Issue 63: Wind Party in Buenos Aires

There is a wide variety in Kite Festivals. Some are small local celebrations, meant only to fill the sky with color and delight the crowd, and perhaps attract enough of spectators to stimulate profits in the local business community. There are also festivals that are simply competition events with a little added display kiting for the spectators. And a few festivals are mostly just “gatherings” of friendly pilot to enjoy their days of flying together, where spectators are certainly welcomed but are not the real reason for the festival – a bit like a glorified, organized “free fly.”

Then there are the larger, pre-planned events that try to cover all of the bases. They usually include roped-off flying fields for large “Display” kites, a separate Sport Kite Demonstration field, and usually a third area for spectators to fly their own kites. Large sound systems announce the different events within the festival and provide music to accompany competitive events and to provide enjoyment for spectators. Activities are pre-planned and scheduled, venues are reserved in advance, often vendors are booked in anticipation of attendees with money to spend, and subjects like “publicity” and “marketing” and “security” and “field setup/teardown” and “restroom facilities” are all discussed in committee meetings well in advance of the event.

I like to call these large, pre-planned events “THE GRAND HOOPLA” festivals, because they are really a concerted effort on behalf of some group or community to create a noteworthy “destination” event where people come specifically to see and enjoy the “big show.” These large festivals occur throughout the summer in the United States, and they are “destination” events for kite fliers too. Names like Wildwood, and Grand Haven, and South Padre Island, and Berkeley, and WSIKF come to mind… though there are many more similar festivals of slightly smaller, but no less noteworthy scope and attraction.

The South American country of Argentina offers two such events every year. One occurs every September in the city of Rosario, and is called Pintemos el Cielo de Rosario – or Let’s Paint Rosario’s Sky. And the other, named Fiesta del Viento – or Wind Party, occurs in late November just outside Buenos Aires in the suburb of Vicente Lopez.

So, after that very long-winded introduction, I am delighted to report that your intrepid reporter, “geezer” is down here in Vicente Lopez for Wind Party 2008. And it is indeed, one of the true GRAND HOOPLA festivals – and it is also for me, certainly a “destination event,” and has been one for the last three years!

Well, for heaven sakes, why in the dickens are you THERE??? Well, many complex answers occur to me, but the short one is… To support and perhaps help “grow” the sport of kite flying throughout the world. And also because this kite festival in Argentina has a seductive siren’s call that beckons me in my kiter’s heart and soul like no other festival I have ever attended. So, in many ways, I am both pleased, and also quite honored, to be back in my “home away from home” down in Vicente Lopez, Argentina.

Folks began to gather mid-morning along the shores of the Rio de la Plata, the large shallow estuary that separates Argentina from Uruguay, on Saturday, November 22nd. The festival venue is a large flat stretch of land-fill probably 8-10 acres in size covered with short-mowed grass and the endemic sand-burrs that grow down here. The area is visually dominated by two large structures resembling concrete umbrellas that are a monument to a revered Argentina Admiral. The weather is already borderline hot and likely to get much hotter, the sky is clear, and there’s a fresh breeze of maybe 7-9 MPH right off the river. It’s an ideal day for a kite festival.

Among the first to arrive are Roberto and Betty Cassenello, the president of BaToCo and his wife. BaToCo is an acronym for Barriletes a Toda Costa, which freely translated means “Kites at All Costs.” Yes, the joke implicit in the name was intended when the group as formed. BaToCo is Argentina’s Kite Club. The Cassenellos are soon joined by Guillermo Fernandez, the President of Alto Vuelo Kite Company, Argentina’s kite manufacturing firm. Together with the Municipality of Vicente Lopez and some other gracious sponsors, BaToCo and Alto Vuelo are putting on this festival. Pavilions are erected, areas are roped off, and the normal number of lawn-chairs, drinks coolers and water jugs begin to appear and 20-30 BaToCo members, Alto Vuelo employees, and other kite fliers also arrive and begin to set up camp. The sound guy also shows up and begins to string wire and erect speakers and plug in amps, and within an hour, all is set and ready to go…

But these folks are all really kite fliers first and foremost. So it wasn’t very long before the first kites were in the air. I had sent a few Focus “Skate” kites from the USA before I came down to Argentina this time, and I was pleased to see a couple of them airborne along with several kites hand-made by local craftsmen, so it wasn’t long before we had the beginnings of an airborne show to attract spectators. And Gustavo Sonzogni had arrived and he started setting up some of the large inflatable kites that BaToCo uses to draw crowds. It would not be long before the sky was filled with rip-stop Nylon fabric and polyester. Still, there was certainly time to engage in the casual conversation that marks these fine people as warm and gracious kitefliers. All you need to do is walk onto the kite-field with a kite in your hands, and you are accepted as a part of their kite flying family.

Over on the main demonstration/completion field, mi amigo LAlo Loescher was herding the judges into line and contestants are out testing the breezes, tuning their kites, and “displaying their chops” as contestants at any kiting competition would do. Rodrigo Posada, Willy Borsoni, and Fede Polizzotto, all Alto Vuelo sponsored pilots, were there getting ready to fly. So were the Freaks Team family of pilots – sons Ezequiel, Gaston, and Julian, and papa Fabián. Gustavo Di Si was also out flying his kites, as well as most of the other members of the completion pilot fraternity, including some members of local Team TENSION consisting of LAlo, Fredrick, Nacho, and Agustin, and also Team Contra Viento consisting of Guillermo, Ariel and Dardo, which was down for this festival from Rosario. They would all fly in Demos and competitions, and laugh and joke and kid each other just like completion pilots anywhere else in the world do.

So as the fields were filling up with pilots, the feeling of “festival” began to spread its heady delight around, coupled with the ever present respect and camaraderie between kite fliers everywhere. I’m not sure there is a dividing line between just a gathering and that special “festival” feeling, but it was defiantly getting there nonetheless. Still, it was early yet, because the actual official” festival was not scheduled to begin until 3:00 PM.

Pablo Macchiavel?lo was one of the first fliers to get a kite into the air. This man is one of the very productive amateur kite builders in Argentina, and is also one of the most sensitive Revolution pilots I have ever had the pleasure to watch fly. But Pablo started the day with three or four nice single-line kites this morning. He was soon joined by Hector Cesaretti and Lucas Gonzalez, both also fine kite builders. The skies began to fill with all of their lovely colorful creations, and the festival was underway in fact as well as just feeling like one.

Another pilot who I enjoyed seeing very much was Andrea della Bianca, who helps Guillermo Fernandez to manage Alto Vuelo kites when Andrea’s time permits. Andrea is a very fine kite builder in his own right, and the creator of a magnificent and very new “Star” kite. See the photos for a shot of this magnificent two-metre kite! And please believe me when I say that this kite flies as beautifully as it looks.

So I decided to put a kite of my own into the air, and I headed over to retrieve my kite tube from Roberto Cassanello’s van. And as I walked, I heard someone call out to me, “Hey Geezer!” It was my good friend, Mario Di Lucca, from Victoria, British Columbia in Canada. Mario is an old kiting friend whom I have known for a number of years, and while he lives in Canada now, he was born and raised in Mar del Plata, several hundred miles south of where we were in Vicente Lopez. Mario had been home visiting his family, and had decided to catch a part of the Fiesta del Viento on his way through to the Buenos Aires airport and his flight home to Victoria B.C. So we hugged, and talked of the good times we’d shared before, and talked about the Fiesta, and discussed the future too. It was truly grand to see Mario, a half a world away from both of our homes. Mario would only share a little time with us before he must catch his plane, but it was very fine to share a little time with another kiting brother. Mario was heading off to fly Revos with Gustavo Di Si, which is a special passion of both these men, but he later stopped and hugged me before he left for the airport and North America again. So “Muy bien, y hasta la vista,” Mario.

Well, my first kite into the air was a wonderful cellular creation from Robert Brasinton, one of my favorite kites and one of the most beautiful kites in the whole world in my own humble opinion. Indeed, sometimes I am not sure if I own that kite, or it owns ME! And this kite performed its magic again, so I flew for quite a while – entranced, as always. So it sometimes seems to people (including me) that I spend all of my time at kite festivals talking to people, and shooting photos, and making notes for articles, but I sometimes steal a little time and actually go fly a kite or two. But when the Brasington cellular began to bounce around in some bumpy wind, I brought her down with a mild regret, and put up one of Ron Gibian’s marvelous Pocket Rockets instead – another kite that is a real pleasure to fly. Yes, I probably stole about an hour away from my “job” at Fiesta del Viento, with NO REGRETS whatever… What fun!

Then it was back to talk with friends again, and to get back into the fiesta activities. By this time, what started as a warm-ish day had become decidedly HOT! I had no good thermometer, but it would not surprise me to discover that it was now in the triple digits on the Fahrenheit scale. So back into the shade of one of the pop-up pavilions I went, searching for a little shade, and I sat and chatted with Claris Skoczdople who is a very lovely, gracious and most generous man from Buenos Aires, and with Nelson Borelli, another Argentine who now lives in the Chicago area. Claris is the man who won First Place in the AKA Miniature Kite competition at Gettysburg this year with his gorgeous Mini-Witch, and Nelson is a frequent workshop presenter around the USA teaching his Indoor Fighter kite, and he had returned the Argentina to give his workshop to fellow Argentines the day before the fiesta, and he would later go on to visit his own family a few hundred miles west of Buenos Aires after the festival. We sat together and talked, and marveled at the spectacle before us. The sky was filled with kites by now, nearly all of them created by the fliers themselves – including the marvelous Pulpería (inflatable Octopus kites) that BaToCo members have built. And we kidded Mabel Del Rio who is a lovely lady and an absolutely GORGEOUS indoor flier, without mercy, about her glow-in-the-dark sunburn, too…

But the festival soon wound down. It was nearly time to pack up and get a quick shower at the hotel, and then make our way to the evening’s banquet. We would not want to miss that… This year, the banquet was held at what we North Americanos would call a sort of compromise between a Smorgasbord and a cafeteria. The charcoal grilled Argentine beef was spectacular, and tables of help-yourself food allow hungry kite fliers to fill their stomachs and enjoy a little indoor respite from a long day on the kite field. Everyone ate and drank heartily (wine, beer, soft drinks, and coffee as well as dessert are included in the one-charge-covers-everything price), and everyone ate heartily after a long, hot day on the kite-field, and I did what I could to hold the after dinner speeches to the minimum.

Sunday morning broke bright and clear, a perfect copy of the day before, save only that it would turn out to be just a tad cooler than Saturday. So after a quick breakfast of coffee and rolls, Nelson Borelli (who was also staying in my hotel) and I were picked up and driven to the fiesta fields by our friend Claris. Since we knew the drill by now, our arrival was a bit more leisurely than the day before. Still, it would be an interesting and event-filled day, and we really didn’t miss a minute of it. Rather the opposite, in fact.

Today was really the BIG DAY for Fiesta del Viento, unlike most American festivals. For some reason, the Argentine population tends to show up more heavily on Sundays than Saturdays, or that’s been the case both this year and last year. Altogether, I will guess that we saw somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000-7,000 spectators this year, down from roughly 10,000 last year (per official estimates by city officials). Anyway, it seemed to be wall-to-wall people for a good part of the day – enough so that getting from here to there across the field was worth some preliminary “route planning” before the attempt began in any case.

And one of the things I’d missed out on was joining all of the other old men on the flying line for La Banderola yesterday. Yes, she had been flown a time or two, but I’d always been somewhere else or otherwise occupied. But I was reminded that I’d attended a small party Friday evening, and had announced at the party that I truly wished to have a chance to join the men hauling on the line. I’d burned both hands on the kite line the first year I was down to Fiesta del Viento, and I did not have an opportunity to “redeem” myself last year. Well, these Argentineans certainly don’t have any memory problems, and I got exactly what I asked for this year – and much more, too! Time for me to help fly La Banderola!

What is La Banderola? Well, think of a kite made out of a huge sheet of Tyvek, about 20 feet wide and 80 or 90 feet long. Put a few tow-point keels onto the front. Paint the two outside edges in scenes of Argentina with a predominantly light-blue background, but leave the third strip in the center white color. That way, you have colors that mimic the national flag of Argentina. Oh, then paint your name – B A T O C O – vertically down the white strip in the center. You have the idea, but a quick glance at some photos should sure help with your visualization of this puppy. And – pure and simple – she’s a real “beast” to fly… So the only way to handle it is to keep the tow-line DIRECTLY into the wind on this thing, because steering it’s a near impossibility! Oh, and stability’s not her long suit either.

So the whole process starts with 2-3 grown men hauling this “kite” out onto the field and un-folding it. Have a ground crew that can sit on the kite to hold it down while you work with it. Now tie a heavy tow-line – about a half-inch thick braided line – to the joined tow-point bridle lines, and then proceed to try and orient the whole thing dead into the wind. Believe me, a couple of degrees off either way just won’t do… it’s gotta be close to perfect! Have at least a half-dozen grown men (more if the wind’s really up) spread out along the tow-line at about two meters distance apart, and they should be ready to PULL on command! Oh, MAKE SURE THEY ALL WEAR GLOVES!!! Now have the two people holding down the front corners, lift the kite a couple of feet off the ground. That’s all it takes! (As explained to me, anyway…)

So I don my gloves and go take a place on the tow-line… And they fiddle around getting the kite oriented just right, which seems to take almost forever. Finally, it’s time to fly, the corner men lift the diges, the front edge of La Banderola comes up, and Hector Cesaretti, who’s driving this parade hollers, “PULL!!!” and we’re off…

A half-instant later, it’s obvious that the kite is steering US, and kinda dragging us hither and yon across the field in one or two step increments! Then Hector hollers back over his shoulder, “DAVE… COME UP HERE…” What the heck? But I release my hold on the tow-line and make my way forward to Hector. He says, “HERE… YOU DRIVE!!!” …and puts my hands onto a hunk of wood they have tied into the tow-line. I immediately have flash-visions of myself steering a half dozen full-grown men, solid family men and good citizens, kicking and screaming into hell itself while being dragged by a gigantic kite that symbolizes their entire country! Hector yells, “You just follow the kite! If IT goes left, YOU go left… If IT goes right, YOU go right…” Then Hector departs to take my old place on the tow-line, and add a little “braking power” to halt our slide into Perdition!

I think “Who the Hell asked for this… and how did I get into this mess, anyway?” but I have the handles anyhow… so what the heck, let’s give it a shot! Meanwhile the kite has slid right on me, so I push the tow-line sideways to the right, trying to get straight upwind of her – and it kinda, sorta seem to work… almost! And then the kite slides back left again, and I respond, moving sideways with the kite again… Hey, this isn’t really all THAT impossible… And the kite slides right and I respond… Then left, and I respond again. Finally, I begin to get the “feel” of the thing and then notice that each sideways oscillation seems to be a bit less than the previous one – then think to myself, “Now don’t get too cocky… Just maintain and go with the flow…”

We’re flying on the huge Demonstration Field. There’re probably about 2,000 people watching my antics, but I’m at least holding my own and the thing is remaining in the air… I have lots of room… Well, almost!

I have no idea who he is, but I catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye. Off to the right, there’s another guy who’s decided that this is the opportune time to display HIS national spirit, too. So he’s putting up about a large delta, about 15 feet wide. Light blue tips, with a white center, and a yellow sun in the middle… Yep, national colors… And along the fly-line, he’s attached a bunch of yellow pennants with suns in each one of ’em. And there he is off to our right now – slow, stately, and downright immovable.

So – – – La Banderola slides right again and I follow, hopefully correcting the tow point so the kite’s straight downwind again. Yeah, I notice La Banderola is still continuing to slide right. I have no options but to slide with her… “Jesus,” I mutter under my breath.


Yep, La Banderola slid right into his fly-line and folded right around it, bringing La Banderola, the pretty Delta, and all those “sunny” pennants into a huge inglorious tangle right there on the field.

Nope, nobody hurt. No kites broken (that I’m aware of, anyhow). All people, kites, lines, and egos present and accounted for…

End of Dave’s first whack at Piloting (or, being pulled around by) La Banderola. And my only “whack” at this point. Yeah, knowing what I do now, I’d happily take another shot at it. I’ve some ideas about that kite, too. Next time, I’d like to add forward and back to my “steering” aresenal. Yes… Of COURSE it was Fun!

And I would be most remiss if I didn’t very publicly thank everyone in BaToCo for the amazing opportunity to try piloting La Banderola! THANK YOU SO MUCH, you guys! The opportunity to fly her was incredible. The kite is MAGNIFICENT! And you people are PRINCES, every last one of you!

Author’s note and disclaimer – I was present and on the field for the next flight of La Banderola – with my camera. That’s how I got the pictures published here in Kitelife! An experienced pilot flew her. And due to the variations of the winds, she spent a few very intense seconds directly over those huge concrete monuments you might see in the photos. Fortunately, she slid back left before catching a bad wind current and folding up in another ignoble mess on the field. Yes, the kite is fine!

Well… after that fine, enjoyable effort, it was time for a sip or two of water and a short sit-down. But it didn’t last long – there were events occurring, and photos to shoot. So out there I went with the camera. The “people” photos were shot about that time.

On Sunday, when I wasn’t using the Demo field as my own personal “playpen,” I let them use it for other events, of course. Some rather fine flying occurred on that field, I’m pleased to say. So in no particular order, here are a few noteworthy happenings.

Contra Viento is a fine, old school flight team from Rosario. Fine pilots all, there are usually four people on the team, but one of them couldn’t make it to the festival. Well, never mind… They just flew as three pilots instead. They’re the guys with the rainbow stacks of kites with the long tails, and they absolutely held the crowd in the palms of their hands! They were knock-out terrific!

Gustavo Di Si is well known for his creative and innovative flying – and he always puts on a great show. This time, he was out there flying three at once a la Ray Bethell. He acquitted himself well too, and the spectators were amazed by his ability, control, and artistry with kites. GREAT job, Gustavo. And if you want in on a secret, word by the river is that he’s been seen practicing with two dualies and A QUAD all at once! Whew!!!

Team TENSION flew as well. They are a start-up team right now, and two of the four of them are new with the team this year. They seemed to acquit themselves well, with kind applause and good wishes from the audience. Keep at it, guys!

The Quad Team flew a demo as well. These are seasoned pilots, who first formed up when John Barresi and I came down to Argentina in 2006. While they fly well, they are all each heavily involved in other kiting activities, so they only use this team as a Demo team and “play” outlet now rather than their primary kite passion. Good job, folks.

And, lest we forget, Freaks Team flew demos as well. These folks, all members of the same family, are darned good fliers and getting even better! In the 2007 World Sport Kite Championships, Freaks Team ended up in the middle of the pack. And while that may not seem like very much, it shows fine growth as a team, and they beat out some very experienced teams in the process, too. Keep at it, Freaks! You’ll get there!

Over on the Display Kite field, I marveled at the spectacle and delighted in so many fine hand-made kites. Yes, there were several large inflatables that came from Gomberg Kite Productions International. There were also a very few “store bought” kites. But the vast preponderance of the kites flying were hand-made by local craftsmen. Many showed both excellent craftsmanship and flew with grace and beauty too.

Of particular interest are the many hand-made Pulpería (Octopus) kites BaToCo has built – from polyethylene sheeting (Yes, like “garbage bags”). When I had an opportunity to shoot some photos of 21 Peter Lynn Octos flying for a new World’s Record a while back, I sent a photo down here to Argentina, and got a surprising response in return. “What?” they said. “A World’s Record? We just built about 50 Octos last weekend, and we flew them all!” Well, these are NOT Peter Lynn Octopi, at roughly $5K per kite, we’re talking about, but they sure flew well and looked very lovely in the sky. Pretty inexpensive, too!

You might also look in the photos for the shot of “the one that got away!” Yes, one of BaToCo’s Pulpería kites DID break away very near the end of the festival. It drifted across a nearby service road and landed inside a local futbol (soccer, to you Yanks) club’s enclosure, and plastered itself to a cyclone fence. No, no futbol players were present when the Octo met it’s demise. It’s always sad to lose a nice kite, though…

And, to end the entire Fiesta del Viento, we watched the 2008 Rokkaku Battle for the festival. Roughly two dozen Roks in the pack to start, and the “last man standing” was up there alone in less than ten excitement-filled minutes. Lest you think a Rok battle is not interesting, I have to say that they are NOT boring contests at all. These guys REALLY go at it! It’s worth bragging rights or a whole year, and so the result is not inconsequential.

And… as an added attraction, this year, there were battle drums sounding as the contest occurred. Apparently there is a drum group in Buenos Aires that builds and plays Taiko Drums, a special kind of drum the Japanese developed specifically for military battles. Incredible sound – deep bass voice, with a resounding hollow “echoing” sound! Well, the drums and drummers were more than equal to the thrill of the battle itself, and had the audience and contestants whipped into a fever pitch in no time flat.

Together, the Rok Battle plus the drumming made for an unbelievable finish to the festival. There was a fairly even split between take-downs and cut-outs, and rarely a moment when someone wasn’t being severely threatened. I’ve no idea who piloted the last kite left, but I know he survived some fierce threats and battles. Congratulations to ALL who entered that battle, from first-one-out to last-one-flying. Every one is a winner in my book!

Finally, it was all over. The only events left in the festival were packing up and getting on our way. This year we had our usual extraordinary time, and Good Lord Willing, I’ll be back again next year to experience Fiesta del Viento all over again. Quite honestly, I can’t wait. After all, I hope I have another date with La Banderola…

Fair Wind and Good Friends –