Issue 44: ProFile with Gayle Woodul

One of our favorite kite personalities, this fiery Texan has proven she’s a force to be reckoned with by venturing into nearly every aspect of kiting at one time or another including team flying, individual competition, large inflatables, kite making, traction kiting and more, as well as tackling all kinds of roles and volunteer positions within the AKA, at her local festivals, and in her community… All of this has given her an unusually broad understanding of the kiting community at large.

Recognized as the AKA’s 2003 Regional Director for her outstanding efforts in Region 8, she also devotes her time to promotion and membership functions for the organization… Yet, with all of this on her plate she just GLOWS with that special something that makes her very approachable.

We could go on, but let’s get right to it and turn Gayle loose on some Q & A to find out more.

Okay Gayle, let’s start with the easy stuff first. How did you originally get started in kiting? When did that happen, what got you started, and what really grabbed your interest so that you stayed?

Only a very few years ago, I found myself sitting around the house on a beautiful Spring day wondering WHY I was just sitting around the house on a beautiful Spring day! I live out in the country, so we don’t have just a whole lot of continuous entertainment nearby; and I certainly wasn’t motivated enough to make the 2 hour drive into Austin! I remembered reading about a “Kite Festival” nearby. “Kite Festival”… what’s that?… 50 little kids standing around a field looking up the length of a string in their hand into the sky? Oh, why not! It beats wasting a gorgeous day holed up in the house! So I headed out for this “Kite Festival,” expecting to spend the afternoon politely smiling and nodding as the small town kids showed me their little kites. HA! Was I in for a shock!

I pulled up into the makeshift parking lot to see lots of folks in MY age group; not just adults, but even some adults who’ve “been around for a while!” Not what I expected at all! Next, I saw and heard the sound system. Hmmm… this wasn’t Romper Room Sing Along stuff for little kids… this was ROCK and ROLLLLLLLL!!! (Am I at the right place???) Then, choreographed to the music, I saw kites dancing in the air – and dancing REALLY WELL! Okay, by this point, I admitted to myself that I had this thing pegged wrong and was glad that I came, because this was really SOMETHING TO SEE! After a couple of hours of staring in amazement, I approached one of the kiters to express my surprise and appreciation for their performance. Once again, I didn’t get what I expected… The flier landed their kite and gave me their FULL attention, explaining all about how it’s done. They explained the technique and the frustrations; then they stood behind me and taught ME how to do it! Now, it wasn’t pretty, but I managed to get a stunt kite in the air and keep it there! Other performance kiters some came over and told me where and when the next area kiting event would be. They pointed out which vehicles to look for when I got to the next event so I could sit with their group. Wow… they’ll let me sit with them??? I made it to every kiting event in the area that year. Within a few days of that first meeting, I said to a friend, “I know this sounds strange because it’s new, but I know I’ll be doing this for the rest of my life!” Knowing that I have a short attention span, she rolled her eyes and sarcastically said, “Yeah, right; we’ll see!”.

Fast forwarding a bit, some of that “group” I initially met was the Austin End Of the Line (EOL) kite team. Now, they don’t even remember me from that first kite festival, but those people opened the doors for me. Not just with their kites; I could have gone home after watching them that day and never attended another kiting event. What makes them, and the great majority of kiters that I’ve come to know, so incredibly special is the inherent ability to recognize that look of wonder in a spectator’s eyes and to demystify it with conversation, instructions, or an invitation to join in. The Austin EOL members allowed me to watch their team practice so I could learn, and eventually asked me to step in as an alternate on the team. Whenever I’m asked, “How did you get into kiting?” I HAVE to give all credit to a group of kiters who set down their kite lines to welcome me. If it weren’t for their actions, things would have taken a different path. I try to remember that turning point at every opportunity and “set my kite lines down” whenever I recognize that wonder in a spectator’s eyes. I know that most of you already have that awareness and you DO remember to use it. Know that it makes a difference!

Of course, soon I realized that there were many different venues to kiting! I could fly dual, single, quad; construct, create, be artistic; study the technical aspects, judge, evaluate; fly teensy kites, medium kites, or monstrosities; or I could just sit in my lawn chair and watch! Remember that “short attention span” my friend was worried about earlier? With so many various avenues in kiting, I realized that I could always veer into another specialty if I began losing interest (or ability!).

Now, I’m assuming here that you had other things going on in your life at the time you first got interested in kiting. Were you already involved with your musical career? If so, how did your passion for vocal music and your interest in kiting mix – or was there any crossover at all?

No, no, no; had kiting entered my life a few years earlier, I wouldn’t have been able to create the time to pursue it! When kiting came along, I was already retired from over 30 years in the music biz (I can’t believe I’m old enough to say that… 30 years!!!). Over the years I was able to schedule my studio work around the “real world.” I received a double Doctorate in Psychology and Divinity (and later, the “woo-woo” stuff – MetaPhysics and Holistic Health). Plus, this flexibility allowed me to put in 13 years in Air Force Intelligence… and yes, I WAS a Drill Sergeant for a couple of years (kind of a bizarre experience for a Clinical Psychologist, but that’s another story!). After a 20 year absence, I returned “home” to Dallas, only to discover that it no longer felt like “home.” At that point, I moved out into the country into semiretirement and began a small practice working with “children in transition” and doing community and volunteer work. Obviously, this allows me to make my own schedule and to divide my time and interests as I elect. Only with the flexibility which I now enjoy could I have ever committed to kiting to this degree. My previous lifestyle(s) would never have allowed me this much freedom!

How did you make the transition from being a lady who was merely interested, into the true “kite addict” we all know you to be now? What really got you “hooked,” and then spurred you on?

HA! Am I a “Kite Addict”??? Well, I suppose so. Okay, I’ve been called MUCH worse! I’ve got to say that, after that initial meeting when I realized that kiting was now a permanent part of my life, there was no big surge or “AHA!” moment; it’s just kind of grown.

Gayle, tell us about the “early days” when you were mostly flying for fun and beginning to make the transition into serious kiting. Was there a “plan” to your kiting, or was it mostly just being out on the field, fooling around with a kite? Tell us how you made the transition from being a recreational pilot into a competitor

This is a VERY serious question… for which I have a VERY frivolous answer! I LOVE flying with the team, and the team competes! That’s it! It was no big decision! I WILL admit that, when I was contacted about becoming an AKA Regional Director, I felt like I needed to compete individually… for my own credibility. By that I mean that I felt like I had to have walked in those shoes to be able to empathize. I learned a lot from competing individually, even though I’m not interested in my individual standings. I learned how to be a better field director, judge, and organizer by competing.

You asked, “Was there a ‘plan’ to your kiting?”. You crack me up! You’re giving me WAY too much credit! I’m not nearly so meticulous and conniving! I have NOT “arrived”, I am NOT “complete”, I’m NOT even a “serious kiter!” Neither do I consider myself to be graduated from or strictly a “recreational kiter” or even a “competitor” (sorry!). In fact, you’ve got it backwards! I made the transition from being a competitor to a recreational pilot – NOT the other way around! I’m simply someone, just like everyone else in kiting, who’s fortunate enough to have found a passion. I love my friends, my friends fly dual line team and compete, I fly with my friends; hence – I fly and compete on a dual line team with my friends. It’s not a Master Plan – it’s just one of many avenues in kiting. With other kiting friends, I might fly other types of kites… or just talk about kiting… or kite people!

I also have a ridiculous collection of inflatables! Now, talk about a need for friends! For every piece, it takes 3 or 4 good friends to help wrestle, stabilize, and monitor inflatables! Let’s be real… I’m a middle aged, overweight, short, single woman; I don’t stand a chance against that 90′ Octopus or a 252 without a squad of wranglers behind me! Thank goodness, my friends are always ready to help and we can put on a pretty cool flying circus!

The next time you see me at a kiting event, I may just as likely be creating miniatures, or in the middle of a Roc battle, or cussing at a Fighter Kite, or ironing bubble gum on to Tyvek to see what kind of Batik effect it creates, or etching kite designs onto my car windows! Remember that “short attention span” thing? That’s the best thing about kiting – the fact that there are so many differing venues and creative outlets!

By the way, these ARE “the early days”… I’ve only been in kiting for 5 years – I’m STILL just “fooling around with kites!”

At the same time of course, you began to acquire some noteworthy kites – some just to fly for fun, some specifically to use for competition, and probably a few just to collect. How did all this come about? Did it just sorta happen, or were you working to a plan?

Oh, you’re SO serious! Maybe you’re right; maybe there ARE people who are “working on a plan”. Trust me when I say that I’m NOT one of them! Yep, I’m on the “WHATEVER’S FUN and INTERESTING” plan. Does that count?

For that matter, who influenced you strongly in your explorations of the many different aspects of kiting? (Your chance to throw in “important” folks we’ve not asked about. Yeah – we can handle several names and reasons)

Everyone I’ve met in kiting is “important” and all have had an impact and influence on me. I gain something from every encounter at every event I attend. Yes, I’ve met some prestigious people in kiting; but the most important kiters I’ve come across are the folks in the background who are silently and thanklessly doing the grassroots teaching and sharing of their love and knowledge of kites! Although their names may not be well known nationally, they’re the folks out there in the trenches keeping the spark alive!

You’ve also made mention of a stint or two into the Power or “Extreme” kiting realm… When did that first start to happen, and how did it occur? What facets (kiteboarding, buggying, kite-surfing, etc.) have you experienced, and which ones really excite you? Are you a competitor in the Power portion of the sport too, or do you mostly enjoy the recreational aspects of the sport and the people involved?

I have an interest in buggying and I enjoy it, but I proudly cruise along at a snail’s pace – I’m NOT competition ready! I suppose since there’s a story out there, I may as well tell it correctly: When I first committed to learn to buggy, an instructor offered to teach me. So I booked a hotel near where they live, brought my equipment, and set out to tackle this. Well, what I hadn’t counted on was the weather; it was hitting 105 by noon every day! Of course, my instructor had a real life to continue, while I was just waiting in my hotel room for the daily lessons to begin. After a couple of 105 degree afternoons, I decided to go on out to the field early – before the scorching heat – and give it a go on my own. What’s Rule #1?… NEVER BUGGY ALONE – I broke that one! I was doing really well and feeling great about my obvious natural inherent ability, so I didn’t notice that the winds had picked up… to mid 20’s with gusts to 30. Rule #2 – NEVER FLY IN WINDS ABOVE YOUR ABILITY – broken! Without going into a lot of detail, I was slammed onto the ground on my left side. I didn’t know it at the time, but I cracked my hip… that’s right, I broke my butt! With a completely unnatural and even more unrealistic determination, I stood back up, brushed off the dirt, grit my teeth, and relaunched that kite. Had I changed kite sizes as the wind increased??? Nope. The next time, (yes, I was slammed to the ground again!), I hit the field on my right side this time; dislocating my shoulder, shredding my rotator cuff, ripping up the connecting muscles and tendons, and also cracking my head on the ground. Rule #3 – ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET – you guessed it… broken! What an idiot! In short, I broke every rule in the book! To wrap this up, yes – both injuries still bother me, and yes, I got back on the horse; but I’m a very “delicate” buggier!

Okay – so over time, you’re busy becoming a pretty decent individual pilot and team pilot, and also getting to be recognized in kiting. Were you a kite-club member at the time? If so, which club? Tell us when you first got interested in the “organizing” side of kiting and how all that came about…

Honestly, I’m a better administrator and ambassador of kiting than a pilot; and am better known as such! Yes, I’ve got some really cool inflatables, have been drug around by my Stacks, continually cuss when I try working with my Fighters, have come in 2nd to Team Gomberg in a Roc battle (Zilker-2001), have some beautiful single lines (made by other people!), can roll around in my buggy, and have even tried making a kite or 2 (don’t look too closely!). But the truth is that many people have never seen me fly anything – especially outside my regional neighborhood! The greatest asset that I have is my willingness to make a fool of myself. I’ll try anything, introduce myself to anyone, and speak my mind on any subject. No, it’s NOT my breath taking kite flying ability that people know me for!

It’s only been in the last 2 years that the Central Texas area has had a kite club. It was organized by a group of Austin area kiters with the intent to “share the knowledge” and expose kiting to the public. Although very informal in nature, it’s been a great success, has a strong foundation in the community, and has had quite a few write ups in the local newspapers.

As an AKA Regional Director, you HAVE to be an event organizer… as much as I HATE to admit it! I’m always amazed at the amount of phone calls or e-mails I receive from people wanting to throw a kite festival but have never seen or attended one! How does that happen? Where do they even get the idea of a kite fest? Needless to say, when that occurs I have to “reinvent the wheel” for them as I try to help them create an event that will best suit their needs! In the Spring of this past year, I realized that I had 4 events approaching which were all being organized by non kiters! I made a VHS tape with an overview of different types of kites and kiting events. I also gave a running account of what type of event they were seeing, what type of kites they were watching, pointed out obstacles that non kiters would never consider, and discussed safety and the necessity of cordoning off the flying fields. This also gave me the opportunity to mention those “forgettable” expenses like a P.A. system and port a johns. Armed with that information, they could then accurately describe the event layout, entertainment, and highlights that they envisioned for their festival. It made it a lot easier to help them create the event that they desired!

Also, what are some of the notable events you’ve attended over the years? Yes, I suspect you’ve been to loads of them, but which ones stick in your mind today – and why?

The obvious answer would be the “spectacular” events. Yes, the incredible caliber of talent at the World Sport Kite Competitions was overwhelming! An AKA convention’s always amazing! And yes, I enjoy going outside my own backyard to get to know other kiters and to see other events. But it’s the people who create a festival, not the geography. I get just as much joy and inspiration from the kiter in New Mexico or the couple in Central Texas who quietly devote themselves to teaching kiting to school classes, youth groups, and in community centers. Discovering these unsung and anonymous heroes of our sport has created my most memorable and notable moments.

And, when did you attend your first AKA Convention and Grand National Competition? What was that first “National” like for you? Who did you enjoy meeting at that first convention that has fueled your interest over the years?

Sitting at a park bench at a kiting event on the Texas Coast in 2000, I mentioned to folks that I’d like to attend the AKA convention but that I was uncomfortable going alone (I know, it sounds stupid now!, but it made sense at the time!). I’ll never forget the looks I got from around the table when I said that! “Alone?… You think you’ll be ALONE?” Okay, I felt ridiculous asking the question and booked my flight for Treasure Island immediately. The good news is that I WAS relatively invisible (unlike now!), so I could go anywhere and everywhere to glean knowledge. Although my friends from Austin introduced me to everyone, they all became a blur very quickly! I can’t list any one person who “fueled my interest”, but to EVERYONE attending the 2000 Treasure Island convention – I thank you for showing me the heights that could be reached and also for teaching me that everyone matters in the kiting world, regardless of their degree of expertise, their experience level, or their chosen avenue of expression! From that first convention, I was immediately welcomed and accepted – plus I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge! I knew then that I would never miss an AKA convention!

We’d also be interested to know how you came to run for the AKA Director spot for your region, and how and when that first occurred. What has being a Director meant to you, Gayle? And what would you like it mean, long term?

Well, I actually didn’t “run” for Regional Director. In Spring of 2001, I received a call from David Gomberg saying that he needed to appoint a replacement RD for our region and that my name kept coming up when he asked around. I explained to him my trepidation at even considering the position because I was so new to kiting and had so little experience or technical knowledge. He asked me to think about it. Of course, I conferred with my local kite pals and former RD’s, and decided to adopt the mantra “I don’t know everyTHING, but I know everyONE – I’ll get you an answer!” and accepted the appointment. I suppose that’s the most satisfying part of being RD; being able to hook the question up with the answer.

The advantage to stepping in as a newby was that I didn’t really have any expectations of my own for the position and the kiters of the Region had no expectations of me. It was basically a clean slate. Plus, if I really screwed it up, I could always claim ignorance (I’ve used that excuse MANY times… within the Region and with the AKA Board!).

Time to break away from past and present history and ask an “opinion” question. Do you think the sport of kiting will ever return to its “Hey-day” or even exceed those participation numbers? Will it ever become “Mainstream?” And what do you think we can do to help kiting grow as a sport?

This is a tough question. As with any sport, people either “get it” or they don’t. Obviously, WE all “get it” and don’t understand the folks who don’t! There’s no way to predict which individual or even which demographic will get the passion. Because of that, we have to continue with the broadest exposure possible in an effort to share our sport. Having said that, I realize that my statement creates the impression of huge national attention, but that’s not what touches people on a personal level. Again, it’s those grassroots, “in the trenches” efforts with local fun flies or comps; kite making classes, displays, or demonstrations in the community; and having regular kite club get togethers where folks can get hands-on experience.

You mentioned that your practice deals with “children in transition” and that you’re involved with community and volunteer work. What is it that occupies your time when you’re not flying kites?

Although I’ve scaled down my practice considerably and only deal with special or emergency cases, I’m in the position of assisting victim-children through counseling. This also ties in with my being a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for victimized children to avoid the trauma of reliving their abuse in a courtroom. In addition to working with children, I’m an animal person. I’m on the Board of the local Society to Prevent Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and am an Animal Cruelty Investigator for the county. I’m also a trauma volunteer and am on the Disaster Relief Team for the Central Texas Red Cross and I work with an organization assisting terminally ill people via a home/hospice environment.

Other than those activities, I have a quiet house in the country on a beautiful lake which I share with two canine kids (both shelter adopted!). We tend to keep things at home pretty boring, except for those times when I put on the headphones and crank up something scary from “the old days” on the stereo! Of course, even though I’m out in the country with no neighbors, I use the headphones so the dogs won’t suffer any hearing loss!

WHEW! Gayle – that’s a whole bunch of stuff! Putting it all in perspective – you live a VERY active and busy life. (…and you actually call all of this “Retirement?”) How do you manage it all, and still attend the variety of kiting events you do? Yes, we DO understand that some of these “causes” may take prescidence over your attendance at some kiting events.

With very few exceptions, I’m generally able to schedule my other commitments around Saturday morning kite team practice, the Spring kiting travel schedule, and convention. There ARE times when tensions and deadlines of my differing worlds overlap, but you’re right; keeping everything in perspective, this is kite flying… and I’m NOT crucial! There are a dozen folks who could easily fill my shoes if the need arose!

The one thing that I DO have to remember is to keep life in balance. You just can’t wrestle abuse, injustice, and violence without allowing at least equal time for friends, frivolity, and joy!

Now I guess it comes down now to us defining Gayle Woodul, the woman – as opposed to the “kiting personality.” What gives you pleasure, and makes you happy? If you had a chance to do something you’d truly like to do, what would that be?

I don’t mean to sound like I’m ready to step off of a high cliff, but I’m fortunate to have accomplished SO much and been exposed to so many different things in my life, that I just don’t have any empty spots! I generally phrase that a little differently by saying, “I went through the first half of my life with my hair on fire; now it’s time for me to slow down!” Compared to the fireball that I used to be, I’m absolutely a slug these days! But, for the time being, I’m enjoying the slower pace and the serenity.

Finally, are there any pertinent (or perhaps “impertinent?”) questions we should have asked, but didn’t? Go right ahead – ask and answer right here for us, please…

(G) and the question you haven’t asked is…) What do we NOT know about being an AKA Regional Director?

The AKA general membership knows their RD’s as the folks who assist event organizers, fly banners at events and run an information table, remind them of their membership renewal date, send e-mail notices of kiting events, and get your address changed in the AKA data base when you move… and that’s a lot!

What people don’t know about their RD’s and other folks serving on the AKA Board of Directors or staff committees is this: All of these people must be personally committed and care deeply for the organization and welfare of it’s membership. They’re the wheels that keep the machine running. Any time that there’s a problem, change, suggestion, question, request, dilemma, or complaint; it goes out for the Board’s consideration. The Board members must be able to analyze a situation not only from the viewpoint of the individual kiter that we represent, but also from an organizational point of view to assess any potential ramifications of decisions made on a subject. It’s a “look both ways” situation. We have to ask ourselves “Does this best serve the interests of the kiters?”, and “Is it good for the organization?”. The same applies for the individual committee members dealing within their own specialties.

About three times a year, I’m asked the salary for being an RD. When discussing an upcoming convention with someone, they said, “Well, I don’t get my expenses subsidized like you!”. Those asking these questions are always shocked to learn that the position is completely voluntary. Everything we do; stamps, phone calls, time off of work, air travel, supplies, gas for the van, hotel rooms (unless an organizer can help!) is all out of pocket. Yes, there are a very few folks who are considered “contractors” and have a legal contract with the AKA, but it’s certainly not the Regional Directors, Conference Commissioners, or the committee chairs and members! People forget that the AKA is a non profit organization. It always surprises me that folks might think we would be serving the AKA for any reason – or compensation – other than the love of the sport and the desire to help it grow. Trust me when I say, ya gotta love it because no one in their right mind would do it otherwise!

So, the next time you see your RD, or another Board member, or an AKA committee or staff member at an event; take a minute to thank them. That’s what makes it all worthwhile!

Thanks for everything you do Gayle, and for sharing your thoughts with us here… Your boundless energy never ceases to amaze us, and we really look forward to seeing what else you can bring to our community in years to come!