April 10
World Sport Kite Championship -- Day 1

The winds are cranking here at the First World Sport Kite Championship in Berck sur Mer (France). And just to be clear, 'cranking' means 20 to 25 straight down the beach, sand swirling, and periods where it turns and drops over the buildings at the edge of the promenade to create turbulence one flier described as 'food processor conditions'.

There is a sense here that this is something historic. For the first time, a worldwide competition is being organized by the flier associations – AKA, STACK (from Europe) and AJSKA (from Japan). And for the first time, a single common rulebook is being used.

Judges Illustration

Members of the International Rulebook Committee gathered before the event, spending more than 30 hours in important face-to-face discussions.

Conditions and goals differ between the organizations. STACK, for example, has about 20 judges who can meet for training and education together. AKA has more then 200 people who serve as judges across the country. So there are differences, but fundamentally, we have more in common and working together is a matter of learning, listening, and working out the kinks.

Some American fliers wonder why we might need to adjust 'our' rules to accommodate European practices. "We'll never fly at an international event" they say. But there are a dozen Americans here in France that never expected to fly in international competition either. And next year, there are plans to increase the event to include pairs, individuals and quads.

As chair of the World Sport Kite Committee, it was my happy duty to thank our hosts and wish the participants well. "We wish the officials good judgment, the fliers good winds, and the public a good show" I announced. An hour later, the teams were in the air.

We've got an interesting mix here. From France it is Tame Bird, Element'air, and Overdrive. From the UK, we have Matrix Management and Flame. The USA sent Legend and 6th Sense. Germany nominated Watnu and Garuda. All the way from Japan is Speed. And arriving just minutes before their assigned flying spot was O'Flyer from Malaysia.

The plan is for each team to fly both precision and ballet on each of three days. Precision and ballet are combined, 50-50, to generate one daily score. Final results will be based on the two highest days that each team flies.

Being able to drop one performance is important out here. On day one, Legend suffered an equipment failure that cost them points (although not a dq) in their ballet.

Element'air flew a strong ballet marred by numerous ground touches in the turbulent winds that resulted in high penalty points.

Speed left the field without even flying when a line judge waved the red flag during their window-check, signaling them out-of-bounds and thus disqualified. It was quickly determined that the judge had used the wrong flag and only meant to wave the yellow caution. Speed came back on, flew well, and then hit the boundary fence during their landing. So ultimately they were disqualified again. And the second time, the line judge was on his mobile phone and forgot to waive any flag.

The judge was replaced…

I attended eight of the nine World Cups and found it interesting to compare flying styles in Berck to some of the great teams of the past.

High Performance of Hawaii performed frequently in Japan and actually released several videos there. So it was not surprising to see Speed arrive with five fliers and use the pyramids, starbursts, and 'missing man' maneuvers that Nagao and Augenbaugh perfected years ago.

Yasuma Numata of Overdrive flew many years with LungTa. Their four flier ballet is edgy and intense. But where LungTa sometimes became somewhat esoteric and hard to follow, Overdrive is polished and intense. Their pounding tecno score and the sharp maneuvers remind me a lot of Aircraft.

The British teams all look a bit like SkyDance in the air, but are still working out the subtleties that made Mark, Janette, and Stephen champions.

And from the States, 6th Sense (Washington State) is fresh from the Experienced Class and flying their first Masters Competition. What a place to begin! Their routine is more conservative than Legend (New York Area) and it is interesting to contract east and west coast styles. We Americans would benefit from more head-to-head competition among our best.

So where do things stand at the end of day one??

The unstable winds provide a strong degree of difficulty and a lot of uncertainty to the performances. No one is at their best. Everyone is improvising.

Legend Illustration
Legend Illustration

Speed Illustration

In World Cup LeTouquet, Tsunami flew the first half of their ballet well, and then called "out" during their transitional landing. I saw that on the field today. Even more interesting, Overdrive completed a leading edge landing mid-routine, and then had their ground crew turn the kites over for a re-launch. Smart – and there is no rule prohibiting it.

I'd say that Overdrive has a strong lead with second and third up for grabs. But anything could happen in the next two days…

Check back tomorrow for photos and an update on WSKC '02.

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