A patch of sun splits through the clouds to illuminate a giant spinning tunnel of rainbow in the sky over Lincoln City, Oregon. It’s not a bird. It’s not a plane. It’s a 30-foot cylindrical kite. Following the rainbow kite’s lead, a succession of life-sized whales, a bright blue teddy bear, and a vivid clownfish float on high. Farther ahead flies an exotic jellyfish, a white seal, and several colorful triangles with long, dancing streamers. On the sand, older couples smile, leaning on each other’s shoulders, and school children weave in and out of the crowds. The aromas of elephant ears and grilled hamburgers waft from the local food stalls. On this breezy June day, the Lincoln City Summer Kite Festival kicks off the beginning of summer at the Oregon Coast.
The festival celebrated its 29th year this summer, with visitors from all over the Pacific Northwest gathered around to enjoy performances by professional fliers. The two-day event typically draws around 10,000 spectators prevailing through rain or shine. The festival attracts visitors with its free entry and relaxed, fun environment, which welcomes both professional and leisure kite fliers.
For many, first dates take place at a restaurant or a movie theater. For Barry and Susan Tislow, it was on the beach sharing a kite. What started as a relaxing pastime 17 years ago for the married couple from Renton, Washington, has since become much more then a hobby. The couple originally took pride in flying up to 30 small kites at a time, but moved to flying large, inflatable kites about ten years ago.
“Since then, it’s gone crazy. Now we don’t even know how many kites we have,” says Barry. “We quit counting years ago.”
Some of the Tislows’s kites are over 30 feet long. Their colossal size makes these the elephants of the kite world. The Tislows began performing with them at the Lincoln City Summer Kite Festival about eight years ago.
“It’s not unusual to spend $1,000 or more on a kite. Six years ago, we bought a 14-foot trailer for our kite. Now, even that is getting cramped for space,” says Barry.
The Tislows lead a professional show kite crew named Team Suspended Animation. With kites ranging from frogs, to caterpillars, to giant rainbow rings, the team has more show kites than any other group in the US.
A kite festival is a perfect setting for anyone interested in trying their hand at flying kites and gives them the opportunity to learn from enthusiasts and experts who fly in from all over the world to meet and exchange stories.
The Lincoln City Summer Kite Festival typically features 20 to 30 professional fliers, some of them sponsored by the event, and a few competitive teams of five to six members.
“We have a whole new family because of the kites,” says professional flier Connor Doran, who at age 20 is among the youngest in the sport. “There’s a kite flying community all over the world. We’re always meeting new people and supporting one another and new fliers.”
Professional flier John Barresi agrees. “Kite flying is a worldwide culture. It’s not defined by country lines,” says the leader of the kite flying team iQuad and Editor-in-Chief of KiteLife.com. “We go to festivals all over the world and there will be 50 nationalities represented there. We all have kites up and we share a bond.”
Three fields span across the shore each year: one for the breathtaking inflatable show kites, one for kite demonstrations and stunts, and another for free-flying, where anyone from toddling young novices to aspiring retirees can fly their kites in the open sky.
“The vibe translates to all visitors,” says Scott Humpert, the festival’s public relations coordinator. “It caters to young and old; it’s something new and exciting for young people, and for the older generation, it’s reminiscent of the past.”
Kite flying had a resurgence in popularity in the past 50 years with the invention of new and improved materials such as fiberglass. According to the American Kitefliers Association, the first kites originated in China over 2,000 years ago. Since then, kites have spread across the world, attracting enthusiasts like Barresi.
While Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody plays from the stands, the six fliers of iQuad stand side-by-side as their kites create a one-of-a-kind dance in the air. In a spectacular display that baffles the crowd, the kites perform a series of coordinated cartwheels, zigzags, and do-si-dos to cues in the music, executing their dramatic twists and turns to the song’s heightened tones, and finally gradual spins towards the ground as the music fades. The sight is all the more impressive when one considers the number of lines that would become hopelessly tangled if not for the pilots’ skill.
Since iQuad first began in France in 2006, the team has performed in more than 130 events, with a typical season running February through October. Barresi met his wife and fellow iQuad teammate, Takako, nicknamed TK, at a kite festival in Japan.
“I see better people when they’re flying. They’re outside and they’re interacting with something that’s really positive,” says Barresi, who regularly helps at workshops and instructional clinics.
These workshops allow many avid fliers, such as Connor Doran, to get their start in the sport.
“For me, when I’m flying, I’m in the moment. I’m in the zone,” says Doran, who discovered that kite flying was a great outlet for his epilepsy-induced anxiety. “It’s me and the kite, and I’m not thinking about anything else. It’s so beautiful and relaxing, and it takes away my stress.”
Doran became a celebrity in the kite-flying world as a top 12 finalist on season five of America’s Got Talent for performing indoor kite flying on stage. He currently attends South Puget Sound Community College and uses his fame to support the Epilepsy Foundation as an advocate, giving talks, kite performances, and workshops with the goal of raising awareness about epilepsy. He flies under the slogan “Dare to Dream,” to inspire others to not let a disability or any obstacle hold them back from pursuing their aspirations.
“It’s one of those rare activities that literally anybody can do,” says Barresi. “There are kites you can fly from a wheelchair.”
Kite flying is a unique hobby that draws in so many because it is just that—simple, and easily accessible to people of all backgrounds.
Amy Doran, Connor’s mother, appreciates the simple beauty of kite flying. “Anyone can learn to fly a kite… And don’t worry about crashing. We crash all the time,” says Amy, laughing. “Life isn’t about how many times you fall, but how many times you get back up.”
Back on the beach, the sun is setting. Some fliers start to reel in their kites as others continue to fly strong in the dwindling gusts of wind. The enormous animals are pulled to the ground, having had their chance to fly for the day, the colorful nylon polyester spills over the sand like deflated hot air balloons. Although the vendors pack up their stalls after most fliers and visitors hit the road or retire to a hotel for the night, there remains at least two or three small kites dancing in the sky, refusing to go home.