Issue 78: Kites… Life.

Changing the game

From the beginning of sport kite competition (circa 1987), participants were very active not only as competitors but as vocal influences on the very course of this sport… This was the case right up through 2006-2007, when things seemed to get stall somewhat, especially with regard to progression of the sport.

Granted, this is a very niche sport (certainly at the moment) and there is only so much that can be done sometimes – but without dynamic format changes or a fleet of “super fliers” leading the way and inspiring those just coming into it like we had in years past, there just wasn’t any real initiative to change anything.

Although I’ve been out of competition myself since 2008, I’ve been watching for some sign of dynamic change… The end result is always “up in the air”, but I’ve long been a believer that *any* change at all is good at this point.

On February 9th of this year, I posted on the American Kitefliers Association forum about what I felt were some real issues that are hindering the growth and success of sport kiting, and kiting in general… If you’re an AKA member, you can read the entire thread at the link below.
(must be signed in as an AKA member to view)

The following May, Eastern League (EL) commissioner Marc Conklin jumped into the discussion with both feet and the kind of “move forward” attitude I’d been hoping to see from someone… Again, the discussion is in a “members only” section of the AKA forum, but I’ll try to summarize some of the steps he’s initiated in the way EL sport kite competitions are being run.

Program Precision

We’ve had a few precision formats over the past 20+ years, some longer than others, and all with the inherent concern of leaving our spectators bored without music, watching competitors fly shapes.

For the past decade or so, most competitions had been using the traditional precision format wherein pilots would fly their three compulsories one-by-one, then their precision freestyle, and little to no announcing for fear of distracting the competitors during their performance.

A veteran competitor himself, Marc proposed “Program Precision” to the AKA Sport Kite Committee – a format similar to our old “League Style” program wherein pilots fly their compulsory shapes *during* their freestyle performance… The proposal was accepted, and we should see it fully instituted for North America in 2012.

On average, Program Precision takes an average of 5 minutes to complete per flier, compared to the 11 minutes per flier of the current precision format, so there should be significant time regained for more play time, workshops, demos, learn to fly fields, or whatever else is needed.

Announcing during Precision

Well aware of the “dead air” problem, Marc also led the charge to experiment with music and announcing during precision events, the simply turned all the speakers away from the competition field and toward the audience instead. Meanwhile, the announcer kept some music going (at a lower volume), and took the time to describe precision compulsories as each pilot was completing the figure.

What did they find with this experiment? When each figure was completed, the audience actually applauded! After years of being left in the dark, the spectators knew what they were watching, what to look for, and clapped when the figure was successfully completed… It may seem like a small thing to some, but this is just one of many examples where we’d been missing the boat on communicating with or provoking the interest of the public during hours of dead air.

Real Time Scoring

It might have been the mid to late 90s when sport kite competitions started doing “TBAs” where an entire competition flight order would complete a category (Masters Ballet for example), then an hour or two later, maybe in the evening, they’d post the results with the top three names hidden (to be announced) until the awards ceremony… While this may or may not have changed the excitement level for the pilots (waiting to find out who won), it *definitely* left the general public utterly in the dark so that after committing whatever length of time to watching an event, they couldn’t find out who won, or even who took top three!

At the 2011 MASKC event (in Ocean City MD), the organizers and staff experimented with “real time scoring” or at least as close as they could get for the time being… Using runners, they kept the scores coming off the field between fliers so they could be quickly tabulated for all to see as they were completed.

End result? The audience was brought back into the loop… There was measurable interest and excitement as the final placement (1st, 2nd, etc) shifted around every time scores came in, another simple, yet seemingly obvious step for including the public.

So, what does it all mean?

Well, it means folks are trying something different instead of looking at the old standard and simply wondering why it isn’t working… I particularly appreciated this quote from Marc: “IMHO, it’s better to try, fail, and apologize for it later than sit on this forum (or any other) and agonize over what could happen and attempt to gain a consensus that’ll never come.”

Indeed, well said!

Who is playing the game?

The story above is a great example of someone being pro-active, changing the game on an organic level to try and bring more public attention to kiting… Looking on a larger scale, I strongly recommend you read our interview with Daniel Prentice (part 1part 2) for some very broad perspectives and an interesting look back at some our history as a sport and community.

Whether or not you agree with all the viewpoints, I found it to be VERY provacative… Most of all, the clear and present statements about a collective effort and BIG VISION, summed up very well in the quote below from Daniel:

“The growth of the kiteworld was not due to any one person, it was due to the excitement, the passion, the creativity of hundreds of people. It was due to synergism…the sum being greater than the parts.”

One of the issues we’ve been experiencing is a massive attrition of experienced, knowledgable and most importantly, PASSIONATE kite fliers who are actively involved in the development and promotion of sport kiting in the mainstream.

We’re already in the low point of our popularity as a pastime, there’s nowhere to go but up as I see it, and now is the time to cultivate, excite and motivate new people who will help lead the way in years to come.

Winds of change (or rebirth) in Singapore

With the lull we’ve been experiencing here in the USA, I’m always interested to see other areas of the world start to blossom… One keen example of this over the past 2-3 years especially is in Singapore, where more and more fliers are coming into the community, finding their inspiration through YouTube videos and communication from all over the world, an enthusiastic community is really coming together for them!

What are they flying? Simple… EVERYTHING! Quad line, dual line, single line, indoor, outdoor, urban (street) flying, team flying… You name it, they are sinking their teeth into it all on a regular basis, teaching others, and sharing the fun through dozens of exciting videos on YouTube.

Not only are they becoming increasingly active and vocal as kiting enthusiasts, but they’ve also been on the forefront of the copy kite problems we’ve seen coming out of China lately… It always seems to me that Singapore is a sort of gateway between China and the western world, resting somewhere in-between with regard to language, culture, economy, and hobby interests, all of which makes it an interesting environment for community development and the kite industry in general, lots of potential there.

When I first started regularly communciating with the folks in Singapore 3-4 years ago, there was a rampant problem with copy kites being made and sold, some in SG itself, and some through import from China… Now thanks to the vigor and ethic shown by the core community in SG, and kite stores like LayangMan, copy kites are having more and more difficulty finding a place in kite bags there, kite demonstration (events) are reaching larger audiences, and all the while they are working hard to position sport kiting as a “real sport” that encourages healthy, family activity.

I’ve never been to Singapore itself (just passed through the airport), but this year I’ll be taking two separate trips there and I’m really, truly looking forward to it.

Kite Festival Singapore
Jul 30 – Aug 7, 2011

Steve de Rooy, Takako and myself (iQuad members) will be attending as performers for this NINE day indoor event which from all accounts, sounds like it will be held in large shopping malls in Singapore… Also joining us will be Tim Elverston and Ruth Whiting from Windfire Designs, as well as a host of other fliers, many from the local area. Spence “Watty” Watson will also be in attendance, but he’ll actually be arriving on July 14th and spending almost an entire month there working with another portion of the event as well.

Singapore iQuad Clinic
Sep 16-18, 2011

On our way to Bintulu the weekend following, Team iQuad will be running a 3-day workshop covering both dual and quad line flying for up to 30 students in Singapore… Co-sponsored by LayangMan, this promises to be a very fun and educational experience for all involved.

5 years, 100 kite events!

Since we formed the team in April of 2006, iQuad has flown all over the place, leading the charge in promoting Rev team flying worldwide… It’s been a long strange road, and the movement has definitely developed its own momentum with several groups continuing to promote and teach this pastime on their own.

Now roughly five years later we’ll be attending our 100th event, at the Borneo Kite Festival in Bintulu Malaysia… While plans are still being finalized, the team will definitely be there and should have some very cool commenorative items available for sale including t-shirts and more.

Take an idea, make it better!

Speaking of the Rev community, I’ve been particular excited to follow the exploits of Tonet Alonso and Team Bolau in Spain… We’d been running iQuad clinics since 2006, and Tonet sent me an email 3 years ago asking about some of the dynamics and program we’d been using on our side of the world… I shared some of our tactical approaches, but most of all, I emphasized the main goal, creating and facilitating a community experience where fliers could come, be part of a family, have lots of fun and improve their skills along the way.

Now flash forward to present day, they’ve just completed their second annual Revo Clinic in Gandia Spain… Two years running is a success in any book, but they’ve really taken it to the next level with SEVENTY-ONE participants this year, twenty of them first time attendees!

But it doesn’t stop there!

Thanks to the creative energies of both Team Bolau and Team Imagina, dozens of the participants split into teams and started with stick practice to learn a choregraphed team routine set forth by the organizers… Then at an event in Valencia, mutliple teams took to the air to actually perform the ballet, each team on their own, but flying the same routine!

Yes, that was pretty cool, both in concept and accomplishment – however, the success didn’t end there… In Hokkaido Japan, two and a half teams repeated the same routine and shared it via YouTube, showing the potential for this kind of educational program.

It’s really amazing when you think about it, to see this kind of global impact and the use of digital media to convey/share the experience… It makes me wonder what else is possible, and who will take it to the next level yet again.

Will it be you?

Well, that’s it for my errant ramblings… I don’t have more answers than anyone else, but I surely love asking and hearing the questions, then seeing folks out there in the world creating answers.

As Daniel said above, essentially, kiting is at it’s greatest and has just as much potential to be a mainstream sport as anything else (poker, curling, ) when we have people out there actively trying new things and pitching it as true believers, really understanding the true potental.

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Regards and thanks for reading,

John Barresi