Issue 80: AKA Grand Nationals

The convention returns to Wildwood!

Traditionally, we’ve done daily updates from the American Kitefliers Association annual Grand Nationals and Convention with highlights, competition results and photos… This time around however, TK and I had literally come straight to New Jersey from a 15 day tour of Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Borneo – the time difference was killing us, and we found ourselves taking involuntarily naps at odd times of the day so voila, a post-event report it is.

We left Borneo on September 26th and jumping flights through Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Vancouver (quick overnight in BC), Seattle and Minneapolis, we arrived in Philadelphia on the evening of the 27th, then a 2-1/2 hour drive to Wildwood…

Wednesday – 9/28/11

Finally rolling into town around 3am on Wednesday morning, we checked into our room at the Starlux, unpacked our bags and decided to just stay awake in order to catch the sunrise and by 5am, we were near the landmark sign on the boardwalk flying Revs on short lines!

Clearly it was a time reserved for proper nutcases, as we look down the boardwalk and there is a lone flier with their kite up high in the morning breezes… Who should come strolling up, silohuetted against the sunrise? None other than kitebuilder and certified kite nut Simon Crafts, whom we’d gotten to know several weeks earlier at the Antelope Island Stampede in Utah.

After watching the sun come up, flying out the kinks and hanging out with some of the other early bird fliers, we packed it in and made our way to the Surfside diner for breakfast before headed back to the convention center for our registration packages and a quick look at the morning workshops…

  • Decoration of Ripstop with Applique – Oliver Reymond
  • Kitebuilding using a Unique Paper Technique – Ron Petralito
  • Judging Handmade Kites: Before the Competition – Steve Ferrell and Co.
  • Drachen Foundation Website Introduction – Scott Skinner
  • Make a Miniature Kite – Susan Skinner

Great stuff all, but I especially heard a great deal of buzz about Oliver’s hands on workshop and the beautiful creations he shared with participants (his profile from June 2001 issue of Kitelife)… This workshop so was popular in fact, that his workshop was the only one displaying a “This class is full” disclaimer in the convention program!

After the indoor activities, TK headed back to the room for some much needed sleep while I wandered around the field and watched some of the sport kite competition, mass ascensions and comprehensive kite events before finally giving in to exhuastion and heading back to the room to get some rest of my own before the Membership Forum and Annual Business Meeting started later that evening… Despite the unavoidable politics, I’m always keen on attending the Forum and ABM – it may appear disfunctional at times, but ultimately, it’s a family trying to work things out.

As fate would have it though, I never made it… I’d set my alarm to wake in time, but clearly the combination of a severe lack of sleep and jet lag was enough to cause both TK and I to sleep right through the ringer… No excuses, I’d have dearly loved to be there, but it just wasn’t possible this time around.

Thursday – 9/29/11

Right, reset and moving onward… The next morning found us back at the convention center for another round of workshops and some face time with more kitefliers who were just arriving.

  • Make and Take Fighter Workshop – Andy Selzer and the Bandana Gang
  • Kite Surfing 101 – Karl Toft
  • Sport Kite Symposium – Ann Vondriska

I didn’t have a chance to look in on the other workshops as I spent my morning in the Symposium with the sport kite fliers and competitors… Attending from various parts of the AKA Sport Kite Committee (SKC) were Ann Vondriska (Chair), Mike Mosman, Lisa Willoughby, Gayle Woodul, David Gomberg, Jackie Maciel, Laura Stonestreet and Donna Houchins – 8 out of of the 15 total SKC representatives, plus another (roughly) two dozen attending competitors.

There wasn’t as much discussion about rules refinement as in some years past, but there was a good deal of focus on the dwindling number of competitors nationwide, how to address the problem, and how to streamline the current competition format so it consumes less time and can be more interesting for the general public… Just a couple of the topics that were discussed, although I’ve certainly forgotten others:

  • League style precision – changing the current format (3 compulsories and a freestyle routine) so that competitors insert their compulsories into the freestyle routine itself… The main benefit? Reducing the time it takes to run this event by roughly 40% so that events can go more quickly and fliers have more free (fun) time at competitions.
  • Workshops / clinics – discussion about the idea of developing a guidebook and basic curriculum structure for clubs and other interested parties who may want to run grassroots education events for sport kite fliers in their own areas.

The day’s schedule included more competition, mass ascension events and open flying from 1:20pm to 5pm… During the open flying time, I found myself once more on a short lines Rev alongside Lee Sedgwick (playing with his YFO/UFO) and Ben Dantonio (also on a short line Rev)… Richard Dermer and a number of friends were dutifully staffing the AKA information table on the boardwalk, accompanied by a small, rotating group of single line fliers who were also making themselves accessible to onlookers.

Amidst all this I was totally floored by something in particular, a smooth-looking young man with curly hair and a handbuilt kite that was doing things I simply didn’t know were possible with a dual line… Turns out, the young man was none other than last years AKAGN Grand Champion, WILL STURDY! Last I saw him (Seaside, Oct 2010) Will appeared to be a clean-cut Southern “good boy”… This year, he’d clearly come into his own with a new, relaxed style, MUCH smoother, enhanced flight skills and a much more mature air about him… It’s amazing what one week-long trip to India and another year of growth can do to someone, and I am really looking forward to seeing and experiencing what Will brings to the kiting world in years to come.

The evening schedule included a cocktail reception, challenge night (miniature kites, pins, patches and more), as well as the Fly Market opening… Once more however, we found ourselves “napping” right through everything, missing the whole shabang.

Trust me, I sufficiently kicked my own butt over this… It was essentially uncontrollable and unavoidable, and it’s likely that I’d have been pretty useless for daily updates even if I’d been present to report.

Friday – 9/30/11

A new day, slightly more rested… Back to the convention center for a look at the bag raffle (thanks to Marla Miller for organizing), the fly market and another round of workshops and presentations:

  • Getting Creative: A new concept in the sky – Will Sturdy
  • Starting a New Kite Business – David Gomberg
  • Decoration of Ripstop with Applique – Oliver Reymond

I didn’t stay to watch the workshops for long, but I did make brief appearances in two of them… Gomberg’s workshop covered a great many topics, but during my short visit they were discussing the realm of kite design, sales and licensing, something David certainly has experience with… In Will Sturdy’s workshop, there was a veritable “who’s who” of kitemakers in attendance and Will was doing an excellent job of facilitating a true roundtable discussion, the amount of creativity and energy flying around that room was invigorating to say the least!

Back on the field, sport kite competitors and kitemakers were completing their final events of the week, a bit more mass ascension and to close out the day from roughly 1:20pm to 5pm, kitemakers lofted into the air for an Open Art Kite Fly – what an amazing showcase, and the first opportunity I’d taken to really walk around and get a look at some of them.

After another long day on the field, fliers gathered in the convention center yet again for an evening cocktail reception as well as the silent and loud auctions… The annual “Great Kite Auction” is a critical element of the AKAGN, as it raises the majority of the funds required to actually pay for and hold our annual convention… My numbers aren’t 100% confirmed, but as I understand it they managed to raise somewhere in the neighborhood of $15K-$16K, quite a bit less than some of the $30K auction proceeds that I remember from years past.

There were a lot of beautiful and interesting donations, including one particular tradition that has survived many years…

A yearly source of humor and history, the “Starfarker” is a humorous and regularly modified item that spent the last year in David Gomberg’s possession (supposedly over his bed as part of a bet), every year there are some interesting, strange or downright funny modifications made to it – this year was no exception as this mutant kite was emblazoned with an image of Scott Skinner’s face, and if I remember correctly, various bidders joined forces to send it home with Scott himself… It will be interesting to see what he and his cohorts at the Drachen Foundation will have to add for the Starfarker’s next owner.

It was a real struggle for me to stick through the evening as I found myself nodding off at random times, just short of actually falling face first onto our table… I felt a bit like one of our old-timers… Thankfully, the auctions don’t run as long as they used to back in the “good old days”… We were done by roughly 10pm, rather than 2am in the morning.

Saturday – 10/1/11

Finally starting to feel slightly acclimated to the US time zone, I wandered out to the convention center once more for the morning workshops:

  • Kite Art: Using Kites to Educate and Amaze – Glenn Davison
  • Judging handmade Kites: After the Competition – Steve Ferrell
  • Let’s Talk Knock-Offs! – Ben Dantonio
  • Brainstorming Innovative Ideas for Convention – Bob Kelly
  • Conducting Children’s Kite Workshops – Kathy Nixie
  • Rev Kites 101 – John Barresi

Being near and dear to my heart, I joined Ben to assist with his workshop on knock-offs… In the past 2-3 years especially, there has been rampant copying of notable and recognized kite designs by a few factories in China and Europe… These discussions started around Revolution kites as a key model, but with the help of David Gomberg (Peter Lynn representative) and several others to cover trademark, copyright and patent laws in significant detail… My own offerings revolved more around the “grassroots” fight against kite copying through flier education, community building and social media.

After the indoor workshops came to a close, I made my way out onto field 1 for an outdoor, on-field Rev workshop… I’d worked hard to get it moved to Saturday (originally set for Thursday) so that more sport kite fliers would be uninvolved in other events and it paid off with more than a dozen students who turned up for a distilled version of the clinic I usually take 2-3 days to present.

Being the last official day of the event, Saturday offered a more casual schedule with more mass ascensions, a ground display challenge, rokkaku competition and open flying… The Rev Riders also made appearances throughout the day, showing their team skills at various places along the sidelines.

Another “unofficial” event that was given trial space at the AKAGN was “Mystery Quad Pairs” in which participating flier names were put into groups of “Caller”, “Captain” and “Partner”, then randomly selected in trios to perform a pairs ballet routine with the third person (caller) on the microphone giving commands… Highly entertaining since it was entirely mystery (the music selections too), the heckling and laughter coming from everyone watching was simply awesome… Seems to me everyone had a great time, I’d expect to see this event run again somewhere in the coming year.

After the outdoor activities came to a close, folks went to get cleaned up and started to gather at the pre-banquet cocktail reception for the final social function of the week… Before the actual banquet began however, we were in for a very special treat!

I’d heard rumors that Heather Henson (daughter of Jim Henson and owner of Ibex Puppetry) had been developing a mixed-art show utilizing kites and several expert fliers… The name of the show, Celebration of Flight… The kite fliers performing with Heather in this particular showing included Curtiss Mitchell, Lisa Willoughby, Ian Willoughby, Scott Weider, Wen Jeng and Toby Arndt, all flying various types of kites and working together with beautiful decorative items.

Pre-show photos:

The show itself, video by Alive Archives:

After the show, AKAGN attendees made their way back into the banquet room for dinner and the awards presentation.

While we ate dinner, several people came up to the stage for announcements including President of the Japan Kite Association (JKA) who delivered a heart-felt thank you speech for AKA members and volunteers, many of whom facilitated or donated to the Japan Kite Fund to give much-needed help after the tsunami disaster in Japan earlier this year.

While there may not have been as many sport kite competitors as we’ve seen at some other AKAGNs, those attending were very enthusiastic and supportive of their peers as top three winners were announced and awarded… Complete sport kite competition results and scores are available here (PDF format – from the AKA website) – as you can see from the final results, attendance was pretty low but there were some top notch performances… A few that stood out in the results for their youth and/or multiple top three placings:

  • Laura Berg – 1st in both EMB and EMP
  • Elizabeth Gordon (14 yrs old) – 1st in both EIB and EIP
  • Ian Willoughby (12 yrs old) – 2nd in EMB
  • Will Sturdy (16 yrs old) – 1st in EPP, EPB, ETP, ETB and a 2nd in MIB
  • Dennis Smith – 1st in MMB (2nd year in a row)
  • Paul DeBakker – 1st in Indoor, 1st in MIB and 2nd in MIP
  • Aaron Champie – 1st in MIP and 2nd in MIB

Congratulations to all the competitors, not only for their performances but for attending the AKAGN and being a part of keeping this tradition alive.

Moving on to the single line awards, this isn’t my forte (as most of you know) but I do have a great appreciation for the time, artistry and passion that kitemakers put into their creations… Boiling it all down to the final scores, although he’s only been making kites for 3 years and this was his first-ever kitemaking competition (entering Novice class), Simon Crafts finished with TWO of his entries in the top three highest scores.

Who took #1 overall, and the title of 2011 AKAGN Grand Champion?

Simon Crafts – “Extensivity”

You can find the full comprehensive results here (thanks to

Other special awards at the banquet included “Best Kite Accessory” which went to Bill Schumaker, “Best Kite Aerial Photo” to Darrin Skinner and last but definitely not least… Showing he had the scores AND the display value, “People’s Choice” also went to Simon Crafts for his Grand Champion kite.

Now, on to what I consider the really big awards at AKAGN… Some for outstanding recent contributions, some for lifetime contributions and some named for fliers in our history who embodied the spirit for which they are given.

Club of the Year
Keystone Kiters

Volunteer of the Year
Susan Skinner

Regional Director of Year
Will Smoot

The Lee Toy Memorial
Kite Artist of the Year Award
Mikio Toki

The Robert M. Ingraham Award
Cliff Quinn

The Steve Edeiken Memorial
Kiteflier of the Year Award
Meg Albers

For the selection guidelines, a list of special award recipients and links to some of the nomination letters from their peers, be sure to visit the AKA site.

I’d also like to thank the folks who put in tireless hours making this convention possible… Maggie Vohs and Billy Jones (primary convention organization), Cecelia and Mike Dalmer Jr (auction receiving), Marla Miller (bag raffle), Mike Dalmer Sr (field coordination), Ann Vondriska (sport kite chief judge), Steve Ferrell (comprehensive), just to name a few (although there are many others)… Remember, the AKAGN isn’t some corporate event put on by paid employees, it’s assembled every year by kitefliers who VOLUNTEER their time, often with far too little help.

The unspoken awards for those who traveled the furthest to attend go to Masaaki and Sachiko Modegi (Japan), Martin Lester (UK), Linda Sanders (Australia) and Oliver Reymond (Switzerland).

After the awards were over, quite a few of the AKAGN attendees made their way across the street to the Oceanic bar for one last celebration since many of them were leaving the next day… Libation, new friends, old friends, and a great show by the “Dennis Band” which featured Dennis Smith, Jim Christianson (Skydog Kites) and Mike Keiser (Skydog Band), as well as Ted Manekin’s annual rendition of “Lydia the Tattooed Lady”.

With that, we find ourselves at the end of my report… First, let me share this beautiful convention video which was made by Kurtis Jones and Alive Archives:

Attendance varies from year to year, leadership changes, faces come and go, but the AKAGN is always a very special event for me… The AKA is an assembly of kitefliers who ultimately came to share their passions and skills, some to volunteer their time, all in the name of kite artistry, family and community.

This year was the 17th convention I’ve attended in 21 years – I’ve never regretted attending one, and make it my #1 priority every year… I do hope you’ll join me for the 2012 AKAGN in Enid, Oklahoma!

See you in the skies,

John Barresi