Issue 57: AKA Grand Nationals

There are kite festivals, and then there are Kite Festivals!  But there is only one Kite Orgy in the entire USA!  (Pardon the term… and yes, I know this is a “family sport.”)  Nope, not Berkeley or Saint Augustine or Zilker or Old Dominion or even the Outer Banks fest… And not Wildwood, or Grand Haven either… Nope – not even WSIKF!

I’m talkin’ about the week-long kiting event put on every fall by the American Kitefliers Association (AKA)…  The annual AKA Convention and Grand Nationals!  It’s the only event where all AKA members are specifically invited, and where the agenda can simply be summed up with three words: All Things Kiting!

And, for all of you who’re interested in “numbers” or in “competitions” or in “the results, ” I’m gonna save you a whole bunch of grief (in having to read through this whole piece to get the info you really want) and put the links to all those “numbers” right here – right up front!  That way, if you continue reading, I’ll figure you really want to know what the AKA Convention was really all about.


For Kitemaking Competitions:

For Sport Kite Competitions:

For Members Choice Awards:

Now you have access to all those numbers.  Time for me to get back to telling you about the Convention!

Yeah – too bad I missed the first couple days of the AKA Convention this year…  I really hated to miss ‘em, but… Well, Kitelife had to go online… and we had a couple of problems…  and John was off to this great big Niagara thingy…  And it didn’t feel right going off to the Convention, knowing that Kitelife still wasn’t live!  So I hung out in the office, did what I could, and waited around for our fearless leader to blow into town between fests (he was literally here for less than an hour) and set things right. And, when he’d come and gone, I went to bed – and that was on Tuesday at about 4:00 AM – so I didn’t reach Ocean Shores until nearly 4:00 PM late that Tuesday afternoon…

So – what did I miss?  Well, I missed the “AKA Hosted” reception on Monday Night!  And I missed a workshop called “Comprehensive Kitemaking – Judges Tell All,” which I had really wanted to attend, mostly because I was intrigued by the name of the workshop!  And – being one of the first 150 people to register – I missed picking up my free ticket to the World Premier of the film, “The Kite Runner,” filmed in China and California, and starring a bunch of people I’ve never heard of before… Gosh, I’m sorry to have missed the searchlights, and red carpets, and the starlets in ball-gowns and all those fancy limos… but… Yeah, it’s true… Kitelife comes first with me! But if the truth were told, I haven’t heard the first word about any of those events anyway, and I’d dearly love to hear what really happened in my absence, because I still haven’t a clue!

Anyway, I think the only one more confused than I, was the only other person I could find on the whole empty beach when I arrived – Robert Brasington, who was just in from Tasmania, Australia by way of Seattle, Washington.  So we both stood there in the chill of an “almost” rainy afternoon, and we each divulged that we’d each just arrived and were out there searching for the remaining members of our respective parties… Fun, huh?

On an entirely empty beach at an AKA Convention?   What gives?

Never mind, however… I’ve finally made it to the AKA CONVENTION / GRAND NATIONALS in Ocean Shores, Washington!  So I whipped out the cellphone, dialed up Theresa, and we went out to dinner in beautiful downtown Ocean Shores!  Yep, we even ran into a few “kiters” in the restaurant!  But we had to hurry…  We didn’t want to miss the Indoor Sport Kite Competitions.

Then it was over to the Ocean Shores Convention Center (OSCC), and we’re delighted to see so many Single Line folks in the audience for the Indoor comps.  I know Kitelife has already reported on this event in the “Daily Updates” we did during the convention, so I won’t attempt to replicate that effort.

Instead, let’s talk about the “people,” starting with our favorite “Host,” Corey Jensen.  I dunno if you’ve had the chance to watch Corey M/C an indoor competition or not, but if you haven’t had the pleasure, you’re certainly missing something.

For one thing, Corey’s rarely at a loss for words, so you ARE going to be entertained!  And with Corey’s encyclopedic knowledge of all things “kiting,” he’s usually pretty darned accurate in what he says. So, when there’s a need for him to “fill,” Corey does it with a certain verve… and he often involves the audience in the process.  So tonight, when the need to fill arose, Sir Corey played a short game of “Stump the M/C.”  Someone tried to stump him with “What is the earliest documented record of someone using a kite for ‘traction’ purposes?”  So Corey eyed the cause of the delay, judged he had about 3 minutes to fill, and filled it all telling the story of Thoreau sailing a boat across Walden Pond with a kite, as documented in his journals.  Yeah – like THAT!

But the other part is, Corey is also really knowledgeable about the current kiting stuff too, so when Jon Trennepohl got up to perform his indoor ballet, Corey gave him a bit of grief about Jon being an old guy who was just hanging in there…  So Jon gets his music rolling to some Big Band music out of the 1950s – and just blows us all away with his gorgeous low-and-slow maneuvers.  Well, Corey comes back talking all humble pie, with a little “Crow” thrown in for good measure!  Fine Stuff!!!

Then there’s “The Kid.”  We who live in the Northwest see Tristan Underwood all too often.  Tristan is eleven years old, but flies a kite like he’s been doing it for 20 years!  It’s not that we’re bored with it, or even resentful… It’s that he’s such a darned good pilot that the real competition is about who’s going to get second, because Tristan is first so often. I think the only ones who’ve beaten Tristan in our district this year are Lam Hoac and John Barresi.

Okay, let’s just skip John Barresi.  You know all about him.  But he was present, too (It’s just that I’m a bit biased, folks…) along with Bud Hayes and Wayne Turner, a couple of other fine Northwest pilots. Lam missed the pilot’s meeting due to heavy congestion at the Canadian/USA border, and was disqualified because of it, but he was present – he just couldn’t compete.

And a trio from the Northeast were around, too. Shawn and Patty Tinkham are darned fine pilots, and excellent supporters of kiting too.  And they both fly indoors and are good enough in those disciplines to be competitive anywhere in the country. And Doug Coates from back in Connecticut rounds out the folks from the Eastern League.

Plus a pair of Air-Zones, up from the Bay Area, of course – Francisco Navarro and Aaron Champie rounded out the field.  Both men are fine, experienced pilots and full of great enthusiasm for the sport of kiting. Alas, Dan Burnham from California also missed the pilot’s meeting so he and Lam commiserated on the sidelines.

On to the action…  Yes, we saw some excellent indoor ballet flying.  No – nobody stood out enough to blow everyone else away, so the top four scores were all in the low 80s and were within three and a half points of each other.  And between the competitors, Corey reigned supreme like some Las Vegas Showman (???), and kept the crowd involved and entertained. In other words, it all went according to plan for the most part. So in about two hours all told, they had the competition “in the bag” and we were all headed back to our digs for a little rest before the big show restarted in the morning.

If I might add a little side-note here, I was a bit sad to see that there were other qualified pilots in the audience who did NOT compete. Later in the week, we’d see both Josh and Zack Gordon compete in the Indoor Hot Tricks event, and we know those two men to be “quality” pilots.  And I have watched Donna Houchins fly indoors and acquit herself very well.  Donna is certainly capable of competing indoors at this level, yet did not qualify because there was NO INDOOR EVENT held in her AKA region this year, so there was no way for her to qualify. No – this is not a complaint or “whine” here. This is just a little suggestion that here’s a spot where someone can help “grow kiting” by putting together a regional indoor event.  ‘Nuff said!

And… to add insult to injury, we woke the following morning to… rain again!  Yep – enough rain was forecast that the “powers” already had the schedule “adjustments” up on the reader-board in the lobby of the Shilo, the event hotel.  All outdoor kitemaking events were cancelled due to inclement weather, and that portion of the judging that could be done indoors would occur at the Convention Center instead…  Okay, I had to go over there anyway, because the Registration office was over at OSCC and I had yet to check in.  So, run for the kite-van, drive the two blocks to the Convention Center, and check in.

I can’t say enough good things about Maggie Vohs and Billy Jones. I walked in, gave them my name, and tried to register.  Maggie started making up a name-tag that said “Geezer” on it (per my request), finished all of the paperwork in short order, and then asked me for a check made out to the AKA for $200.00.  “What?” I yelped… “You want me to pay TWICE?” We’d apparently missed the part of the conversation about my early online registration, and she’d assumed that I had not pre-registered.  That got straightened out pretty quickly, and I got my pre-assembled packet – plus the “Geezer” name-tag she’d made based on our error – which I gleefully wore for the remainder of the convention. Yes, I meant that bit about Maggie and Billy being good folks!  Where else could you go to a convention, start out “in trouble,” and then correct errors in thinking (both hers and mine) so quickly and with so little residual fall-out?

And then…  I got to spend the rest of the day inside the OSCC with the world’s largest assortment of hand-made kites (outside of museums) – and their owners, of course! I won’t recount all of my conversations, nor display all of the photos…  But here’s a sampling of some of the events that brightened an otherwise dreary (overcast and rainy) day…

I was pleased to run into Jerry Graham early on…  He’s been a good friend for a number of years now, and has always been a kitemaker for as long as I’ve known him. Jerry ended up giving me my first insights into what was really happening that got me started for the day, and subsequent short visits kept “educating me” up as the day went along. Thanks, Jerry!

John Freeman was there with enough kites to fill anyone’s SLK kite bag – all of them beautifully designed and executed, and entered in various competitions.  John’s one of those folks who’s progressed to the point where he’s asked to lead kitemaking workshops at various places – both in North America and abroad (John’s one of our fine Canadian friends!).  Good to see you again, John – and I was delighted with the kites you entered!

I also ran into John Pollock from Billings Montana.  I’d first met John at WSIKF a year and a half ago – and had bought a 5-kite train from John after that event.  We’d swapped several emails since then because I’d promised to let him know and provide him with photos following my first flight with the train.  Unfortunately, while I’ve assembled the beautiful train indoors, I’ve never had it in the air.  We laughed together about my lack of abilities to whistle up just the right amount of wind at the proper time.  Anyway, it is always good to see John’s smiling face and the twinkle in his eyes, and this 2007 AKA Convention had enough in store for John that he should be just tickled with the outcome.

I was sort of surprised to see Jon Trennepohl there with kites to be judged.  I know John as sort of the “Mr. Everything” about kiting – designer and maker of Sky Burner kites, distributor of Level One kites, owner/manufacturer of Sky Shark wrapped spars, and a generally nice guy with loads of kiting experience over a very long duration. Well, Jon confided that he’s always been “in” kiting, but had just never entered anything in AKA Kitemaking comps before, so he though he’d give it a try.  He had a couple of stunning kites to enter, too!

Plus I happened to meet someone new to me, a fellow named Peter Ross, out from my birth state of Michigan, so we yakked about how that state was doing.  Peter was attending his first AKA Convention, and also entering his first kitemaking competitions as well – and was having lots of fun in the process.  Pete seems like an especially nice man, and I was pleased he’d made the trip and enjoyed himself so much.  And the rest of you folks might take note of Peter Ross.  He will quickly become another “force to be reckoned with” in the AKA Kitemaking competitions – so beware!

And, old friend Paul Horner, also down from Canada had also entered a series of kites.  Paul has become an excellent kitemaker over the last several years, and has enjoyed it enough to take competition seriously for the first time.  We laughed and joked, as old friends do, and watched and waited…  His Dragonfly Genki is a lovely kite, and worth more than a second look.  He’ll also do exceedingly well in the future!

And I saw a fellow I’d met at last year’s AKA Convention, and was REALLY impressed with, Doug Coates.  Doug had been paired against David Hathaway in last year’s Hot Tricks Shoot-out in Des Moines.  Dave had won the round, and coming off the field admired Doug’s Rev 1.5… Doug had immediately offered to let Dave fly his kite for the remainder of the Shoot-out – with the end result being that David Hathaway ended up taking Third Place in the event – with Doug’s kite.  …so I told Doug how impressed I was with that kind of attitude and sportsmanship!  Anyway, Doug was submitting a nice Delta in Kitemaking…

And then I became enamored of a quartet of perhaps the loveliest kites there – though there was certainly plenty of competition on that score. I’d not met Tom McAllister before, but was immediately taken by his cellular kites even though I didn’t know Tom to be the builder when I first saw them. These kites are immaculate structural marvels, and they fly so steadily that you think they are on rails.  We had a few mini-conversations throughout the day, though it was obvious his attention was all on the judging. Still, I was happy to make his acquaintance, and I’ll be glad to meet him again when he’s not quite so focused on the competition.

Late in the day, I happened to notice my friend Ron Gibian coming into the OSCC, and I wandered over to look at Ron’s newest creation.  We “Ooo’d” and “Ahhhh’d” over his newest “noodle,” and we guessed immediately that it wouldn’t be long before some kite company wanted to make this one for sale, just like Ron’s Mandril and Squid kites.  But this one happens to be a Snail, complete with a large bulbous shell in the middle of his back… And someone quickly gave the kite the nickname of “Pirelli,” – feeling that the round shell looks amazingly like a big, round tire!  Anyway, it’s a gorgeous kite regardless of nicknames, and it will be absolutely stunning in color, since the kite we viewed was done entirely in black and white fabric…  Fine design, Ron.

Doug LaRock was in there too, with a 50’ hand-made quilt-work delta he’d made all by himself.  And when I say he’d made it “all,” I mean he’d fabricated absolutely everything on the kite, including taking raw steel tubing to make the spars, and hand-turning the metal end-caps and locking connectors.  Phenomenal work throughout!

And Lam Hoac as well.  This year’s hand-made kite was a simple, understated, quad-line (Rev) kite with a “minimalist” sail pattern very unusual for Lam – but immaculately constructed and full of small innovations, including a unique hand-made bridle design.

And, oh so many others too…  Too many to write about.  Too many to count.

And so it went throughout the day.  I shot photos and gabbed with the participants, and generally hung out at the Ocean Shores Convention Center… Lunch was a Mickey-D Burger and a coke, a hundred feet away from the OSCC doors.  Oh, I wondered now and then how the sport kite comps were going (in between showers), but I was very content to be right where I was!

People and kites…  It just doesn’t GET any better than this, folks!  And it went on all day long, and threatened to gnaw off a chunk of the evening as well.

Anyway, we’d grabbed a quick bite to eat and we were headed for the AKA’s Annual Meeting.  Even for those of us who’re interested, these meetings tend to be dry-Dry-DRY affairs, and this one was no exception.  Still, it’s always most worthwhile to attend, and I wish more of us would do so.  If we want to have a healthy American Kitefliers Association, it behooves us all to participate enough so that the decisions are indeed “consensus” decisions rather than the thoughts of a few of us. I’m always amazed at those who “beef” and “whine” loudly but have never even bothered to vote – either for their representatives, or in open sessions themselves. Unconscionable!

Come Thursday morning, we saw an amazing transformation in the entire Convention! If we were resigned to a full week of absolutely “crappy” weather, Mother Nature had eased off on her determination to keep the Pacific Northwest drenched – so the day broke as clear and crisp and clean as anyone could hope for.

So, first out on the beach was my friend Robert Brasington, who was setting up his ”kinetic” ground-displays and getting ready to put up some of his amazing cellular creations into the air.  Robert and I share a common opinion.  We can’t always ask for perpetual “perfect” weather – but a couple of good flying days can “make” a festival.  Well, Mother Nature would provide two days of this salubrious stuff before she put the dampers on our fun again – and we’d be darned if we weren’t going to make the most of this run of good weather for as long as we could…  And I’m certain that nearly all of the conventioneers agreed!

Still, I wandered a bit…  I skipped the Sport Kite Symposium at the Shilo and had a second cup of coffee from the latte stand instead, and I also yakked with a few other folks – my mood lightened due to the fine weather we were offered today.

John Barresi and I had crossed paths a few times so far, but he was usually to be found out on the flying fields, rain or shine, and today was one of “his” days, with a quad-line flying session for all and sundry this fine morning…

And back towards the dunes right at the entrance to the beach, Ray Bethell was busy setting up his trio of pretty kites and getting ready to do his incredible show again.  There aren’t words to explain Ray’s artistry.  I can write a paragraph full of adjectives about his activities, but the words still could not explain Ray’s mesmerizing “draw” to the crowd – even though you’ve seen him fly the same routines again and again over the years…

Anyway – it looks like we’re going to have enough fine weather to actually take a few photos, so I grabbed the camera and set out hiking the beach to see what there was to shoot!

Hmmm….  Barresi’s iQuad field-day is on Field #1.  But the rest of the fields were open, and those with kites and interest (more than a few folks), were taking advantage of the sun and breeze.

And right at the corner, in front of everything, the folks with the “Big Toys” were setting up.  Mostly Suttons, early on, but a few of those 90 foot inflatable Octopi were beginning to test the breeze. More on that story later, however…

I turned around and looked to the north, and noticed an amazing “Jellyfish” flying in the breeze up there, so I had to check that one out.  It turned out to be a guy who makes the things out of plastic sheeting – you know, the stuff you buy at the hardware store for drop cloths?  Anyway, he was just in town on a fall vacation, and found a hunk of beach and a decent day… he was not an AKA conventioneer at all!  It was a pretty thing, however, and I got enough shots of his creation to get the gist of the thing in case I ever wanted to make one for myself.  I might attempt that one this winter, if complete boredom sets in real hard!

And before you know it, the beach is starting to fill with people!  And the sky is starting to fill with KITES!  Wow…  Are we havin’ fun NOW???

Come 12:30, field #1 is filled with kites for the Rokkakus and Fighter Kites Mass Ascension.  Everybody get out there and get a kite in the air and GET YOUR PIN!

Then at 1:00 PM, field #1 is crammed with Revolutions for David Hathaway’s “Quadapalooza.”  How many kites can we get in the air at once, all playing “Follow The Leader” with Rev 1.5s on 120 foot lines?

Yeah – FUN!!!

And down on field #4, Steve Ferrel and the judges are running through the “flight test” portion of each class of kitemaking competitions – just as fast as they possibly can.  I wander down that way and start shooting all of the kites in the air that I’d shot in the OSCC just the day before – though I did get “roped into” a couple of non-shooting assignments (NOT that I minded all that much).

Yes, a couple of kites had come down, because while we had wind, it was still a bit “flukey” at times.  So I had the occasional stint of walking out to the end of a line and putting a kite back into the air.  It’s just something one kiter does for another, and I hardly though about it.  Especially since plenty of folks have done the same for me over the years.

And in the process of putting a few back up, I marveled at the way these hand-crafted kites flew…  It’s one thing to buy a kite, and expect it to fly perfectly, right out of the bag.  That flight is a good part of what you pay your money to get. But the kites out here were hand-made, and so those bridles and sails and occasionally even the spars needed a little “tweaking” to get – or stay – aloft.

But, once the kite was “tuned” to the breeze, most of these beauties flew much better than purchased, out of the bag, kites.  Most were well above “acceptable” and a fair number of them were rock-steady in the sky!  That’s no small feat, considering the fact that the wind was what the weather forecasters like to call “light and variable.”

At the same time, I also noticed that Barry “Bazzer” Poulter was busy over on field #3, working his butt off to get the extremely long and complex bridle of a very large Edo he’d made – untangled!  It turns out that his “chained” bridle had become tangled (unchained?) in the bag.  And, since this was definitely a big competition kite, several folks had jumped in to help Bazzer untangle this long beast and get it airborne! Unfortunately, it was a poor move – because by “untangling” MY portion of this bridle (which must have been close to 100 feet long and maybe 30-40 lines), I could end up “double- tangling” YOUR portion of the same bridle.  Apparently, that was what was happening…  Moreover, since straightening out this mess was Bazzer’s #1 priority at the moment, everything else slipped down to #0 priority instead…  Meaning that Bazzer intentionally “scratched,” on several other kites he had entered in kitemaking competition this year in order for this Edo to compete.

Meanwhile, I’m back on field #4.  And old pal Ron Gibian comes up with “Pirelli” and asks if I’d do him a favor.  Ron felt the need for a long-line launch on his new kite, and would I be kind enough to walk that kite out and hold it into the wind for a long-line launch?  Well… sure I would!  So I slung the camera back over my shoulder and walked the kite out.  It was a matter of about 5 minutes holding the kite while we waited for the start of that competition, and then it was time to point it into the wind and release…  and watch the kite climb very steadily to the zenith and assume a stable position in the wind.  “Good SHOW, Pirelli!” Yeah, Ron…  I’m very happy to do it for you!

While all this was happening, I understand that Barry got the Edo bridle untangled, and finally was able to put it into the air and get a little tuning done.  And that happened at least well enough for the Edo to place in the “Bowed” kitemaker category, and Bazzer had at least hit his #1 priority for the day.  Good show, Mr. Poulter!

Eventually, after what seemed like a gazillion kites were judged, the successful day of flying ended – or so the “theory” (and the schedule) said.  Most folks were unwilling to go back inside, however – so the fields all turned into “free fly” zones, filled with hand-made and store-bought sticks, ripstop, and COLOR!  “Gosh, it was nice to be out on the beach with a kite in my hand again,” seemed to be a very popular opinion – after three days of hit-and-miss rain… Still, the eventual setting of the sun and the grumbles in more than a few bellies eventually ended the day!  “But, we’ll be BACK…” seemed like a popular retort…

So as Ben D’Antonio and I sat in the Shilo dining room over dinner, we happened to glance out the window and saw Lee Sedgwick out on the beach approach road, playing with an eight-stack of Rev 1 “Sedgewicks.”  And right down below our window, Scott Spencer was setting up his “garden” – a lovely ground-display he creates every year as a tribute to his father!  What fun!  About TIME someone got outdoors and flew and displayed a little bit of kiting “spirit!”

Then I skipped the “no host” reception in the OSCC foyer and I was off to the condo for a little feet-up relaxation, and some shut-eye to get myself ready for tomorrow.  Another great day in the offing…

Sure enough, Friday broke bright and clear again, just as I’d expected – thought the wind was a little more southerly than I’d hoped.  We might make it through the day all right, but the southerly winds didn’t bode very well for tomorrow…  I’d have felt much better if the winds were out of the Northwest, meaning we had a ridge of high pressure holding, but we’d live with whatever we could get.  So, we’d make do with what we had and keep our options open.  Let’s get this one in the bag first!

After a decent breakfast, followed by another Mocha from the latte stand, and I was set for a while, so I took a run past the “Fly Mart” before it opened (I could look, I just couldn’t buy anything yet.), then headed for the beach.

Now – If it seems like I’d spent most of the week hanging out with the SLK (single Line Kite) folks, I plead guilty there.  Why did I do that?  Well, if you think about it, there’re a couple of reasons that make sense.

First off, I own a decent number of “Display” quality SLKs myself, so that might seem to be where my interest lies. Besides, photos of a decent SLK that show enough detail are often pretty interesting.

But the second reason is a far more practical one from Kitelife’s viewpoint. Photos of a sport kite competitor and kite are either very “static” (pilot holding kite) or they’re taken at such a distance that there’s a whole lot of field and not much kite and pilot in it – unless you take the shot from straight downwind, so you get both pilot and kite in the photo.  And I have to say, that’s an extremely tough shot to take, because a sport kite is usually NOT straight downwind from the pilot, so you gotta just “wait it out” and pray!  So I generally avoid snapping the “boring” sport kit competition shot whenever possible.  Yeah, I’ve taken loads of ‘em – but they never seem to end up getting published anyway.

But, if Thursday on the beach at AKA was the SLK day, then Friday was to be the Sport Kite day…   Well, almost all Sport Kites anyway…

Given the above, I found myself out between fields #1 and #2 again – which was the scene of most of the Sport Kite comps today.  Good Show!  We’ll finally see some decent Sport Kites flying in some glorious blue skies, right?  All right…  Guilty as charged!  I left my camera hanging on my shoulder a fair amount of the time, for the reasons given above.  But I WAS there for much of the action. Yep, I watched a fair number of the Ballets – both Masters (field #1) and Experienced (field #2).  Yep, saw some Pairs flying and some Team flying too!  Yeah, it was all  “Good Stuff” as Ray Bethell says.  But Ray was hidden over behind the “Big Toys” field again, so I barely got over there to say “Hi!”

And I was specifically “charged” by my friend Amy “Mousie” Doran with being there by field #1 for the Open Individual Freestyle at about 3:00 PM.  But I’m getting ahead of myself again.  My day at the beach really started the way it always starts at a fest…  with the geezer wandering around, seeing what there is to see.

And first off, before the Big Toys field filled up, there was Ray Bethell – back in the corner, flying three – mostly for himself, but having fun, too!  So I stopped by and banged off a few shots, mostly just to let Ray know I’d seen him and that I appreciate what he continues to do for kiting.  Say what you will about Ray Bethell, he’s one of the truly GREAT ones, and deserves to be told that fairly often (in my humble opinion).

And I wandered into the pits to get the obligatory shot of sport kites stacked in long rows in the sand…  Gotta have that one if we’re talking Sport Kites!

And while I was back there, I ran into Jim Barber, the owner of Cutting Edge Kites there in Ocean Shores, and he’s also the head of the Sport Kite Committee for the AKA.  And, lest you have any illusions, Jim Barber is “the man” regarding the AKA Convention being in Ocean Shores this year…  It is no small task getting community support (a) to even bid for an AKA Convention, and (b) then to handle the physical field setups and the whole host of other details…  But – it’s also something that Jim has successfully accomplished over many years, and done over and over again!  So – on your behalf, and mine – I stopped by to say “Thanks!”  Oh, Jim tried to beg off, saying something like “I didn’t have much to do with this one…” and then he began listing all of the other folks who were involved.  Well, I didn’t want to holler “cow poop” to his face, but that’s really what it is anyway…  If you had fun at the AKA Convention at Ocean Shores this year, Jim Barber is “the man” to thank for it, pure and simple.  And – NO – he’s NOT the guy to blame for all of the falling water!

Anyway, once that was done, I headed back out to the beach proper and found people were actually happily flying KITES out there…  Seems like everyone who wasn’t competing in some sport kite comp today was out getting a little air for a welcome change.  Down by the water’s edge several folks had their sport kites out and were busy making them gyrate through the air.  And the SLK people who’d already finished their competition were out flying too – often the very kites they’d babied for so long, the ones they’d competed with. So there were plenty of lovely kites in the air.  It was fine to see so many people out doing what they really love best – simply enjoying themselves with a kite in the air and a little sun on their faces.  Yeah, there were even a few “grins” plastered on a few faces too.

One of the fellows flying was that perpetual “kid” Lee Sedgwick.  Lee had his eight-stack up again, so I wandered over and off to the side a little bit and knelt down to get a shot of Lee flying his stack.  Well, Lee saw me, and adjusted his lines a bit, and brought the stack down inverted – directly behind me!  Yup, I was trapped between Lee’s lines, intentionally on his part.  Well, Lee and I both grinned at each other, so I wheeled around still kneeling and banged off a shot of the kites directly behind me, and then Lee “released me” by flying my “cage” off, and set them down again on the sand for one of those “showcase” shots Lee loves to set up!  What a fun guy – and a magnificent human being as well! Lee has never lost his sense of wonder, his delight in the world, and his innate curiosity and quest for innovation.  Bless you, Lee.  I wish the entire world had your lovely attitude.

Then I noticed a fellow wandering up and down the beach I’d wanted to talk with forever – Pete Dolphin.  Pete was out there giving his KAP rig an outing, so he was hovering around the “Big Toys” field where all that color congregated.  By this time, there must have been a dozen Octopi floating up there, with a promise of more to come…  There was even talk of putting up enough “Big Pretties” to go for a world’s record assemblage this time.  Anyway, those kites already in the air were gorgeous stuff, so I banged off a couple of shots myself before I approached Pete.

I told Pete that I bore greetings from Lalo Loescher, a friend of mine (and now of Pete’s) that I first met down in Buenos Aires last year.  LAlo had emailed me and told me to say “Hello” for him if and when I ran into Pete, so I was doing it.

Well, one thing led to another and we got to yakking, as kitefliers do.  We talked a bit about going down to Argentina. John Barresi and I will be down there when this very issue of Kitelife goes live on the internet.  Pete had gone down to a kite festival in Rosario, Argentina earlier this year to fly some of his own “Big Toys” (inflatables) for the crowd, and he had a wonderful time.  From all reports, Pete is much beloved by all of the Argentinean pilots at this point.

Then we got to talking about a photo he’d taken with his KAP rig when he was down in Buenos Aires – one of a HUGE, magnificent, mechanical sculpture of a flower in downtown Buenos Aires.  The KAP shot shows the flower, fully opened, from straight overhead – and it is an extremely striking photo. Unfortunately, most of the folks who looked at that shot in the KAP competition could not possibly have known what they were seeing.  Anyway, I told him how taken I was with his picture – having visited the same sculpture myself, in the company of people he knew, less than a year ago.

We talked a bit about the different people we’d met down there, and shared some thoughts on them – we’re pretty much in agreement all around.  Well, we agreed to stay in touch – so I guess it’s incumbent on me to email Pete and let him know I’m headed down that way shortly.  Yeah, Pete and I will stay in contact…

So I left Pete and wandered back over to the Sport Kite comps over on field #1, where someone asked if I was going to take the “World Record” shot of the Octopus’s Garden once they were assembled.  I agreed that I’d do it if they managed to get the 20 kites they were promising aorborne…  And a glance that way at the time showed the “wranglers” working feverishly to assemble enough kites – but they were a wee bit away from having them all in the air.

Okay.  Time for me to amble on back that way NOW, so that I’m on-scene when the real event occurs.  I’ve been on beaches before when things have happened and I’ve been too far away to get there (missing the shot) before the occurrence ended!  I’ve learned to anticipate – which I find a whole lot better than finding excuses why you weren’t present to begin with!

And wouldn’t you know – about the time I got over there and checked out the angles for a shot, the wranglers had the last kite (of 20) launching into the air – just like I’d orchestrated it that way!  Gosh it’s neat when stuff like this all comes together easily.  Yep – sometimes you plan and it doesn’t quite work, but sometimes you just get lucky and it does work!  Fortunately for me, it worked really well this time.

Now, there’s a bit of a caveat to all of this, of course.  With so many kites crammed into the air together, often some Octopus was hidden behind another one, so I still had to wait and shoot when I could, anticipating when they’d all “present” themselves simultaneously.  But I eventually got a good photo where all 20 kites were distinct and not hidden.  Whew!  There’s another bullet dodged!  Nothing would have been worse than to be there shooting, and never get a clear view of all 20 kites together – because it’s a lead-pipe cinch that someone else would have taken the perfect photo, and I’d have had to go begging for a Kitelife “cover photo” instead of my having one of my own in the camera…  Believe me folks, that kind of stuff happens all too often!

And as soon as I had my “picture” photo, all the owners of those kites gathered together over in one corner of the field for a “group” photo.  Naturally, with an event like this and egos being what they are, there was much coming and going of participants.  “Here – take this photo with MY camera” they all seemed to be saying… Okay, I took a few group “trophy” shots like everyone else, and then I wandered away, figuring my job there was done.

Well – it actually wasn’t…  For I discovered a much better photo than any I’d just taken, right as I was walking by the kites…

I glanced under this assembled “gaggle” of 20 airborne Octopi floating there overhead… and discovered Lee Sedgwick “playing” underneath.  Lee had his new 4-sided UFO assembly out, and was playing with that kite up underneath the tentacles of some of the Octopi.  WOW!  THAT put the size of those big beasties in perspective!  What a lovely shot it was, too…  And bless you Lee, for having that delightful sense of wonder about you that encourages you to go in there and just – play!  What pure, unadulterated FUN!!!

Yeah, sometimes you DO just get lucky!

But, if I didn’t hustle, I’d miss my assigned place for the Outdoor Individual Innovative Unlimited (OIIU ) competition – so I did hurry a bit going back to field #1. Yep, I saw Jennifer Brown fly her Little Orphan Annie routine (Good job, Jen!), and Jeff McCown doing his great Phantom of the Opera (Fine flying, Jeff!).  I also saw Jeff’s wife Donna McCown flying in a long white dress with a kite with a red rose on it (Lovely routine, Donna!), Stoney choosing between a kite and Laura (That darned Doug Coates was EVERYWHERE I turned the whole darned week – and this time he ended up with the girl, too!), and Lam Hoac was out there flying a fine routine (but not all that “Innovative” Lam!). And, yes – I also saw that Charlie Chaplin fellow out there on the field too, but I saw neither hide nor hair of my friend Amy Doran!  I wonder whatever happened to that girl?

And, over on adjacent field #2, I happened to catch some of the Experienced Pair Ballet and the Masters Team Ballet comps between OIIU pilots.  It was all good stuff, of course…

But eventually the comps ended and folks began packing up and heading for their lodgings to get cleaned up.  After all, tonight was a banquet night, so we wouldn’t miss that for the world.  So after packing up our own gear (putting my camera in the kite-van), we headed for the barn as well.  A glass of wine, a few pre-event snacks, and then we were off to the OSCC again.  Time to chow down on the AKA’s nickle (…and give them money in the process, of course).

There are TWO banquets that come with your week’s registration fees.  One of them is the “Awards” Banquet, where the results of the weeks competitions are announced and awards are given out – including some “People’s Choice” (voting) awards, Association Service awards, and the “big three” – the Edeiken (Kiteflier of the Year) Award, the Ingraham Award (Lifetime Service to AKA), and the Lee Toy (Kite Artist of the Year) Award.

But tonight we were going to the other one…  The “Gee, didn’t we have a GREAT time?” and the  “I love the AKA so much that I’m writing them a blank check!” banquet…  Yeah, THAT one!

Picture this… All the competitions are over, done, kaput!  We’ve been together for nearly a week now, and we’ve played on the beach and gone to workshops and played on the beach and generally strutted our stuff.  Time for some FUN!!!

So we all gather in whatever finery we happen to have brought with us, chow down on a moderately palatable hotel “banquet” meal, and it’s your chance to buy tons of kites and kite paraphernalia at auction.  And in case you haven’t caught our drift here – it’s also the AKA’s annual version of the “Dave Gomberg” show…

So while you’re picking out your banquet table with nine of your very closest friends, other folks are already wandering through the “Silent Auction” room, surveying which auction items will get their bids, and which single item is the one they REALLY want!

I’m certainly not ashamed to say that I patronize these auctions – both the AKA auctions and the other auctions and raffles at kite fests around the country. This time I ended up with two kites – a small cellular by an Italian kitemaker whose name I’ve since forgotten, and a small flat kite by George Peters named “George Peters’ Eye.” Yup – it actually has an eye appliquéd on the sail.  But as far as I’m concerned, John Barresi got the steal of the century.  He ended up buying a 3-stack of the old NoNaMe sport kites in the silent auction for the grand sum of $5.00!  Yeah, he bid and nobody else countered.  Nope – if he ever wants to part with ‘em, I’m first in line – so don’t even bother trying!

So much for the pre-dinner festivities.  The dinner went according to plan.  Decent green salad to start with, followed by the semi-inevitable shoe-leather cum Pepper-Steak plate complete with potatoes and veggies, followed by the fluffy fruit-or-chocolate flavored pie (your choice) and all the coffee / tea you can drink – – – until they cut all service off immediately upon the beginning tones of Mr. Gomberg’s opening announcements.  Yeah, “moderately palatable” as I mentioned earlier.

I suppose I should give you the scoop on the auctions and raffles, here.  The Auction Committee for the convention takes in all the offerings. Those items of moderate (or lower) interest and/or value will go to the bag raffle.  Similarly, it there are two or more of the same item, chances are pretty good that one of ‘em will end up a raffle item.  Those that are better items, but still not top of the line, will usually end up in the silent auction.  Books and kite-plans and similarly “non-exciting” items will likely be silent auction items as well.  But those with a certain “WOW” to them, and those that are much sought after, and all of the so-called “big-ticket” items will end up as Live Auction items, and become fodder for Mr. Gomberg’s rapier wit and the crowd’s willing attention. Get the idea?

Okay, so we’re into “THE Auction!”  Also, I suppose there’re some who’ve not had the pleasure to see Dave Gomberg in action, but it’s truly a sight to behold.  He’ll try to hustle the auction along, until he senses some roadblock… perhaps an item going for much less than Dave thinks is reasonable.  Then Dave will begin “toying” with the audience, sort of cajoling them into bidding “just a little” higher. If that doesn’t work, he’ll drop the minimum raise amount.  Or he’ll delay calling “Sold” and wait the audience out – hoping for a higher bid…  He might tell a little story right in the middle of auctioning off an item.  And – like Corey Jensen does when he M/C’s for some indoor event – he laughs and jokes, he entertains, and he seduces you in!  Next thing you know, Dave has the audience working with him, and then he has us in the palm of his hand.

But there’s another side to this show, too. Dave knows that organizations depend on these auctions and raffles to provide working capital for the year, or perhaps the seed money for the next AKA Convention.  So Dave will do what’s necessary to get the sponsoring organization as much income as possible.  Nope – there’s never any blood drawn, but that doesn’t mean the thought hasn’t crossed his mind a time or two.

This time, however, Dave was dealing with a known group – most of whom were old friends.  Noooo PROblem-o!  Dave had it well under control from the get-go! So Dave frequently had the other scenario going – two or more bidders vying for the same treasured item.  In that case, you can count on Dave to keep the action going, and the bids rising, for as long as possible!

As you might expect, Dave starts with some warm-up items.  Those which might be your delight, but won’t be expected to end up being hotly contested or high-dollar values.  So he got maybe the first 15-20 items out before the audience got into the swing of things.  From that point on, if you stuck your hand in the air, you were fair game for Dave to play with – and he did.  There’s all manner of “kite stuff” up for auction.  Complete sets of banners, hand-made kites, all kinds of kiting accessories, antique kites, award-winning kites, kites made by famous designers.  Kiting attire (Hapi coats, among other things), and even the annual, inevitable “Star-farker!”   Don’t know about the Star-farker?  Check it out:

And, yes – Dave frequently had bids and counter-bids going across the room.  I know someone who bid on a set of 6 banners, and then got into a bidding war and ended up paying about $300 more than they originally wanted to pay. Yup – Dave loves it… He eats it up!  Probably the biggest-ticket item was a custom Revolution 1.5 made jointly by a half-dozen Master Kite-makers!  We all thought initially that the signed Rev might bring as much as $1,000 in the auction.  But there was another bidding war out on the Auction floor, and the kite ended up going for two and a half times that estimate.

I’ve no idea how many items there were all told.  Maybe 200, plus or minus… But after all was said, done, and paid-for – the AKA had exceeded their budgeted “Auction Income” figure again.  Yup – the Auction Committee originally thought they might take in $23,000.  They actually ended up raising roughly $29,500 – give or take…   Good on you, Conventioneers!  And Good on you as well, AKA.  And a hearty “THANKS” to our friend, Mr. Gomberg, too!

Then it was back to the condo for another night’s rest – so we could come back tomorrow and do it all over again!

Well…  As sort of “predicted” – though not sought after or hoped for – the last day of the 2007 AKA Convention arrived, complete with a Northwest Winter “staple” – Rain!  Lots of it!  So what were we going to do with THIS day?

Well, there are always the workshops…  Dean Jordan was leading a “Traction Kiting” roundtable, Jim Barber was holding forth on “Team Flying” (hopefully, somewhere inside), and Barry “Bazzer” Poulter was going to instruct on how to “Make a Cascade Bridle.”  And, there was the ticket-pulling and prize hand-out for the Bag Raffle at 11:00… Aw shucks, let’s go for coffee and talk about it…  So we did…  and Theresa and I ended up watching members of the Auction Committee pull tickets and hand out items for the Bag Raffle.  Yeah – we also found time to go outside (but under cover) and watch it – RAIN some more!

Well, maybe ir’s time for some food, d’ya think?  Sure, so off into the Shilo restaurant we went and grabbed a table by the window – so we could watch it RAIN, I guess…  We ordered breakfast, and said “Hi” to a number of kitefliers – including the guy that I kept running into everywhere I went all week long, Doug Coates. The big grin, with the nice guy attached!

Then early in the after-noon, we’d ended up sitting a bit long in the restaurant. And Theresa glanced up and said “Oh, LOOK!!”  So I followed her line of vision… outside the wiondows.  And there – in the pouring rain – was iQuad!  (“Heck, we got WIND… Why NOT?”  So they DID!)  Yep, there they were… Barresi leading them on, bare-headed in the pouring rain.  Kites flying and water streaming everywhere, and these characters were out there “in it” and playing like they were born for it!  What a HOOT!  Apparently, they were out there for at least two hours – though Barry “Bazzer” Poulter joined them late – when his Build-a-Cascade-Bridle workshop session finally finished.

High Point of the Day?  Well, maybe… as long as I wasn’t out in it WITH them, of course.  Yeah, say what you will about iQuad…  If given any kind of opportunity at all – those guys WILL FLY!

And I have to note, that Theresa and I weren’t the only ones watching this tom-foolery… By the time they were done, I think about half of the Conventioneers had seen this pocket of insanity, and they all had at least a half-smile on their faces.  Yeah, grown men – being “kids” again!

So, we whiled away what remained of the afternoon.  I don’t remember much of it, except that I know we went over to both Cutting Edge Kites and Ocean Shores Kites – just browsing!  And while we were over at OS Kites, Theresa found a couple of other shops to look into, and I stood out under that overhang and watched it… RAIN!  Yeah, we wasted away the afternoon until it was time to go to the condo to get ready for the Awards Banquet in the evening…

They opened the doors to the OSCC at 6:00 PM with dinner served at 7:00.  Yeah, we were early for dinner, so I even went so far as to have an actual “drink.”  Anything was better than watching it Rain!  (Just remember, I’m a Northwesterner so I CAN gripe about it – but I occasionally remembered that there were places on this continent that were getting SNOW at the time instead… <<< shudder >>> )

But the place began to fill up, and old friends and new ones shook hands, gave hugs, and shared smiles.  It was truly GOOD to be there in spite of the lousy weather…  And we also had our fair share of announcements and pleas and even a skit or two… Yes skits, including the annual serenade of “I’m A Little Teapot” for all assembled kiters by the Chicago Fire member who’s broken the most spars over the preceding year! So this year’s honoree, Zack Gordon, got up on stage and gave us the full rendition, including all of the appropriate physical arm moves as well – to start the evening off!

And then we all sat down to dinner again.  Same basic meal as the night before, except swap out the tough Pepper-Steak for the Rubber Broiled Chicken, and switch the deserts around a bit.  Yeah – we were smart this time.  We actually went back to the kitchen and got two full pots of coffee just before they locked the doors to the kitchens on us.  Then we were ready for the “AWARDS.”

Yes, you can read about all of the individual accomplishments on the AKA Website.  Who “won” in other words…  Nobody “lost” however!  Jim Barber led off the presentations, giving us all of the Sport Kite Comps awards…  Steve Ferrel followed, doing the same thing for the kitemakers.  Both tried hard to abbreviate the ceremonies, and they were mostly successful.  But there are other awards besides those two groups and, while brief, the time reduction measures weren’t so evident on the AKA awards.

Noteworthy, were things like:

  • John Barresi taking both MMIP and MMIB.  Yes, I know he’s a darned good pilot, but he was really amazed that he took them both this year.
  • Barry Poulter winning “People’s Choice” with his Edo – by 1 vote!  No, he didn’t get it in the kitemaking judging, but he got it from the AKA members in attendance instead.  Good Show, Bazzer!
  • Amy Doran never quite believing she’d won OIOU until Jeff McCown was called to the podium to accept second place – leaving her in First.
  • Shawn Tinkham winning OIIU Ballet for the second year straight.  Good for you, Shawn!  Well deserved, and nicely done!
  • Sixth Sense locking in their place in the pecking order for the World Sport Kite Championships in Berck sur la Mer.
  • Lee Sedgwick in winning in the UFO category with his “double UFO.” He’s one of the great innovators of all time!
  • Doug LaRock in winning in kitemaking with his Delta – not that he didn’t deserve it, but I guess I’ll always just be pleased to hear of anything Doug does because he’s come so close to not even being here because of kiting.
  • And Doug Coates for taking second in Delta – as a novice. Way to go, Doug!  Another huge grin on Doug’s face!
  • John and Marzlie Freemen for their Special Recognition for their pretty “bird” figural kite.
  • John Pollock for his impressive wins with both kites he entered, ultimately leading to his repeat as the 2007 Grand Master.
  • My friend Ron Gibian for his Lee Toy Award as a Kite Artist.  We all knew it was coming.  Why didn’t you, Ron?  Ron appeared almost “stunned!”
  • And the very same thing for Corey Jensen on his Edeiken Award.  Yes, we know you didn’t try to win it Corey.  Part of the reason you won it, is that you just go out and do stuff anyway…  We love your spirit and your verve, and there’s no disputing all of your many contributions over the years



Anyway, finally all of the awards were given out, and the evening was done.  Nothing left except the tear-down and clean-up.  Oh, we spent a little while congratulation winners and some losers and a few non-players too.  It’s always good to see you all, but I was ready for bed before heading back to the city.

(Well… unless the rain goes away…  Then we’ll stay and play some more!)

So we headed back to the condo one more time, and then rolled on down to home the next morning.

See ya all in Gettysburg next year?

Dave “geezer” Shattuck