Issue 59: SPI Kite Festival

Last year, when John Barresi and I came back from South Padre Island, we vowed to Bill and Susie Doan, the main organizers behind this festival, that’d we’d happily come back next year and bring a full sized team back with us. I’m obviously very pleased to say that we did indeed go back, and we went back with a 6 person lineup of iQuad as well. Here’s the story of that weekend, deep in the southwest tip of Texas in February.

The previous few days before leaving for Seattle to get a flight down to Brownsville, Texas, Vancouver was managing to limp it’s way through a succession of snow storms. 2 days before I left, we got nearly a foot, and then the morning when I am to leave after work, a further foot of snow. Thankfully, I got a brief clear spot in the afternoon and I drove down to the airport and began my 2nd trip to the annual SPI Kite Festival, held the 1st weekend of February on South Padre Island. I’ve never been so ready for some nice warm sunny beach flying than I was when I left.

Friday marks the official start of the festival, and much like in years past, the first two things going on were a pair of kitemaking workshops put on at the Marriot hotel where most people were staying.  Jeff and Donna McCown put on a workshop called Kitemaking 101 and Doug Larock gave one filling people in on large kites. Both were well attended and as the afternoon began, people started heading down to the beach near the convention center, to get some outdoor flying in as well. It was a beautiful day out by the water and little pockets of flyers were out all afternoon, and more kite flyers began to roll into town.  iQuad even managed to walk out 30 feet into the nearly warm water and fly for a while. It was a far cry from the snow I’d been in mere days earlier! As the afternoon wound down, all of who’d been down at the beach headed back our hotels for a quick cleanup before heading off to a brew pub just down the road for the “welcome to the festival” Mardi Gras party  that was put on by Barry and Karen Ogletree. It’s a really fun way to meet up with friends who you have flown with before at other festivals and meet new people who’ve come down for the festival. Imagine my surprise when I turned around to find Jerry and Marcia Cannon from my own neck of the woods. They had heard about the festival in previous years, and they had decided to make a winter trip of it. After a sizeable bunch of food and drink had been consumed, people began to head back to get a good night’s sleep for the weekend to come, and while I had thanked the Ogletrees that evening for their excellent Texan hospitality, I’d like to do the same again here, I think everyone who went to the party had a great time, and went home with a great collection of mardi gras beads.

Saturday morning brought us a brilliantly blue sky, some reasonably warm temperatures (mid 60s? a million miles away from the 28 of Vancouver!) and the prospect of some pretty peppy winds over the afternoon. It had all the makings for a really great day of flying. We made ritual morning stop at The Grape Vine, the breakfast place of choice for the Texan kite flyers and loaded up with food for the morning. Once we got down to the Convention Center, the festival was beginning to fill up with people. Covering a very large section of sand beside the Center, there was a group of sectioned off flying areas that you could find just about any kite you’d want to get a look at, from a large collection of inflatables tethered off on the south end and banners galore, up to the north end where sport kites were mostly concentrated. Chris Shultz from New Tech was there giving dual line lessons to interested people and Ben D’Antonio from Revolution teaching people about flying Revs.

Those of us in iQuad were down at the very north end, flying with 6 people for much of the day. It proved to be a great placement because with everything going on in the air over the weekend, it gave people a real incentive to walk the entire length of the festival and eventually settle down in the center flying area where a large variety of demos from various people were flown. From Jeff and Donna’s well choreographed pairs routine to the Phantom of the Opera music, to Austin’s End Of the Line kite team and their Jaws/fish routine, to Jerry and Marcia Cannon flying both singly and as the pair, “Last Flight Out”, the spectators were treated to demo after demo all day long. And did I mention that the weather was gorgeous all day long as well? I’d hazard a guess that it may have been the nicest day I have ever experienced on the Island!  Some of the other people performing throughout the day included Scott Weider, Jim Cosca of Premier Kites, Bill Doan of B&S Kites, iQuad, Team SPI, Wind Junkies, and Deontae. I’m also sure I’m missing a few people in that list as well, so please accept my apologies now for that.

Once we’d wrapped up the festival for Saturday afternoon, it was time to head back to the hotel and get prettied up for the Auction/Raffle/Banquet that evening. After last year’s was found to be a little full in the restaurant, this year we found ourselves directly back at the Marriot in a much bigger room, leaving a good chunk of space for the large arrangement of kites that were in the raffle and auction. People walked off with some great items that evening, and after a quick dip into the hot tub, we called it an evening in the hope that’d we’d recoup some of that energy for Sunday’s fun.

When Sunday finally dawned on us, it was again looking to be a really nice day on the island though there was a little fog in the morning. A quick pit stop at The Grape Vine again and off we went down to the festival for some more flying. The crowds were assembling early again this morning, walking around marveling at the large inflatables that dotted the sky, including Phil and Barb Burke’s beautiful rainbow octopus. The fog had cleared off entirely by lunchtime and indeed, it was another picture perfect afternoon. The main field was kept busy with demos all day long again, with repeat performances by everyone who had been out the day before and newcomers to the sport spent much of the day down on the learning field, coming to grips with dual and quad line kites. iQuad managed to lure in two new people to team flying with quads, both Chris Shultz and Jeff McCown were spotted being ordered around the sky by John for a while that afternoon and rumor has it that the Wind Junkies now have a pair of matching quads to begin working on some pairs flying!

As the festival drew to a close on Sunday afternoon, people began packing up and heading home but, we decided we were not quite ready to call it a day and we spent another good hour flying until iQuad was about the only thing left on the beach. We felt that as we were amongst the first to arrive, it was only fitting that we’d be the last ones off the beach that afternoon. A wonderful way to end that day after what had been a wildly successful festival from all perspectives. A special thanks should go out to Bill and Susie Doan, and all the other people involved in making this annual event as great as it is and you can be sure we’ll try and bring even more people down for next year. Remember this festival when December and winter roll into your town and think of South Padre Island’s kite festival as a very welcome February break from the snow and the ice.

Of course, once I arrived back in the Northwest, more snow. It was just like I hadn’t left, except I came back with a tan and a big Texas smile.

Same time, same place next year,

David Hathaway