Issue 80: Kites… Life.

Where are we, and where are we going?

Here we are again, this time for our 80th issue of Kitelife… When I took over the reins from my friend Mike Gillard in January of 2003, I had no idea where it would lead, but I’m pretty pleased with what we’ve done over the past fifty-three issues, and even more so with the passion shown by the countless authors and photographers who have contributed to the magazine.

The face of Kitelife Magazine

These days, with so much going on via Facebook, blogs and the various kite forums, it’s getting harder and harder for us to find folks who are willing to contribute articles and reports… This, coupled with fewer advertisers and no major increase in the overall number of subscribers over the past 2-3 years, is making it tougher and tougher to commit the time required for producing our bi-monthly issues in their current format.

We’re still doing it the old-fashioned way here… Every issue, we process all the images and thumbnails in batches, embed and link them into the articles, each page still created individually, linked and indexed using HTML and PHP coding as opposed to using one the dynamic web platforms that are so prevalent these days.

We’ve looked into making the switch to something like WordPress, which would cut our production time in half, but ultimately all of our experiments in this area have fallen short of expectations – mostly due to the natural limitations of available template, and the inevitable difficulty of doing upgrades on an installation that needs to be heavly customized to meet our needs.

Additionally, we’d like to avoid having multiple logins for various parts of the Kitelife web site… At the moment, everything except the magazine itself runs on our forum software which is SUPERB, powerful and very easily updated.

With this in mind, we’ve been seriously considering merging our magazine content with the forum so that we can take advantage of the dynamic ability to create and organize content, a better search engine and having a single login for everything we have to offer our visitors.

Please take a look here, we’d love to hear ALL your thoughts on the matter…

Subscriptions, what is the deal?

For the past eight years, the backbone of our little publication has been our Kitelife subscribers… These kind folks generally subscribe either for the benefits (summarized below), or purely out of the goodness of their hearts and belief in what we’re trying to do here.

Some of the benefits:

  • 24/7 unlimited access to our video tutorials and archives… Here, you can find a growing variety of sport kite tutorials in both HD and iPod/iPhone formats, as well as the largest single collection of sport kite competition and demonstration routines you’ll find anywhere on the web, spanning from 1987 to present-day.
  • 24/7 unlimited access to our archived publications… Out of print kite magazines, namely Kite Lines and Stunt Kite Quarterly (SKQ), two of the premier kiting magazines ever produced, all converted to fully searchable PDF files that can be read on your lap top, desktop, iPhone or iPad.
  • Automatic entry into our regular prize drawings, held every 4-6 weeks… Just in the past 12 months, we’ve given away a ITW Kymera, ITW Coyote, Skydog Crossfire, Skydog Sweet Emotion, Skydog SDT 2.8 power kite, 15′ inflatable Caterpillar from Gomberg Kites, 1999 Obsession, 10′ inflatable Airplane kite from Gomberg Kites, Ron Gibian Pocket Rocket, a custom SLE Revolution, Revolution Zen kite, and FOUR complete B-Series Revolution kite packages, well over $3800 in goodies for our supporters!

We’ve tried to keep our subscriptions at a reasonable price as well, either at 6-months for $16.95 or yearly for $32.95… We haven’t increased the rates since we first made them available in 2003, and still consider it to be a very good value considering the ever-expanding video content, prize drawings, etc.

If you’d like to get in on the fun and help us keep bringing unique, passionate content for kitefliers to the web, join us now!

Roaming kite embassadors vs Learn to Fly fields?

Based on both some personal experimentation at various kite festivals over the past year, and what I’ve seen at countless others, I’m keen on bringing focus to the concept of “roaming embassadors” at kite events… Now bear in mind, this approach couldn’t replace traditional learn to fly fields, but is a supplemental which can reach another range of people in a more relaxed situation, as well as being a way to feed people into the actual learn to fly fields.

The learn to fly fields serve a real purpose, giving a dedicated area for spectators to line up and get lessons from a designated “kite expert”… A great format, but often tireless for the instructor, and possibly discouraging to some folks simply because of the “trying something new – what if I suck” fear some people experience, whether that particular response is in the minority or not… It also creates the pretense of “student” and “instructor”, along with what may be commerical interests of either a store or manufacturer.

With a roaming ambassador, the idea is to have wandering fliers (typically quad line or single line) who are experienced flying around general public – have them take a kite out on short lines and wade into the audience (speaking loosely), hang out in key spots for 10-20 minutes at a time, just doing what they do and making it look enjoyable, easy, all the while chatting folks up with simple “hi, how are you” and “are you enjoying the show?”… In my experience, such simple engagements often lead to more personal, expansive discussions about kite flying and frequently leads to a more passionate interest in actually trying kite flying.

The other thing about roaming ambassadors is that they’re not dealing with the public in bulk, dealing with cues and so on… They’re free to be themselves, and can always go where the action is!

Of course, the safety factor here is NO JOKE… I can’t stress enough, the key is to encourage responsible and experienced fliers who can not only wander safely, but can also represent kiting in it’s best possible light.

Many of us do this kind of outreach already, but I wanted to describe it here for those who may not have considered such an idea before… Go forth, experiment on your own (safely) and share your experiences through Facebook, forum posts or group (club/team/board) discussion!

Sport kite competition is dying?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this year from all sorts of folks, “competition is dying” or something along those lines… Whether or not this is the consensus isn’t the point, but it does move me to say that I don’t think it’s so much a matter of competition dying as it is something driven by a reduced number of “serious” fliers and a great loss of institutional experience by way of senior fliers retiring or passing with less and less people available to pass that experience forward.

Less fliers means less judges, less tenured experience means harder workloads on those with the knowledge and long days of staffing with less time left in the day for their own events or recreational flying… In the early 90s there was an abundance of fliers at competitions with 20-60 fliers for the most popular categories (EIP, EIB, MIP and MIB especially), requiring 2-3 “heats” (semi-finals) at many of the larger events… Sure, more fliers means more work, but it also means more fliers to staff the event with, making it possible for more fliers to serve just 1-4 disciplines during their whole weekend and leaving time for their own interests like socializing, practicing, teaching or demonstrating for the public.

Right, enough about the “good old days” but some of this history does serve as a useful benchmark for what is possible… The size of competition is relative to the body of “hard core” fliers and our state of economy but we only have a hope of affecting the former, the latter is simply out of our hands.

Key ingredients for sucessful sport kiting, as I see them:

  • More kite fliers, pure and simple… See it, know it, share it.
  • Shorter disciplines/categories, like League Style or MIX format.
  • Increased in-community education, spread the knowledge.

About more fliers, there’s no silver bullet and I’m certainly not crying wolf… In this area, we do the same thing we’ve always done (fly and enjoy), but keep shaking off the stigma now and then, enough to adapt and diligently use every opportunity we see.

About shorter disciplines, there was a lot of discussion at the AKAGN Sport Kite Symposium this year about reinstating a form of “League Style Precision”… For those unfamiliar, the two types of precision are pretty much as follows:

Traditional – competitors fly three assigned compulsories on at a time with a time allowance between maneuvers (for flier set up, etc), followed by their 2-3 minutes freestyle performance.


Setup for discipline
Between Compulsories
Between compulsories and technical
Between compulsories and ballet

[/fivecol_two] [fivecol_one]


3 minutes
45 seconds
90 seconds
90 seconds
[/fivecol_one] [fivecol_one]


4 minutes
45 seconds
90 seconds
120 seconds
[/fivecol_one] [fivecol_one_last]


5 minutes
45 seconds
90 seconds
120 seconds

* Pros: It’s easier for both fliers and judges since each component is scored and handled one at a time… Time to think between, whether you’re flying or scoring.

* Cons: It takes a bloody long time… 3 minute setup, 1-3 minutes for each compulsory, 45 seconds between each one, 90 seconds to set up for a 2-3 minute freestyle… So anywhere from 10-15 minutes for each flier, utterly boring for the public with lots of silence and dead time.

Program Precision/League Style – competitors still fly three assigned compulsories, but they’re flown as part of their precision freestyle.

* Pros: It takes roughly 30%-40% less time to run since each flier has only a 2-4 minute precision routine with the compulsories integrated into the routine itself, so possibly 6-8 minutes for each flier… Shorter, a slightly more dynamic presentation for the public and easier for an announcer to describe and explain for the public.

* Cons: It requires more focus and preparation from the competitors (time limit, program, transitions) and fully attentive judges (writing 3 scores during the routine and 1 score after).

From what I understand, the idea of going back to Program Precision seems to be palatable to the flier populace… I think it’d be great, most of all for the overall economy of time (could be 30-45 minutes saved with 10 fliers) and what could be done with that time.

Which brings me sort of roundabout, to the next item… Continuing to refine and distribute our overall base of knowledge by way of clinics and workshops both at some competitions and as standalone gatherings.

On iQuad, we’ve had great success with standalone Rev clinics but I’d love to see more folks doing the same thing nationwide… Whether it’s local groups, kite clubs or festival organizers, workshops and clinics are just the thing to get everyone on the same page, sharing skills and experience in an interactive format.

Yeah, no succinct answers, lots of questions… Just how it should be, challenge the ideas, look beyond “how it’s been” and innovate on your own terms – just share it with everyone else and let’s keep this ball rolling!

Until next time,

  John Barresi