Issue 61: Southern Oregon Kite Festival

A pre-festival event was added to the agenda of this year’s Southern Oregon Kite Festival.  On Friday, July 18th, a No-Sew Tyvek Rokkaku kite building workshop was presented by Ronda Brewer and Lindsey Johnson.  Committee members of the SOKF and volunteers also helped out with the workshop.  Participants crafted a 48” x 42” rokkaku kite from pre-cut parts.   After completing the assembly, they were encouraged to decorate their kites. Some participants knew just what they wanted to draw, some had to think a bit, but, with coaxing and assistance they each completed their designs.  At this point, the new creations were art and not kites.

One by one, the kite builders were escorted outside with their kite and each got a lesson on how to fly their newly built rokkaku.  As each kite launched into the air and claimed its flying space, I was thrilled by the visual impact of each design.  “’Aaarg’ the Pirate”, “Albert’s Flying Dragon”, “A Hike in the Back Country”, “Big Red Lips”, “Wind Power”, and “Death from Above” all flew just as they should.  The workshop was a success.

I have attended this festival 15 of the 16 times it has been presented.  Over the years, the fliers have experienced a variety of weather and winds.  One thing we haven’t had to contend with is high winds.  Someday it may happen, but to date, this festival is known for the foggy mornings and very light to miniscule winds.  The result is that a lot of effort is needed to get kites into the air and even more effort is required to keep them aloft.

As far as the weather conditions are concerned, this year was no different from past festivals.  Those who had been there before knew what to expect.  First time attendee, Lam Hoac, discovered that flying at the SOKF was much like flying indoors but with a sporadic, badly running air conditioning system.

Most of the two-lane road that surrounded the flying arena was blocked off during the weekend to permit the safe passage of spectators and participants.  Very early each morning, the spectators lined up their lawn chairs along the road in preparation for a full day of demos.

The flying field is a hard, rocky surface that has been lightly covered with grass.  It is difficult to pound a stake in the ground without hitting a rock.  Rod and Cindy Thrall pounded the most stakes of any of the kite fliers as they filled the North end of the flying area with their banner creations.  Other kiters added their pieces to the mix of banners, tents, and kiting paraphernalia.  It was well worth the effort because it all added a lot to the festive atmosphere of this festival.

So, if everything is so difficult, then why do so many fliers enjoy participating in the Southern Oregon Kite Festival?  This premier, one-of-a-kind festival is unique.  It is a two-day extravaganza of the best-of-the-best doing what they do best.  And, the spectators show their appreciation by applauding loudly and long.  For those who need to stretch their legs or need to find something to eat, there is a vendor area where a multitude of things and a variety of foods are sold in a country fair-like venue. It is a festival presented for the community by a handful of dedicated committee members and many, many volunteers from near and far.  The amount of hours it takes to pull all the details together is incredible and the fliers do their best to make their invitation to this festival worthy of being selected.  Besides, the party on Friday night at Roger and Loretta Thompson’s RV park is well worth the trip.

On the first morning of the festival, the field coordinators worked out a schedule that had a balance of sport kite fliers, single line fliers, and other presentations.  This schedule would be used as a guideline for the participants so they could have their kites ready to fly when it was their turn.

The sound system was tested.  Music played out over the field as kiters practiced a few maneuvers.  People scurried around to get into place for the opening ceremonies.  And then it was 10 AM and time for the festival to begin.  Coast Guard personnel marched sharply onto the field carrying the USA and Coast Guard flags.  One of the Port Commissioners sang the National Anthem.  When she finished, the crowd cheered and clapped as the Honor Guard marched off the field.

The winds were too light for the Bay Area Sundowners to fly.  So, IQuad was moved to first up on the roster.  Their music played out over the huge speakers as John Barresi, Steve de Rooy, Barry Poulter, and JD Fabich showed the crowd what precision flying was about.  At the conclusion of their routine, they were rewarded with a loud and long applause.

Many of the fliers had flown there together before. So, we knew it was all right to keep the show moving whenever there was a glitch due to wind or equipment problems.  By having our kites ready to launch, there was always something happening for Arnold Stellema, the announcer extraordinaire, to talk about and for the spectators to watch.  Sometimes, we were ahead of schedule and sometimes we were behind but there was always something happening.

Because the winds were so light this year, it became a battle of the “big stuff” between Rod Thrall and Dave Gomberg.  Rod brought out his 50’ Teddy Bear and Dave brought out a purple 90’ Octopus kite.  Rod brought out his big Bols and Dave brought out the Red Airplane.  Randy Tom even got into the mix with his Sponge Bob Square Pants parafoil.  Then, Rod and Dave decided to have a “Running of the Bols” with Rod’s BIG bols.  Luckily, they made it safe and sound to the end of the field and an ambulance didn’t need to be called.

I didn’t keep track of all of the 360° flights done by the sport kite fliers this year but I am confident that SOKF can boast the most done there than at any other outdoors kite festival.  And, with a little encouragement from Arnold, even the single line fliers entertained the crowd by doing 360’s.

Several years ago, there was a young man who had an interesting hair-do who would come to Brookings and “WOW” the crowd with his energetic and challenging style of kite flying.  That young man, John Barresi, is now known worldwide as owner of and team leader of iQuad.  At festival after festival I have watched John work with fliers eager to gain knowledge, eager to learn more, eager to hone their skills.  His patient tutelage was readily listened to and the lessons practiced.

Many kite fliers young and old have been schooled at SOKF.  They have had the chance to ask questions and learn techniques from champion fliers that at any other venue would be difficult, or impossible, to approach.  In particular, Nathan Ostovar, age 13, and Aaron Washington, age 12, have been flying kites for several years at SOKF and Lincoln City Kite Festivals.  They have watched and learned from the best.  Because of their determination and skill, they have earned their place to fly with the adults.  This year they were invited to SOKF to participate as featured fliers.

This year’s list of invited fliers was a list of the who’s who in the kiting world.  Single line and multi-line kite fliers joined forces to put on a show like no other in the world.  Individual fliers included:  Steve Blasdell, Ronda Brewer, Brian Champie, Takako Kishi, Ron Despojado, Ron & Sandy Gibian, John & Mary Gabby, David Gomberg, Lam Hoac, Lindsey Johnson, Deb Lenzen, Penny Lingenfelter, Gary MacEachern, Nathan Ostovar, Susan Shampo, Al Stroh, Rod & Cindy Thrall, Aaron Washington, and Al Washington.

Teams included the Bay Area Sundowners (Barry Nash, Gordon Osterlund, Ken Osterlund, and Randy Tom), iQuad (John Barresi, Steve de Rooy, JD Fabich, and Barry Poulter) and DespoShampo (Ron Despojado and Susan Shampo).

The Rogue Valley Windchasers were also on hand.  Over the years, they have helped out wherever needed.  They have assisted with launching kites during mass presentations.  They have helped with field monitoring so fliers doing demos can be safe.  I especially appreciated their help with past Children’s Kite Making events.

The Children’s Kite Making event has been an integral part of the festivities from the very first festival to this year and has drawn thousands of families from near and far.  For thirteen festivals, I have coordinated this event.  Two years ago, the RVW volunteered to run this free event so I could be out on the demo field.  They have done a great job making memories for all the children that have built kites with them.  Their third time of coordinating this event was even better than ever.  Their enthusiasm and joy of kiting are prime examples of what this sport is all about.

Sixteen years ago, it took one man, Steve O’Brien, to have a dream of having a kite festival at the Port of Brookings/Harbor.  He was able to gather enough local support to make the first festival happen. Over the years, others have come on board as some have gone on to do other things.  Just a few years ago several events happened that changed the course of this festival and almost caused its demise.  Luckily, a handful of people came together because they believed in the value of what this festival does for their community.  Their determination and hard work has paid off.  This festival is one-of-a-kind and well worth attending.

The words “Thank You” don’t seem to be enough to say to those who worked so hard to make it happen.  Sometimes, too many words can dilute the message.  So, for now, from all of us, Thank You!!

See you there for the 17th!

Ronda Brewer