Kites will be dancing at the end of strings in Long Beach, Wash. this weekend, skillfully guided into swoops and dips and twists and turns. But something will be missing from this competition and demonstration of kite-flying prowess: wind.
While most people associate kites with windy days or running as fast as you can down the beach, the Windless Kite Festival, now in its third year on the Long Beach Peninsula, is a chance for people to witness an activity that might seem counterintuitive at first.
"If you're looking to go see something that you don't think can really happen, you need to go to see the windless kites," said Kay Buesing, director of the World Kite Museum in Long Beach, which is helping to organize and sponsor the event with the Northwest Stunt Kite League.
With a special hybrid nylon fabric and superlight carbon graphite structure, the kites act almost like gliders and don't require drafts or air currents, explained Scott Davis, president of the Pierce County Kitefliers Association and organizer of the event.
Lee and Debi Park performed with GuildWorks in October for the American Kite Association Convention in Seaside. Photo by Lori Assa."It just takes minimal movement. It's really a lesson in efficiency," Davis explained. Kite fliers don't run around in circles trying to get a kite up, he said. Instead, they toss the kite away from them, then when it reaches the end of the string, guide it back toward them, maintaining momentum by directing the kite up or down or around in circles.
"It's a different feel than outdoor kite flying, that's for sure," he said. "Outdoors you'd need to learn how to control the kite being pulled away from you, and how to steer it with the wind pushing it along, which is really a different feel to how to keep it floating and moving."
But outdoor kite fliers often benefit from the skills they gain indoors, such as a softer touch and a wide range of expressions, Davis said.
Windless kite flying is a relatively new sport. Although it has been attempted off and on for about a decade, the activity only truly took flight about four years ago, when technological advances created the almost weightless materials.
Marc Ricketts and Curtiss Mitchell, of GuildWorks Inc., Madison, Wisc., fly their Synergy Zero Wind Great Deca kites in a video and performance, 'Flight Dreams,' in Boston. Photo courtesy Marc Ricketts, GuildWorks.Although flying windless kites is more popular in Europe, it's catching on here as well, Davis said. Fliers compete in regional contests, and meet annually for a national competition. This year's third place finisher, Jerry Cannon, will be demonstrating his skills at the Long Beach festival, along with fliers from California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, and professional performance troupe GuildWorks.
"When we compete, we fly to music and have the kite do various things along with the music, and just have a great time doing it," Davis said. Participants choose music that allows for a variety of moves, he said, with slow graceful melodies that call for smooth curves or soft landings, and hard beats that lend themselves to "real sharp, snappy turns."
Without a trace of wind, performers from GuildWorks sent their kites flying at the Seaside Civic and Convention Center. Marc Ricketts, in blue, designed and patented the windless kites, which use four lines to control. They were the first indoor flying kites on the market."To me it's much like watching the (ice) skaters," Buesing said. Sometimes, fliers even dress to match their routine, such as the woman last year who wore a uniform of sorts to accompany her show, which was set to military-themed music.
Fliers are judged on the entertainment value of their routine as well as the complexity and choreography.
The Windless Kite Festival won't be just about the competition, however. There will be a session where the fliers will show off their tricks, and demonstrations throughout the weekend.
John Barresi of Kitelife Magazine flew a dual line kite indoors at the 2004 Windless Kite Festival. Photo courtesy www.Kitelife.comIn addition, anyone who wants to try their hand at this seemingly gravity-defying feat will have a chance to learn from the pros. With lessons, most people pick it up within the first hour, as long as they're able to slow down and not jerk the strings around too fast, Davis said.
"Kids that tried it for the first time (last year) said 'We're coming back next year,'" he said.
Admission to the Windless Kite Festival is free, but donations will be accepted to benefit the World Kite Museum. The festival will be held at the Long Beach Elementary School Gym from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 15 and 16, and 10 a.m. to noon Monday, Jan. 17.
Jerry Cannon demonstrated his indoor kite skills at last year's event, which included a 'roll up' launch, where he started with the lines wrapped around the kite. Submitted photo by Bruce Peterson.