Issue 57: Niagara Falls International Kite Festival

Back in 1848, there was a dilemma. It was desired to have a bridge that would connect the two sides of Niagara Falls, but, nobody could figure out a way to get this started. A gentleman named Homan Walsh had an idea however. He’d sponsor a contest to see who could fly a kite over to the other side of the falls, and in doing that, drop a line that could be used to begin construction of a bridge between the two sides. This was the initial inspiration for what has become The Niagara Kite Festival which was held this year on September 27th through to the 30th. Put on by Meg Albers, who is also one of the driving forces behind the website and an upcoming kite history museum to be located near Niagara Falls.

One of the downsides to actually having to maintain a regular 9 – 5 job while bouncing all over the country flying kites is that once in a while, you have to miss something tremendously cool. In this case, it meant that I could only make the Niagara Kite Festival by the Friday, thusly denying me my chance to fly right beside the Falls on the American side of the border. But, from what I have heard, the people who did arrive earlier had a great though sometimes challenging time flying down at Terapin Point. As you can imagine, there’s an awful lot of water movement in that general area that can kick up some truly odd wind conditions but, I’m happy to report that only one person lost a kite over those two days, and in this case, it was Jose Sainz losing out to a tree. This of course became a source of many jokes over the weekend…

I asked Steve DeRooy to write up what happened before I arrived and he’s submitted this:

We departed Portland Airport on September 24 at 10 p.m. and then arrived in the Niagara Falls, New York Airport on September 26 on the Wednesday at just after 11 in the morning. John Barresi and myself headed to the luggage claim and met one of the volunteers of the festival holding a iQuad sign. Once we found our bags and iQuad gear, we were escorted off to one of 3 flying fields we get to enjoy.

Once on the field John and myself both set up as soon as we got there. We start doing some pairs flying and look behind us and there was a TV Crew getting some footage for that evening’s News. It was a short flight, but in the process we ended up meeting and seeing old friends again, Ray Bethel, and the Gang of Berkeley Kite Wranglers, and many others. We also got to meet the organizer Meg Albers, she was a great person, and she organized one heck of a festival. That afternoon a whole group of kite flyers ended up getting driven to the Jet Boat. This boat was a flat bottom boat, jet propelled, and drove a whole group of us up the Niagara river. On our travels experiencing along the way Class 5 rapids, and waves that completely stomped the boat.

We headed back to the hotel and checked into our rooms. We head downstairs to the lobby, meeting people we know along the way, and spend a couple of hours talking away. We made it an early night, knowing that we had to get up the next morning really early to fly at the falls, in a park called Terrapin Point. We are scheduled to do a live TV New broadcast starting at 5:30 am. . Allowing time to get up and drive to the point, set up our gear, fly and get used to a new field and a new location to fly, we were going to have to get up really early. Off to bed!!

Getting up that morning did not take too much of an effort, as we were already excited and pumped to be flying at the falls. That made it easy to get up and head to the lobby for a coffee and jump in the already waiting passenger van ready to take us down to the field. 3 minutes in the van from the hotel we arrive at Terrapin point, in the dark and raining, and on top of that NO WIND. Well John and I head down to the bottom field right at the falls. We set up our Revolutions,  we threw on 60 foot lines and went flying around to find out what the conditions here on the falls were. Well as you know the Falls are very large and very fast moving, producing its own turbulent wind. So when there is a wind in one place, there will be none 20 feet away, making it fairly challenging to fly there. We got a yell from the top field that the news crew is ready and we are off doing our live TV at 5:50 in the morning. I think we ended up doing a couple more live shots but we ended up flying in the background. Being there that early, there were not many volunteers that managed to get up with John and myself and the Berkeley Kite Wranglers, and of course our fearless organizer Meg Albers. We ended up flying that morning for a couple of hours and then headed back to the hotel for some breakfast, and it was still dark outside.

For the next two days we flew at Terrapin point. What a great place to fly, once it got light outside, returning after or breakfast I got to see the Falls for the first time. IT WAS HUGE !! Amazing, what a treat to fly right next to it. So for the next two days, John and I explored the upper and lower fields, flying over the falls doing tip drags and hovers over the rushing river. We took a lot of great pictures from that location. Up on the upper field most of the single liners where filling the skies full of just amazing art. The amount of handcrafted kites in the air was just mind blowing. The field being a little small, and the way the winds where going, most of the time the kites were flying over the trees. And the wind being so swirly a handful of kite ended up in the trees, making the afternoon a rescue mission for some fliers.

Upon my (David) arrival, we headed straight over to the Dinner/Auction to meet up with people, have some food and get settled in. There was some beautiful kites up for auction, one of the nice things about this festival was the sheer huge amount of invited flyers, including some of the world’s best kitemakers who graciously placed some of their work up for sale, including one of Jose Sainz’s kites that didn’t end up in a tree. Had I been in a buying mood, I could have walked out with some real treasures, but I managed to resist! After this event, we headed back over to the hotel to settle in, unpack a little and catch up on stories from John and Steve from their first couple of days there. Thankfully, these did not include stories about kites or flyers going over the falls in a barrel.

We woke up to a beautiful sunny day in Niagara, which boded well for the entire day. Once we’d all piled into and then out of the various trucks, vans and cars that took us over to Reservoir park where the main event was being held, we were greeted by a huge field to play in. With only a small amount of sport kite flyers in attendance, this left huge open spaces for the single line makers to fill the sky at will with all kinds of great creations.

Kelvin Woods from the UK kept filling the sky with his collection of  20 butterflys, each one modeled on an actual butterfly occurring in nature. But, these weren’t all of what Kelvin had brought along with him, he also lofted a few spectacular Edo kites with famous pictures inlaid upon them. One of Debbie Harry from Blondie (signed by her no less…), one of Muhammad Ali and one of Johnny Cash. They looked fantastic up in the sky.

Also in Niagara from across the pond was Martin Lester, Dave and Sheila Mitchell, Michael and Linda Howard and Malcolm and Jeanette Goodman. Team No Limit from Germany were wrestling the low winds, trying to get their Ernie from Sesame Street up in the air, and the Berkeley Kite Wranglers were slowly getting octopi up as well with Dave Gomberg throwing a couple up as well. Light winds ended up being the norm for the day, however since it was so nicely sunny and warm outside, nobody seemed to mind too much.

On the sport kite side of the event, we had some great demos by Ray Bethel, Team Skyburner, The Windjammers and of course, iQuad. For us, light, unpredictable winds have become something we’ve seen at nearly every festival we have been at this year, so, we were somewhat prepared for a light wind day and just made the best of it. There’s not much you can do about it, so, you may as well simply smile and fly anyways.

The evening brought an event some of us had eagerly been anticipating. We were all collected up onto a large school bus which headed into downtown Buffalo to a place that was once the largest train station in North America, the Buffalo Central Station. Closed in 1979 and only just now getting into the swing of a renovation/restoration, it’s a beautiful art deco-inspired train station with very high ceilings. Couple this with a great little jazz combo and some really good food, buffet style, and we had a fine evening of fun.

We’d brought 30 foot lines specifically to use within the space and it’s quite the experience to fly an indoor rev on such long lines. The pictures we’ve included simply do not do the place justice. We managed to stay as long as we possibly could until we were all herded back onto the school bus for the trip back up to Niagara and the hotel. The trip back even included some singalongs for that perfect elementary school vibe.

Sunday morning found us all down at the Sheraton 4 Points breakfast buffet again, loading up on fuel to get us through the day. Again we were blessed with a wonderfully sunny day and this time, we had a little more wind to work with once we’d gotten down to the park. This meant many more of the large kites could go up without constant care and maintenance, and one after another, more stunning pieces made by the large contingent of single line kite makers filled the sky all day long. The sport kite people doing demos had a much easier time of it with some consistent wind and the kids kite making tent was kept busy all day long with kids and their parents managing to launch a fine flock of handmade creations.

Overall, it was truly a fun festival to be at. Great weather, more than 110 invited flyers with all manner of amazing kites and a great relaxed atmosphere with nothing resembling a “proper” schedule made for a great event that I’m pretty sure anyone who went to would love to go back to again next year. I know I’ll certainly  be trying to. Meg Albers has already confirmed that there will be another one next year so if you are interested, I’d mark it off on your calendar soon and make plans.

Best of winds to you, and we’ll see you there next year!

David Hathaway