2006 AKA Convention: Day 4

Thursday at the 29th AKA Convention and Grand National Competitions is kind of a day off, or at least a “Slow Day!” And, believe me, that’s a GOOD thing! And, boy – were we ever ready for a break…

We did absolutely ridiculous things – stuff like sleeping until 8:00 (or even later, if you were David Hathaway), skipping the first workshop session in favor of a leisurely breakfast, and going to the flying fields KNOWING that there were no scheduled Sport Kite Competitions today, though there were still the kite-building competitions and a hot tricks event.

But before we went flying, we needed to attend the Sport Kite Symposium, a session where rule changes from the International Rule Book Committee (IRBC) and the AKA Addendum to the IRBC rules for Sport Kite Competitions were discussed, and those discussions referred to future changes to AKA Sport Kiting events as they occur.

Following introduction of the Sport Kite Committee members present, the committee led all Symposium attendees through the most recent changes to the competition Precision figures. Rather than have us discuss those changes here however, Sport Kite competitors should check the AKA website (under Table of Contents > Publications > Rule Books).

During Questions and Answers from the Floor, several items were offered, discussed, and some eventually put on the agenda. The committee answered some of the questions directly, and moderated any discussions. All issues and discussions were handled well by the Sport Kite Committee members present, dealt with in a congenial and professional manner, and the Symposium ended within the allotted timeframe.

And then it was time to grab the camera-bag, some snacks and drinks, and jump on the shuttle to the Flying Field. By the way, we’ve not mentioned the “shuttle” before, so perhaps this’s a good time to mention a couple of the “perks” of this motel. The Holiday Inn directly across from the Airport in Des Moines provides several niceties, including things like a daily copy of USA Today, and also free shuttle service around the local area and FROM AND TO THE AKA FLYING FIELD! We’ve used the shuttle for some of our restaurant meals away from the motel, trips to the supermarket and drugstore, Tuesday night’s Indoor Fly, and we “take the shuttle” daily as an easy and inexpensive way to get around town without renting a car. Bless you Holiday Inn for that service!

Anyway, once at the field, I stashed my knapsack and camera case and wandered down to Field #1, the kite-builder’s field, where they were setting up to begin the Rokkaku comprehensive kite-making comps. Bright blue sky was back after a bit of overcast yesterday, and there were 5-7 MPH breezes from the East North-East with temps in the low 70s. The Jurors were getting their bibs on, as were the competitors, and the early kites were beginning to test the air. From here on, we saw Roks, Trains and Centepedes (including Chinese “Dragons”), Cellular and Dimensional kites, Flat Kites, and Arch Trains and Ribbons, all go through the “judging” process – fly for a minimum of five minutes, be evaluated for “appeal,” and submit to structural and construction examinations.

I have to admit my lack of in-depth understanding of all the factors involved in the judging process, having missed the workshop that explains it all earlier in the week. Still, I also have to admit my delight in many of these kites, some for how they fly, others for their visual appeal in the air, still others for their structural design and just plain old “craftsmanship” – and a few that encompassed combinations of all these factors, making those few kites ones that I’d enjoy having in my own bag, flying often, and kites that I’d treasure! The Sport Kiters may be the “activity intensive” bunch in the AKA, but these Kite-MAKERS are certainly incredible people who’re willing to spend long, sometimes tedious, hours designing, prototyping, constructing, and flying their own creations! What incredible people and equally incredible works! Amazing stuff!

And, while I was watching and photographing the kite-makers, Jim Martin had Dave Gomberg’s van and trailer out at the back of Field #5 – way at the northeast end of the Flying Fields. Inside was “The World’s Largest Kite,” though it wouldn’t be inside long… Jim and several “helpers” soon had the kite out of the trailer and spread out on the field. After a while, it began to inflate – though it appeared to have a minor tear in the bottom. This kite’s graphics are sewn as an American Flag, and measure (per Sir Gomberg’s website) 130’ wide by 80’ deep, for an incredible 10,400 square feet!

Over time, this kite inflated fully, and began to resemble nothing less than a gigantic “pillow” on the field – though it was relatively flat, not an oval like my favourite sleeping equipment. And finally, Jim Martin and friends managed to coax this baby into the sky – little by little. Upwind, a host of bridle lines were joined to a fly-line, tethered to a dump-truck full of gravel (Now, that’s REALLY a “sand-anchor!). In addition, there was a “dump” line trailing down, to be pulled to help deflate the kite, and a couple of guy-lines to help guide and steady the kite as it takes to the air.

Eventually, they slowly coached this huge kite into the air, attaining a height of roughly 50’ (my guess, from a good distance away- see photos) – whereupon, the tear in the bottom of the kite split further, rapidly spilling the air inflating the kite, and causing the kite to fold in half and fall back to the ground. Awwwww… Nuts! Yeah, it flew for a little while. No, it wasn’t a flight that went as planned, and it certainly did not attain either the height, or the “flight profile,” envisioned for this flight!

Meanwhile, down on Field #3, all the “Quad-heads” in attendance seemed to have their kites out on the field – learning, practicing, and flying their “quads” as part of “Quadapalooza.” (Nope – I didn’t pick the name for this one.) Through the afternoon, up to a dozen Revs would be flying and working on “teaming” as a unit. As always, a dozen of ANY kind of kite of the same style in the air is striking, and these kites were certainly that and more. Organized and coordinated by David Hathaway, the intent of Quadapalooza was a split between “just plain quad fun fly” and a informal teaching session for quad fliers to learn how to fly their kites as a team. Everyone flying seemed to have a grand time, and the sight of that many quads in the air was quite impressive visually, and the crowd seemed to really enjoy it too! Fliers included Ben D’Antonio, Zach Gordon, Wayne Fu, Aaron Champie, Doug Coates and the three representing members of iQuad.

By now, we were nearly done with the kite-makers competition down on Field #1, and I’d probably only walked a mile or so going between fields, so I stopped at the BBQ hut and purchased (and quickly downed) a lemonade. It was getting to be time for Quadapalooza to end and the “Hot Tricks Shoot Out” to begin. So I enjoyed a short break…

Sure enough, I no more than sat down when they announced the end of “Quad-Head Heaven,” and gave a first call for the Hot Tricks match. There were roughly a dozen fliers in this Hot Tricks comp, and we’d see some interesting flying. First off, there were a couple of pilots who showed up on the field with Revs – which means some very aggresive use of those quad-line kites. Secondly, the late afternoon’s winds continued to be “flukey,” with wind-speed dropping now (down in the UL/SUL range), and starting to shift to every point in the compass.

Ann Vondriska and Josh Gordon jumped in as co-announcers and did a WONDERFUL job of it. And we were underway with the first pairing. I’ve forgotten most of the pairings at this point, so will just avoid naming names except for the top three in the order. Suffice it to say that winds were definitely a factor, with the smart pilots shifting their kites to the downwind edge of the field, since winds continued to die and shift, then gain strength and shift again. By the end, “the field” had winnowed itself down to three pilots (David Hathaway, Egan Davis, and John Barresi), and it was decided that it’d be “double elimination” from here on out.

John and David battled for supremacy with the winner moving on for a shot at first place, which turned out to be John Barresi. Then Egan and John duked it out for first place, throwing down the gloves in an all-out “challenge” match, with Egan’s last 30 second stint ending in a 360 – with a 540 on the “downwind” side of the circle thrown in, followed by John Barresi winning out completely in HIS last 30 seconds, by running a one-handed 360 – this time with two roll-ups on his kite. Yeah – that kind of good stuff!

At the end of their rounds they met at mid-field before the Judges (all the other pilots) had even determined a winner – pounding each other on the shoulders, shaking hands and sharing hugs – each with a big grin on his face. As far as they’re concerned, there really IS no loser here – it’s only a matter of determining which trophy went home with which pilot. It was apparently John’s turn, since Egan had won the last two times they’d faced off against each other in Hot Tricks!

Hathaway, Davis and Barresi all put down their Hot Tricks kites, picked up their team Revs, and took to the field for an impromptu iQuad Demo (They are all part of the 8-man iQuad team). Immediately following that, the Chicago Fire team came onto the field with their oh-so-pretty Killer Bees and graced the viewers with three lovely demonstration numbers, showing off their extraordinary team-piloting skills.

Finally, it was time to tear down and pack up, since the shuttle was there to take us back to the Holiday Inn. After a quick wash-up, we all boarded the shuttle again for dinner “out” at a really good all-you-can-eat Chinese Buffet dinner.

After dinner, we returned to find the pin challenge and fly mart well underway. Collectors sold and traded kite-related cloisonné pins in the Holidome, kite shops, custom suppliers and manufacturers participated in the fly mart in another area of the hotel, while kitefliers shopped and socialized.

See you all tomorrow – same time, same place!

David “Geezer” Shattuck