Issue 49: Ocean Shores International Kite Challenge

Well… I’m off to a kite fest again.  This Friday night, I’m headed for the “Ocean Shores International Kite Challenge” in Ocean Shores, Washington.  To say that I’m familiar with the place is a bit of an understatement.  I’ve probably only been to Ocean Shores a couple of hundred times over the years, so it’s almost like the kite-van knows the way on its own…  But, as I’ve come to expect since I moved to Portland, the hardest part of the journey is the five miles it takes me to get into Washington State. The rest is the proverbial “piece of cake,” and I arrive after an easy drive, encountering only a few spits of rain along the way, and I stop to talk with John Barresi and the other kiters on the beach at Ocean Shores before I check into our condo-accommodations.

Unfortunately, John’s trip up wasn’t quite so pleasant. He’d left home early and driven north with a teammate to get a little practice in, and he was about half way to Ocean Shores when he realized that he’d forgotten his entire set of “Team” kites back in Portland. Big “OOoops!”  He called Theresa, owner of The Kite Shoppe and the team’s sponsor, on her cell-phone…  “Yes, we’re bringing a complete set of spare kites,” was the reply – so he really skated out on that one. Always nice to catch him at Less-Than-Perfect, however, since he’s so darned good at most of what he does…

Okay – we’re talking about a Kite competition at the beginning of June here. So I checked the weather forecast, and find we have predictions for intermittent rain showers and blustery winds for the entire weekend. I can believe the winds part, since those breezes are already pretty strong, but we’ve come to take rain forecasts with a certain grain of salt around here. During Spring and Fall, the US Weather boys seem content with about a 50% accuracy level, give-or-take, so it’s always a “wait and see” with the forecast – particularly so where those precip levels are concerned. And as it turned out, they were so-so with the wind forecast, but way wide of the mark on the rain showers.  Mornings brought solid overcasts, but the sun dissolved the clouds away fairly early and the days were bright and sunny.

I awoke Saturday morning to a crisis of sorts – NO COFFEE in the condo unit where we were staying.  John and his teammate Todd had risen early to get their kites set up and enjoy a little practice time before the comps began, and I ended up alone in the unit. Okay, well, I’ll just stop in at the Latte stand on the way to the beach.  So I made that stop.  And… I might as well have a bite to eat, since it’ll be a long day.  And, with one thing and another, I ended up being about 15-20 minutes late getting to the beach. No real biggie, except I missed the pilots meeting – which was mostly okay since I’m not a competitor.

Anyway, it was kind of nice to pull up to the fest site and see roughly 75 kites or so in the air.  It turns out they set up the Single Line Kites (SLK) display field right by the entrance, and the Westport Windriders had used up about half of it. The Windriders are an exceptionally nice bunch of mostly retired folks from in and around Westport, about 70 miles away. The rest of the display field was shared by a variety of folks from other clubs, including fliers from WA, OR, and BC. Some pretty good stuff was in the air too.

Jim Barber, one of the sponsors of the event, had booked Ray Bethell in, and Ray would continue to amaze and mesmerize attendees for the entire weekend. If you’ve not been lucky enough to see Ray fly three stunters simultaneously, you’ve just GOT to take or make the time somehow. An incredible show, and from an organizer’s standpoint Ray is about as “good for kiting as it gets!”  He’s a huge draw, fascinating to watch, personable as all get out (even though Ray happens to be deaf), and he’s usually the first man on the beach in the morning and the last guy to leave in the evening!  Simply an AMAZING show!

In spite of the forecast (solid overcast, high probability of showers, and West winds averaging 12-15), we encountered Easterlies until about 2:30, then another hour of that “light and variable” stuff where kites fall from the sky, then breezes blow in from a different direction – meaning all the lines get tangled and everyone needs to re-stake and re-launch their kites – only to watch the wind die again and restart from somewhere else – and so forth for about 3 hours. Not such a big deal if you only have a kite or two, you say…  But some of these folks had eight or a dozen up there – and never mind the guys like Dave Gomberg who had four or five of those huge inflatables that were all tied up in knots a time or two…  Anyway, I spent most of the late morn/afternoon gabbing and setting or resetting single-line kites and shooting the occasional “grab-shot” and generally wandering around. (MY kind of fest activity!)

As the afternoon went along, we finally got some fairly steady  breezes out of the West – something in the neighborhood of 6-9 MPH, so I figured it was time to try out a special Gobel’s Star II kite named “Black Opal.”  Rick Talbot had given the kite to Amy Doran and when I got done drooling over it, she said I could try it out. Putting it together is a snap, and though we got it in the air, there simply wasn’t enough air to hold it there consistently – maybe another MPH or two would have been just perfect, but it was not to be.  Still, I managed to snap 3-4 decent photos before we had to bring it down and put it away.  Quite a lovely kite in the air, however, and I sure wish I’d been the lucky recipient of Rick’s give-aways!

Over on the competition field, the competitors were working through their pre-ordained schedule. The novice pilots had some events delayed a bit due to low wind conditions (and then would then put up with the opposite extreme the next day), but all events eventually went about as planned.  The big news was that we saw a good bit of SUN and NO RAIN, for which we’re always grateful in spite of any accurate or inaccurate forecasts. You can find the complete results of these competitions on the Northwest Sport Kite League (NWSKL) website, or by clicking here.

Following the on-field events, we all got packed up, headed in out of the weak sun, and wandered over to the Ocean Shores Convention Center about 3 blocks away. The building has had a major face-lift since I’d last been there, and it was nice to see it looking bright, cheery, and all spiffed up again – especially since it’ll be the primary meeting-place for the 2007 AKA Convention next year.  It’s a great venue for that kind of thing, and very convenient to the beach, too…

The new Convention Center “Banquet Hall” is huge with a very high ceiling, and (kitefliers being kitefliers, and operating on “Kite-Time”) of course nothing was ready when we walked in…  The NWSKL is one of those kiting groups where a “Banquet” means the organizing group pays for the main entree, and your cost is covered if you bring a side-dish or dessert. So they got my usual bucket of store-bought Potato Salad (which always disappears) and we all wandered around and bought raffle tickets for the bag-raffle.  Except for Egan Davis, of course, who discovered that someone had left an Indoor Wren propped against the wall, so he proceeded to give the Wren a workout.  Naturally, everyone else was content to watch and critique – but Egan is quite a creditable indoor pilot, and he entertained and acquitted himself very well.

In due time, food was presented and consumed, the day’s TBAs announced and medals presented, bag-raffle items distributed to winners, and a couple of donated items were auctioned off by Dave Gomberg, who happened to be in attendance.  Then it was time for the dispersal of attendees to their respective lodgings – which means we had an unruly “mob” back at the condo unit until everyone could have their whack at the bathroom/changing room so they could use the condo’s Jacuzzi!  Egan Davis – his complexion being what it is – was positively “glow in the dark” red, so no additional heat was required to keep the tub’s temps up.  Then it was time for us all to go find a mattress and a pillow – tomorrow was another day, and coming on fast.

Sunday broke with a light drizzle from a low overcast, and plenty of breeze from the SW – NOT a good sign. We’d soon see the rain drops quit, but they continued to threaten rain (and, would actually spit occasionally) throughout the day until about 4:00 PM.  Well, it’s always nice to have a few rays of sun for the “awards” ceremony, anyway… And on the plus side, there was coffee in abundance in the condo-unit on Sunday.  It always helps ease my day when I don’t have to wander around hunting for some “juice” to get me rolling!

Sunday was the day of the Top-Dawgs – the Masters level stuff, the Multi-line stuff, and the Pairs and Teams. With winds kicking up pretty good (between 15-25 MPH all day, with higher gusts), it was at least appropriate weather if not exactly “comfortable.” In any case, NWSKL pilots are used to flying in some high winds with a fair amount of bumps.

It’s interesting to note that, with all the whining from some folks about reduced numbers of new comp-pilots now, we had nine (yup – 9!) different pilots that flew in individual multi-line (as in “Quad”) events, which is probably a record for the NWSKL, at least in recent years, and that certainly bodes well for the sport. In addition, there were three “dualie” pairs, two “quad” pairs, and five “teams” competing – one of them the first “quad” team we’ve seen in a few years. And while we may not be at the level necessary to run the class “heats” that were the order of the day ten or so years ago, there’s at least some decent competition interest out in the Northwest – and it’s growing!

With the overcast and bumpy winds being what they were – lousy, and fliers constantly being pushed to the downwind side of the field, photographs were equally lousy – so all I got were a few photos of drifting sand, plus a fair amount of sand in the camera, too. I did manage a few photos of TKS-Mid-Air’s team performance, plus the first competition flights of the new Quad-line team (Revolutions) named iQuad, and also the first comp-flights of a new dual-line team named “M N XS,” consisting of three women named Monica, Marcia, and Mary (hence the name). Mostly, though – Sunday was an exercise in just “gutting it out” – and “gritting it out,” with all that blowing sand, all the way to the very end. Yeah – all the comps were completed, but “comfortable” certainly wasn’t part of the equation.

Awards were handed out, per usual with an event sponsored by Cutting Edge, in the store’s parking lot after the field was stripped and everyone had packed up and left the beach.  John probably only came away with a dozen medals (a guess), with at least 3/4ths of them being Golds. Nope, I didn’t bother counting ‘em. Yup – downright Boring!

After any kiting event, many of us find a need to “fuel up” and get ready for the reverse trip, so we were soon off to Las Maracas Mexican Restaurant for some chow and camaraderie with several good friends. But, I was soon on the road by myself again, ready for what turned out to be an easy trip home.  Done Fest!

Dave “Geezer” Shattuck