ProFile: Kevin Bayless

A longtime kite maker and general kiting enthusiast, Kevin Bayless looks a bit like the Marlboro Man and favors designing his kites with very colorful patchwork layouts… This “lifer” is becoming increasingly creative with his kites and has really started to gain recognition over the past three years for his role as kite organizer at the annual Antelope Island Stampede (AISF) and Kitestock.

The Antelope Island experience has been very profound for me personally (look for a report here soon), and I wanted to share a little of the man and driving philosophies behind these events with you, our Kitelife readers.

Where do you live, and how long have you been flying kites?

I live in Taylorsville, Utah and I’ve been flying for 24, 25 years, since ’87 or ’88, the late 80’s.

And how did you come in contact with organized kiting?

I lived in southern California and used to go surfing all the time, and the place I went had a shore break where I’d take my pole and fish.  One weekend me and some of my buddies went out and one of them brought out this stack of stunt kites from Crystal, remember Crystal Kites out in La Habra?

He’s back there flying these things on the beach and they were like (Kevin imitates the roaring sound of an early stunt kite), ripping across the field, he’s doing loops… I kept looking back and thinking “man that’s pretty cool”, I went over and he let me try it, and I loved it.

I went out the next week and bought my first stunt kite with line and handles, it was a Crystal kite, for $200… I came home and my wife said, “You spent how much, on a what?

That’s when I knew I was going to want more kites and she wasn’t going to let me buy ‘em, so I had to learn how to make ‘em.

When you first saw stunt kites, what was it that really caught your interest?

The sound, the sound was awesome, how fast they were, the way they were spinning, and just the control available on a kite, which a lot of people don’t consider.

So you got into kiting, and you started making kites, was that before you attended your first kite festival?

It was, I started making stunt kites before anything, flying at Balboa Park in Van Nuys every chance I had. I started going to the 4th Sat. flies at Santa Monica, met some folks, the more people I met and the more I was exposed to kites and kiting, the more I wanted to make.

One of my first attempts at something different was an 8-foot by 8-foot parafoil and I had no clue what I was doing but I was motivated to do that by my first festival trip, possibly to Berkeley in ’90 or ’91?  Anyway, I saw some really amazing kites there so I went home and tried to make this foil, then I went down to one of the San Diego Kite Club fun flies where I started chatting with another guy who made foils, I was all proud of my 8×8 foil and he pulls out one of his foils that was 9×12.

So, I went home and made a bigger one… Then I went back to Berkeley with it and was staked out right next to George Hamm, spent the day talking with him and he told and taught me so many so many simple things I’ve never forgotten about working with foils and I was hooked.

What have you enjoyed the most about kite making?

The whole process of making a kite, the design process for me is very unpremeditated… You know, it’s kind of like coloring… With my process, I draw the shape of the kite out full size and then I just fill in-between the lines with color, doing it as it strikes me.

I love that process because when I’m doing it, I’m not thinking about anything else.

But my favorite part of making kites is having it finished, going out and doing that first flight with it… It’s just awesome, seeing it pop up in the sky.

For the kite makers out there, what kind of sewing machine do you use?

My machine is a 1949 Singer commercial, it’s adjustable and does zig zag or straight stitch but it’s nothing fancy, no 3-steps or anything, I’ve had it for 20 years, there isn’t a single piece of plastic and it runs about 3,000 stitches a minute… It’s super fast, it’s scary machine but I’m used to it.  You turn that motor on and you’d think it’s a thresher from one of those horror movies, like it’ll rip your arm off or something.

I’m sure you’ve met a lot of amazing kite people over the years, but stands out in your mind as those most influential to you as kite makers or general kiting personalities?

Well, first and foremost would be Ron Gibian… I’ve known Ron since my first exposures to kiting, and he and I hit it off and that goes back over 20 years… But the way he structures his kites, the designs he does, I wish I could frame like he does – his framing is just phenomenal.

I was inspired to fly Revs when I met Dave Brittain in Verdun in he early 90’s, I was just amazed by him flying indoors, it was phenomenal… What he was doing, and the equipment he was doing it with back then.

And recently, Simon Crafts… He’s a kite architect, that’s the best description I have for him, ummm… He does great things with graphics but they’re pretty simple, it’s the structure of his kites that are so awesome.

You know, there are so many… A lot of my friends, I have lot of respect for what Bazzer Poulter does, Ron Bohart, it’s really kind of an unfair question because there are little bits and pieces we glean from each other in any new project we undertake, you know, “I saw that, and I saw this”… I think we all do that.

I know you love all kinds of kiting, but what are some of your favorite genres of kites for kite making?

Oh, I make ‘em all and I fly ‘em all, I enjoy bits and pieces of all of them… But probably my favorite kite to make is just a standard rokkaku.  The simplicity of that design and the stability of that platform, the way they fly, I have more fun flying rokkakus than just about anything else because you don’t just hold onto them, you can totally play with those kites.

Any passing thoughts about kite flying in general and your experiences with it?

You know, everybody out there has something… For lack of a better descriptive phrase, for everybody out there, they have that certain thing that’s their zen, that brings them to their happy place, to steal a line from Happy Gilmore.

For me, the process of making or designing a kite is something that allows me time just for myself where I don’t think about anything else… It’s very casual downtime for me, and somewhat productive.

Flying the kites though, you don’t think about anything when you’re flying… When I go out to events, like this one we’re at, I want to fly what will make me smile and I have a lot of stuff that makes me smile… It’s just a matter of “what am I going to fly?”, I believe it’s possible to have too many kites, because then they don’t get flown.

My wife kicks my butt because I’ve given away a few kites but it’s no big deal, I’ll make another one… Kiting is a happy place.

Now to the Antelope Island Stampede, how did you originally come in contact with this event, and were you part of the very first one?

No, I wasn’t – unofficially, their first year was 7 years ago but they really never counted that…

In their official second year in 2008, we knew there was a balloon festival on the island so some buddies and I decided to head out and fly kites… We pulled up into the event field, it was drizzling and really windy, there were lots of balloonist trucks and trailers all over the field but they weren’t getting anything up due to the wind… We pulled up next to a fella who looked like a park ranger, rolled down the window to ask if we needed help[ and I said “yeah, we’re here to fly kites”, so he says “great, just go out anywhere in that field and fly.

So I told my friend to go ahead and drive out in the middle of that field… “Nah, nah, no way…”, “Yeah dude, drive out in the middle of that field… Trust me, he said anywhere!

I proceeded to put one of my big ground stakes in for my foil, getting my line out, getting my kite out, and during this process it attracted the attention of some of the balloon pilots who were like “what’s that for?”…  I told it was my kite line, you know, mountain climbing rope and they were like, “whoa.

So I proceed to put my big foil up with all the tails on it and everything, it probably wasn’t in the air for more than two or three minutes before the organizers came walking out onto the field to ask me questions about it and after talking to them for a few minutes, the more we talked, the more I saw an open door for the inclusion of kites in their event, especially in a venue like Antelope Island.

After some long talks and information exchange at that September event, it was probably around December that I got a call from their event committee chair Barbara Riddle, asking if I wanted to become involved with the event committee to help develop the kiting aspect… My title on the board was “kite chair”, and that’s how it happened… The first year they gave me a little bit of a budget, I brought Ron Gibian out for his festival experience and advice, as I recall we also had Kevin Reynolds, Barry Ogletree, Ben D’Antonio and some other good folks.

How was your overall experience at that first event?

Weather-wise, the event is on a big inland body of water, the Great Salt Lake so generally there is wind, it does change and shift, we’ve experienced… The field isn’t a mowed lawn, there are some weeds, there is some buffalo crap here and there but it’s just chewed up plants, it ain’t going to hurt you.

We didn’t schedule any demos or anything; we just focused on having the kites there, flying when there was wind… And that’s probably been the biggest thing about working with this organization, I established early on and they’ve been very understanding, it’s kite flying, it’s exactly like fishing, you know, they don’t call it catching.

One of the things that I think makes this event very unusual is the kite camp arrangement… Not just in it’s physical sense, but how the kite fliers are and exist on the field… How would you describe it?

Well, you walk out your front door and you’re flying a kite or you’re camping in a tent, you come out the door and you’re there on the field… As a kite flier, I can’t think of anything better than being able to have that right there.  And you stay for the two and half day event, or if you’re going to stay for the subsequent Kitestock event for a couple more days… I leave my big kites out all night and just hope a buffalo doesn’t roll on it.

What should a kite flier who has never been here before expect during an average festival day, is there any scheduling or limitation on where they can fly?

It’ll be warm, it’ll generally be dry, the wind can be variable… There is very minimal scheduling, no limitation on where you fly unless you’re coming into the main field or getting close to the public, then we just expect that you’re experienced enough to control and manage your kite, safety is important… Just fly what makes you smile and bring kiting to the people.

Invited fliers at the Antelope Island Stampede receive a very unusual amount of freedom compared to other events around the country in terms of interacting directly with the public… Tell me more about this, and the motivation behind it?

As a professional kite maker or kite flier, taking a single line kite that I know handles extremely well and handing it to someone knowing it won’t come down is where it’s at… We encourage our experienced fliers to walk out amongst the people, have friendly conversation and bring kiting to the people directly.

We’ve also had great response from folks like yourself, Spence Watson, Penny Lingenfelter and others being out in the vendor area with Revs on short lines with kids chasing behind, touching hats or whatever… I trust the folks we invite, they wouldn’t be invited if I thought they couldn’t handle their stuff or look after each other properly.

We’re all about bringing kites to the people, turning them on and sharing the fun.

In my four years involved with the Antelope Island Stampede, we’ve never had a single problem between kite fliers and the public… They really love it, and the feedback coming into the main organizers supports this every year.

This event also has a lot of other attractions built into it, what are they?

It’s grown so much… You know, we have the hot air balloons, we have the 50/50 BMX freestyle bike show from Ogden Utah… We had Blake Pelton and a few his the motorized paraglider friends in for the first time this year, it’s a natural extension of what we do in kiting…

We have an enormous amount of trust and support from the state park management and they give us a lot of leeway to be creative…

We added Ronda Brewer and Lindsey Johnson with the kite making tent for the first time this year, that was a huge hit with the nearly one thousand kids who came into their tent…  We also have live music with several awesome bands come in to play throughout the weekend and a ton of great vendors with food, crafts and more.

For other kite festival organizers, or folks who are thinking about putting on their own event, is there anything you would like to offer as food for thought?

Your community support, I think is first and foremost… It’s great to put the idea together for a kite festival, and if it’s going to be a multi-day event you need to make it a multi-faceted event in order to draw a wider demographic, that’s the value for your prospective sponsors and supporters.

But in order to do that, you need a lot of community support and it’s not easy to go out there and ask somebody for a thousand dollars, but you have to start somewhere… I’d say that’s the first thing, community support.

If you’re interested in starting a festival in your area, get in contact with the local Visitor and Convention Bureau, there’s one in just about every town.

Bottom line, you need to give them a kite show… As long as they understand it’s not like in Hollywood where they say “action” and everything happens, it’s kiting, it’s weather dependent, there are always things that can keep you from flying but it’s important that the festival committee or folks organizing the event understand that… We make it clear, it’s a full-disclosure thing, we’re bringing in kites but if there’s no wind or there’s a tornado or whatever, these guys aren’t going to fly.

And have fun… Everyone who flies does it because at some point, somebody put one in our hands or let us try and we had fun doing it… There was something about it that attracted us, we thought about it all the time, and it was that fun.

If you’re going to have an event, make it fun, let your fliers have fun… If you think of a festival as a fun fly, you’re going to have a much better response from your fliers, and if your fliers are happy, then the public that comes will be happy.

How do you make fliers happy? Well, you give them a space to fly where there’s generally more wind than not, and you let ‘em do what they’re gonna do, you know?

There is a line from a song called “Loaded”, and the first part of it goes something like:

Just what is it that you want to do? We want to be free, we want to be free to do what we wanna do, and we wanna have a good time.

Being responsible, how could you go wrong? Make it a party, make it fun, people will come.

What do you see on the horizon for organized kiting?

Well, the AKA is the most recognized kiting body in North America – It’s hard to say what I really think without it somehow sounding offending or condescending to the establishment that’s in power in the AKA right now… But my strong feeling is that they’ve lost touch with the social and social media aspect of our culture right now, that kiting has changed… We’re just concluding Antelope Island and there are already hundreds of pictures up on Facebook from the event, so people all over the world are being updated as we speak, by people posting pictures off their phone, their computers, it all happens so fast now. *snaps fingers*

That’s a result of the social media, and if you want to grow kiting, that’s one place we need to look… Getting it in front of folks, then getting them out onto a field with a kite in their hand, with a community ready to support them.

Thanks so much Kevin, both for taking the time to share your thoughts with our readers, and for all you do as a flier and organizer – keep it up!

Thank you for considering me for this interview, I have been doing this kiting thing for a long time and always thought I was doing it for myself. Fact is that each of us that hoist a kite into the sky, regardless of what we think about it, are entertaining others, are inspiring others, we are peeking the curiosities of on lookers. The circumstances which lead me to organize the kites for Antelope Island are a prime example of that. I would hope that others can see the opportunities around them to do the same thing.