Issue 63: Niagara International Kite Festival

The 2008 edition of the Niagara Falls International Kite Festival often looked and felt more like a three-ring circus then it did a kite festival.

There were multiple venues in two countries (Canada & USA), over the course of five days (Wednesday 1 October ~ Sunday 5 October), with various teams attempting to reach a variety of goals (Arch, Homan Walsh, etc), and weather that had a mind all of its own.

Most of the support team arrived at the beginning of the week. The festival has grown substantially over the last few years and the integral role the support team plays in the festival, or how much they are appreciated, cannot be over stated.

This years Niagara festival started off at full throttle! There was no gradual build to a crescendo…oh no, no, no…it went from zero to sixty in a nano-second.

By Tuesday the full festival fleet was operational. There were three-fifteen passenger vans, two cargo vans for stock and equipment, and an administrative SUV. Plus countless personal vehicles that joined in the parade!

Wednesday 1 October the press fly was held in Buffalo New York to maximize the media access to the festival. LaSalle Park is a waterfront park on Lake Erie in close proximity to the areas television stations and major daily newspaper. Buffalo is about 23 miles up the Niagara River (south) of Niagara Falls.

The AKA convention ended the Saturday prior to the Niagara festival beginning, many of the flyers made their way from Gettysburg to the Niagara region early in the week. It made for a well attended press fly!

The rest of our esteemed flyers, with the exception of a few stragglers, arrived on Wednesday, during the press fly of course!

A handful of English speaking foreigners were plucked from the field to do interviews. The local media love English speaking foreigners! The farther away they are from Buffalo the better! Poor Robert Brasington from Tasmania is called upon often…and bless his kiteflying soul…he always does what is asked…and does so very graciously.

After the arrivals and the press fly/interviews everyone made their way to the headquarters hotel in Niagara Falls. While waiting for the rooms to become available the kite flyers feasted on ‘Buffalo Chicken Wings’ for lunch. Chicken Wings were invented in Buffalo, New York and I can confidently say, without a doubt, that Buffalo has, by far, the best Chicken Wings on the entire planet! We are talking worldwide testimonials!

As it turned out, on Wednesday we ran around like the proverbial chicken without its head, trying to; accommodate all the media requests, pick up incoming kite flyers via planes, trains and automobiles, gather all the flyers from the press fly and herd them up to Niagara Falls, get the flyers their lunch, try to get the schedules distributed, get everyone checked into the hotel, and make sure they all know about dinner plans at the Hard Rock Café for that evening.

The day’s logistical challenges as well as corralling kite flyers, was, as they say, like herding cats!

When we thought Wednesday was busy, it was only because we had not gotten to Thursday yet.

Thursday 2 October started with a mandatory meeting for all flyers. Terrapin Point is in New York State on the American side of Niagara Falls; it is a piece of land that juts out adjacent to the immense falls. Flying at Terrapin Point is an incredible opportunity and exhilarating experience. Normally a no fly zone, New York State Parks permits the festival’s flyers two days a year to fly at Terrapin Point.

Kite flying at Terrapin is dicey at best and flyers really need to be at the top of their game when flying that close to Niagara Falls. The force of the upper rapids is incredibly powerful; the winds constantly swirl, there is an updraft created by the 200’ gorge, and depending on wind speed and direction, it can either be gorgeous and sunny or there may be a heavy mist from the falls getting everything very wet. As a kite flying location Terrapin doesn’t need to be feared, but does needs to be respected.

To some it is nature’s playground; iQuad was an absolute vision of beauty as their kites danced in the air currents at Terrapin Point with Niagara Falls to their right and a full rainbow across the gorge on their left. Incredible art kites were being flown by the world’s best, banners and ground displays decorated the area. Christian Hoberg of Germany’s Team No Limit delighted on-lookers and left smiles in his wake as he strolled around the grounds on stilts.

The gorge portion of the festival was scheduled for two days, Thursday and Friday 2 & 3 October to take place along the Niagara gorge. The Niagara River runs from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, the Niagara Gorge with the Niagara River raging along the bottom, runs from the base of Niagara Falls to Lake Ontario, after Niagara Falls drops 200 feet.

The gorge provides the flyers with their favorite tourist attraction the Jet Boat Ride. The Jet Boat races up the gorge through the towering chiseled stone walls into the whitewater rapids of Devil’s Hole. A group of adventurous kite flyers took the ride Thursday afternoon.

I use to think many of the flyers came to the Niagara Festival for the opportunity to fly at Terrapin, now I think some of the flyers come to take the Jet Boat Ride.

The original Niagara kite contest, that 15 year old Homan Walsh won, in 1848, was held in order to get the first line across the Niagara Gorge so the areas first suspension bridge could be built between Canada and the United States.

On Friday 3 October, after a long, hard, difficult kite flying day, the UB AIAA-Eng Kite Team over came various obstacles and challenges to successfully complete the Homan Walsh Kite Contest re-enactment!

The remarkable feat was completed as the team flew from Table Rock on the Canadian side to Terrapin Point on the American side. This was an especially impressive accomplishment since the students flew an area of the gorge that was almost twice as far across as the original Homan Walsh location at the Whirlpool Bridge.

The UB AIAA – Eng Kite Team (UB=University of Buffalo, AIAA=American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Eng= Engineering Department). The extraordinary team of six students showed amazing skill, persistence, impressive teamwork and a bit of luck. The same team has been together for the last 4 years, experimenting, researching various kite designs, practicing their flying skills, and learning as much or more from the failures they made along the way.  They have certainly come a long way after losing their kite to the gorge during their first attempt.

In addition to the Jet Boat Ride, the abundant eye candy flying in the sky over Terrapin, the stilt walking and the miniature kite’s being given away to passerby’s, the University Team working their hearts out, and a few additional arrivals to the growing festival family…there was the indefatigable Iqbal Husain and his Arch Team!

Iqbal works hard all year long meticulously preparing his arch of kites for the integral festival component of connecting Canada and the United States in a show of peace and friendship. The kite arch also symbolizes the one sky one world principle most kite flyers subscribe to throughout the year.

The one thing the festival can count on with regards to the kite arch attempt and the Homan Walsh re-enactment, due to the geographic terrain alone, is that the winds and weather will be un-cooperative and the task will be difficult to achieve, at best.

The laudable arch team spent Thursday scoping locations in both countries. When they found the perfect spot in which to launch from on the Canadian side, according to the days winds, it was deemed too dangerous by the Spanish Aero Cars…high voltage, cables, blah, blah, blah.

Bound and determined to fly the kite arch and connect the two countries, we went to plan ‘B’ on Friday afternoon.

The kite arch was launched from the Rainbow Bridge. It was attached to both the American side and the Canadian side. It then seemed to get a bit possessed! The arch danced around and snapped. At one point we had both a kite train and a kite arch flying off the bridge simultaneously. There was that brief conversation with Homeland Security.  However, alls well that ends well.

The fact is, no matter how many times we do the arch attempt; we continuously come up against new challenges.

Then again, if it was easy, everyone would do it!

We also had to make sure the flyers were kept busy off the flying field so they didn’t get themselves in trouble. Charles “AJ” Jackson came up with the ‘Happy Hour Lecture Series’ idea. It was a stroke of genius to combine continuing education with liquid libation!

The ‘Happy Hour Lecture Series’ was a way for the flyers to be updated on what else is happening in the kite world.

Thursday’s lecture was by Kelvin Woods from England. Kelvin has much to offer on many subjects, his popular Butterfly kites and his icon image kites. This particular lecture was about connecting spars to plastics, very useful for being able to do cellular kites in workshops.

Friday’s lecture was given by Scott Skinner; he discussed current Drachen Foundation activities. He certainly had more material then time allowed, and focused this particular lecture on the 1773 European Peartop kite the foundation is restoring for Peter Lynn. For the complete story see Journal 23 Spring 2007.

Sunday’s lecture was by Calvin Pilgrim who organizes the Antigua International Kite Festival in the springtime. For information on this event go to

The gorge portion of the Niagara International Kite Festival concluded Friday evening with a lovely fireworks display over Niagara Falls.

Saturday 4 October and Sunday 5 October the festival venue was Reservoir State Park in Lewiston, New York. Reservoir is a fabulous flying field that has an open cut grass area that is a half mile by a third of a mile.

We certainly could have used a little more wind on both days! Everyone worked hard, but the real event saviors were team iQuad. These guys are absolutely sublime. They flew non-stop from the time they arrived in the morning until they left at the end of the day. Team iQuad have an incredible work ethic, they are a delight to be around, true professionals, exemplary skill and ability. These guys are an incredible asset and will always be invited to every festival I ever organize. They are as we say keepers.

Saturday evening was the flyers appreciation dinner at the Buffalo Central Terminal Train Station, an 80 year old art deco style station. The train station is a work in progress as the CTRC, Central Terminal Restoration Corporation work to restore and stabilize the lofty structure. It has amazing 70 foot ceilings that are perfect for indoor flying. It is definitely a work in progress, and most, but not all appreciate the unique experience.

The extreme ranges of acceptance and emotion the train station evoke in people never cease to amaze me. The wonderful and talented Joyce & Cliff Quinn who were attending the Niagara event for the first time declared it an incredible place, and said they would surely want to go back, even if they were the only people willing to go! There was the one poser who declared it a pig sty and stormed out. Although it was clear long before we arrived at the train station that he had his own agenda. One bad apple will never be allowed to spoil the day. The axiom, one mans trash is another mans treasure, has never been more true.

We had much more important matters to content with. Unfortunately Al Sparling, maxi kite flyer from Chicago, took a nasty tumble in the hotel parking lot on the way to the train station Saturday night.  Al, along with David & Susan Gomberg spent several hours in the Buffalo General Hospital Emergency Room. An inner city hospital on a Saturday night…that is a fate you wouldn’t wish on your worse enemy!

Not only do our kite flyers arrive from out of town…so did many of our meals and preparers! It was fortunate for everyone that Shultz’s Backyard BBQ drove from Detroit to act as event caterer. They had their share of challenges getting to Niagara Falls and not only rose above them, but they still managed to go above and beyond the call of duty. They treated us with a tremendous pig roast at the train station.

The couple of nights that Shultz’s didn’t feed the flyers, they went to the Hard Rock Café for dinner. We were very surprised to find out that the Hard Rock made a nice cloisonné pin commemorating the Niagara International Kite Festival. Apparently James Kinsey of Windjammer fame, who lives close to Niagara Falls, NY, is both a Hard Rock fan and pin collector and he had persuaded them to make the pin.

David Gomberg was good enough to do announcing duties for the event. How do we repay his kindness you ask? We surround him with hundreds of ‘Flying Screaming Monkey’s’ for two long days. I bet he is still hearing those little buggers in his sleep.

When all was said and done there were over 150 fliers from 13 countries represented at the Niagara International Kite Festival this year. Wayne Brunjes, web master extraordinaire collected over 3,000 photos and videos from various attendees.  He spent many hours sorting and categorizing the images and they are now available for viewing at in the media gallery.

An almost complete listing, sans walk ups, of the 2008 Niagara flyers can be found at the festivals official web site. That is where all the important and wonderful team members, who can never be thanked enough, came from; Support Team, Arch Team, Homan Walsh Team, Workshop Team, Inter-Active Field Team, and the fantastic kite makers and flyers.

As this year’s wrap, morphs into next year’s plans, we look forward to developing a great program for the 2009 festival. One event begins long before the other one ends.

We look forward to seeing you September 24  – 27, 2009.

Meg Robinson-Albers