Issue 69: SPI Competition

November 7-8, 2010

It was great to have the South Padre Island Kite Competition/Festival back on the calendar this year. This event is run and sponsored by Windchasers Kite Shop owned by Guy Blatnik. And I have to say, this year’s festival is one that none of us will forget. Usually, you can say that about an event after you’ve seen a phenomenal performance, have come back with some wealth of kite knowledge, have been awarded the grand champion award of all kiters, etc. But Mother Nature was the great performer in this festival that will never be forgotten. But through it all, the kiters persevered, as we always do, and we had a great time. As they say, a bad day of kite flying beats a good day at work.

We all started arriving on the Island Friday afternoon, November 6. Jeff and I got our trailer set up at the campground across the street from the flats and then headed over to the flats to see who had arrived early. The first people we ran into was the Gray family from Austin (Ben, Cory, Kathleen, and Nick). As we stood out and visited with them, we noticed the first part of Mother Nature’s wrath she had in store for us. The red tide that we have been dealing with for weeks was still lingering around. Usually, we deal with the red tide late summer, early fall. This year it came in later in the year, and it has decided to stay around for a long while. It causes allergy-type symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, and so on. It affects some people much more severe than others, as we found out. Being on the beach side of the Island is worse than being on the flats, so we were glad to be on the flats at least.

Team SPI (Jeff & Donna McCown, Guy Blatnik, and Bill Seward) did a quick practice on the flats and ran through their quad and dual-line routines. Whatakite, Barry Ogletree, and his group had a kite up testing the area they would be flying in. John Shamrock, who was part of that group, was the first casualty of the red tide. They had already been on the Island a day before, so John had been in it a full day before us. He ended up having a severe allergy-like attack from it and had to stay the day and evening in the hotel room trying every remedy he could. Another member of that group, Susan Orgeron, went buggying on the beach side and found out what the effects of red tide were. She said that with the wind behind her, she was having a great run, but then it came time to come back. Going against the wind just aggrevated the problem, and she had to keep one eye open to see, and then as it got too watery, change eyes.

Friday evening everyone started gathering at the kiters’ favorite hangout, the Padre Island Brewing Company a/k/a the Brew Pub. We all got to catch up on what everyone had been doing in the past year or so. Tom Chaffee showed up after his drive from San Antonio. He’s moved out of the Valley now, but we were so glad to hear that he would come back to announce at our kite festivals. He’s an icon at our festivals on the Island. It was great to see Walt Mitchell, who made the long journey from Lubbock, back with us.

Saturday morning we discovered Mother Nature had struck again. We pulled up to the entrance of the flats to discover water over the main part of the flats. Hurricane Ida was churning up the Gulf of Mexico as she headed out across open water. This is extremely late in the year to be having hurricanes in the Gulf. We were experiencing some coastal flooding due to Hurricane Ida. We all headed to the northeast corner of the flats, which was the only dry area to be found early in the morning. Cones were put out at the entrance to guide spectators to the trail that would get them to the dry area without getting stuck in the wet sand. We all began putting up our shade canopies, banners, chairs, tables, and getting ready for a full day.

Tom, our announcer, arrives with a tall tale, or so we thought. He mentioned that after we had all left the Brew Pub the night before that Keith Anderson had shown up. Now, we all just figured Tom was sampling a bit too many brews and dreamed this up. We hadn’t seen Keith in many years. But we all ended up having to apologize to Tom, because five minutes later, here comes Keith a/k/a Tinker around the corner. What a great surprise that was. Team SPI is celebrating their tenth anniversary this year, and Tinker is a big part of our first years of competing. He was at most of our festivals we participated in in the early years. It was great to have him and Lou join us this year .

Competition started promptly (kite time) at 10 a.m. We started with our pilots’ meeting, then we were off to the field. Now that Team SPI has retired, we can dedicate our time to judging. So Jeff, Guy, and I became the judging crew with Ben Gray handling the field director position. It was nice for once not to be running to go change kites to go get ready for my next event. I actually got to stand there and see everyone fly. Great job, guys. We had four competitors, five if you count Bill Seward twice, once for dual-line and once for quad-line. The other competitors were TeeCee Cornell, Deontae Boswell, and Michael Boswell. We also had the Boswells fly pairs. I was so glad to see them compete together this year. What a great way for a father and son to spend time together. Well, here’s where Mother Nature hit us with the third challenge. We always complain that we never get any light wind practice on SPI. Well, we had light wind coming out of the northeast, which posed another problem. Everyone has seen our skyscraper tower in pictures from the past. And if you have flown on the flats, you have experienced the problems that come from that. When the wind is out of the northeast, it goes right through that tower. Now, the good news is, the tower will be imploded in December. The bad news, it was still there for this competition that was taking place with a northeasterly light wind. So needless to say, it posed a challenge for our flyers, but it was nothing they couldn’t handle. They all flew well. I can’t leave out the great work of the ground crew helpers, Cory Gray and her kids, Kathleen and Nick, and Kitty Seward. We really put them through the mud, literally. They had to stand out in the wet part of the flats and try not to get stuck in the mess. Thanks guys!

When the competitors were finished, we all headed to our shades to sit down and cool off and have a bite to eat. There was a food vendor set up to furnish the much needed supplies. Then it was time for the fun-fly of the festival, my favorite part. Whatakite fought the light winds hard throughout the day trying to keep a couple of kites in the air. We even had some tails float down into the performance field at one point, but they were quickly rolled up out of the way. Team SPI went out and debuted their new quad-line and dual-line performances for this year. I even got a chance to try my hand at writing a routine for the dual-line performance and then making the calls. I kind of like being in charge of the men. I should do it more. Windjunkies (Jeff & I) also debuted our new quad-line and dual-line performances. I guess we like punishment and hard work. Trying to learn four new routines is a bit much at times, but we survived it. Jeff and Michael teamed up to give a dual-line trick demo with Michael on the microphone and Jeff flying. Cassie Shook from New Tech Kites had a great banner display and also brought out some beautiful quad-line kites to play with. Several others performed demos throughout the day.

As the day drew to a close and we ran out of cough drops, it was time to pack up and head for the showers. That evening we all met back up at Boomerang Billy’s Beach Bar for pizza and beverages of our choice. We had a great turnout and great pizza. We all visited for as long as we could stand it, but then the red tide took its toll. It was time to get away from the beach area and head to indoors to clear our heads. Kitty and Bill Seward ended up leaving us early Saturday evening and headed back home to Pharr. Kitty was getting very sick from the red tide and had foot surgery scheduled for Monday morning. We hated to see them go, but we all encouraged her to go home and get some rest.

Mother Nature threw a couple of rain showers over the Island, one that night and then another one early Sunday morning, so we were afraid to even look at what the flats might look like. As we drove up the entrance to the flats, we saw more water over the flats, but the northeast corner was still dry, even though it was a bit smaller now. As everyone started trickling in, we noticed that Whatakite was missing, so we all took advantage of the extra space and started getting out all our single lines to put up a display to show everyone we were still there. Randy and Sylvia Ashley had up their big flow form and spin sock. Jeff and I started unloading all our kites and launching, along with Bill Doan, Guy, Ben, and a few others. We had a great display of a variety of kites.

With Bill Seward gone, Team SPI was short a man, so we invited Ben Gray to join us with his quad and give it a try. We took him through some of the maneuvers of our routine to make sure he could handle it, and then it was time to queue the music. Ben was such a sport. “Sure, I’ll give it a try.” Ben did a super job and was ready to do some more, but then we started noticing our single-line kites were starting to drift down to the ground and saw clouds heading our way. It’s really hard to do single-line and sport kites at the same time. As we began to wrap the kites up, the drizzle set in. Our mood didn’t change one bit. We were still having a blast and hating to have to bring the stuff in, but we knew it was useless to keep at it.

We got everything packed away and headed back to our hangout, the Brew Pub, and did some unwinding. As we finished eating, we started noticing the sun was shining again and there were no clouds and the wind had picked back up. Michael and Ben, being from Austin with inland wind, couldn’t stand not flying anymore and said they were heading to the flats to get a little more flight time in. We headed out with them to hang out. We managed to get a few still shots of MIchael and the beautiful rainbow that was over the leaning tower of SPI. Good way to end a great weekend, but it wasn’t over quite yet. MIchael drug out his kite lights and did some night flying for us. Then it was time to call it a night and the end of the SPI Kite Competition for another year.

Monday morning as Jeff and I hooked up the trailer to head back home, we looked over at the flats and saw that it was all under water. It at least waited until we were finished before closing us down. Even though most of us will remember this festival mostly because of the red tide and high tide, we will also have our memories of a great weekend of kite flying and seeing old and new friends. Our kite family is great!!!

Donna McCown