Issue 58: IGA Coolum International Kite Festival

Last April 2007 while attending the Weifang Intl Kite Festival in China, I met and became friends with Steve Donovan and Big Alan Bayley, both are from Brisbane, Australia. During that time, Steve and Alan had asked me if I would be interested in coming to Australia in Late Sep and early Oct, to be a guest performer at two kite festivals. It didn’t take me but a few seconds to say “Hale Yea”! The first of the two festivals “The IGA Coolum International Kite Festival” took place Sep 22-23 in Coolum Beach, Queensland, Australia, which is located on the East Coast, North of Brisbane, and less than 2 hours drive. Coolum Beach and Brisbane are along and area that is known as the Sunshine Coast. The area is also the home of the Zoo that The Crocodile Hunter “Steve Erwin” worked at.

Traveling to Coolum Beach, Australia from Texas takes a lot of time, patience, and energy to get to! First of all, I had just returned the night before on a flight from San Francisco, CA to Texas, where I had just attended another kite festival. I would leave less than 12 hours later for my journey to Australia.

My journey brought me from Wichita Falls, TX, to Dallas, TX, to Oklahoma City, to Los Angeles, CA, 15 hours to Sydney, AU, to Maroochydore airport, and finally a 30 minute drive to Coolum Beach. AU. I left on Tuesday Morning the 18th of Sep and arrived to my motel room about 2 pm Thursday afternoon! BTW, did I mention that I don’t/can’t sleep on flights? I stayed up all day and later that night a welcoming party was hosted by the event’s coordinator, Mr. and Mrs. Noel Mooney. I think I finally got to sleep sometime around midnight that night.

Back to the party. Noel Mooney’s modest sized home sits up high on the hills that overlook this upscale tourist community. Most all of the dedicated national and international kite flyers that would attend the kite festival, found their way to Noel’s welcoming party, including Craig Hansen and family from New Zealand, Ray and Rosemary McCully from New Zealand, Robert Vaulkenburg from Holland, Balinese Prince Bagus Narendra and Princess Helmi “Elly” Ginanti of Bali, Indonesia. And from Australia, Steve Donovan, Russell Hammond, Darrin Brinkley, Jason Kitchen, Luke Chalmers, President of the Queensland Kiteflyers Society “Alan Bayley”, President of Australia Kiteflyers Assoc. “Peter Stauffer”, Kite store owner from New South Wales “Brad Gee”, John Gordon, Diane Delli, Jake, manufacturers of the MEFM “Warren & Lee MacIntosch”, and many of the event volunteer staff. During the party Noel and his gracious wife (with broken leg), prepared and served a great meal for everyone, provided drinks of different varieties (wink), and entertainment in the form of pool/billiards and conversations! Even though I hadn’t slept for 2 days, and was worn down from traveling half way around the world, I held my own in the billiards games, but then I had to have Steve drive me back to the host motel, because I had caught myself dosing off while standing up!

After getting a good nights sleep, I awoke the next morning at about 5 to 6 am and the sun was already shining thru the window. This was a no smoking motel, and all guest are forced to walk out on the curbside to smoke. While standing outside early that morning, smoking, and waiting for other’s to crawl out of bed, I was pleasantly entertained by the sound of various wild exotic birds, chirping and singing. This must be Australia’s version of roosters crowing at sunrise, except these exotic birds sing all the time! In the states, birds like these would selling the pet stores for hundreds of dollars, and some over $1,000.

Previous to my arrival on Thursday, the Noel Mooney, Steve Donovan, Tony Rice, Robert Vaulkenburgh and others had been busy doing school kite building workshops for the kids. Tony Rice was invited to the festival for that reason alone, because he conducts wonderful kite building workshops, and has a special knack for working well with kids, and it’s also how Tony makes most of his living. Robert Vaulkenburg from Holland had arrived early and had been at the local state school, working on and building a unique, artistic, wind sculpture, wind generated instrument.

He used raw bamboo, string, and ribbon to make a very large wind instrument that would be placed at the beach entrance at the kite festival, and as wind passed across the tightly strung string on the wind instrument, the strings would make various pitched sounds. It was really quite amazing to see and listen to! I had seen Robert make a similar sculpture / wind instrument at a festival in Taipei, Taiwan a few years earlier, and each time his wind instruments are a work of art, Bravo Robert!

The rest of the day Steve Donovan and I helped Noel Mooney set up and prepare for the kite festival, in which this was a giant undertaking, with dozens of staff and volunteers. Much of the budget from this festival came from all over the city of Coolum Beach’s, and especially IGA Supermarkets and Northshore Realty, which were the main funding sponsors.

September is the start of spring down under in Australia, and 2-3 weeks prior to this festival a massive storm had pounded the area and eroded the beach sand down so much that it exposed a spongy type of rock named “Coffee Rock”. I was told that this was the first time in anyone’s memory that a storm had eroded the sand so quick and so much, that it exposed the coffee rock. Coffee rock is black in color and in this case, was very slippery and squishy, almost like wet charcoal brickets. I can tell you first hand that it stains fabric like wet charcoal too! Before the storm, the festival location was a nice sandy beach, where Stumer’s Creek feeds into the Coral Sea, but afterwards coffee rock was widely exposed around the kite demo area, which meant that everyone would need to watch their step, during the festival, so as not to trip over it. To make matters worse, the tides proved to be on the high side all weekend during the festival, only leaving dry beach before noon and after dark to fly kite on. Many times we stood in water or evading sneaker waves during the weekend.

Saturday during the festival, it was a good day with party cloudy skies, warm temperatures. A short thunderstorm blew thru in the late afternoon, but the festival day was a success. As far as festivals go, this festivals offered quite a lot in addition to kite flying, and ranks up there with some of the best festivals in the world, in regards to activities, vendors, performances, and kite flyers anywhere! This festival had Food vendors galore, craft and festival souvenir vendors, kite making workshops before and during the festival, balloon making, a large concert stage, where several bands played throughout the weekend and during the Saturday night show and night kite fly. There were break dancing performances, cirque du solei style humorous acts, such as a threesome that wore spandex type costumes that had various surgical tubes sprouting out everywhere, and each costume was connected to a large water pump, which during their acrobatic balancing performances fountains of water would shoot out! There were stilt walkers of wore extravagant costumes, etc…

Saturday night was amazing! There was a couple that came in and built a couple of very large sand sculptors in the shape of a dragon. There was a group that made large sculptures that looked like prawns, made of bamboo and paper, and during the night show extraveganza these sculptors were placed on floating rafts, and then paraded in front of everyone while floating down the creek, each sculpture was illuminated and shined brilliantly! The Ramblers skydiving team dove in during both days, but their were most impressive show was when they dove in saturday night with cloudy skies. When everyone first noticed them in the sky that night, each skydiver had, what appeared to be a large flame trailing each one, and all that we could see was the flames and it made it look like flaming meteorites punching thru the clouds. It was quite awesome!

The entire time a live band was playing, and erie looking theatrical dancers, scantily dressed and made up to look like ghost, did and
amazing show to music! During this entire time, Steve Donovan, Russell Hammond (Team Kaos) flew pairs team with lights on the kites, while Brad Gee and myself flew Rev 1.5’s with various strobing lights. the spectators were treated to a plethora of night entertainment! During both days, there was also a large kite surf competition that took place and the wind conditions were ideal for them, being a bit on the strong side Sunday. there were several dozen kite surfers, both male and female, and they put on a great show, with no one being attacked by sharks! Craig Hansen and his son kept the skies full of large Peter Lynn kites. Craig works in the Peter Lynn Factory in New Zealand and brought his wife, son, and daughter along for the trip. Alan Bayley and some others also put up large Inflatable kites of various varieties, such as dogs, fish, etc… , Alan also is an avid kite buggier too and wowed the 40,000+ crowds with his buggy skills, as did Diane Delli, and Team Kaos members Jason Kitchen and Darren Brinkley! At one point Jason got lifted out of his Peter Lynn buggy and lofted into Stumers creek, all to the thrills and delight to the spectators. The spectators didn’t know that Jason’s stunt was unplanned and was forced by a gust of wind, so they assumed it was part of the demonstration, and Jason pulled it off as if it had been planned. BTW- Jason owns a kite store in Brisbane and teaches kite surfing and buggying, and also flies with Steve Donovan, Darren Brinkley, Russell Hammond, and Luke Chalmers, as KAOS sport kite team.

Steve Donovan and his KAOS team members performed for the spectators throughout the weekend, as pairs, 3 man, 4 man formations. Steve flew on one of the Aussie teams when the Team World Cup was held in Australia in around 1995, and has been the driving force behind team KAOS, along with member Jason Kitchen. I performed with various dual line kites, flew multiple stunt kites demos (2 kites at the same time), and debuted my new 8 stack of custom made quad line kites. To my delight, I was told the stack was appreciated by many, and was shown along with a on-line media report and video, on ABC news. Prince Bagus and Princess Elly, both Balinese royalty, flew very large Traditional Balinese kites, called “Jungen” . These kites are very large with a long flowing tail section, and all hand painted. The spectators and the media alike loved their kites and personalities, as they adorned their Balinese traditional attire during much of the festival. Princess Elly is also serves as the secretary for the Bali Kite Association in Bali Indonesia. I also met them early in 2007 while at the Weifang Kite Festival in China. They are a delight to be around, and always have a smile on their faces!

When I wasn’t on the field performing, John Gordon and Peter Stauffer displayed their fighter kite expertise to the delight of the crowd, as most people are amazed that anyone can maneuver a kite like they do on just one string! I first met Peter in 2004 while at a festival in Ahmedabad, India, when Peter and I sacrificed our kite flying time one day so we could acquire permits to buy beer in Gujarat, India.

Ray & Rosemary McCully from New Zealand are excellent kite builders and flew their hand made collection of kites in various shapes and sizes throughout the weekend too, to the delight of spectators!

When Team Kaos wasn’t performing, the ever shrinking available beach space had to be shared. Warren and Lee MacIntosh were always there to demonstrate the MEFM stunt kites that they are now licensed to manufacture in Australia. If you haven’t seen an MEFM which was originally designed by Ray Bordelon in Louisiana, USA, do a google search and see what beautiful kites they are!

Also, one of the highlights of the weekend was the performance by the Royal Australian Airforce Aerobatic Team “The Roulettes”. they are an impressive aeronautic airplane formation team, similar to America’s Blue Angel’s or Thunderbirds. the only difference is the Roulettes fly turbo prop planes instead of full blown jet engines. They flew several performances over the beach and were a thrill to behold!

This festival’s location reminds me of Lincoln City, Oregon, USA where I got my adult start with kites in the mid 80’s, in that the beach is kind of shallow (water to dunes), and the kite festival field is split into by a somewhat narrow creek and/or river, and the fact that when the tides are high, there’s very limited space to fly.

Hats off and thanks to Noel Mooney, Steve Donovan and countless others, and to all of the sponsors that make this festival a huge success, and for enabling me to travel half way around the world to attend their festival, Thanks!

Would I come back, and would I recommend this festival to all kiters? 100% Hale Yes, Ya’ll!

I left this festival 2 days later after doing a bit of sight seeing and touring of Macademia nut factories, Sugar Cane fields, Ginger factory, watched the surfing lessons, and then headed north by plane to Townsville, QLD, Australia for another festival. Read the report for it in this Kitelife edition.

Until the next festival,

Troy Gunn