By Brian Bullock
Pilot Staff Writer
A lot of events are billed as "family" affairs, but the Southern Oregon Kite Festival can make that claim for more than one reason.
Sure the festival is fun for everyone old enough to sit and watch the brightly colored kites float across the sky, but it also brings together the extended family of talented fliers. And flying kites brings out the kid in everyone, including the fliers.
Last weekend, the 10th annual Southern Oregon Kite Festival as usual lacked enough wind to get many of the kites airborne, but it didn't lack enthusiasm, appreciation and good family fun.
"Even though we have a busy schedule, you always have a couple of events you keep on your schedule," explained Barry Nash, a 16-year member of the Bay Area Sundowners. "Brookings is one of those events. It's very much family entertainment."
"It's one of our favorite events because of the setting," added Sundowner Gordon Osterlund.
Thousands of spectators lined Lower Harbor Road to watch the family of fliers perform aerial ballets. With the festival's customary light winds prevailing, the fliers needed their running shoes to keep the kites up. But their efforts got them closer to the spectators and sometimes deposited them into the crowd.
It's the interaction with the viewer that draws many of the fliers back to the festival.
"Everything is slow, sedate flying and running around on the field like an idiot just to keep the kites up," said Sundowner Mark Lummas. "But this is a great atmosphere and that's what keeps us coming back."
Lummas, along with wife Jeanette, are an of how much a family affair the festival has become. The couple, which captured two World Championships as Team Sky Dance, joined the Sundowners two years ago.
They missed the Southern Oregon Kite Festival in 2001 because of the birth of their son Ben. On Saturday, the fliers and spectators sang Happy Birthday as Benjamin celebrated his first birthday while mom and dad flew with the Sundowners.
Another flier found the family atmosphere therapeutic.
Al Washington, a Portland resident who has attended all 10 local festivals, performed a tribute to his late father to the Boyz To Men song "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday." His father died two weeks ago.
"Here, the people just love kite flying," he said. "They come here in the morning, set up chairs and stay all day."
Like most of the fliers, Washington said he always keeps the Southern Oregon Kite Festival on his schedule. Known as "The Dancing Man," Washington's rhythmic footwork is as nearly as entertaining as the moves of his kites.
His trademark performance to the Harry Belafonte tune "Banana Boat Song" ("Day-O") was one of the highlights of Saturday's solo performances.
Like most of the fliers, Washington started off with a casual interest in flying stunt kites, progressed enough to become a top flight competitor, and now flies for fun and exhibition.
"I was at the beach one day. I saw this lady out there up to her knees in sand dancing all over the place flying a kite. I said That looks like fun,' " Washington explained. "I started with one fairly inexpensive stunt kite. Now I've probably got about 30."
His flying talent has increased as much as his collection of kites.
"I learned kind of by myself. I didn't want anybody laughing at me," he laughed.
He got good enough to compete for about eight years including the 1995 World Cup in Australia. At his peak, he flew in 10 to 15 competitions per year. Now, he does three to five, but always returns to Brookings.
Most of the fliers at the Southern Oregon Kite Festival prefer the family feeling of intimate festivals rather than the huge crowds of international competitions.
"We've graduated to being a show team," said Osterlund. "This is much better than competitions."
Osterlund has performed with the Sundowners in such places as Malaysia and Thailand where as many as 450,000 people attend a festival and competition.
While the big crowds and large competitions seem to drive every flier at one point or another in their careers, the fun, freedom and family atmosphere of smaller festivals is what they all enjoy most.
"We're all just big kids at heart," said Carl Braigel.