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Issue 11 (Sep/Oct 1999): WSIKF

report long beach wsikf kite festival

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#1 Elain Genser

Elain Genser


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Posted 01 October 1999 - 04:00 AM

Photos by Andy Tauber

"So, where have all the interesting single line kites gone," Sherry Wilson asked me. Sherry is a fabulous kite photographer who has attended WSIKF for many years. Her photos have been featured in American Kite Magazine, and she provides many photos that are selected for the annual kite calendar. "It seems like there are less kites in the sky this year, " commented Lorna, who runs the campground I have been staying in for seven years. "Where are Don Mock and Scott Skinner and John and Marzlie Freeman and Sonny Hamner and, and, and........" asked various kitefliers, asking about people who have been regulars at WSIKF for years.

Sherry and I met many times on the beach this past August, and pondered over what has happened to the skies above Long Beach, Washington. This was my seventh WSIKF and it was obvious to both of us that there was a big drop in participation by the creative single liners who used to fill the skies.

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I asked around, trying to pin down why there were so many fine kitemakers missing, and here are a few of the responses I got: The flying field for largish, but not HUGE single line kites has shrunk considerably over the years with the expansion of the foreign guests field, and the addition of the fighter kite fields. In addition, the registration and workshop tents have been moved into an area where kites were previously flown. The commercial demonstration field has also grown over the years, taking up room that was previously filled by single line kites. Most of these flying areas abut the preferred parking lot, for those with lots of 'stuff'. It was suggested that these reasons were significant since many of the single line kitemakers could be described as ‘mature’, and less prone to hauling their asses across miles of sand.

Another possible reason put forth is that the past few years have seen fewer artistic ‘invited’ guests displaying their kites. While many recent guests have been great crowd pleasers, they are less of a draw for the single liners, who came to WSIKF for inspiration. In addition, it was put forward that there are almost too many west coast festivals, and not enough vacation time for most people who are not retired.

I really don't know why participation was down, and can only report some of the reflections of those who did participate this year. The organization was good, and the transition of leadership to Evonne Miller seemed to have gone smoothly. Things were sometimes a bit sluggish in the registration tents, due to new volunteers, but they did a wonderful job as usual handling this huge event.

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My recollections of my week at WSIKF this year are extremely low key. The weather was less than great, with only two really good flying days - Monday, and the following Sunday, the day we had to leave. Winds were low to non existent during the week, usually picking up after lunch. Low winds meant that many of Team No Limit’s huge inflatables were non-inflatables. However, this team of five energetic kitefliers from Germany worked and played hard, and were fun to fly with. When the inflatables went up they filled the sky. They did some wonderful things with line laundry, including a fantastic line tagged with light reflecting c.d.’s.

French featured flyer William Kervazo's delicate cellular kites were mostly overwhelmed by the German extravaganzas. Perhaps a poor combination of guests, as William often fought losing odds in trying to find a place to fly and display his wonderful creations.

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Roger Chewning was this year's guest flier sent by the AKA, and he had his HUGE collection of Dean Jordan Airforms with their mile long terrific tails. When the wind was up, Roger and the Germans certainly could 'fill' the sky, but to the exclusion of the many local fliers who struggled to find spaces between.

A WSIKF week unfolds day by day, and under the new field director Evonne Miller, it continued to unfold in an orderly manner. Monday is set aside for trains and arches, and there was a wonderful showing.

Clubs day on Tuesday saw fewer groups and clubs competing, but several clubs pooled their talents together in order to help SOAR win the cherished banner from Spokane’s Lavender Winds.

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One thing WSIKF and west coast festivals are becoming known for is the ground displays, and this year saw some spectacular displays put up by both individuals and groups. After years of competing in this category, putting up as many as twenty or thirty huge banners, on 20 foot poles, I finally gave up and went minimal this year and while I still put up over thirty banners…..they were no more than 5 feet high! It provided for a much less stressful week!

Wednesday was for seniors and kids, and hundreds of J.R. Tolman’s kites were produced with the kids, and could be seen flying all over Long Beach that day. The day ended with the annual spaghetti feed put on by the Washington Kitefliers Association.

Competition on Thursday, for handmade kites, was almost painfully undersubscribed, with many categories lacking participants, and many others having one or two participants. If memory serves me, three years ago there were so many competitors in various categories, they decided to separate out kite styles into more categories. This year, it would have been wise to compress them back again.

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Rules regressed, allowing for the ‘competition’ of one. For several years, WSIKF went by AKA rules that stated that when there are less than two competitors in a class, two related low entry fields should be combined. This year if there was only one entry, it automatically got first prize. While there are those who will argue that ‘if you turn up, you should 'win’, I believe prizes for ‘participation’ are only valid in kindergarten. Competitions that command high standards and critical judges who judge workmanship, skill and originality lose their credibility if anyone who turns up is able to cop a first simply by being there. A special ribbon for participation might be in order for a single participant, but if the only entrant automatically wins a ‘first’, judging becomes irrelevant and the competition loses credibility.

Another 'why' question. Why so few competitors? Well if there were fewer single fliers this year at WSIKF, which is considered the Jewel in the Crown of West Coast competitions, obviously there would be fewer competitors. Here I can only conjecture why fewer people are choosing to compete. The WSIKF competition entry forms requires you to list all your previous firsts and seconds. There are many, many sanctioned kitemaking competitions up and down the coast all summer. Many have a small number of competitors, and winning is pretty easy. If kitemakers are honest and report all their ‘wins’, they quickly put themselves in the position of being bumped to Masters level before they are really ready. Some perhaps are overwhelmed by having toross.jpg compete on the same field as some of the MASTER masters level kitemakers.

On the other hand, some excellent kitemakers have stopped coming to WSIKF and competing because they hit the wall at a certain level of competition. With the same excellent master kite makers winning year after year after year, they choose to not compete and fly at lesser known festivals.

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I put this forward, while looking for answers because I would not like to see this trend continue. How can we encourage more participation?

Friday was a day devoted mostly to demonstrations by dual and quad line kites. The afternoon was marked by an extraordinary memorial fly presented by the friends and family of kiters we have lost this year. As Robin Haas read out names of the many valued friends, a hush fell over the beach, and fliers moved out into the field, flying special kites. As the single lines slowly drifted off the field, Ray Bethell entered flying two black kites, and flew a memorial ballet, a tribute to all those we have lost this year.

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Friday evening at the Kite Museum saw two more installed in the Hall of Fame: the Han family, a Chinese kitebuilding dynasty that managed to not only hide many of their historic kites during difficult times in china, but managed to maintain their skills and pass them on to this generation.

Tom Sisson, of Seattle Washington was also honored. Tom, seriously ill, was unable to attend this year. He was honored for the ‘millions’ of children he has introduced to kitemaking over the years. Tom devoted his retirement to children’s workshops and there was definitely something missing at WSIKF this year without his wild beach pants and exuberant good humour.

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Saturday saw fighter kite demos, the banner parade, and more demonstrations by various kite artists. I didn’t pay much attention to what was going on because the sun was finally shining, the wind was up, and I just went off and flew some kites at last. Saturday night, instead of the usual banquet, there was a reception with a no host bar, and nibblies. There was a combination silent auction, loud auction and raffle led by the antics of Roger Chewning and Dave Gomberg, While attendance was definitely up for the auction, my observation was that the quality of silent auction items seemed to be down, perhaps reflective of diminishing involvement of single line kite artists.

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Sunday dawned a perfect day. Sunny, good wind, and, unfortunately, the day most people had to leave. A new and popular event at WSIKF was the mass ascension and the last one was held on Sunday morning. Watching the sky fill with every size of soft kite was exciting and provided a wonderful send off for us, as we threw the last kites into the van, and headed back to Canada.

It's almost two weeks since I returned from Long Beach, and in retrospect I wonder how much I have been affected by the number of WSIKFs I have attended. Looking back, it seems like the first few were the best, peaking for me about three or four years ago. Perhaps one could say the same for some of the people I missed seeing this year, and that is why we saw fewer of the 'regulars'. I think about some of the new fliers I met at Long Beach, and am encouraged by their excitement, enthusiasm and sense of wonder at the spectacle of a skyful of kites.

Time passes and things change..... hopefully for the better. Transitional times tend to be chaotic and a bit stressful.. WSIKF has made some major shifts in the past year, and we look to an exciting future, with new fliers, new artists, new ideas, and new formats.

As we drove away, we wondered what next year would bring.
Elain Genser
nanaimo b.c.

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