Island Kite Festival Unwavers in Enthusiasm Despite Wet WeatherProponents Hope It Rivals Chowderfest Someday
Kiting “queen” (as she is known in certain circles) Lisa Willoughby of Surf City stood in the Long Beach Island Grade School gymnasium Friday night, untying a knot in her line. The indoor portion of the International Kite Festival “LBI Fly” weekend was about to begin, and Willoughby was all poise and pleasantries as she explained the science behind indoor flying (a kiter is “always moving away from the kite, to create lift… It’s a consistent dance”), pausing periodically to welcome friends from the kiting community. As the panel of five judges situated themselves, volunteers rushed to find more chairs to accommodate the spectators who kept filing into the room.
Earlier in the day she and other fliers had toured the Island’s three schools, delivering hour-long assemblies to all the students.
A total of 40 kite-flying enthusiasts were invited to participate in various aspects of this year’s second annual festival, and about 60 volunteers helped to keep four days of activities flowing smoothly, Island-wide, in spite of dicey weather conditions.
Kite experts came from Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, Canada, even San Diego, Calif. – for example, Lolly Hadzicki of the leading sport kite brand Revolution. “I just heard last year was so fabulous that I could not miss this year,” she said. She was particularly interested in the “mega flies” of Revolution kites on the beach, where dozens of fliers would stand in formation, almost shoulder-to-shoulder, executing called maneuvers in a synchronized display. These are regional fliers, Hadzicki explained, so it’s not like they can get together and practice. Touching upon the magic of the festival atmosphere, she said, “They come together and stuff just starts happening.”
Warming up and demonstrating his technique before the competition was Dominic Guimond from Quebec, Canada, who had traveled to LBI with his four-man demonstration team called QI 4.2. Their goal is not to compete but to educate, inspire and entertain with their tricks. At the moment he was flying his “urban ninja” kite, a glider-style kite suited to indoor flying, which he said he enjoys doing because the opportunity to do so doesn’t arise as often.
With his team he travels to festivals throughout much of the year, in Dieppe and Montreal, Canada, in Michigan and in Wildwood, Cape May County.
The Long Beach Island Chamber of Commerce is the main festival sponsor and organizing body. The second year of the festival was easier to put together from a planning standpoint, according to Bill Hutson, vice president of the chamber’s board of directors, who was confident the second year’s additions and expansion would make for an all-around bigger, better event.
Note to future attendees of the indoor fly: Dress in layers and expect to peel down. As the competition gets underway, the temperature inside the gym rises considerably; air conditioning would cause a disruptive breeze for the kites.
Among the competitors in single-line and unlimited categories, music selections ranged from the stirring and oft-covered “Hallelujah” (written by Leonard Cohen) and “You Are So Beautiful” to Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” and Taylor Swift’s “Mean,” with many less-recognizable and classical pieces in between. Some fliers were barefoot. All wore their hearts on their sleeves as they stepped, swooped, dipped and skipped along with their winged and “stringed” instruments.
The judging criteria included choreography, execution and entertainment value. One of the judges was Ship Bottom resident Ron Graziano, who flew kites competitively for about 12 years and gave it up about five years ago.
For him, the impressive fliers are those who know their music and fly to their music, emphasizing the strong parts and soft parts, and exhibit good control and varied styles. Crowd appeal is a very big thing, he added. Making the kite interact with the audience and the judges shows risk and control, he explained.
Flier and volunteer Glenn Davison of Boston, Mass., would be in Bayview Park building butterfly kites with kids on Saturday and launching his LED-lit kites during the night fly Sunday. For him, the most fascinating aspects of kite flying are the physics involved and the influence of atmospheric conditions.
Outside, on the Sand
On the Eighth and Ninth street beaches in Ship Bottom the next day, Walter and Maria Corsetti of Toronto were using the atmospheric conditions to their advantage, sending out giant bubbles to delight leaping children. By the end of the afternoon they had gone through five gallons of bubble solution, which Walter makes in his basement, a.k.a. laboratory, full of powdered polymers.
Using an inexpensive cotton clothesline or deconstructed floor mop, dunked in a bucket of soapy water, the bubble blowing is the perfect gap-filler for when there’s not enough wind for kites. The Corsettis got into bubbles about three years ago as a supplement to their love of flying kites because “neither of us can sit in a chair,” Walter said – they would rather stay occupied. They discovered a whole society of bubble aficionados willing to share recipes and ideas for the best soap-making formulas.
Bubbles, so fleeting, so peaceful and fun to watch as they float and pop, have a certain universal appeal, he said.
“It’s something about how they start, and flow, and die – it’s like a cycle of life thing,” he said. Creating them is also a way of understanding and communing with the environment, the interplay of temperature, humidity, bugs, dust and wind. Bubbles happen to thrive in damp weather, which seems to help them retain their shape better and prevent them from drying out, Maria said. So Saturday’s chilly, post-rain air was ideal.
“We did the best with what we could today,” volunteer Robin Meaney said, given the downpour that brought things to a halt around 2 p.m. But the morning had seen an estimated 3,000 kite watchers out to see the whimsical wonders filling the sky.
For the sake of balance and variety, the Island’s south and north ends would swap beach buggy rides and night fly activities from one year to the next, organizer Laurie Temple explained. The night fly took place on Sunday night at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park this year, while beach buggy rides were down in Beach Haven; next year the night fly will go back to Holgate (where it was the first year), while beach buggy rides go to Barnegat Light. The idea is to spread the wealth, so to speak, along the Island, end to end.
Nine eateries in Ship Bottom and Surf City served as “grab-n-go” locations. Bayview Park in Brant Beach and the Surf City Firehouse hosted the two-day High Fliers Art Market.
“This has the potential to dwarf Chowderfest,” according to festival co-mastermind Mary Ann Gutchigian, in terms of numbers of attendees and profitability for local businesses. Though she took a step back from her involvement in a planning capacity this year, she and Lisa Willoughby had been the first to conceive of the idea for the festival in 2013 and bring it to Island entities for support. Now instead of helping to organize it she was just enjoying it, she said.
“Why wouldn’t you come?” she asked. “All you have to do is look up.” And everyone who comes to the Island for the weekend patronizes the restaurants and shops, so it’s an economic win even if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
A kite enthusiast since 1980, Gutchigian looked to the longtime success of the festival in Ocean City, Md., where the Kite Loft store is located, as a model. In the hands of the right entrepreneur, a kite shop would make a killing on LBI, she noted.
— Victoria Ford