Issue 62: Portsmouth Kite Festival

Late last year, I think just after WSIKF, I received an interesting email. When John Barresi and I had journeyed off to Berck Sur Mer for the World Championships in 2006, I’d emailed Felix Mottram of  The Decorators in the hopes that perhaps they’d be there as well, as their web site schedule suggested as much. I didn’t get a reply and we went on the trip, coming back to form the genesis of iQuad immediately afterwards. Fast forward to last year and voila! I had a reply from Felix, indeed with the same subject as the intial email I’d sent, informing me that The Decs were about to do Bristol again. The stories of all the emails that went back and forth afterwards could fill an entire issue of Kitelife all on their own, but, the end result of all of this activity was on a sunny Wednesday morning in August, I was boarding a plane in Seattle for two separate kite festivals in England, the first of which this article is about, the Portsmouth Kite Festival.

Held annually in Portsmouth, on the Southsea Commons, this iteration of the event marks the 17th time it’s been held. We were traveling as a six person version of the iQuad group, along with Ben D’Antonio, our designated handler that keeps us out of trouble (ha!) on the Thursday afternoon, spending our first night with Peter Jones and family in a charming little village called Titchfield. We managed to get out for a little fly by the water that day, and had a really good meal of one of the most famous of British meals, fish and chips (or, in my seafood allergy case, yummy steak and kidney pie!) Most of us were pretty tired by the time the evening rolled around and I think we were all out and asleep by 10, with the exception of Bazzer and I, who felt the need to try at least one further pub in the village. Mmmmm, tasty wonderful British ales!

Once Friday dawned upon us, it was time to head down to Portsmouth itself, settling into rooms in the Portsmouth University dorms just a small walk away from the festival site. And what a magnificent site it is! Located just across the water from the Isle of Wight (where one can be amused all day long watching hovercraft pop back and forth across the strait!) and home to a few memorial displays, it’s a great big flat piece of grass directly on the waterfront, which often brought a nice, steady breeze across the field. Friday wasn’t really a festival day, for the most part, people were simply setting up the site for the next two days of activities, but, for us, it became a nice, relaxed day of practice and hanging out with other flyers as they pulled into the area. One of the first to arrive was 5/6ths of the French group, FLIC. Sebastian we were already familiar with as he’s flown with us a few times over on the US side but, the rest were new faces for most of us. Of course, John and I had drawn heavy inspiration from FLIC a couple of years ago when we’d been at Berck so getting a chance to hang out with them, fly and later on, partake in probably a little too much beer, made for a really great way to spend the day. I say 5/6ths as one of their members had managed to have an expired passport and thus, would not join us until much later in the evening, and thus, he was to become a constant source of amusement for us all. “Is Phillipe here yet? Nooooooooo!” Phillipe did in fact arrive fairly late in the evening, which only led to further amusement, setting a new personal best with iQuad as he had accumulated approximately 30 stickers all over himself by the time we all finally called an end to the evening…

One of the reasons we’d undertaken to attend both Portsmouth and Bristol was to use Portsmouth as a “practice run” for all the quad teams that were gathering at Bristol to celebrate not only Revolution’s 20 year anniversary. Joining us and FLIC at Portsmouth would be England’s own Flying Squad and of course, the Decorators themselves, plus Crazy Drivers from France and Too Much Fun from the US. This, plus the additional “solo” flyers that were arriving suggested it would be possible to go past 40 flyers in a megafly, utilizing Felix’s new approach to quad megaflys, which was referred to as the Grid. You can find further details with respect to this concept within my REVisions article in this issue but, in essence, the idea is to stack the flyers into a grid arrangement in a distinct departure from all previous quad megaflys which tend to happen all in one great long line. More on this later…

But, to suggest that Portsmouth was simply all about megaflys with revs would do a disservice to all the other kite flyers that were there, and there were a lot of them! One of the neat things I found about the festival was that they showcased nearly every kind of kite imaginable within the main arena, with demos put on by both clubs and individuals. From long snaking Chinese dragon kites to a massive inflatable whale, the crowds were kept entertained all day long even if they simply sat around the main arena and never moved to explore around the rest of the festival. Before we had arrived in England, we’d heard many stories of how this had been England’s worst summer since mankind had walked the face of the earth with a pen and paper but, we were smart about it, we packed extra sunshine within the iQuad team bag and sure enough, it was exactly that, a beautifully sunny summer day both on Saturday and Sunday. A reasonably brisk wind was coming in off the water, meaning one could fly just about anything they wanted without having to worry about the wind being too strong or too light. This would prove to be advantageous later in the day when the first of the Rev megaflys took place.

While the public is always entertained by a steady stream of kites into the demo fields, any festival can up that entertainment factor by at least 10 by having a good announcer. In the case of Portsmouth, they had TWO great announcers, Andy King and George Webster. These two had me in stitches of laughter all day long with their great ability to comment on what was going on within the demo field, and combined with a good staff running the sound equipment and Tony Cartwright acting as field director, you’d be hard pressed to find a smoother running festival. At times, Andy and George kind of reminded me of Waldorf and Astoria from The Muppet Show and I mean that in all kindness for their gentle humor. I wish I could bring them over to this side of the ocean to announce a few festivals, people would love listening to them! In particular, a demo on Sunday with a land sailor that was dogged by very light winds really got these two on a comedic roll… “Oh the land sailor has picked up a bit of speed, its now on a good meander across the field…”

Over on the far side of the fields, the festival organizers had dedicated a good sized field devoted to Rev kites. Much of the first day was spent with various smaller groups working with the Grid concept, and with great success as well. Once people got the proper placement down and under control, it proved very quickly to be an excellent way to manage large amounts of flyers in a fairly small space. Calling duties for this undertaking fell  upon the shoulders of The Flying Squad’s Stephen Hoath, a man with an awful lot of experience in herding cats, I mean, organizing team flys with large amounts of people. It’s certainly one ball of wax to organize any team of flyers, from 4 – 8 being typical numbers, but, once you have 20+ under your command, it becomes a very different animal indeed to try to wrestle into control. And, my hat is off to Stephen with how he managed this. I had a hard enough time simply concentrating on my own kite with 20+ others bouncing around me, I can not even imagine how he managed to not only call moves, but, think ahead as to where we would end up, plus on top of that, handle his own kite within the group. We won’t mention one particular flyer who managed to fly his kite with one hand for a few minutes while merrily snapping a few pictures with his camera, that’s a whole separate story for another issue. Oddly, they both have the same name however…coincidence? After a few practice sessions, the magical time had arrived, it was time to run a large grid in the main arena.

Teams with their revs and various solo kite flyers who were up the task began assembling in the main arena. Quite literally, the entire arena itself was covered in Revs. It’s one thing to have them all nicely compacted into a grid up in the sly but, sooner or later, those kites will all need ground space to start from and eventually land and wow, they sure took up a good amount of space. But, once they all started launching and assembling into the largest grid we’d run that day, an astounding 47 Revs were up in the sky, stretching across the field in 8 groups of 6 kites, stacked vertically. For the math inclined amongst us, you’d immediately notice that 8 x 6 is in fact 48 however, one of the flyers, the magical 48 got caught in traffic and was forced to watch this event unfold from just across the roadway. No names mentioned of course, however, I’m pretty sure he’s still hearing about this occasionally… (of course, it bears a little mention that with 48 we would have tied the previous world record for a Rev megafly…) But, despite this glaring omission, it was a sight unlike any other that had ever been seen at a kite festival anywhere in the world. A massive rectangle of quad kites! The crowd was blown away by the sheer number of kites in the sky even while we simply flew in place but, slowly and carefully, Stephen started guiding his creation through moves, culminating in a 47 kite burst that was 3 levels deep and a quickly formed and framed “20” to commemorate 20 years of Revolution kites. Simply awesome! Of course, what comes up must eventually also come down and surprisingly, we managed to park the massive pack with no incidents and we all gathered for the appropriate group photos.

Saturday night brought the dinner and auction, held just off the field in one of the large display tents. Well attended and an AWFUL lot of fun was had by everyone there including some pretty sweet deals on some pretty unique kites. I’m sure by the time this had wrapped up, everyone was exhausted beyond belief. Me? I couldn’t even make it to the end for fear I’d fall asleep sitting up in my chair, only to awaken and find myself covered in iQuad stickers from head to toe, thus I wandered back to the dorm a little early, unfortunately too early to catch Tony Cartwright’s wife purchasing him an iQuad thong. Also, John managed to buy the shirt right off of a Crazy Driver’s back! Part of me thinks this was probably for the best.

Sunday arrived to look like another gorgeous day and indeed it was, from start to finish! The day itself went pretty much identically to how Saturday had gone, with non stop demos of all kinds of kites within the main area and a truly massive collection of single line kites off to the side of that area, including some beauties by Pablo and Esteban from Spain! Some people couldn’t afford to stay for both days and thus, the quad megaflys were a tad smaller but, really, with that many revs in the sky all at once, equally as impressive in the big picture. Plus, the flyers had gotten a little more comfortable flying in the large grouping. Large crowds ringed all the fields and I developed an addiction to “Toastie” sandwiches with tea! As we were staying on to do an Rev clinic the following day, we were able to fly a little later than most people before retiring to the pub of choice a block away from the flying fields, a little place called the White Horse, where all the quad teams assembled for a well deserved pint or two. Maybe three. Regardless, my first experience with British kite festivals is one I will long cherish. Filled with great people and amazing kites, I can’t wait to go back again someday, hopefully even next year! A huge thanks firstly to John and Gill Bloom and The Kite Society for their help in getting us over there, the Jones family for putting up with us over a couple of nights, and also to everyone we met and flew with!

Next stop, Bristol…

David Hathaway