it, shows, lessons and demonstrations have become the mainstay of this event. By focusing on the festival from a spectator’s viewpoint, organizer Tom McAlister has managed to keep the crowds coming to North Waterfront Park every year.

The first BKF I ever attended was in 1991, and having been “born” into kiting through Tom and Highline Kites, I’ve always gone out of my way to try and make it down to Berkeley each year… With eight or nine BKFs under my belt now, it’s always a wonderful homecoming and tremendous opportunity to share ideas and skills with some of the premier kiters on the west coast.

This year proved to a bit more of a challenge to make it down with us doing such a prolific Kitelife tour around the country, but again, this is one event not to be missed… Fortunately, the folks from The Kite Shoppe decided to head down for their first visit and the just happened to be room for one more!

Leaving my home town of Portland Oregon around 6am on Friday morning, we made the trip in fairly quick fashion and rolled into Berkeley just after 4:30 in the afternoon to find Lam Hoac and Alex Herzog practicing hard with their Sea Devil kites, adjusting to the 15-20 mph winds in preparation for the weekend competition.

From my own experiences in Berkeley, I’ve always said that for sport kiters, this is a “make or break” kind of event. It’s a beautiful and spacious venue, but the wind conditions will challenge even the most seasoned competitor. The key however, if you can do well in Berkeley, you can do well almost anywhere.

Competition disciplines were small in attendance but closely contested… Winds all weekend were in the 3-6 mph range early morning until a little after noon, at which point the usual high Berkeley winds kicked in.

Aside from regular competition disciplines, top honors in Hot Tricks went to young Alex Herzog, who beat out both Lam Hoac and Aaron Champie… Complete discipline results can be found on the AKA site, here.

Also worthy of note, all ballet events were held on the main field… In previous years the BASKL brought their own, and sometimes had difficulty with the two sound systems overlapping and competitors not being able to clearly hear their music. This year was a great improvement, deeply appreciated by the fliers!

Regular demonstrations were again organized by Lori Morrison, who did a wonderful job of balancing individual and team (dual and quad line) performances from many of the competitors and locals who came to this year’s BKF.

Ray Bethell is one of the annually invited performers here, making a stop amidst his international travels… Flying three kites at the same time, Ray holds the world record for longest sustained flight with three kites. And a special hats off to his companion Dolores Taylor, who even received a special award from the BKF organizers for keeping him out of trouble so well.

There were three mega flies as well! One included SOHR (flying Mambas), Francisco Navarro (flying a Fury .85), Alex Herzog (on his Sea Devil), and myself (on a Revolution I)… Then there was a Revolution mega fly with Despojado, Jim Foster, Francisco and Lam, Herzog… As well as a mega-mega team fly with AirZone (flying the Fury), SOHR (Mambas), with Lam Hoac, Alex Herzog and myself thrown in flying our own Sea Devils.

The Berkeley Kite Wrangler Team was present again this year, made up ofJohn Khan, Dave & Karleen Hoggan, Mike North, Joe Taitt and Tom McAlister (although he was to busy organizing to do any flying at the BKF)… All together, they managed to tie the BKF record for Giant inflatable Octopi in the sky at one time with a grand total of nine!  A host of other inflatables filled the sky as well, including three Giant PL Fish  (Flown by the Gombergs), one Gecko, two Cats, two Bears, two Rays, two Trilobytes, five 25′ Premier Fish, two 90′ wind socks and Sutton flow forms flown by Brian Champie and several others.

One of (if not the) largest inflatable displays in the country, the sheer amount of nylon and colors filling the sky at Berkeley is simply mind-blowing, to say the least!

Rokakku battles were again a daily highlight, with kites provided by master kite builder Nathan Sendan… One or two of which nearly ended up in the small bay directly east of the park.

On the art kite field… Arnold Stellama, Nathan Sendan and others amazed spectators with the creativity and engineering that is possible with kites… We even had a surprise visit from kite maker Tye Billings!

Candy drops drew an amazing number of children, led by Joe Taitt and others who would drop several pounds of candy from the sky, shortly followed by a stampede of hungry little mouths!  Kids are sorted them into age groups, giving even the smallest children a fair shake at snagging their share of sweets.

The three major sponsors from last year attended yet again to support the BKF and promote their latest products… Prism, Ozone and Revolution. Each with their own designated demo field, their fliers kept a huge flow of people exposed and educated about several kinds of kiting throughout the whole weekend!

Of particular interest were the cool new custom fractal Quantum Pros from Mark Reed which totally sold out at Highline Kites in the first 2 hours… Using fractal printed fabric from Ken Conrad, these kites are one heck of a sight.

In their own colorful and varied styles, Michael Weingand, Ron Despojado, David Gomberg and Arnold Stellama rotated duties as announcer over the weekend… Entertaining, educating and inviting the public into our world.

Sunday evening closed with the now traditional Princess Hornblower cruise around the bay… Fliers and their families are treated to a great dinner, awards banquet and a great view of everything the San Francisco bay has to offer including the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square.

Another great year on the field that saw me born into the sport of kiting, always well worth a return visit.

John Barresi
Kitelife Magazine