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A Weekend at my first Kite Festival

Dorothy Jones attends the 1998 Children of the Wind Festival

Waiting, waiting, we were waiting for a breath of wind to lift the kites into the sky at Windy Point, Alberta. People had gathered on this hot July Sunday to see Ray Bethell, the Canadian/World record holder and World Champion in Multiple Sport kite flying -1991through 1998- cast his magic in the sky. The Children of the Wind were hosting their 6th annual kite festival at Windy Point , a park outside Pincher Creek and Ray was the star performer on the program.

The wind was not cooperating that day. Ray was flying three of his strawberry ice cream colored Pro Dancer kites, but as soon as he got them up into the air the wind would die. Everyone looked on in awe as the three kites soared overhead while Ray checked his kites out in flight. The audience could not help applauding when Ray brought the three kites, one after the other, to rest on the ground; wings spread wide, nose pointed up ready to take flight again at the shortest notice.

The day before, in the blistering heat, the great white fleecy clouds were idly floating across the blue sky as the multi-colored flags and banners were waving "hello" in the gentle breeze. The roped off area was ideal for kite flying. The grassy field over looking the Old Man river dam was surrounded by a rolling knoll and a pebbled road with ample parking area. There were no electrical wires, no tall vehicles, or tall trees on the site. It was a safe area, with nothing to snare the kites. Even Charlie Brown could have flown his kite at Windy Point that Saturday. Many kite fliers were out checking the wind and preparing for their performances.

The smell of cooking sausages greeted my mother and I as we arrived at Windy Point early on Saturday morning. While the pancakes were bubbling beside the sausages on the biggest black grill I had ever seen and coffee was brewing. Breakfast for a loonie was " 50 p" provided by one of the many sponsors that helped to make this annual kite festival the success it indeed was.

After the all you can eat breakfast, washed down by some hot coffee, we wandered around the grounds. Many activities were being offered in the various tents conveniently situated outside of the kite flying area. Some of the tents housed the colorful wind kites, flags and accessories. The Kite Guy, Sandman Kites, The Kite Company, and Willie's Wind Whimsys all had the latest and best wind paraphernalia displays. Any type of wind machine could be found there.

There were other fun things to do. The volunteers in the children's tent had lots of fun activities for the young - face painting, bubble fun, kite making , etc. - while the science club volunteers had the budding scientists "shaping space" with the materials provided.

The children's laughter ran out as they tried to pat the animals in the petting zoo. Everyone appreciated the educational session on pigeons, their uses and roles throughout history offered by the volunteers in the pigeon tent.

The adults could visit the marketplace and for a loonie "50p" try their luck at winning one of the many prizes donated by sponsors. Judging by the many people I saw walking around with their prizes, business was brisk. People who did not wish to fly their own kites could check out the drama in the sky through the Bushnell binoculars. There was something for everyone to do besides putting on sun cream for protection from the blazing sun.

With breakfast over, and the masses always needing to eat, the volunteers in the concession tent, started cooking hot dogs.

The Cowley firemen had fired up their grill and the smell of cooking hamburgers filled the air. It was amazing that after such a huge all you can eat breakfast, people were still ready for more food.

The kite flyers were out in the flying area testing the wind and setting up their colorful kites. This involved placing the kites with their wings spread wide, noses pointing up to the sky, and laying the string out in a straight line to where the flyer would stand. The flyers appeared to be untouched by time for their movements were unhurried. The setup stage is important for the kites to be lifted up, up, up into the sky at a flick of the kite flyer's wrists.

Poetry in motion is the only way I can describe the demonstration by Ray Bethell. The three beautiful colored Kestrels kites Ray was flying seemed to obey his every command. It was truly awesome to witness the control Ray had over his kites. The kites soared, postured, and chased each other, only to split off, with one soaring high in the sky, while the other two were flying close to the ground. These two kites were making wonderful twirls with their long multi-colored tails glistening, a rainbow of colors in the sun. Ray made those kites dance beautifully and effortlessly for us. He, in a very disciplined fashion, made his kites soar, hover, and at times appear to hang motionlessly in the sky for moments at a time. Ray gently brought the kites, one after the other to rest on the ground. The applause was deafening, as we roared for the master of multiple kite flying, Ray Bethell.

After Ray's solo performance, other kite flyers took to the field to show their stunts before the next featured event, the Icebirds, started their act. Soon the sky was filled with kites of different shapes and sizes. Most were modified delta kites, steered either with one or two strings. Looking at the kites hovering in the turquoise blue sky like butterflies, I felt my body and soul relax as I immersed myself in the tapestry of tranquillity unfolding in the sky. After a short time, the flying area was cleared for the next demonstration.

The Icebirds - Jim and Karin Venables - gave a demonstration of synchronized kite flying to the musical accompaniment of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. They were using two Voodoo kites. The Voodoo is a two lined delta kite designed by Jim to handle the sudden lifts and sharp turns, the abrupt checks, and changes of course in their routine. The two kites, under Jim and Karen's guidance, put on a dancing display that was highly ritualized and formalized as they chased each other across the blue sky. The couple made their kites dance in union, posturing as they followed each other, matching the tempo and speed of the music.

The kites sped through their organized pattern with the energy being supplied by the wind and guided by the steady hands of Jim and Karin. The kites moved freely in any direction always in synchronism. The rhythm was fast paced. The duet made their kites quiver, roll, and do various acrobatic stunts as they expressed their feelings through rhythmic movement. As if in a ceremonial dance, the kites postured and flirted with each other. The song finished as the kites came to rest side by side on the field. The crowd was appreciative and was hoping for an encore, but it was not to happen. They had to return on Sunday if they wanted to witness Jim and Karin, the Icebirds, perform again.

The kite competition was another fun event on Saturday's program. Many of the first time kite owners entered the novice event. The judges were very official in explaining the compulsory routine and rules to contestants and spectators. The camaraderie of the kite flyers shone as some children lent their kites to others so they could compete. Each contestant flew solo.

Mistakes were made, but the courage and determination of the children to perform was evident. The final category was for the experienced kite flyers to strut their stuff. The wind cooperated and provided the energy under the kite wings for balancing and turning as the flyers performed their routine. Prizes, ribbons, and pins were awarded to the deserving contestants.

The Rokkaku challenge was the only team event scheduled. In the Rokkaku challenge, teams fought using huge hexagonal kites. These kites were at least four feet high, by three feet wide and needed teams of two or more people to get them into the air. One person to launch the kite firmly, while the other was in control of the string. Once airborne, the kites were turned against each other in battle. The Rokkaku challenge rules were simple - keep your kite flying, and try to send your competitor's kites crashing down to earth. Points were awarded for wing tips, downed kites, and for keeping your kite in the air. The strategy of each team was similar - show no mercy. There were many broken kites at the end of the challenge as the kites fell to the ground with a thump. These nose dives resulted in kites fluttering on the ground as wounded swans. After the challenge, teams were busy repairing their kites to enter the challenge on the Sunday, and discussing new strategies they would try to get their opponents kites down.

The citizens of Pincher Creek and surrounding areas enjoyed the evening entertainment. The setting sun's rays turned the color of the sky tangerine as a backdrop for the local musicians and singers. The oldies tunes filled the air as we relaxed after the energetic kite flying day.

At eleven o'clock fireworks burst into the starry sky. The oohs and ahhs from the audience showing appreciation for the end of a complete and well spent perfect Saturday, was music to the organizers ears. The day was the biggest and best of all the festivals and there was still tomorrow when Ray was expected to perform a new and unique demonstration for us. Excitement could be felt in the air as we arrived for the Sunday loonie pancake breakfast. The warming sun was spinning gold on the water in the Old Man river dam and the sky was clear. No clouds were hanging in the pale blue sky. It was a perfect canvas for the kite flyers to paint with their brightly colored kites. It was a lazy Sunday - everyone appeared to be moving slower. The air was hot and dry. Shimmering heat vapors could be seen rising to the sky. The vendors were busy selling their wares. Some spectators were sitting around recapping tales of Saturday's program.

Anxiously, the kite flyers started to prepare for Sunday's program. Anxiously, as the wind was not cooperation. Where did it go? It certainly was teasing us. There was not even a breath of wind as we waited. Suddenly, the wind started to blow ever so slightly. The flags and banners started to sway, then the wind stopped blowing again. It was still teasing us. Finally the wind started blowing once more, but this time from a different direction. The kite flyers had to rearrange their kites to take advantage of this new direction. The wind continued to blow and many of the flyers managed a few practice flights.

The audience bided the time waiting for the program to start by visiting the various vendors. Bud, The Kite Guy; Keith, Sandman Kites; Dallas, The Kite Company, and Willie of Willie's Wind Whimsy's were kept busy selling kites and other wind machines as well as giving explanations of the various old and new kite technologies. New vendors were also present with various wares to tempt the audience and the smell of hamburger barbecuing by the Cowley firemen filled the air. At the children's tent the bubble machine was working full-time as the children enjoyed themselves blowing bubbles while queuing for the petting zoo. Others were inside the blue tent making kites, "shaping spaces" - the Science fair theme, taking advantage of the many activities the volunteers had arranged for the children.

Our prayers were answered, the wind came back and stayed with us. The Sunday kite-flying program started on "kite time" with Ray Bethell's demonstration. Ray was flying his Kestrel kites each with yards of multicolored patchwork tail. This demonstration was choreographed to "Wind Beneath My Wings." Ray set the tone and mood for the day as we left our worries behind and focused on the kites posturing and chasing each other with the wind beneath their wings.

With strong steady hands, Jim and Karin Venables, "The Icebirds" once again showed us how synchronized flying should be done. They worked their magic with the two Voodoos, modified delta kites, each kite encouraged by the other to dance in the sky. The Icebirds flew together combining speed with great maneuverability and dexterity. The appreciative audience was in for a treat today as Jim and Karin decided to give an encore, choreographed to All I Ask Of You.

Other kite flyers also demonstrated their skills to this most supportive and knowledgeable audience. Some kite flyers were flying extremely fast kites reaching great heights, while others flew a variety of differently shaped kites. The simple flat paper kite with it's tail made from rags that I flew as a child was the only type of kite not flown.

Ray Bethell was back on the field with two delta kites. These kites were royal blue and white kites with yards of matching striped tails. Is he preparing for the new demonstration? No, the two kites glided into the sky as the haunting tune of the Hawaiian Love song filled the air. Ray dedicated this performance to one of the directors of the "Children of the Wind" festival committee. The pair of lovebird kites flew together, wings flapping in the wind. Alternately being elegant and graceful, sometimes soaring or hovering, and hanging motionless as they depicted many years of marriage. It was a breathtaking tribute that brought tears to our eyes as we sat stunned, remembering our own romantic visions. Gently, Ray brought the kites to rest to a hushed crowd. Then the applause started and grew as the audience gave Ray a standing ovation.

The Rokkaku challenge today was lots of fun as ten kites were ready to go to war. The huge kites were all painted, some were flying commercials, depicting various company logos, while other designs represented popular children's stories. Ten energetic teams were formed - most of the teams had three or more fighter flyers who had to dance their way out of tricky situations as the kite lines would also weave around the flyers. They appeared to be plaiting a Maypole as the contestants bobbed and wove on the field. The wind was steady, pushing the kites higher and higher. The winner was declared as the kite that flew the highest. The winning team members were nimble enough to untangle themselves from their opponent's strings. It was a fun time for all. Novice and professional enjoyed themselves and came out of the flying area laughing and wiping the sweat that poured down their faces. With personal satisfaction and merriment, the team members were declaring loudly that their team was the rightful winner.

The rumor persisted that Ray Bethell, would give a new kite flying demonstration at the festival. All eyes were on Ray as he walked onto the flying area. He had six delta kites on the field, three with multicolored tails at least ten yards long. "Will Ray be demonstrating with six kites? He usually uses three kites in his routine. Could this be the new stunt?". The rumor occupied our thoughts so we did not notice the time we spent waiting for the wind which had died down after the Rokkaku Challenge. Finally the wind started to blow and a sigh of relief could be heard. After demonstrating a flawless three-kite routine, performing the difficult maneuvers with grace and style, choreographed again to Wind Beneath My Wings, a very proud Ray confirmed that he would perform a unique demonstration for us.

The demonstration had never been performed before. We would be the first to see it. There would not be a practice period. Ray Bethell, the oldest flyer with the Calgary Kite Club, was teaming up with the youngest kite flyer, six and a half year old Dustin Taylor, to perform a difficult stunt. Ray would fly his Kestrel kites with the ten-yard multicolored patchwork tails while carrying Dustin on his shoulders. Dustin would be flying a Hard Corps by Diggles Kites. It looked like a red, white, and blue framed delta kite with two strings. Dustin required both hands to fly the Hard Corps kite, leaving no hands to hold on to Ray.

Have you ever flown a kite? Then you know the concentration needed to keep the kite in the sky. You also know the pull of the kite and how to counterbalance it. Yes, you lean backwards for support, the stronger the wind, the further one leans backwards. This demonstration required balance, endurance, flexibility strength and timing to succeed.

Dustin climbed onto Ray's bare tanned shoulders. He sat with his legs wrapped under Ray's arms. With a flick of his wrists, Dustin jerked his stripped red, white, and blue kite into the air. The wind picked the kite up, wings open for balancing as it turned and soared. Whoomp, Whoomp, the kite sang out as Dustin put it through a couple of loops.

Then it was Ray's turn to fly his kites. A hush fell over the audience. The tension was building. Dustin's kite continued to soar and hum as it traveled as fast as an eagle across the blue sky. Ray had to time his kites' liftoff perfectly for the stunt to work. I did not know whether to watch Ray with Dustin on his shoulders; the red, white and blue kite in the sky; or the multicolored kites on the ground waiting to be set airborne. The tension was mounting in my stomach, my throat tightened, I forgot to breathe as my heart raced. I felt as though I was a part of the stunt.

Then Ray tugged on the strings and his Kestrel kites with their multicolored tails rose gracefully into the air. The audience gasped for air and a spontaneous, thunderous applause greeted the liftoffs. This was history in the making. Dustin continued to fly his kite through the novice routine while Ray flew his kites. For two minutes Ray made his kites twirl their tails, form arches and chase each other in the sky. I could not believe my eyes. Wide-eyed I wondered how could Ray have such control?

Ray continued to fly his kites. The demonstration continued with Dustin illustrating his flying skill while sitting on Ray's shoulders. Finally, Ray gently brought first one kite then the other to rest on the ground. Then it was Dustin's turn to set his kite down. The crowd was on their feet as they cheered and clapped. Our senses were transformed by this simple unforgettable experience as we realized how privileged we were to witness such a feat. After a weekend of watching the kites dance at will for the kite flyers, we were treated to the last performance of the 6th Annual Kite Festival by Ray Bethell. The crowd watched spellbound as he once again cast his magic on the sky. The three kites danced flawlessly to the tune of "Flying On My Own." It was worth waiting for the wind to see Ray and his kites twirling to and fro powered by the breath of the wind.

My mother and I left Windy Point feeling brighter, our spirits flying high; our hearts were light as the kites with the wind under their wings. Next year you will find us at Windy Point spending an idyllic weekend in the blazing sun waiting for the wind.

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Copyright © 1999
Sam Eaton

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