Kite Festival Etiquette
I come from a particular direction on this subject:
Thirty something years of going to International Kite festivals, perhaps 500 so far- which I'm sort of regarded as having generally terrorised- one way or another.
At one period I so inserted myself up the noses of some of my fellow kitefliers that they set up a "Trashed by Peter Lynn Kite Club" dedicated to excluding me from events.
I tried to join- by the theory that I qualify by way of the many own goals I score.
By this, I should be the last person to write about how to behave at kite festivals.
But on the other hand I'm also generally regarded as getting the job done- one way or another, so the invitations keep on coming. And in recent years, relations between those of us who fly large kites at events has improved out of sight. Cooperation is the norm now, disagreements are rare, and I haven't seen an on-the-field fight for some years! To some extent at least, this change has occurred because the principles set out below have become generally accepted.
Essentially, I believe much of the contradiction between unpopularity with some of my peers and obvious popularity with festival organisers came down to a disagreement or misunderstanding as to the underlying purpose of kite festivals. Of course it could also have just been bad behaviour, the pushiness of relative youth since mitigated by age and wisdom!
My view was, and is, that kite festivals are primarily for spectators, not for impressing our fellow enthusiasts or for socialising (what about the red wine then, I hear you say?).
Kite flier-only events are very different to public kite festivals. When there are only kitefliers present we should respect first claim on sky space and keep out of the way of small kites when we can- even the trashy cheap bad flying commercial ones.
But public kite festivals are a different matter- they are the shop window by which we raise the profile of kite flying and attract new enthusiasts. The huge growth, world wide, in all aspects of kite flying during the last thirty years has in large part derived, I think, from having interesting and exciting shows (and the attendant media attention of course).
For many kite fliers, kite festivals are a pleasant travel opportunity during which they can have a good time amongst people of like interest; do some showing off, and, with a bit of event support for food, and accommodation, stay within discretionary spending limits.
But for myself and other professional kite fliers, kite festivals are not necessarily good fun. They can be hard work, are sometimes dangerous, often frustrating- and don't even pay wages. They also require that I spend 30 days every year on an aeroplane or in an airport, cause me to live out of a carry-on bag away from home comforts for more than 6 months of each year, and impose endless minor aches and pains from lugging oversize kites around. It's all worth it though, it really is- not least for the opportunity to be part of such an interesting and diverse international family.
If you accept that kite festivals are primarily for spectators then this leads to a set of principles and observations on how festivals should be structured which fairly much defines how kite fliers should behave at such events.
Egos are useful things to have around because they drive us all to do more and better, but sometimes they get in the way. The major source of disputes between kite fliers at festivals derives from ego driven territorial behaviour.. Fortunately, this is less of a problem than it was twenty years ago, but some kite fliers still act as though they have title to a particular piece of sky by the rationalisations that either "they had it first" or that it is "their fair share".Particularly obnoxious by my standards are those who arrive early and stake off some invisible kite at out-of-sight altitude so placed as to deny the use of much of the available kite flying area to displays that do have ongoing spectator appeal. Conversely, I have no problem with the kite flier who "muscles in" to an area providing their display is well received by the spectators relative to other kites flying.
Kitefliers who persist in "camping" themselves and their equipment in the kite launching and landing area at the down wind end of the kite field are also a sure source of disputes. Quite unnecessary damage accrues to their "stored" kites, cabana's and equipment- and to kites that snag on them.
Also a problem, are kitefliers who "mine" the kite flying field with sprag end metal stakes. This source of kite damage is second only to that from the seemingly purposely designed kite destroying stakes that festival organisers habitually use to exclude the public from kite flying areas.
Some kite fliers self-righteously exhibit behaviour based on envy and jealously rather than aligning themselves with the needs of showmanship. By kite flier's standards of course, big kites are not "better" than small kites and kite fliers that get media attention aren't necessarily "better" than those who work away quietly without recognition.
But, by the public's values, size and media-appeal are king.
To my view, at public events: "The sky belongs to kites that make best use of it from the spectator's perspective." Many effects flow from this:
The public do not usually appreciate the fine accurate workmanship or other characteristics by which kite makers judge each other- but are impressed by bright colours, movement, size, and representational effects.
Within safety consideration, crashes and wild kites generally add to spectator enjoyment whereas they are seen by kite fliers as evidence of bad kites and irresponsible kite flying.
For two and four line flying, manoeuvres that impress judges at kite flier competitions will not necessarily impress the public. Extreme trick sports kite flying is rarely appreciated.
Any 'low kite density' show (like flying to music) that requires exclusive use of a large area for more than a few minutes needs to be very entertaining because the public attention span is short. But this doesn't mean that each kite at the event should only be flown briefly. It is important at festivals for there to be a good number of kites in the sky all the time, as a sort of frame around the central picture, to attract viewers from a distance and to put a "this is a kite festival" stamp on proceedings.
"Authority" at kite festivals is primarily the festival organizer, who has bought the right to call the shots by taking on the onerous responsibility of paying the bills when it's all over. I'm not, nor ever want to be, a kite festival organiser. They are a special breed of mad person whom I cherish for their enormous contributions while also taking care to avoid infection with their particular insanity. Festival organizers will usually be very well attuned to sponsors interests- which is as things should be, because only sponsors enable festivals to occur. Closing the circle, spectators, by number and enthusiasm, justify the sponsor's investment.
There are only rare times when kite fliers should act against festival organiser's directions- for safety matters and when it is clear that spectator/sponsor interests are not being met. Generally, our job as kite fliers at festivals is to make the organiser's job as easy as possible so as to ensure the event's success. To these ends we should:
Work hard at keeping things happening, especially during those periods when conditions are difficult- no wind, bad wind, too much wind. There is nothing that annoys me more (except lack of anchoring points maybe) than kite fliers who are all over the field demanding exclusive space when conditions are perfect but are nowhere to be seen when the wind goes even a bit squirrelly.
Not cause unnecessary problems- like requiring airports pick-up at unsociable hours, making complaints about meals or accommodation, trying to involve the organisers in on-the-field disputes or presenting after the event with extra cost claims that haven't been budgeted for.
Be willing to accept some damage and the occasional lost kite as part of the cost of what we do. Consequential to this is NOT to fly with Kevlar. The only possible justification for doing so is the "but I can't afford to lose my kite" one- which selfishly presumes that everyone else can.
Sometimes make the effort to get together for a general discussion as to how the event's needs can best be served. This is particularly necessary when there are too many kite fliers and limited space. It can also help when there's zero wind - a bit of team building will often encourage fliers who might otherwise sit the lulls out to come forward with something that fills a gap.
Learn to fly our kites close to others, maximising the number of kites in the air, and not get abusive or sulky when the inevitable tangles and damage happen. To which end; better behaved large soft single line kites and especially the use of pilot kites, have produced the biggest improvement in festival flying I have seen in 30 years- maybe it was always just about bad kites, never bad people?!
Updated at Berck sur Mer, France, April '09.