Issue 62: Berkeley International Kite Festival

The song goes that you will leave your heart in San Francisco when you go there. Me? I tend to leave other things there, usually at Tracy’s house. This year? My prized travelling shirt! You may snicker at the idea of a “traveling shirt” but, when you spend a lot of time bouncing around through airports as I have over the last year as I have, you tend to crave the little comforts as some form of a routine within a life that’s been anything but lately. But this trip to the Berkeley International Kite Festival marks the 3rd I have been to the event so, while it hasn’t become routine, it’s become a comfortable festival to travel down to. On my first trip, iQuad was a mere few members and while we would later invite JD Fabich to join us, it was simply John and I as a “team minus a couple of people”. Next year, we managed to take 6 people down and this year, we’ve pushed the limit of Tracy and Jeff’s housing limits by taking TEN people down. More on this later!

Usually, we’ve arrived in San Fran on Thursday evening or Friday morning, getting an afternoon to warm up and then onto “festival time” but, this year, we elected to head down a little earlier, putting onto Cesar Chavez field on noon, Thursday. Well. Almost all of us. We’d rented a van to haul the bunch of us around, and the last to arrive was Jay Nunes out of Florida. Slated to roll in about noon, we circled the arrivals area a few times to no avail. Finally, we threw Bazzer out of the truck and sent him on a possum finding mission while we waited over in the “cell call” parking area. A little time passes and I text Bazzer to see if he has found Jay yet.


“he has missed his flight”

Uh. Ok. I’m sure there is a good story behind this, so  we roll back over to pickup Bazzer. Apparently, the conversation went much like this :

B : “So, where are you?”
J : “I’m getting my hairs cut”
B : “In the Oakland airport?”
J : “No, in Florida, so I look good when I fly out tomorrow….”

***bzzzzzzt*** wrong answer!

On any trip involving a lot of people to coordinate, something always goes sideways so, we make arrangements to go collect Jay the next day. And with that, it was off to the field for a nice sunny day’s worth of flying! Which, following a great dinner art a local buffet, a good night’s worth of sleep, another trip to the airport and another fine day’s worth of flying,  leads us to the start of the festival!

Held annually in Cesar Chavez park in Berkeley California, this version of the festival was the 31st version of the festival, it’s a well established festival that manages to encompass nearly every facet of the kite flying world all in one area, from fighters, to the Berkeley Kite Wranglers and their spectacular display of Octopi, to the Bay Area Sport Kite League and their full roster of competition events.  For many sport kite flyers, this event represents the last chance of the season to grab some points before the AKA season closes on August 1st!  Much as Friday had been for us, Saturday morning arrived as a beautifully sunny day, with nary a cloud in sight to block any sun! A perfect set of conditions for what turned out to be a perfect day from start to finish.

As coffee settled into people’s nervous systems, sport competition began in the main field. While Berkeley has certainly seen larger turnouts for the comp aspect of the festival, it was a little better than last year’s field of competitors, so, I’m thinking that’s a plus. For me, (and the rest of iQuad for that matter) I’d opted out of competing this time around, sometimes it’s simply nice to fly at a festival and do not much of anything else. Relaxing! Just what you need sometimes, especially on a such a beautiful day.

In the upper field, just behind where the PA and scoring area is setup, theres an area ringed by a paved walkway. Within that are, you can think of it as the corral where the Berkeley Kite Wranglers harness and “train” the octopi. Having just come off a great event in Lincoln City mere weeks before where a world record had been established for the most Octopi in the air at once (a staggering 21 at once, beating the AKA record set the fall before at Nationals at Ocean Shores, Washington!) the plan was to come close to the same amount but, the logistics for various people around the country meant they wouldn’t be able to QUITE make 21. But, nonetheless, a larger number than had ever been assembled at the festival WAS in the cards and as the morning arched onwards towards noon, one by one, octopi began to climb into the sky.

Without fail, the kite flyers of Hammamatsu gather every year at this festival. Made up in part of transplanted Japanese who have settled into the Bay Area and a group that flys over every summer just to attend this festival, they always end up with a lively and large group of  flyers and this year was no exception to this, I counted upwards of 25 within the group this year, displaying their large collection of huge Edo kites and a variety of other traditional Japanese kites. A highlight of the day’s events occurs when the entire group parades around the upper field with taiko drums, eventually meeting up in the main field for a spirited display of their kites, their drums and their cultural traditions.

One other Japanese kite tradition that’s always a part of this festival is the Rok battles! Rok Star Arnold Stellma has simply put together the best Rok battle conditions to be found in North America, having put together more than 30 separate Rok “sets” for the general public to come out and bash around at for may be many people’s first exposure to flying their own kite. Me, I love sitting down at the end of the field, acting as a “catched” for stray kites that come tumbling down from the sky. The ensuing mayhem of watching people scramble around the field trying to be the last one standing is ALWAYS amusing and this year was no exception. But, while these heats are always amusing, easily the biggest fun comes from Sunday’s version of the Rok wars when the “pros” (said with my tongue firmly stuck in my cheek) or, established kite flyers take to the field in a chance to settle old grudges, make new ones or, spend their time and energy hunting doen where multi-time champion and all-around Rokking kind of guy, David Gomberg may be hiding. Without fail, every time I have flown in this event, there’s always a group looking to take on (and out!) Gomberg. I’ve found in the past that a great survival strategy involves staying as far away from David as possible, which led to a 2nd place for me last year, however I was not to fare as well this year, I went down fairly early in the heat, taken out by one of my own iQuadettes no less! Obviously he hadn’t heard my earlier instructions that everyone needs to focus in on Gomberg…

As the afternoon gathered steam, the final Octopi count  got up to a fantastic 18 beasts aloft at once which was certainly the largest number ever assembled at this particular festival. I was amazed with how they managed to stack so mny in what’s really a pretty small space to have such a collection of large ckites but, as the Octopiles have gotten larger and larger over the last few years, some strategies for managing space and traffic control have come together so that now, three can safely be stacked in the space that one would have occupied in previous years. My hat is off to The Berkeley Kite Wranglers and David Gomberg for managing to up the bar every time they show up at an event. How many will we see in the next year, perhaps upwards of 25 at a festival near you?

After the day’s comp events had run their course, the main field became the space for demos by various groups, including iQuad, Too Much Fun and Airzone, the Bay Area’s own 4 person dual line team, undoubtedly honing their routine for a return to  the AKA Grand Nationals later in September. The day continued on with the fantastic sunshine and when iQuad wasn’t demoing in the main field, they were often spotted down by the waterway, playing around for nearly the entire day without losing a single kite in the drink! Also, the running of Hot Tricks too place later in the day. Always an exciting set of heats in this town, in the end it came down to a closely contested battle between “local boy” Aaron Champie and “trick wunderkind” Steve Smith, with Aaron BARELY edging out Steve! A great battle to the end!

And while the main field was usually filled with experienced flyers, over to the left of the demo field, both Prism and Revolution provided demo/lessons areas for new lfyers to get an idea on just how easy it is to fly a kite. The Rev area in particular has people stacked up learning all day long! I know Ben was pretty damn tired after a long day of lessons, but, I know I caught him smiling at the end of it.

There’s always one thing I know I have forgotten to mention in writing this column in years gone by, and that’s this. For any festival to succeed, often the people the most responsible for it’s success don’t end up flying at all. The people who run the scoring for the competition events themselves, the people who announce and keep track of who’s up next on the demo field and the people running the sound equipment are key to any festival because without their help and constant attention to what’s happening around the festival, sheer chaos would ensue! Someone has to keep things running and on track and a few people (with others of course) who have managed this very well for the Berkeley Jeff and Tracy Erzin along with Darren and Susan Skinner, all of who participate in running the nerve center of a festival, the sound and scoring areas. Thanks to you all for this service, it’s one of the things that lets festival run as smoothly as it does and all of us are forever grateful for what’s often a thankless task.

You know, dawn always arrives too early on a Sunday morning but, this one also came with some very grey skies and a somewhat wishy washy forecast for the rest of the day. “it might do this, it might do that”. But, when there is a festival on, there’s often little choice in what you’ll do besides head on down to the festival and hope for the best! And I the end , it didn’t end up being too bad of a morning once the heavy fog began to lift a little and by the end of the day, it was back to being a wonderfully sunny day!  Many of the events of the previous day would continue on today, but, in addition, the BASKL fighter kite challenge took place on the second field. The usual suspects competed for fame and glory and trophies and below, I’ve included the results of both the fighter kite comps and the “regular” competition :

One of the highlights of coming to this festival is actually the end of it, but, I don’t mean it quite the way that sounds. The “final” event of the Berkeley festival involves a cruise around the San Francisco Bay aboard the Horatio Hornblower boat. Starting just behind the park itself, the cruise takes you past Alcatraz, The Golden Gate Bridge and pst the main wharf area, directly past Ghiradelli Chocolate stores! If you have an occasion to take in this festival next year, make SURE you also go on the cruise, you’ll see San Fran from some angles you just won’t find any other way. I know I’ll be back next year, here’s hoping you will be as well!

About to be reunited with my travel shirt…

David Hathaway