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Issue 11 (Sep/Oct 1999): Sportkite Team Flying (pt 1)

feature team experience

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#1 Mike Gillard (RIP)

Mike Gillard (RIP)


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Posted 01 October 1999 - 04:00 AM

KL: Please give us a "flier's bio" about you and your team. Names, when formed, why you started team, when disbanded, competition history (if any), etc.

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Randy Joe, Team Tsunami.
Founded in 1991 for fun which led to competition. World Cup Champions 1994 in Le Touquet. Formally disbanded after WC 1995 Australia. Still flying on occasion.

Randy McKiernan: Team Wind Dancer.
Team Members - Randy McKiernan, Judy and Mark Stockslager
Sponsored by Wind Dancer, Unlimited, Inc. (Bill and Marie Storey)
kite flown: Wind Dancer

Christophe: Les Ailes du Desir.
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We start flying in 1993, then we were 4 pilots: Olivier (the leader), Frederique, Christophe & Michel Marie. We start team because is more exciting than flying alone . We have flown some competitions: two times 2nd in the French Championship in Master category. 3rd at the Euro Cup at Le Touquet in 1996, 5th at the Challenge in Guadeloupe in 1997. Qualified for Euro Cup in Italy and World Cup at Ocean Shores but it was too expensive for us !!! For the last year we have flown as 6 pilots (Thomas and Fabienne join us) only in demonstrations with 6 North Shore Radicals and we are preparing a new ballet for next year.

Mike Gillard: Captain Eddie's Flying Circus.
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Formed in early 1993. Original members were Al Hargus, Vern Balodis, and myself. We have mutated over the years, flying as a 3, 4, 5, and 6 person team. Current lineup is myself, Vern, Al, and Vicki Romanoff. We started with an eye toward competition success, demonstrations, and most of all, FUN. We were 1996 and '97 AKA champions in Precision, and '97 AKC champs in both Precision and Ballet.

Eric Wolff: Chicago Fire.
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We formed in '86, with myself, my wife Dorothy, Al Hargus, and Frank Feiseler. Current lineup is me, Dan and Kathy Brinnehl, and Russ Faulk. We have competed continuously since '86, and have appeared in four World Cups. We have 57 1st place finishes to our credit. Why did we start? We couldn't help ourselves! We were at the '86 AKA convention, saw the teams, and that was it. We gotta do that!"

Bruce Kapsten: Air Crackers Kite Team.
Formed in 1997, original team members: Bruce Kapsten, Tim Boyle, Sue Boyle, Jesse Kapsten. Current team members: Bruce, Tim, Sue

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Competition History:

1997 Experienced Ballet only.
Newport '97 last in EQB
AKA Nationals 6th in EQB (or was it 7th?)
1998 Eastern League Champions in Exp. Team Precision
1998 Eastern League Runners-up in Exp. Team Ballet
1998 AKA Nationals 1st in ETP, 2nd in ETB

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Chris Moore: Team Wind Wizards.
Current lineup is Chris Moore, Nick Piaceuza, & Brian Guile. We started in 1995, and have flown competitions and demonstrations all over the country. Our sponsors are Wind Wizards kite stores, Shanti Kite Company, & Speed Line.

Jim Barber: Team Visual Impact.
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Current members are myself, Dan Villegas, Mary Bos, Reid and Rick Wolcott. Started as team Don't Panic in '94. That year, my wife Monica and I took a two-week vacation. The first week, we did what I wanted - ATV races, and she picked week two's trip. She picked the Washington State Int'l Kite Fest. We arrived, parked, and walked toward the beach. The first thing we saw was team Cyborg. We were stunned! We looked at each other and said, "We've GOTTA do that!". We promptly bought 2 Pro Cheetahs, and looked for a third flier. Mind you, before that trip, we had never even flown a kite!

I have been involved in team flying ever since. We have won numerous events, including a sweep of the team events at last year's AKA Nationals.

Mary Bos: Team Bumperkites.
Myself, and Reid and Rick Wolcott started in late '96. Reid and Rick had been flying pairs, and I loved flying, but was a lousy individual flier. I figured they could make me look good ;-). We were undefeated in Experienced class in '97, and did well in Masters in '98. For '99, we joined with Dan and Jim from Don't Panic to form Visual Impact.

Monica Orso: Team UP-GO!
We formed in fall '98. members are myself, Dave Snope, Art Cross, Paul Gee. We have been competing in all of the events we can this year, and it's gone well. Why was the team started? It was fun fooling around together in the park, the next logical step was a
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formal team.

Steve Santos: High Flyers.
We formed in 1988, first competed in 1989. Members were myself, Sue Moscowitz, and Dave Simpson. Besides several Eastern League championships, we were AKA ballet champs in '94. That was our last event. We flew in the '93 World Cup.

KL: How did you start team flying? What was your first team flight like?

Randy Joe: We started flying just for fun after work in Redondo Beach. No expectations. The first flight was the beginning. Everyone had a blast which led naturally to wanting to fly more often and to get better.

Randy McKiernan: Formed: 1999
We had discussed starting a team for a few years. It was clear more teams were needed in the northwest and across the country. We decided it was time, so we started the team. With help from sponsors and input from veteran team flyers and commitment from team members, Team Wind Dancer was formed. We worked through the winter and spring of 1999 laying the groundwork for the team and completing all of the logistical and organizational elements required when forming a team. We were ready to fly in the spring and have been practicing and flying since then.

Christophe: During the time we flew with four fliers, we used our signature styled kites (yellow with black stripes), made for us to fly just how we want. The first time we flew, it was quite hard!

Mike Gillard: It's all Al Hargus' fault! I had just started flying sportkites in '92, Hargus gave me a video of the Chicago Fire and the Flight Squadron, and BAM, I just had to do it. My first team flight was in October '92, it was scary, but a blast. Our first flight as the Circus was great, Vern had all kinds of experience from a previous team, Hawaiian Punch. Ron Reich had coached Vern extensively, which gave us a nice start. We didn't have to reinvent the wheel.

Eric Wolff: We started with 10-ft Flexifoils, just doing a follow and a turn was an accomplishment, with the unique power and speed of those kites. From the beginning, our target was 30% serious, 70% fun, a philosophy we keep to this day. We didn't even think about competing for our first six months together.

Bruce Kapsten: We started team flying because there were so few teams in the Northeast we figured we could attend the AKA's and compete, have fun and learn a lot. The first flight was very tentative. We were combining two pairs (Air Atlantis and Animal Crackers) and 4 flyers with VERY different experience and skill levels. Mostly we laughed a lot.

Chris Moore: Our first team flying was at a Wind Wizards kite demonstration and the wind was blowing at about 25-30 mph and two of the flyers had never flown team before. We just decided to try team flying right then and there. The kite were pulling so hard that we were being pulled across the ground and even pulled off some team kite jumps! We also broke kites and lines. We realized then how much fun team flying was and how expensive it can be!

Jim Barber: We just started, with reckless abandonment. Two weeks before the Long Beach sportkite event in '94, we found our third flier, and put together routines. We were scared to death, crashed and burned, but still had a ball.

Mary Bos: It was total catastrophe! We were flying Comp Edges, which pulled like trucks. We laughed so hard that we talked about naming the team "Giggles and the Geeks", sort of like "Hootie and the Blowfish", but we settled on "Bumperkites".

Monica Orso: The team started flying with the help of Liberty Park flying buddy Dennis Smith. We "goofed around" a lot together in the sky. The first flights had a lot of following, and a lot of straight lines…and yes, crashes and broken sticks were definitely part of the vocabulary!

Steve Santos: Sue and I started flying together from day one. We bought Dynakites and flew them as a pair. Never really flew alone the first few years of sport kite flying. After we saw "Team Top of The Line" in Newport in 1986 and 1987 we decided to add a 3rd person and enter team competition in 1988. We got along well from the beginning and prepared well for our first competition. Experienced Team precision in Wildwood. We won and received our East Coast Champion jackets!! That year we went undefeated until Mike Simmons came along and started to test our metal as our 3+ member team regularly faced well-timed pairs teams. We traded places with Mike's teams until they finally separated pairs from teams.

KL: Describe your most memorable team flight.

Randy Joe: First competition in Berkeley. Winds 25 mph plus.
Our first World Cup 1992 in Odawara. First international competition. World Cup 1993 in Berkely because we crashed and burned.World Cup 1994 in France. 9-Man Team Flying in Santa Monica 1996.

Randy McKiernan: We (Team Wind Dancer) have competed in three events this season, Ocean Shores, Long Beach and Westport, Washington. We have had good success so far this season. We feel our team flying is improving at each event. We are looking forward to further competitions this season with the highlights being Berkeley and then on to AKA Grand Nationals/American Kite Circuit finals at Muncie, Indiana.

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Christophe: Our most memorable team flight is when we have made our ballet flight and all the public claps their hand in rythm with the music during all the ballet...that was magic...public said to us that our ballet was very emotional...it was at Istres, a town in South France.

Mike Gillard: Wow, hard to pick just one, so many have been memorable. I guess I would have to say the 1996 AKA Nationals at Santa Monica, we knew we were ready to "break into the big time". We had suffered through a lot of personnel changes before that, but at SM we knew that our lineup was solid, committed, and ready to rumble.

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Eric Wolff: Sorry KL, but you're getting two. At the West Coast Championships in 1988, we faced off against Team TOTL, who to that point had *never* been defeated. At the end of the day, they had suffered their first defeat. We received a check for $1,500 for winning, and a 3'x5' replica of the check. I still have that big check! The other flight was the night fly at Verdun in 1998, we were selected to close the show. We were flying as a 5 person team... we launched to familiar music, with our kites floodlit, in the background was the Megabyte with lights inside, and probably 100 other great kites, all with lights. We flew a great ballet, landed on the last beat of the music, and every light in the park went out the second we landed. The 60,000 people lining the field made such a roar that we couldn't hear each other's screams in the dark. It was magic.

Bruce Kapsten: For me our most memorable flight was MASKC in 1998 when we flew Precision in competition for the first time and won. It was really exciting and rewarding to know that we had done something well that we had been very much afraid to try at first.

Jim Barber: We've had a lot of great experiences, but if forced to pick one, it would have to be the team Precision event at the '98 AKA Nationals. We were confident that if we executed the way we knew how to do, the event was ours. We went and did it, and it was ours!

Mary Bos: That would have to be the ballet event at Berkeley '98. It was one of those magical experiences, the wind seemed to increase for our zippy parts, and die off for the stalls. Awesome. We scored 87.95 points, the crowd went nuts, it was one to remember forever.

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Monica Orso: Most memorable team flight? The vote for most memorable team flight was a tie. The most emotional one was the first competition in Maryland, where nothing had previously come together for us until we got out there and it all clicked, giving us 1st place in ballet. The other memorable event was the absolute agony of watching our kites fall repeatedly from the zero-wind sky in Boston, then to be caught in a 30 second hurricane...the most bizarre wind experienced to date. It was SO BAD that it crossed over into humor… every flyer that was watching us knew exactly what we were going through, (they had all been there at some time) and they could only laugh at the futility of the situation. When it was all over (and believe me, it went ON and ON for an eternity out there!) we didn't know if they were applauding our effort, or applauding because they didn't have to watch us anymore!

Steve Santos: Wildwood 1991. Our first year in Masters and the teams which started it all were still around in original members. We went into that event with a great new ballet routine but had nothing for precision. Instead we flew our ballet routine without music and scored well below our expectations. Mike Simmons thought we were losing it! That's until he saw the routine flown to music. We placed 3rd in an event with 17 teams, our heroes (Team Top of The Line) were among them. We, and the crowd, couldn't believe our routine. We went from chumps to heroes, being the first east coast team to come out of the ranks and challenge long time greats like "Top of the Line".

KL: Name any influences you and your team have/had. Have you seen any team flying that "knocked you out", or led to you starting a team?

Randy Joe: Phil Bazell (Prevailing Winds) extemely knowledgeable and supportive. Dan Buxton - great for feedback, always gave it to you straight. Ron Reich - organized, disciplined, professional. Team High Performance - great under pressure, aggressive flying style TOL Flight Squadron - toughest team to beat, consistently great

Randy McKiernan: Judy and Mark have been interested in flying on a team since they saw the Top of the Line Team flying to Battle Hymn of the Republic at one of the World Cup Championships.

Randy attributes his interest in team flying to the first years he attended the Washington State International Kite Festival in the early 1990's when there were more teams in kite flying. Team demonstration flying was a large part of the festival at that time. One team that really sparked his interest and got him thinking about maybe trying team flying someday was a local Northwest team "Cyborg". In recent years, two teams from the Northwest, Don't Panic and Bumper Kites carried the banner for team flying
and have been an inspiration to Randy.

Christophe: Not before made our team but some years later we met Skydance in a competition and after talking with us we realized that we have the same opinion about ballet... (we like Skydance's ballet and Skydance was always behind us to see our ballet in flight area...) In our ballet we don't have any calls by the leader...only the music guides the pilot...the flight is in exact rythm with the music.

Mike Gillard: Tsunami was awesome in '93 and '94, but in the last 5 years Airkraft and then Aftershock have just pushed the boundaries way out. My first fave team was the Chicago Fire, we have a great rivalry (and close friendships) with those guys. If they quit competing, so will I, but as long as they are out there....

Eric Wolff: Early on, we were influenced by Top Of The Line, and Spectrum Flight (Lee Sedgwick and Sue Taft). Since then, Aftershock in their World Cup ballets in '97 and '98 put on the two best performances I have ever seen. As far as leading the sport forward though, I think Airkraft opened a lot of eyes to new possibilities.

Bruce Kapsten: Personally, I have really enjoyed watching Capt. Eddie's, Invisible Winds, Air West, Don't Panic, and the Valli Boyz. I think that for me, the original High Flyers and UpRoar, because they were local teams had the most influence on my wanting to fly team. The Robertshaw brothers, Scott Wieder, and Deb Hurd are for me, some of the most amazing individual fliers.

Chris Moore: Unfortunately most of our team hasn't seen team flying except at the last AKA Grand National Convention in Ocean Shores. We have no teams around here and don't even have videos. For me as the captain, I have been most inspired by the original Top of the Line Flight Squadron at the Child at Heart festival in Denver in 1991 all the way to Airkraft and Skydance in Guadeloupe in 1997!

Jim Barber: Team Invisible Wind provided us with invaluable help in the beginning. They motivated and coached us, preventing us from making mistakes that they had made in their early years. They really helped us get up to speed.

Mary Bos: Skydance just knocks us out. They have an incredible style - quick, fast, and intense.

Monica Orso: Teams like Captain Eddies Flying Circus, Chicago Fire and Shanti Air inspired us. Talking with other teams (i.e. picking their collective brains) and going to the team workshop given in Ocean City influenced a lot of the decisions we have made.

Steve Santos: Already mentioned! Team Top of the Line! Ron Reich is great! A great mentor and competitor! Knew every trick in the book and was always prepared well beyond anyone else. What a competitor. They drove us to work, really hard. 20 hours plus per week when we were serious.

KL: Why do you feel that the number of teams (in US, anyway) has fallen off in recent few years? Do you see any solutions to changing this?

Randy Joe: I wish I knew. I've heard different theories, but none of them make any sense. It 's something that should happen naturally, but isn't.

When we started, Top of the Line was always around to inspire improvement. Aftershock is doing the same in Japan. Without a world class team, there's no benchmark. There is so much knowledge that could help new fliers and teams, but not much real interest to learn. A lot of people are under the impression that Team Flying takes a lot of time. The answer is yes and no. In the beginning you need to pay your dues in the air, but after awhile, it's more quality time than quantity.

I've discussed the possibility of doing some Team seminars with various people, but it's not something that I want to push. There doesn't seem to be enough new interest to warrant the time and effort. In Japan, Team Seminars have attracted 80-120 attendees.

Some people view competition as a bad word. As far as Team Flying is concerned, I believe it was and could be the impetus to drive the sport forward. When we first started competing teams were alot closer (on and off the field). There were more events and more teams traveled to events.

Now, teams are fewer and far between and fly more on a regional level. Judging is an area that will always be open to criticism. My beef has always been that degree of difficulty is not rewarded. In the Olympics, ice skaters are judged 50% on artistic and 50% on degree of difficulty. The difference is usually in the latter. If you happen to fall, chances are you won't be the Olympic champion. I don't believe that our sport balances the risk and rewards very well.

Randy McKiernan: Based on our recent efforts to form a team and start flying I can understand why there are fewer teams than in the past. It takes a total commitment to organize a team and then to actually dedicate enough time for practice to work out the technical details of flying together and refining ballet/precision routines. My life has pretty much been my "real job" and then the rest of the time dedicated to the team effort for several months now. If I didn't want to make the commitment then I wouldn't be doing this. I see the end result as worth the effort and the trip along the way a lot of fun and gratification.

Our team members live several hours away from where we practice flying on the Pacific Ocean. It takes investment of time and money just to get flying time together. I understand that it is difficult to make this commitment of time, money and energy no matter where you live. Bottom line is you've got to really want to do this! It appears few flier's are ready to step up to the plate.

I wish I had a solution. I am concerned not only with diminishing team participation but also with diminishing individual participation in sport kite competitions. At a recent event in Washington State this very topic was discussed by flier's and organizers during a pilot's meeting. No real solutions or strategies were conceived. Many good ideas were discussed on how to improve the situation. Most important is that at least we started talking about a problem that has been evident for a few years now. Now that we're talking about the problem hopefully some actions will follow.

Christophe: Our concept flight team doesn't stop at acrobatic kites, the team has some static kites like an edo (yellow and black like our acrobatic kite) and we have one by pilot...or some other kite creation...you can read an article about this in PLANETE CERF VOLANT n°11 page 24.

Mike Gillard: The sheer thrill of teamflying is enough for some of us hardcases, but for others, the payback simply doesn't justify the costs (financial, emotional, time) of going for the top. I would like to see more event organizers use the top teams to draw spectators and sponsors. Organizers, try sending in a 20-second video of a top team to the local TV stations, and tell them that at 2 pm both Saturday and Sunday, their viewers can see this amazing display at the festival! Maybe this would help attract enough additional sponsorship to allow organizers to waive entry fees and provide the team with lodging. A full season costs a top team somewhere in the neighborhood of $6-10,000, any help would be great. We must start thinking outside of the box.. wearing red uniforms, and flying "Coke" kites would be OK if it paid the bills! That being said, as a nationally competing team, we receive some equipment help, otherwise we couldn't handle the circuit. Thanks be to Avia Sport Composites, Level One Kites, and Blue line. We deeply appreciate your support.

Eric Wolff: In the late 80's and early 90's, there was a camaraderie and spirit that was unique. The circuit was new, and all of the fliers were in a common place, pre-kids, but started in professions. We had the time and the resources to travel and compete. The birth, and then maturity of the circuit was a shared experience of the six or eight teams that were there at the peak, probably '91. Team flying was part of our social lives. I feel that Daniel Prentice is the unsung hero of that period, for his vision of creating the circuit, and World Cup.

Also, it seems that the focus of promoters is not on growing the sportkite end of things. Early on, there were a lot of retailers and manufacturers heavily working the sport, promoting events, and teams were the main beneficiaries. There were a lot more ways to receive recognition. American Kite always published on time, and had good event coverage. Stunt Kite Quarterly hyped the teams. Kite Lines published regularly, and had event reports. Even Kiting covered sportkites, a lot more than they do now.

Overall, somehow we need to rekindle interest in sportkiting, interest in teams will follow naturally. Everyone wants recognition for their efforts, and it's not there now.

Bruce Kapsten: I think the reason that the number of US teams has fallen off is that team flying is VERY expensive (as you know). The time commitments, the travel and equipment expenses (if you are unsponsored), the emotional investment, and ultimately, the time you need to spend together seems to lead to conflicts within many teams. In addition, we don't "showcase" our teams the way we could to help them get recognition and support from outside the kiting community.

Chris Moore: It is a commitment of time and money that few can give.

Jim Barber: I wonder if it has something to do with the current predominance of trick kites, and fliers who start out flic-flacking around. In years past, it seems that precise, clean, graceful flying was more important to people, and the best precision fliers put teams together. Hopefully, it will be a pendulum effect... maybe we will start seeing more emphasis on all-around skills... and the grace and precision that it takes to be a good team flier.

Mary Bos: It seems to me that the "bottom end" - new fliers - is weak. Looking at most of the team fliers I know, they started flying team shortly after getting into kiting. I think that if we had a huge novice class this year, we would have a ton of new teams shortly down the road. We should be working harder at attracting new fliers. I think most, if not all of the current teams would love to mentor some newbies... we just need the newbies!

Monica Orso: Perhaps the number of teams in the US has fallen off because flyers are concentrating on individual events and have no time, energy or money left for team. It is also much harder to coordinate the schedules and ideas of several people, especially if they are not living very close to one another. Maybe clubs can encourage team flying more…wouldn't it be great if every club owned a set (a sturdy set!) of kites matched in speed and handling characteristics so that members can get hooked?

Steve Santos: It's very difficult to get several people to stay together for any length of time. Also, there's not much at the end of the rainbow. I think everyone realizes this, including the potential sponsors. Also, there's just so many other options. When we started you flew an individual event or team. Then came along the innovative or freestyle event. Quad wasn't happening. Indoor wasn't there. Pairs, they were teams as well. I don't see any dramatic increase in teams unless other options are removed. It's too easy to form a pair. The chance of staying together is greater with the less number of people. It's tough on any team!
Mike Gillard

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