2012 Great Lakes Kite Festival

The Negan family (Mackinaw Kites) has been hosting kite events on Grand Haven State Park beach in Michigan since the mid-80’s and they’re still going strong today…

Just wide enough to handle a full size comp/demo field with spectators alongside and long enough to fit three such fields end-to-end, very soft white sand, but when the wind blows off the lake… Ohhhh… Truly as good a place as I’ve ever flown… But it can be pretty rough when the wind comes off the land, jumbled over upwind trees, houses and large hills.

As of this writing, I’ve flown on Grand Haven beach no less than ten times over the past 20 years and have seen ALL KINDS of weather in May – but when it’s good, it’s really good with high 70’s to 80’s, the lake is cool and shallow on the shore so cooling off is a cinch.

The first Great Lakes Stunt Kite Championships (GLSKC) was held in the mid 80’s until the late 90’s, with many hard-fought championship battles and legendary performances flown along the way… Without a doubt, Grand Haven was one of the top three “had to be there” events if you were in the running for a national championship, and this town also played host to the AKM All-American (worth extra points) at least twice.

With declining competitor participation nationwide and an increasingly disinterested public, the last GLSKC was held in 1998… A sad day for competitors and the death of an era in Michigan, but the change to a festival/demo format was unavoidable if organized kiting was to continue in Grand Haven.

The Great Lakes Kite Festival (GLKF) was born the following year (1999), keeping the Mackinaw Kites history of annual kiting in Grand Haven intact having successfully made the transition from competition to festival.

Official Event page – http://www.mackite.com/glskc.htm

For five out of the last six years, I’ve attended GLKF as a member of iQuad and we typically arrive Thursday in order to do a brief Rev workshop on Friday but with work and other obligations amongst our team members this year, we landed in Grand Rapids early Friday afternoon, then went directly to the beach so we could check things out and say hello to a few friends before dropping off our stuff at the rental house.

After a quick round of unpacking and brief unwind, we made our way to the GLKF indoor fly being held at White Pines Middle School – an informal affair with fifty or so people in the stands and roughly a dozen performers with various types of kites or kite related equipment.

Performances included Andy Murphy with a ballet routine on his modified Rev SLE, the incomparable Lee Sedgwick on his YFOs and UFOs, members of the Windjammers flying their vector RCs (remote controlled propeller-powered kite-gliders), an iFlite mega fly, both individual and pairs performances from John and & TK Barresi (aka REVOL) on their Indoor Revs, Sam Ritter on an Indoor Rev, Donna Houchins on a 2-stack of Buena Vista X4I’s, as well as several other local and visiting performers (sorry – it’s hard to remember everything), and all the while Ben D’Antonio was walking around the room flying a Zen glider to his own tune… It was a fairly small audience, but those who attended responded enthusiastically and the performers were in good spirits after being able to show their skills.

With an enjoyable indoor fly behind us, my iQuad cohorts (wife TK, Steve de Rooy, Willow Robin, Bazzer Poulter, David Hathaway) and I headed to a local Italian restaurant called Two Tony’s with my long time friends Peter Meek, Vern Balodis and Gina Ignazzitto for some outstanding Italian wine and dinner… Then finally back to the house for some much needed rest.

Saturday morning we woke to some breeze in the trees by our lodging, a good sign since Grand Haven is sometimes known for light winds, especially in the morning… At 8am we were off to breakfast at Pavilion Wharf Deli & Grill (our usual), then down to the field around 9am where we found the winds were blowing just fine – around 14-16 mph!

Fantastic, with that we were off – straight to our Xtra Vents and some team practice before the festival officially kicked off at 10am, we stayed on the field to kick things off with two demos and then made way for the other two invited teams, Chicago Fire and the Detroit Windjammers… I found some YouTube video of iQuad and the Windjammers (below), but sadly I couldn’t find anything from this years event for Chicago Fire.

The area was packed with frolicking beach-goers by midday and thanks to the practiced coordination of announcer Ann Vondriska, they were treated to a nearly non-stop show on the main demo field on both Saturday and Sunday… As luck would have it, both the wind and weather proved to be nearly perfect all weekend.

Performances on both days included Sam Ritter flying Rev I stacks, Lee Sedgwick on Rev I stacks and UFO, dual line pairs teams Fire and Ice (Kathy Brinnehl and Paul Koepke) and EOS (Zach and Josh Gordon), quad pairs team Something Old Something New (Eric Wolff and Zach Gordon), Blues Brothers (Steve Rothwell and Spencer Schubbe), Dave Bush wrestling his massive Thor’s Hammer kite, Vern Balodis on a Flexifoil, John Barresi on both Kymera and B-Series, John and TK Barresi as pairs Rev team REVOL and of course the three attending teams… Really, with the combination of a great announcer, such an experienced group of sport kite fliers and so many group variations within the attending teams, everything went very smoothly and we had a great audience to watch it all happen.

Lest you think the GLKF is sport kite heavy, I should also point out that the single line field was making equally good use of the superb wind to launch and manage a show all their own… The 2011 AKAGN Grand Champion kite maker Simon Crafts had his award winning kites nailed to the sky and AKAGN pennants proudly on display, Jeff Kuhns lofted his special oversize Guitar kite (18′ x 156′ – one of only two in the world) designed by Martin Blais, show kite veteran Al Sparling had his impressive display of Peter Lynn kites, Ed Grys flew various kites including a Peter Lynn horse, and while I didn’t get a chance to connect with (or recognize) everyone, I know there was an active group of other folks keeping the sky full as well.

A relatively new addition to the festival, there were also boomerang demonstrations on the main field… With a steady flow of history, facts, and encouragement from an associate on the main sound system, the US Boomerang team threw and caught various types of Boomerang quite well despite what were obviously higher than ideal winds for this sort of thing.

Other featured activities included kids candy drop by Lee Sedgwick (dropping candy from his Rev stack), kids running of the Bols organized by Fred and Donna Taylor, a kids bouncy castle and of course, Mackinaw’s huge tent kite store on the beach.

Throughout the weekend, Ben D’Antonio represented Revolution Kites with kite lessons on the learn to fly field, I also snuck in some time with my Kymera dual line too, it was just absolutely brilliant wind and tons of people – hard to put a kite down quite frankly!  And on top of that, it was 75-85 degrees all weekend, staying very comfortable in the evenings as well.

After leaving to grab some dinner with the other fliers, we headed back to the beach for a night fly… Traditionally the winds are quite low for the night fly, but seemed on hold on well enough into dark that there were plenty of visible lights in the sky.

We were treated to another amazing and nearly identical day on Sunday, with more great wind around 14-18 mph early on in the day… The wind stayed over 8 mph for almost all of both days, a truly blessed opportunity no matter what you were flying.

The 2012 Great Lakes Kite Festival drew roughly 40,000 spectators over 2 days with news cameras making appearances at various times to get footage for the daily news.

The only downside I could see was that by high noon, there was little or no space for non-participating kite fliers outside the marked off demo and learn to fly fields… There were a couple of Rev fliers tucked into tight spots and I could see some folks way down at either end of the beach, but sadly a bit too far for me to wander over and say hello.

My teammates and I flew one more set of demos to close the event on Sunday afternoon, headed back to the house for a quick clean up and then met with some of the other fliers at the Kirby House, another long time haunt for kite fliers since way back in the “good old days”… With many collective years and a wide range of kiting experience between the folks assembled for dinner, as well as being back in the Kirby, nostalgic all the way.

Steve and Lynn Negan, Amanda Molenkamp and the rest of the Mackinaw Kites staff for organizing and running the festival…

This event is always one of the highlights of my year and I can’t wait for 2013!

John Barresi