Issue 60: Great Lakes Kite Festival

As far back as I can remember checking into kite festivals, Grand Haven, or, The Great Lakes Kite Festival has always been high up on my radar as one to visit. Being one of the natural habitats for large rev stacks (thank you Lee Sedgewick and Sam Ritter!), it’s the place to go for any rev flyer. As last year was my  first trip to that festival, I was really happy to find out that we (iQuad) were headed back there again for the the 19th annual running of this event. A short drive away from the Grand Rapids airport, Grand haven itself is a small little town right along the east side of Lake Michigan, pretty much on the exact opposite side from Milwaukee (home of the Mots Kite Festival!). A nice wide, sandy beach, and you can usually find useable wind there too! I’m a weather forecast junkie. I’ll check 2 weeks in advance to see what the future may hold, whereas John Barresi is nearly the complete opposite. His claim is that we’ll fly in any weather anyways, so, why worry about it, but, worry about it I do. And, for nearly two weeks solid, the weather looked rainy for much of the weekend. I reluctantly packed rain gear, all the time hoping the forecasters were going to be wrong. Once we arrived in Grand Rapids, it didn’t look to bad. It wasn’t raining, but, nor was it super sunny but, I’ll take what I can get. Once we had all arrived in Grand Haven itself (and after a great dinner at Kirby’s, one table down from the Chicago Fire gang), we settled into the place we were staying and I fired the macbook up, and headed to a weather page. And sure enough, it was still calling for showers with a 50% chance of precipitation. Ah well, as they say, the show must go on…

But, when I woke up the next morning, it was bright in my room. And when I looked outside, indeed, it was a sunny morning with a few high clouds. Hurray for weather people being wrong so far at least. After grabbing a quick early breakfast, we headed down to the beach and found some others flying there already (mostly the always eager IKE flyers for whom this festival is nearly home turf). And, it was still beautiful out with what looked like NO chance of rain occurring the entire day. Well, that means it’s time to get kites out! Friday is always a bit more of a laidback day at this festival as the main tent area (which temporarily becomes the largest kite store in North America while it’s set up) finishes getting ready and flyers start to trickle out onto the sand. Dean and Vicki Proudfoot had shown up, various members of Chicago  Fire were arriving and the Detroit Windjammers had rolled onto the beach as well. Dave Gomberg was setting up an octopus, the Ritters were seting up stacks, and Lee Sedgewick and his friend Ruth were flipping a pair of Lee’s custom UFOs around. During the day, all of the above turned in great demos and spent time amusing the crowds on what turned into a picture perfect day on the lake with about a 10 mph breeze blowing steadily all day long. Ben D’Antonio carved himself out a nice little chuink of sand and spent much of the weekend teaching people to fly revs in the manufacturers field in what seemed like a never ending lineup of people wanting to try one out.

Many people commented throughout the day that the weather people sure got it wrong for Friday, but, the weekend still wasn’t looking too hot. We took advantage of the good weather until the very last second before we had to head off to the school nearby for some indoor flying. Another great surprise at the beach was the arrival of Haley, the official iQuad mascot that we had initially met when we traveled to Niagara Falls last fall. You see, Haley chases kites. Not just any kites, but, revs in particular. You have never met a more focused dog when it comes to catching revs. Steve, her “owner” had prepared a new sail for Haley to try and catch as we cheered her on. Unlike last time in Niagara, I didn’t give her the chance to get a good chew in on me, I knew I was pretty tired from the long day of flying and that I stood little or no chance of escaping humiliation at her paws.

Just up the road and a turn or three away  from the beach is where the indoor is held and this year, the gym itself was pretty packed with people despite the continuing nice weather. A group of us, flying anything from single line fighters to our own trio of indoor revs, flew a bunch of demos for the assembled crowd and had a great time doing so. In particular, I enjoyed both Lee’s work with the UFOs and Sam Ritter flew a really touching tribute to Midwest kite flyers that had passed on in the previous year. The iQuad indoor demo, as is often the case, had it’s own moments of comic relief. I like to describe it as Nascar for indoor kiting. You know the odds of someone having issues is pretty high and I’m sure that some people are watching for it!  I’m pleased to report that, yes, it didn’t manage to go off flawlessly but, you know what? I love doing them anyways. It’s a completely different challenge from flying a routine outdoors and once in a while, we can really nail it. But, apparently, that was to be another day…

As I woke up slowly from a deep sleep, I once again warily looked around the room and found it to be…. Bright and filled with sun again! So far, the weather people were batting 0 for 2, so we headed off again for a quick breakfast and a dash to the beach. Another cloudless sky awaited us, and once again, it was a nice breeze on the beach, perfect conditions for another great day on the lake. The festival also acts as a fundraiser for a cancer charity, The Children’s Leukemia Foundation in Michigan and they had setup a few informational areas, a fun tent for kids, and an inflatable obstacle course just outside the main tent. All day long, people wandered through the festival, watching demos in the main field, checking out the store or munching on snacks from the concession stand under perfect skys from start to finish. While the wind did die out a little in the middle of the afternoon, it was simply changing course a bit to come directly off the water for the close of the afternoon, which saw a quad megafly comprised of about 18 people, including members of Chicago Fire and the Detroit Windjammers! One thing I’ve noticed as we have started on our second set of festivals wth iQuad is that as we return to places we have flown megaflys at previously, the level of flyers is dramatically increasing, making this one of the better megaflys I have had the pleasure of being involved with. And for the few that did have some issues while flying, people were more than willing to help them out and get them back up into the air. It was quite a site to see and we played around with the group for a good ½ an hour or so as the afternoon drew to a close. And of course, I’d be remiss in not mentioning 180Go as one of the new quad teams that’s developed over the last year. Led by Mike Kory and made up of flyers from all around the local Illinois area, the team was spotted practicing whenever we weren’t monopolizing Mike’s time. We also managed to pillage a member for our own demos, slotting in Nick Stevenson for much of Saturday’s demos and practicing.

As the day wrapped up, we headed on up to the organizer’s (Steve Negen of Mackinaw Kites, thanks Steve!) backyard for some food and conversation. The bets were being placed on whether or not Sam Ritter could once again directly nail Zach Gordon with a tennis ball directly on top of his head like last year, but, alas, we were disappointed by some spectacular misses. We did however get to spend time being amused by Sam and Ann’s dog, Pixel as she bounced all over the trampoline with the kids. The last event for the day after the BBQ was a night fly back down at the beach, but, I (and the rest of iQuad for that matter!) found ourselves too tired to head down to the beach and the prospects of wind didn’t seem to look too good. But, I did hear the next morning that those who went down had a really fun time. Maybe I’ll make it down next year but I had a pillow loudly calling my name.

And yet again, Sunday dawned into a sunny morning! But, getting three perfect days in a row was perhaps a little optimistic, because while it was beautifully sunny out, without a single cloud in the sky, it was also VERY windy! The morning started off slowly at a mere 20 mph with gusts to 25. Time for doubled up framing and 150 pound lines on the revs, and we did gamely wander out to take a fast paced run through that wind. However, it continued to climb, and I know I saw one wind meter with a peak of 46 moh as a gust but for the most part it stuck around 30-35 mph, which can get pretty tiring to fly in. Lee and Ruth managed to find a somewhat less windy corner to play with Lee’s UFOs and the Chicago Fire made a go of it as well though a fairly spectacular crash not long after they started managed to ground them (which, given the conditions is the sensible move!). I can honestly say I have never seen a dual line kite blow out 4 rods in one single collision. That’s sure going to tip the scales with the Fire’s yearly rod statistics. Two members of the Windjammers also made it out for a short while with small stacks of rainbow trilbys but, for the most part, when the wind is that high, the tent becomes the best place to hang out. It took until nearly the end of the afternoon before that raging wind started to calm down a little bit, but even with the blowout of the day’s events, we still had a good time hanging around the tent and chattering about any and all topics with the flyers hiding out in there.

So, for a festival that called for 3 days of rain, we managed to get off quite lightly, in fact seeing no rain at all for the entire time we were in Grand Haven. Not bad, not bad at all, in fact, I think we could nickname the place, Grand Kite Heaven.

Until next year,

David Hathaway