High flyers compete at Wildwood kite festival

In the competitive kite flying scene, 20-year old Spence “Watty” Watson is a breath of fresh air.

Competing in the East Coast Stunt Kite Championships at Wildwood, New Jersey’s 28th annual International Kite Festival, Team iQuad’s youngest flyer says he knows of less than ten others who are under the age of 25.

Decades older than his competition, Scott Weider welcomes Watson’s youthful energy and the new blood he brings to the sport. “It’s mostly an older crowd. We need the younger crowd to come in,” stated Weider, a flyer for the Rev Riders team.

The four-day International Kite Festival started 28 years ago when Cape May kite store owner, Roger Chewning began organizing kite flying gatherings on the beach. This year, the festival brought 200 registered kite flyers to the Jersey shore.

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The friendly kite flying competitions are comprised of two categories – precision and ballet. Precision contests are judged on a combination of compulsory criteria as well as freestyle moves. Ballet involves choreographed routines to music of the competitor’s choosing.

“It’s got history,” Watson said. “It’s nice to be able to come out here and be a part of it.”

Watson, a managing editor at Kitelife Magazine, began sport kite flying eight years ago in his home state of Washington and last year won the championship’s master-level multi-line ballet competition. 

Though the holiday weekend’s mixed-bag of weather did not have much effect on the number of participants and attendees, it did pose a challenge to the kites. Had the winds come from a different direction and not been so gusty, the sky would have been filled with colorful kites, said the festival’s organizer, Beatrix Pelton, of Sky Festival Productions.

The best kite wind is a smooth, steady wind at any speed, noted Forrest Cary, one of the event’s kite flying instructors. “We can adjust to a speed, but when it keeps changing it’s tough,” he said. Through 15-minute free lessons, those new to the sport learned about the wind window – the area where a kite will perform best – and about what the different types of kites can do and how to fly them.

There is some kind of kite for every person, no matter what their age, Pelton said.

Kites can range in price from nearly free to hundreds of dollars. For beginners, Pelton recommened single line kites, like the diamond and delta kites, because they are among the easiest to fly. Dual line foil kites are also a good choice for beginners because they will never break even if crashed into the ground, she said.

Pelton, who began flying dual-line stunt kites 15 years ago, says she now mostly flies four-line kites. Four-line kites are easy to fly and great for those with mobility issues. Controlled entirely by wrist action, they can even be flown by those who need wheelchairs to get around, she said.

Pelton says kite flyers make up a special community. The 3000 member American Kite Flyers Association, has local affiliate clubs all over the country. “They are like my second family,” she shared. What began as a kite flying lesson in 1998 quickly turned into a passion as Pelton joined Sky Festival Productions that same year. “Somebody put a two line kite in my hand and the rest is history,” she remarked.

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