Issue 50: Whidbey Island Kite Festival

Well, we’re off again – headed north this time, off to the annual Whidbey Island Kite Festival at the northern end of Puget Sound. And we’re late getting away as usual, so it’s the normal Friday afternoon traffic on northbound Interstate 5. John worked on his laptop all the way north, tinkering with iQuad logos and building the next Kitelife issue as we go north. Thank God for power inverters, eh John? We somehow get lucky enough to be the very last car aboard a ferry from Mukilteo over to Whidbey Island, and then it’s a short jaunt up to Keystone and the Fort Casey Conference center – home of what may be the best little kite festival anywhere!

We’re sleeping in tents again, so we locate the campsite without difficulty, and Theresa Norelius is already there and has us checked in. Bless you, Kite-Mother! Jay Betandorff from Vancouver, WA is also in, but already flying down on the kite field. And Steve De Rooy and Mario Di Lucca, both from Vancouver Island in British Columbia have arrived too. Anyway, all we have to do is throw up the tent and pull out the sleeping bags, and we’re set to go. So, I set up camp while John plans his evening’s foray into nighttime flying, and we’re already well into “festival mode” – and actually we’re already old hands at it by now…

Sure enough, the sun goes down, the breeze drops, and off John goes off with Steve, their Rev 1.5s and a handful of lights… They’re down on the field for an hour or two, lighting up the skies before they returns, just in time to join with the next new “arrivals” – the Redingtons from Bellingham, WA and David “Monkey-Boy” Hathaway down from Burnaby, BC. Yep – this is the weekend for the extraordinary Canadian onslaught, which is one of the primary reasons this is such a fine, FINE Kite Festival!

Anyway, new arrivals and ongoing discussions from prior Fests and Comps consumed the rest of the evening, and I availed myself of an opportunity for an early exit to my sleeping bag, the better to be ready for the morrow.

Saturday morning broke bright and clear, which is somewhat unusual for Whidbey Island. We’re used to ground-fog, overcast, zero wind, and even a few raindrops in past years, but this fine day promised extraordinary good weather, and we all decided we’d just “take it anyway.” So the weather was excellent for a change, and would hold constant throughout the entire weekend, yes – even the 3-6 MPH onshore breezes, and we all urged Marjorie Taylor, our event organizer, to PLEASE remember whatever she’d done this year to ensure such fine weather so she could replicate it in future years!

Bless the powers that be, the campsite came equipped with an electrical outlet, so we ground beans and made some coffee. We’d forgotten the coffeemaker’s paper filters at home, 200 miles south, but paper towels worked out just fine in a pinch, and we all survived and thrived. Then it was off to the flying field to unload and set up the flier’s camp, and right on into the 8:30 AM pilots meeting first thing!

If you’ve not been to prior Whidbey Island Kite Festivals before, a word about the venue is necessary here. We’re flying on the parade ground of a 100+ year-old artillery post called “Fort Casey,” which is part of a chain of forts built to guard the entrance to Puget Sound. As such, the parade ground is flat and level – and about 10 feet above the high-tide line. Yeah, the whole field overlooks Admiralty Inlet, and if there’s wind anywhere in the area, that parade ground usually (but not always) gets it’s share…

Now the festival itself has had a few years to fine-tune itself – meaning the different activities that make up the fest come with pre-determined locations already mapped out. Let’s map out the “water” or western side first. There’s an access road the entire length of the parade ground right next to the beach, and the entire parade ground lies to the east of that road. Right along this western access road are all of the vendors and the “officials” accommodations, including the “Make-a-Kite” tent, the Lion’s Club’s hot-dog stand, a large RV used as the festival “office,” a “Kite Swap Tent,” the “Raffle Tent,” the ever-popular latte stand, and bleachers along the competition field. Then single line kites (SLKs) go at the southern end of the parade ground field. The “featured fliers” have the adjoining field to the north, followed by an access path into the sound tent just north of them. Then there’s a full, regulation sport kite “comp” field, followed by the competition pits at the very northern end of the parade ground. To the east of these fields lies visitor’s parking to the south, followed by the “teaching field” just north of that, with a large “practice area” further north, and “flier’s parking” in the northeast corner – all bordered on the east by the highway. Yep – all in pre-determined positions that are consistent from year to year!

The Featured Fliers this year happen to be a couple of old friends of ours – Ellen Pardee and Bob Serack. Both are wizard banner-makers and kite-builders. Bob has an extraordinary banner-farm which he erects, and also brings out his stacks of homemade 4’ mini-revs (Nope – he won’t sell them to you, either) and his purchased Rev 1.5 stack, plus his big flow-form parafoils. Ellen brings her exquisite appliquéd kites (mostly Roks, but other patterns too), a lovely arch of Eddys with frog appliqués, and her own marvelous banners, too! Between them, they put on quite an impressive display – both on the ground and in the air!

So much for our “Scene Setting!” On to the festival itself.

When I’m going into a fest by myself (with Barresi busy doing “John” things…), I have a tendency to wander around a bit, sticking my nose in here, greeting someone there, asking a question some other place, and maybe shooting a quick photo or two if anything strikes my fancy… So the morning’s routine at Whidbey included a stop at the Latte stand for a Mocha, saying “Hi” to Feature Fliers Ellen Pardee and Bob Serack, a quick pass at the Raffle tent to make sure there’s nothing in there that I can’t live without, and a glance or two into the Swap Tent, there I come to an instant halt! Whoa… There’s a Rev 1.5 SUL in there, all nylon (no mylar) that looks darned near unused – and it’s undervalued as far as I can see! All right, so I pull out my checkbook and go in search of Alan Taylor, the kite’s owner – and we consummate a sale. Yep, Alan says… It probably has about an hour of flight time on it. SOLD! sez I, and walk away the owner of a nearly new (though chronologically quite old) Rev 1.5 SUL!

I continue on through the throng of people – a few of whom I recognize, but I don’t know most of them. I make sure to take a tour of the pits and say “Hi” to my friends in the Sport Kite portion of kiting, and I also stop to speak with selected SLKers that I know, too. They’re all good folks, and it’s my way of easing into a festival kinda gently…

I’d purchased a couple of Barry “Bazzer” Poulter’s marvelous Comet kites a month or so ago, and had the forethought to bring them along to Whidbey Island – with the full intent of trying to get these wonders into the air. But I’m currently in the process of learning that kites that large (4’ wide, which ain’t too bad – but 150’ in length) require special places to fly them… I mean, there just wasn’t room to spread out a couple of hundred feet of kite and line anywhere on the parade ground without pushing aside a bunch of people – and that’s assuming there’s the “Over 6 MPH” breezes that’re necessary to fly them in the first place… So I spent some time with a wind-meter, tromping over the whole area – looking for a place to assemble and fly a couple of Comets! The long and short of it ended up being just a complete “No Go!” No adequate space to fly, and not quite enough wind to put them up anyway!

Then I was struck by an epiphany of sorts… I’d ask Ellen and Bob if I could utilize their dedicated “Featured Flier” space to assemble and fly at least one of the Comets. We could assemble it on the ground and let it lie until the wind picked up to “adequate”… and then throw it into the air and pray hard! Well, Ellen and Bob agreed, so I set about it! I’m still at the “novice” stage in assembling these kites, so it takes me roughly 20 minutes to lay one out and assemble it, check it all over at least twice, and then launch. Well, I dragged out all of the paraphernalia and began the process – determined to add a Comet to “the show.” I actually managed the complete process, all except for the launch! Still not enough wind, so the kite sat on the ground, assembled and ready to go for a couple of hours.

Eventually, however, the wind picked up a little into the “marginal” range of 6-MPH-plus, meaning that maybe – just “maybe” – I could con them into the air with enough prayers and a short stroll backwards. And if I could just get them high enough, there’d be stronger, steadier air up above, and the Comet would hold its own just fine. At least that was the dream…

I’m both happy and a bit sad to report – the Comet finally got some air-time, but it was darned brief and not altogether successful. We started with the kite as far downwind as we could get, used about 100 feet of line to the tow-point, and walked the kite into the air. Fly she did, but only managed about 50 feet into the air. So I kept easing backwards, trying to “pump” this gentle giant up into the sky – and the only result ended up being that I ran out of room to “back” (anything further would have put me into the Raffle Tent), and the Comet slid back to earth again… Yes, we laid it out, ready for another attempt, but we’d managed only 50’ in the air – and would never obtain the necessary “over 6 MPH” wind-speed again for the entire festival. (I’m sure someone will tell you they flew their kites there in 8-10 MPH, but I gotta tell you – it sure didn’t happen where and when that kite was laid out on the turf.)

Yeah, this all consumed a couple of hours of my time, on and off. Nope – I’m not at all concerned about missing parts of the festival. It seemed to go on just fine without me, though John occasionally gives me a bit of “heck” about where I’ve been and what I’ve done instead of taking photos and jotting notes for Kitelife event-reports. Somehow the issue of what the Publisher’s been doing for the mag when he enters 10 events in a competition, and judges for another 4-5, never seems to enter into the conversation somehow – but I really don’t feel too bad about it anyway… I’ve never made any claims to “perfection,” but I do get my part done!

Well, through all of the Comet stuff, I manage to keep an eye on the other kites in the air, and there’re some interesting kites aloft now. There’re a couple of big parafoils that seem to be able to get up there in something under 6 MPH breezes (Harumph!), and plenty of Eddys, Roks, a few Conyne Deltas and some other flat and bowed SLKs. But I notice a distinct lack of the cellular kites, and other oddities which normally like higher winds too. And, spread throughout are about 25-30 Make-A-Kite sleds from the you-build-it tent over by the water. I guess everyone’s having fun, so I’d best get with the program. So I wander over and chat with a few of these folks before I happen to notice that my stomach seems to have a death-grip on my esophagus, pleading for sustenance. Time for a Lion’s Club Hot-Dog, I guess…

About that time, I notice a fair portion of the crowd streaming toward the competition field – which looks decidedly empty at the moment. So what’s going on? Well, they’re getting ready to do one of their patented “Teddy-Bear Drops.” If you’re a youngster under a certain age, you simply sign up for a chance to retrieve a Teddy Bear or other stuffed animal that’s parachute dropped from a kite. And one-by-one, the youngsters (sometimes accompanied by their parents), go out onto the field to catch (or retrieve) these stuffed animals. And – once caught – the animal is theirs to keep. From a kid’s standpoint, it’s literally a gift from the heavens – and from the crowd’s standpoint, it’s a heck of a lot of fun to watch. So I wander over to shoot a few photos, and end up enjoying myself right along with the crowd. Jeez, it’s what kite festivals are all about anyway – simply having lots of fun! And – oh, by the way – if a child’s name is NOT drawn, it’s simply because they’re out of time on the kitefield. There’re plenty of stuffed animals in those barrels over there, and every kid is entitled to a Teddy Bear or other animal. (The local fraternal clubs scour all the thrift stores and collect stuffed animals all year long – just to give ‘em all away in these two days!) Kind of neat, huh?

And so the afternoon goes… I watch SLKs for a while, and wander through the Competition area a little, and chat with someone for ten minutes, then go look at the Swap Tent again (and I pick up a New Unflown Jeff Howard Imperial for the proverbial song), and watch a few more competitions… among them, Jeremy Percival’s lovely Experienced Individual Ballet (EIB) performance. I only happened to catch it fro w-a-y across the field, but knew Jeremy’s kite on seeing it and watched the performance with awe… Jeremy flies with grace and a certain amount of élan, and I was pleasantly surprised by the wonderful flow and crisp maneuvers Jeremy flew – and I later had a chance to compliment him on the performance in person. It turns out he’d won in EIB on that flight too!

The final event of the competition day ended up being Hot Tricks, with eight pilots competing… And, not unexpectedly, John Barresi and Egan Davis finally ended up going head-to-head in the last round. During the first two segments, Egan really “got it going,” giving John notice that he was going to take it unless John pulled one out of his hat somehow. So, during Egan’s final segment, the audience was treated to John throwing his shoes toward the sideline – a clear sign that John intended to run another of his patented 360s during the final segment. Sure enough, when Egan had finished, John started out by locking the kite into a rollup, followed by a full single-handed 360, followed by an unroll straight into a series of one-handed flic-flacs and another roll up. After the final segment, everyone was wondering who really won this thing? Then we noticed Egan sprinting out to John in the center of the field to congratulate John with a big grin on his face – convinced that John had won. At the same time, John was equally convinced the Egan had won! Their mutual respect and admiration for each other got a bit raucous – to the point where a loud voice from the sideline recommended that they “Get A Room!” After all the votes were counted, however – Egan had beaten John in Hot Tricks!

Soon enough, 5:00 PM rolled around, and kites came down and everyone quit the field, headed for “the banquet” in Coupeville at 6:00 PM. Banquet tickets are bought in advance, and it’s a chance to gather together with your fellow kiters for something other than kite-flying. In this case, the menu included baked chicken, potatoes, mixed veggies, salad, and a scrumptious desert! Plus, the day’s prizes in the competitions were awarded too.

And then – it was off to the Indoor fly right across the street at the Middle School. It used to be that indoor flying was something of a novelty, but not anymore! The folks who fly indoors have mastered the disciplines well enough by now that their performances are usually interesting, and every so often, they’re downright stunning! We were treated to several exemplary performances that evening, including a couple of flights by Egan Davis and John Barresi. John’s performance with a Lam Hoac “VIP” was exciting, technically complex, and well choreographed to the music. Egan Davis, however, simply pulled out all the stops and flew a lovely, emotional routine to Ray Charles’ version of “You Are So Beautiful.” And while these two routines come immediately to mind, nobody flew poorly, and all pilots “seduced us” as best they could.

Finally, it was back to our campsite, a cheery fire, a few beers, and plenty of fine conversation and camaraderie among great friends. Then it was time for the sack, so that we could all do it all over again tomorrow.

We were all up early on Sunday morning, some anxious to get to the kite field and some just wanting to pack up the camp NOW, so we wouldn’t have to do it later on… Still, flying prevailed, and we made it to the field in time for the 8:30 pilots meeting. Then it was right into the Experienced Individual Precision event straight away.

For me, however, there were a couple of other things to do instead. First off, I wanted a latte from the stand over by the Raffle Tent to supplement my earlier cup of coffee. Then I wanted a real Breakfast this morning, so Theresa Norelius and I headed to the Tyee Restaurant in Coupville for a bite to eat. We both opted for the breakfast buffet, and we eventually left considerably fortified and able to deal with the coming day.

And, my next chore for the day was to break camp. I knew we’d be busy on the field until the final Raffle item was handed out at the end of the day, so the packing needed to happen now so we could be ready to begin the five-hour drive home as early as possible. John was already down at the competition field, so I pulled the sleeping bags and mats and packed away the tent, leaving nothing of ours at the campsite. That one’s out of the way – now let’s head down to the Festival.

Once I was there, I ran into Paul Horner and his partner Carol Marrett watching the competitions, and decided to spend some time with them. Paul is a restaurant chef on one of the islands off the coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia and is also a superb kitemaker and a long-time friend! We’ve traded emails and jokes for several years, and Paul occasionally stops by to say “Hi” when he’s on one of his frequent jaunts down to Southern California.

So we two old kite-bums sat, and watched the comps, and yakked about this and that for a while. And while we talked, the comps took a break to let Sunday’s Teddy-Bear Drop occur, so I needed to grab a few photos for Kitelife, of course. Well, Paul openly admired my little “cheapie” camera, and I had to talk hard to convince him that it really WAS inexpensive. One thing led to another, and I offered to sell him the camera for “kites to be agreed upon later” – knowing that I already had a new camera on the way, and also that Paul would deal with me fairly in the trade. Finally, it was a done deal, and I delivered the camera to him before we went our separate ways.

Now I often make a big deal about the PEOPLE in kiting being so very special to me, and Paul is a fine example of the reasons I say that. As one of our fine Canadian neighbors to the north, Paul is warm and gracious and has a lovely sense of humor. Moreover, he’s like many Canadians, proud of his country, but also just a very fine “human being” all on his own as well. I’m quite proud to be friends with the many Canadians I know, and count them all as wonderful people. So at this, the most “Canadian” of American kite festivals, I have to say up front and out loud: YOU Canadians ROCK!!!

I finally take leave of Paul and Carol, and head for another Mocha from my now-favorite latte stand at the edge of the field… Then it’s off for another visit with Ellen Pardee and Bob Serack. We discuss the weather, agree that the breezes are even lighter than yesterdays (thus absolving me of further Comet flight attempts), and talk about Ellen’s kites for a while. She fills me in on her “new kites” for the year, and she also talks about the “others” she has on the drawing-board – or in her head! And Bob throws a comment in form time to time too. What fine and lovely creative minds these two have. Yep – there’re good reasons for Ellen and Bob being our Featured Fliers this year…

Then it’s time for another Hot-Dog from the Lions Club and another survey of the Swap Tent, the Raffle Tent, and all of the flying fields. And while nothing of any substance is new or different, I’m struck again by what a fine festival this is, and how nice the weather is, too – in spite of the lack of some Comet-grade winds!

And while I’m standing there, the voice on the Public Address system tells us that Team iQuad will demo in five minutes. Hooray! I later find out that this announcement is the first notice that any of the iQuad members had of their chance to Demo, so they spent the five minutes rounding up kites with which to perform and getting them assembled and onto the field. But as far as all the festival attendees know, this is all part of the plan. And so iQuad takes to the field and “wings it” through another performance, to generous applause from the crowd.

Yep folks, it IS all done with mirrors, and you really SHOULD pay no attention to the man behind the curtain over there…

Finally, we reach the last event for the weekend – the Mystery Ballet, but it’s done with a “twist” this time. Since we’re a bit behind, we’ll not only supply the music as usual, we’ll cut you off precisely at the 2:30 mark on the clock. So they’re “shortening” the Mystery Ballet in order to get the Awards and the Raffle in on time. So each Ballet segment runs, and the pilots, not having ingrained stop-watches, often end their Ballet segment in the air instead of on the ground. But they get it done anyway, and finally 99% of the festival is over and in the bag.

Tear down begins immediately, and the rest of the crowd gathers in front of the Raffle Tent – anticipating the “spoils” that’ll be going home with them. Robin Haas, our announcer does a fine job of shepherding “the powers” to handle today’s awards with dispatch, and starts right into drawing raffle tickets and shuffling prizes off to another table for pickup by the winners.

And the message is – “We don’t want to rush you folks, but can you pick up your raffle winnings NOW, please? We have a ferry to catch, followed by a long drive home…” So the crowd, who also have to catch that same ferry, puts a little “hustle” of their own into their part of the interactions.

Raffles’re done (Paul Horner wins 40 yards of black ripstop as one item…), and we pull away from the field and head for a quick bite to eat at the Tyee again. Then it’s down to Keystone, and get in line for that ferry-boat. But, with the motorcycle run that came over to the island today, we miss the next ferry and have to wait for the 9:15 PM boat before we’re really off the island. Then it’s nothing but a long, tedious drive south to Portland, OR.

Yeah, we eventually made it home and in the door, at about 2:00 AM. And, yeah, we’re certainly exhausted. And we’re really, REALLY sleepy, too. <<yawn>>

Ollie-Ollie, In FREE! (Finally)

      Dave “Geezer” Shattuck