Issue 63: Capetown International Kite Festival

It’s almost an unbelievable question: “Do they fly kites in South Africa?” It’s usually followed by a befuddled shrug, as if the asker hadn’t thought about it, and wasn’t going to think about it. Kites and South Africa simply don’t go together.

But they do, which is why the Cape Town International Kite Fest has been running for more than a decade. True, there aren’t a ton of South African kitefliers, but the ones who made it to Cape Town were enthusiastic, experienced, and knew how to put on a show. The festival was run in late October this year, at the start of the spring season. The event benefits the Cape Mental Health Society, which provides schools, daycare, and other services to children and adults with a wide range of physical and mental disabilities.

As an international guest, I was joined by Susan and David Gomberg, Germany’s Bernhard Dingwerth, and Petra De Back of Switzerland. We arrived days early, and spent time visiting most of Cape Town’s attractions. On Thursday, we gathered at a park in Khayalitsha Township – a massive slum – to fly with kids from a CMH school. Bernhard had a team of young helpers helping him fly a giant crocodile, the Gombergs waded into a sea of kids to pass out hugs and candy, and everyone towed bols around the field in every direction. You have to give credit to festival PR honcho Kathy Williams; the day’s flying was covered by the Associated Press, and within hours was flashed to newspapers in San Francisco, New York City, and Berlin.

Two days later, we gathered at Zandvlei Park, at the north end of False Bay in the Cape Town suburb of Muizenberg. This is how kite fests should be run. The park was fenced off, requiring spectators to pay a small admission fee (the event attracted 20,000 spectators, raising more than $14,000 for CMH). Vendors sold food, kites, clothing, and plenty of ice cream. Kids were kept busy with giant bounce houses and slides, live animal displays, and a playground. A giant stage was rolled in, a professional DJ promoted Coke and a local radio station, and kept live musicians shuttling on and off. A roped-off public flying field kept most kites in one area, and a separate roped-off field put the invited flyers into a space of their own. And for lunch, the local college’s culinary students prepared a catered meal and served it on tables covered in white linens and flowers.  You just don’t get it this good in Berkeley or Wildwood or Long Beach or Ocean City.

Like a lot of festivals, giant inflatables dominated the sky. From the Gomberg’s van arose red devils, blue meanies, and a handful of  pyrodeltas. Bernhard emptied his bag, flying giant blue seals, the crocodile, a pair of ostrich, and having to use both ends of the same lines to do it. Petra’s foil carred up her camera, and she spent the day taking KAP shots of the crowd. South African kiters added their own lifters, spinsocks, scuba divers, and line laundry. Rokkakus with sponsor logos went up, and I added smaller single line kites in between. The winds were close to 20 mph on Saturday, slightly less on Sunday, and the sky was never empty.

The media showed up in force again, and Revs and dual-lines were brought out to dazzle the reporters. Here’s where I have to admit that – well, you probably already knew this – I have a knack for making an idiot out of myself. Kathy Williams introduced me to a reporter from “Def TV”. I thought, excellent, they’re the cool, hip channel! The reporter wanted to try flying my MEFM, so I gave her the handles and stepped behind her to help control it. But the kite snagged on a delta’s line. It was salvageable, so I said, “Let go.” No answer. “Let go!” No reply. “LET GO.” Nothing, and the kite crashed.  The reporter turned around to apologize, and that’s when I realized she couldn’t hear. Deaf TV, not Def TV. Chalk up another one to Boneheaded Broder.

Yes, they fly kites in South Africa. Besides this festival, there’s another earlier in the year in Knysna, and a very active kitesurfing community around the Cape. The exchange rate between rand and dollar is very favorable to Americans, making prices cheap. The people are friendly, the scenery is gorgeous, the food is tasty, the wind is constant. So the question is really, why aren’t YOU flying kites in South Africa?

See you somewhere soon…

Phil Broder