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Issue 11 (Sep/Oct 1999): Dave's World

column gomberg festivals

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#1 David Gomberg

David Gomberg


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Posted 01 October 1999 - 04:00 AM

I'm talking about kite festivals. We go to those same events year-after-year. We get used to them. They become familiar and then comfortable, and eventually, we begin to take them for granted. And we forget just how great they really are.

Ho-hum --- another Wildwood. I guess I might as well go again. Everyone else will be there...

Are you crazy? There are kite people all across the country that ache for the chance for a noisy, sleepless night in the Rio, a greasy pizza slice on the boardwalk, and to tangle lines on that immense but surprisingly overcrowded beach.

I'm fortunate to be able to attend a number of festivals around the country each year. Often I find myself as the "out-of-town expert" reminding people how special what they have is. There are some real gems out there.

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This spring, I dropped in on the 71st annual Zilker Park Kite Festival in Austin. Imagine that! Seventy one continuous years!! These people were doing kite festivals when Ray Bethell was in diapers!!

I was asked to do an interview with the local television station. The broadcasters had no idea that this event was one of the oldest in the country. They had kids classes being taught by a fourth generation of instructors; incredible local kites by people like Rick Roberts and Joel Scholz; a fantastic regional club to take care of details; and the warmest, friendliest, most gracious hospitality you could ever imagine. These folks even tolerated my jokes about wanting to visit the Alamo while I was in town.

On my way back from Japan to Oregon, I dropped in on Prairie Winds in Kansas City. Sure it was a bit out of the way, but I was delighted with the visit. A talented group of fliers struggled to stay aloft in the wispy and fickle breezes. It was a privilege to share a sky with all of them. Kiters came from three states away and considered it a local fly. And out there, the states are big!

I finally met my friend Bob Rule. He and a group of pals fly a collection of really big flowforms. When the winds drop off, Bob ties the line onto his motorized wheel chair and guns it!

I popped a giant Trilobite up in the main field for a quick show.

Afterwards, two people stopped to ask me questions. They were thinking about buying one and were planning to call that David Gomberg fellow. I told them I was that David Gomberg fellow. They didn't believe me. We ended up having a good laugh and finished the festival as new friends.

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Wildwood and Maryland were incredible. I've been to the well-known festivals of Europe. They may draw bigger crowds, but our events have nothing to be ashamed of.

In Maryland, the local police lead the opening parade. Three distinct sound systems support the fields and my job as parade announcer was to run from microphone to microphone, a quarter mile apart, to introduce the procession. The auction this year with Jason Benedict was the most fun I've had on a stage in years.

Wildwood outdid itself. Sport kites, buggies, giant kites, indoor flying -- Roger and his team have clearly created one of the premier events on the planet and we should all be proud of it.

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Jim Soellner from Seattle came for the first time. He was spellbound with the multiple spectacles. I spoke with him on Sunday and he was really looking forward to the indoor competition at noon the next day. He mentioned that an hour-and-a-half should be plenty of time for the drive back to the Philly airport. When I advised him to leave before breakfast, he seemed confused. Northwesterners aren't used to Memorial Day traffic on the New Jersey Parkway.

I thought of Jim's experience on the East Coast when talking with Dennis Smith who came out for the first time from Jersey to Berkeley. He had that same, semi-amazed look in his eyes and a big smile on his face. The views from the Berkeley field are unsurpassed and the crowds as strong as any we generate in the US. Dennis asked what would happen if he arrived late for the banquet. I told him the boat would leave without him. Berkeley's awards are handed out on a floating restaurant during a three hour cruise of San Francisco Bay. It is a unique and amazing kiting experience.

A number of the art kite fliers skipped Berkeley this year for reasons I'm not fully aware of. But ironically, the sky was more crowded then ever. Organizer Tom McAlister asked me to host a tube tail mass ascension. Tom and I had great fun suggesting names for the event, most of which I can't share here. Finally we settled on the "Mile of Sky". We lofted over 4500 feet of socks. It was an incredible show.

A final treat this summer was the Newport Festival in Rhode Island. Steve and Sue from the High Flyers Flight Company continue to do a fantastic job there, and I'm impressed by the support and loyalty of their local fliers. But really, is putting Pete Dolphin in charge of overnight security such a good idea??

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As good as the festival was, the Friday night fly was almost as much fun. Held miles from the festival site on the huge lawn in front of the headquarters hotel, the kites, lights, and socializing went on late into the night. Susie had to drag me away.

Newport generated two memorable experiences for me this year. The first was my encounter with the Martha Stewart Living film crew who took 20 takes filming every imaginable angle on my 30 second explanation of kite flying. The other was the loss of my rokkaku which floated out of sight during the battle and was later returned (from five miles away) by a stranger. Both stories will be detailed In the next Kiting.

Not everyone gets to travel like I do, but most people do have a fine kite event within easy driving distance. Don't sell them short! World class festivals are everywhere. Maybe you can even help create one in your own backyard!

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