Issue 66: Kites… Life.

It’s always interesting when it comes time for me to write one of these, with so much going on I find myself having trouble distinguishing between personal and “kiting”… Quite frankly, for me, there might not be much distinction.

Some semi-random thoughts, observations…

Chinese Counterfeits

As cited in David Gomberg’s article from our last issue, we’re seeing a growing trend from China with regard to blatantly copying designs, products, themes and more… Just within the past year we discovered that the B-Series was being copied (albeit badly) by more than one Chinese manufacturer.  Two of them removed those patterns from their web sites within three days of stern communication, but the majority of those effected aren’t so fortunate.

Primarily, for day to day purposes, I take a great deal of solice from knowing that in the long run, a strong community, quality products and ongoing education/promotion will sustain kiting for the most part.

Trying to look at it positively, I’d like to believe that every bad copy flown ultimately brings that buyer one step closer to researching kiting and learning about better community generated products… In the meantime however, manufacturers, designers and artists are being affected directly through poor quaulty product (i.e. bad customer experience), creative infringement and most of all, on the sales front in an especially difficult economic time.

What gets me the most as a flier is the fact that someone who has their first kite experience with one of these cheap knock offs can sometimes have a poor enough experience that they simply shove it in the closet and be turned off altogether.

I’m digressing from my point, pardon… The core observation is that most of the knock offs are coming out of China, this is well documented, even with a simple Google search…

My question is, why?

What dynamic is at work here?

Sure, we know all the points… The increase of US kitemakers outsourcing their manufacturing to China over the past decade has provided easier access to kite designs, textile companies, staff training, etc, etc, all the things necessary to produce kites at that level.

But that’s not what I’m getting at either…

We’re talking about what is arguably the birthplace of kiting, where kite first met sky, where they still practice some of the most beautiful and intricate kite designs in the world, some brilliantly designed with animated features that are driven by the wind… However, these artisians are reducing in numbers as less and less young folk apprentice into the art of kite making, a cultural shift is clear.

I’m saddened at the thought of such original, rich and beautiful art working its way to extinction while more and more businesses train their youth in the ways of copying and theft… Where is the moral fiber in that?

In the early to mid-90’s, there were dozens and dozens of different cottage kitemaker designs… Sure, they all sprang forth from many of the same grandparents and inspirations, but there was a decidedly larger effort to be original in some way, only very rarely plagarized directly from another kite.

With the trend we’re seeing in China, where are we headed?

Sure, sure, I’m generalizing quite a bit in all this, but I think you get my drift.

I don’t have the answers, or all the questions, but we’d love to hear what our readers have to think about this.

Click here to comment or debate on the Kitelife Forum!

Team Flying and Modern Day Skills

Recently, there was article in AKA’s Kiting magazine (Spring 2009) written by Eric Wolff with observations and commentary on the state of sport kiting today, specifically the trends and dynamics we’ve seen in both individual and team competition over the past 20+ years… I enjoyed his article and found it very informative, I encourage you to give it a read if you haven’t already.

Eric’s article got me going a bit, not with contrary viewpoints necessarily, but it got my juices flowing and I wanted to add some of my own thoughts.

My discussions with a few leading kite manufacturers indicate that there aren’t less fliers, just less people directly involved in the festivals and clubs, compared to 10+ years ago.

These days its so easy to sit down at the keyboard and pull up your kite buddies on instant messenger, Skype (video call) your friend in Japan, stay up on products and discussion via the forums, watch videos of the best peformances and tutorials, all right there from our home.

Now add in the increased cost of travel, our economy, unemployment rates, etc, and those components alone are enough to put a damper on sport kite competition.

One of the hot topics in this area of discussion is the significant decrease in sport kite teams, certainly in North America… It would seem that while there are around the same number of fliers in North America (in theory), these fliers apparently aren’t seeking out team situations, despite exposure to team flying being more likely through YouTube, forums, etc.

To go one further, and more accurately, it would seem the majority of fliers these days are primarily stimulated by “slack line” trick flying which started to become so prevalent after 1998 when Mathieu Mayet and Richard Debray first visited North America.

Simply said, trick and precision flying may both be equally challenging, totally different skill sets and very complimentary… But trick flying doesn’t play into team flying a great deal for novice or intermediate fliers, the first obstacles anyone needs to overcome when learning team flying are speed control, precise steering, etc… If so many of our new fliers are starting down the trick road without much encouragement or inspiration to fly precisely, how can they safely fly within proximity of each other?

Now with the demise of Tricks Party USA and dwindling numbers throughout the North American sport kite competitor and event front, one has to wonder, what are we missing?

Another factor to consider altogether is the fact that many of the hard core or veteran pilots are finding themselves working as judges or field directors for the better part of each competition day just to get their 5-15 minutes on the field for their own routines… With so few pilots involved in competitions, we haven’t enough qualified staff to balance the workload.

At the end of the day, these loyal folks are enjoying less and less practice and demo time, judging and flying workshops, fun-based kite games, etc… I for one would like to see a shift back to making the show and level of enjoyment our first priority, since we’ve got nothing left to lose and could benefit greatly from an improved public outreach and better skill sharing.

I believe MIX format is one way to work towards this, which is a competition format approved by the International Rules Book Committee (IRBC) and rejected by the AKA through an addendum in their Rules Appendix… Essentially, MIX format has each competitor fly three compulsories (each representing 15% of a total score) and their ballet (the other 55%) to make one overall result.

This would cut the average time required for competition down by 30%-40% at each event, making more time for learn to fly fields, demo time, play time, workshops and clinics, pilot debriefing and anything else tailored to grow and promote kiting instead of simply trying to “preserve what we have left”… Additionally, MIX format reduces the amount of “dead air” performance that we present to our spectators, under the assumption that ballet and identifiable compulsories might be more interesting than freestyle without music.

I’ve heard the debate that “well, if I wasn’t able to fly precision [or alternatively – ballet], I might not have started competing, and this might discourage other new fliers“… I would ask, what new fliers?

Seems to me we have to make more kite fliers before they can become competitors, and kite fliers are made more often than not by good old fashioned exhibition and contact with the fliers themselves, something we’re seeing precious little of at most competitions these days.

Having previously spent time as an active member of the IRBC and as both Chair and serving member of the AKA Sport Kite Committee each time its come up for discussion, this is a topic of some passion for me… Quite simply, in my opinion, if nothing else it’s a matter of making a left turn for the sake of change, we can always revert or add changes on an annual basis each time the International Rules Book is amended.

Anyway, I could go on for quite a while… At this point, I’m much more interested in seeing some in-depth and heated disucssion on the subject.

Click here to comment or debate on the Kitelife Forum!

The Home Front…

On a personal note, the immigration process is underway for my fiancee Takako and we’re hoping for it go through sometime in September or October which would hopefully give us an actual move date for her of August or September… If we’re luck, it’ll be in time for WSIKF or AKAGN.

As always and without presumption, I’d like to express my deepest appreciation to our readers, and the support we’ve been shown here at Kitelife since we opened our doors… Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.

Cordially yours,

John Barresi