Give a flier the chance to soar his kite, and he is content. Add an adoring crowd, and he is in heaven.
Such was the case this weekend when scores of kite fliers and thousands of fans came to the flying field at Sporthaven Beach in Harbor to watch the 20th annual Southern Oregon Coast Kite Festival.
The event is a non-competitive event billed as a festival, but is more of an exhibition showing off the talents of fliers from all over the nation and Canada.
“I’ll probably end up buying one (a kite),” said Jim Demetrios of Eureka, Calif. “It’s a good time. And it’s a lot more entertaining at the beach.”
People cited the bright colors, the technology and the grace as reasons the festival was so enthralling.
It was unofficially the most highly attended kite festival so far. Viewers didn’t seem to mind the time spent finding parking spots or that fliers couldn’t fly their huge kites in light winds that prevailed.
“There are so many different designs and colors,” said Bob Brown of Brookings. “The ingenuity in the designs is amazing.”
His wife, Carolyn, was more philosophical, saying she liked the “freedom, the feeling of kites blowing in the wind. It lifts your spirits.”
Children were enthused, too, making and later flying kites with the Rogue Valley Windchasers and dancing on the field with Penny Lingenfelter, flitting about as Peter Pan during a break.
Although the winds were low, fliers lofted kites of all sorts – quads, parafoils, miniatures and stacked.
World-class fliers included John Barresi, Ronda Brewer, Amy Doran and her son Connor, AL “The Dancing Man” Washington and Ron Gibian, among the best in the world. Local kite fliers – no small-time enthusiasts, themelves – included Al Stroh, Gary MacEachern, Susan Shampo, Steve Blasdell and Steve O’Brien, founder of the event.
But all eyes were to the sky.
Kites rocketed up high, dove down and swooped over the heads of spectators lining the field, danced on gusts and landed precisely, on end, on the grass. The last presentation featured seven kites, landing up-ended on the grass while an eighth flew overhead in the cerulean sky. It circled, swooped and slowly, carefully hovered over the first landed kite, tapped it and hovered again as the kite fell to the ground. Then, on to the second, third, fourth kites.
The kites, all standing up on wingtips, then took a bow.
All were set to music: Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” the Rolling Stone’s “Paint it Black,” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
And skeptics changed their minds.
“I’d never been to a kite festival,” said Charlotte Bacon of Roseburg. “I had no idea why someone would go to one. And I am blown away.”
“I figure, a kite-festival, I’ll see a couple kites and move on,” said Steve O’Hearne of Colorado. “Stunning, isn’t it?”
The event was so well-attended Saturday, despite a foggy morning and limp winds, spectators were advised to return Sunday.
“We saw the biggest crowds,” said Steve Blasdell, a local kite enthusiast. “Sunday’s always rather calm, but this Sunday was pretty impressive. We’ve gotten big. A lot of people want to come to the festival.”
“After 20 years, we have got it down as to what the crowds like and how to keep it moving,” O’Brien said. “All the new fliers did great this year also – what a show we put on!”
“There are bigger ones (kite festivals),” said Mike Macdonald, one of the event organizers. “There are more extravagant ones. But this is the best one. This one is for spectators.”
They obviously appreciated it.
Eyes – and sunburned faces – faced the heavens, mouths smiled and gaped in awe, and an occasional soft, “Oh my,” could be heard over the riffling sounds of kites zooming overhead.
Steve Taylor of Port Orford saw his first kite festival on television and was astounded.
“I like the precision team flying; that really blew me away,” he said. “It’s very much like the Blue Angels do it. You just don’t see other people out doing that.”
And many had tears in their eyes at Team i-QUAD’s stacks of red, white and blue kites with shimmering tails took to the skies, dancing to America the Beautiful.
“Who knew those kites could tug at your heartstrings,” O’Hearne said. “Makes me want to go on kite tour.”
“I never thought you could get emotional, crying,” Bacon said. “This is much better than the Fourth of July.”
For some, a kite festival is what got them hooked – and landed – in Brookings.
Bacon and her husband have been house-sitting – here and there for 15 years, most recently in Roseburg and Grass Valley, Calif., – while they looked for the perfect community in which to land.
“We’ve been looking for a place to call home, and we started coming to Brookings to camp, and we said, ‘This is it,’” she said. “This is home. It’s what we’re looking for. I’ve been telling all my friends and Facebooking, and my friends say, ‘Unless you want the whole world to move there, you’d better stop that. They’ll say it’s heaven; let’s go.’”
That makes many in town smile.
“It was a terrific event, a big economic boost to the community,” said Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce CEO Les Cohen. “The hotels were filled, the restaurants were filled; Fred Meyer said Friday was one of their busiest days ever.”
“You take our beautiful setting, the uniqueness of the kite festival or the salmon derby, our great weather, hopefully we’ll have the arts festival back, the pirate festival’s coming, the American Music Concert Series, these are all very important to the culture of the Brookings-Harbor area, and one of the reasons people stay here,” he added. “It contributes to our general aura as a great place to come spend some time with your family.”
“The kite festival was a roaring success,” O’Brien said. “When I walked the perimeter of the field, almost everyone I asked was from out of town, and that’s a good thing for all of us.
“You talk to promoters every year, and they always say it was the best year ever,” Blasdell said. ‘I won’t said it was the best year ever, because of the wind, but it was top notch. This can’t be rivaled by anybody else.”