Issue 54: Bend Kite Festival

How wonderfully unusual! I mean… First off, I’m going to a Kite Festival in Bend, Oregon – in the middle of what’s known around here as the “Oregon Desert!” And then, in addition – this fest is a BRAND-NEW Festival, too! All of this in an age where kite festivals are dead or dying, or struggling along with reduced sponsorship, and probably losing participants to boot, and generally not doing too well at all!

Yes, I’m glad to say there are exceptions to the above comment, but they’re infrequent exceptions, unfortunately. Shucks – even Dave Shenkman’s annual “Kite Parties” seem to be losing some of their participants… And that’s a VERY good event, too!

Well, I’m happy to say – there’s a NEW festival in our neck of the woods (or desert?), and both the town itself and the invited participants are excited by the prospects! So, it’s with some real pleasure that I begin the 3-4 hour drive south past Mount Hood and out into the Oregon Desert to Bend!

Well, it may interest you to know how all this came to be in the first place… It turns out that the old downtown area of Bend, OR has recently undergone a major refurbishment. Specifically, Bend was a “Mill Town” in past years, with lumber being a significant community product. That industry hadn’t managed to keep lumbering profitable enough to keep the mill running, however, so the downtown “mill” area has been sold and turned into an upscale outlet mall, appropriately called “The Old Mill District.” And the property management group for The Old Mill is doing a superb job of attracting enough events to the downtown Les Schwab Amphitheater to make the “business” side of The Old Mill a very attractive and profitable place to do business. So this kite festival is another way of attracting the populace back into downtown Bend, as opposed to patronizing their outlying shopping malls.

OK – So our friend, Amy Doran, received a call from Heidi Berkman, the Marketing Director of The Old Mill, about three months ago. Could Amy organize a Kite Festival, provided adequate funding was available? As you might guess, Amy agreed to give it a try. Then she called or wrote all of her kite-flying friends and acquaintances, asking if – given lodging, food, and gas money – we’d agree to come to Bend and put on a one-day Kite Festival. Yup, it turns out that we would. Gosh, room and board and gas money? To fly Kites? Instead of shelling out all the cash ourselves for a weekend, which we would normally do? Of COURSE, we’ll come!

So, on Thursday, May 3rd, I left Vancouver, WA – headed for Bend, OR to spend the evening with my friend Amy Doran and her son Connor. I’d planned to spend an extra day in Bend to better understand the planning and build-up for this event, and I’d check into my motel room on Friday afternoon. And as I arrived at Amy’s house after my three-hour drive, she was still busy ironing out final details for the event. Yes, that’s as expected and understandable as the sun rising in the east tomorrow morning. Last minute details ALWAYS crop up in Kite Festivals – just ask any festival organizer! Still, the three of us had a nice chat and a good meal before Connor went off to finish homework and Amy and I returned to discussing kites and festivals (what else?).

And I got my “fill-in” on what it really took to get this festival organized! Getting the fliers and their kites had been a constant “shuffle” of people, with one or two dropping out and others being added. Accommodations and feeding for each of the fliers had been covered. The flying field (the Amphitheater) would be laid out by The Old Mill events staff and who would also be bringing in a very good sound system for Bob Wendt, one of the Northwest’s better Announcers, to use on Saturday. A half-dozen quality vendors would be there to supply drinks, snacks, and souvenirs. Publicity was top-notch, with window posters, radio spots, and print media. And the kiters were already on the move – coming from British Columbia and Rogue River and other points in between. Amy and Heidi would manage and schedule the festivities on Saturday on the field. Okay – time for us to get into FESTIVAL mode!

Friday morning broke bright and clear, with a promise of upper 70s temps and decent wind. So I had a second cup of coffee and then Amy and I headed for the Amphitheater to make any final adjustments necessary. And, it turned out that the events staff planned to use steel fence posts and strings of plastic car-lot “flags” to line the field, so several of us spent a couple of hours cutting holes in “dead” tennis balls donated by the local Tennis Club, so the punctured balls could be popped over the head of those posts. This would help avoid cuts and bruises to both people and any kites that happened to collide with the posts. Yeah – our day was spent in those kinds of last-minute details. That, and greeting about 20 kite fliers coming in from hither and yon and pointing them to the Ameritel Inn Hotel for check-in. And, by the time the sun was gone, nearly every pilot was in town and ready for this one!

Saturday broke clear again, but the temps were a mite chilly. Never mind, that would soon change – and did! Another event, a 5K Walk, went off right on schedule at 9:00, and the field was ours to use, and ready. Except for… NO WIND to speak of. I’m told we should generally expect winds from 8-15 MPH out of the Southwest in Bend at this time of year, but apparently Mother Nature wasn’t interested in playing to the forecast on that Saturday – so we had 0-3 MPH wafting in from the North instead. Oops… Low or NO wind doesn’t bode too well for a Kite Festival. Well, what to do? OK – It turns out that iQuad was “what to do!”

For today’s event, Team iQuad consisted of John Barresi, David Hathaway, J.D. Fabish, and Todd Rudolph – first-class pilots every one. So, it wasn’t a lot of work to point them at the field with their kites and say “GO, guys! Entertain us. FLY!” No sooner said than done – and iQuad was quickly out there in this immaculately groomed Amphitheater with four custom quad-line Revolutions – flying for the crowd!

Oh, sure – they started out slow, using their lightest kites… just getting a feel for the wind at first, tuning kites and their own individual reactions to the tiny breezes they could feel on the backs of their necks. Maybe 1.5 or 2 MPH vapors at the most. So slow were the breezes that you could occasionally see a few whiffs of morning mist still coming off the grass and flowing sedately through the Amphitheater. But – FLY, THEY DID! And then around 10:00 AM iQuad began to tighten up into a “team” and started to walk through their paces, their exercises, their routines. And the next thing you know, iQuad HAD the audience with them! Yep – we had a Festival going on, folks…

Team iQuad would hold that Amphitheater, and that audience for 30-40 minutes – then take a short break to adjust or change kites, talk about the next maneuvers, or just relax a bit – and then return to the filed to do it all over again – only better! And while that was happening, other pilots were busy assembling their lightest super-ultra-light kites, and trying them out. And eventually, the breezes picked up a little and the other kites began to fly aloft too. But iQuad continued to hold the Amphitheater’s “center-stage” and keep the entire audience mesmerized – and they did not stop until it was clear that other kites and other pilots could fill the air with color. iQuad would continue to fly and “seduce” the crowd on and off for most of the day – stopping only when the field was filled with other fliers, “special events” such as Kid’s Fly occurred, and / or when they absolutely need a break. BRAVO, and Thank You, iQuad!

Lam Hoac, with one of his ultra-light dual-line kites, was one of the first ones airborne after iQuad, and Miriam Schafler wasn’t far behind with one of her lightest SLKs, and soon there were a few others, too. And both Ed Jensen and Miriam Schafler installed their eddy arches at the extreme down-wind end of the field in hopes that the breeze would pick up enough to get them aloft and pulling. But it was at least 2:00 PM before there was sufficient breeze for that to occur.

I assembled three of my light kites fairly early in the morning, but I knew I had little chance in those light breezes since none of mine were light enough to get airborne in those vapors. I did draw a few onlookers, though – so I set my kites up against the fence as sort of a visual display instead. At least they were large, and “brightly colored,” and fairly unusual-shaped kites! Unusual enough to garner a few questions anyway… Yeah, my “contribution.”

After it was fairly certain that the “other” kites could proved a bit of a “show,” Team iQuad took a break for some lunch and plenty of hydration fluids. It was getting pretty warm out there, and they’d worked up a good sweat. And by then, the ongoing show could count on adequate breezes to keep the lighter stuff aloft. Miriam had her Pearson Roller out for a while, and there were a fair number of Rokkakus and Deltas and Delta-Conynes holding steady in the breezes too. There were even a couple of kids out there with Cody kites, horsing them into the air with strong pulls up and then letting them back-slide away almost to the ground – then repeating those maneuvers again with a little bit more line out – and so they eventually managed to keep the kites aloft for as much as 10-15 minutes at a time. Of course, the audience delighted in their show of energy and motion.

And then it was time for a few “Demos.” Lam Hoac and John Barresi both took a couple of turns at Demos, John doing his now famous “Bugs Bunny” routine and also his “Little Red Ridinghood” routine through a dog-stake, and a few other folks did a demo or two as well. And through it all – the Voice of the Northwest, Bob Wendt, did his usual masterful job of introducing the pilot and educating the audience on what they were about to see.

Finally, someone got around to asking me to Demo (with a single-line kite?) so I grabbed one of my big SLKs and trotted out there. Starting at the upper (downwind) portion of the field, I tried to pull a large Gibian kite I’d originally set up only as an exhibit into the air. I got it up about 50’ by steadily walking upwind (and got a small round of applause,) but the way the breezes funneled through that Amphitheater made it nearly impossible to keep the kite aloft without walking into the wind – so when I finally ran out of walking room, I let it drift back down to the ground and returned it to it’s “exhibit” place by the fence. In retrospect, had I chosen one of the other kites I might have made a better show of it – but one lives and dies by one’s choices, I guess. No apologies, however, and I will only say I’ll try and do better next year…

Meanwhile, I’d had a chance to look around the field – not only at the pilot, but also at the crowd and the vendors. I’ve no idea who had the bright ideas regarding vendors, but they are to be heartily congratulated on their brilliance. Down toward the stage from me were a radio station doing interviews with people, and just below that was the “Hit of The Day” vendor – Ben and Jerry’s! MAN, were those guys selling a pile of Ice Cream! (I found out later on that they were completely sold out – all flavors – by the end of the day.) And further away from the stage in the other direction from me, Theresa Norelius was doing a pretty healthy business under The Kite Shoppe’s pop-up too!

And as we worked toward the end of the day, the wind picked up just a tad, and it was enough to get some “big stuff” up in the air. First up was Ed Jensen and his large and stately Sutton FlowForm. And soon afterwards, Phil and Barbara Burks laid out their 100’ Octopus with the eight rainbow-colored tentacles and pulled it into the air. What a lovely sight that kite was! And – it turns out – there’d been some pre-festival chatter, and the Burks and iQuad had worked out a deal whereby iQuad would fly with the rainbow Octopus if the chance presented itself – and it did! So, nearing the end of the day, the audience that had the patience to stay late, saw this majestic Octopus with four “tiny” Revolutions flitting around nearby, performing a dance for the lovely multicolored sea-creature! And to add to the display, Ed pulled down his Sutton, and then staked out a large revolving “Bol” (maybe 35’ in diameter?) in the center of the field and let it spin for a while. Plus, our friend Miriam finished off her day’s flying by pulling out her magnificent Circoflex as well. So the end of the day saw some gorgeous large kites, and those who’d stayed for the full day really saw an incredible show.

Finally, 5:00 PM rolled around and it was all over. Bend had her first-ever Kite Festival in the bag! Time for a quick shower, and then off to eat at Red Robin,

There’s nothing quite like eating with a bunch of weary kite fliers at the end of along day. Everyone’s in high spirits, but bodies seem a bit lethargic for some reason. Still, Red Robin did their best and everyone had a hearty meal and maybe a drink or two. And, as we’d found a new “kiting enthusiast” in Heidi Berkman, some of us decided she needed her very own Jumping Jack Flash to practice on – so we gave her one! But there was no time to hang around and overindulge in alcohol however, since there was talk of a night fly. So everyone made haste, ate up, ran back to the hotel and grabbed their kite bags, and headed right back to the Amphitheater again.

Yes, there was a breeze, and yes, iQuad flew. It was not without some trauma, however, since J.D. Fabish discovered that he was missing his Team Rev-handles when he arrived at the field. Oops… Well, John Barresi and David Hathaway and Todd Rudolph flew – but J.D. ended up sitting this one out. The iQuad boys were working on a new bag of finger-lights and most of the night-fly was devoted to working out the kinks in lighting. There wasn’t that much “team” flying, and – in the darkness – there wasn’t that much to see in any case, since (finger-lights or no) it was too dark for me to see much. So I mostly sat an absorbed some of the nighttime “dew” and mist for a while, and then was ready to head back to the Hotel and bed… It’d been a fairly long day, and it was time for bed!

Sunday morning was a carbon copy of Saturday. as far as weather went – save that we had a bit more wind to play with. And, as planned, after breakfast it was time to check out of the AmeriTel Hotel and then back to the Les Schwab Amphitheater for a little free-fly fun. Whoa… Where’d our “field” go? (Packed away during the night by the setup / teardown crew from The Old Mill overnight – that’s where!) But today, we all had enough breeze to fly for ourselves, so I dragged out the Red Warrior Suruga and had myself a little fun of my own. Amy had her absolutely beautiful Scarletta custom Rev out for anyone to fly. And the iQuad mob were up for playful pranks whenever and however possible – though mostly among themselves and nothing malicious, of course. And, we all got to watch (and encourage) Heidi Berkman in her first attempts at controlling her own dual-line kite. That gal is absolutely lovely, but she’ll need to learn some patience in order to master her new kite. Still, she’s a delightful human being, and we think she’s a “keeper,” so we’ll expect to see her again next year.

Finally, it was time to sit down for our last meal together (at Anthony’s Homeport in The Old Mill District) and then head for home, but with a small side-trip on the way. That side-trip was a gas, but it’s also a story you’ll need to weasel out of me. Good luck!

And – if you happen to be in or around Bend, OR in early May next year – why not stop in and join us? Yeah, this one’s very much worth sharing!

Gotta Fly –