August 1, 2007
Blue Skies Over Berkeley

The Berkeley International Kite Festival clearly rates as one of the very best on the West Coast, and is certainly the largest kite event south of the Columbia River. The event has gone through many changes and challenges in its 22 year history, but remains interesting, fresh, and sometimes surprising.

Photo by ChrisCochems

Central to the show is the remarkable performance of the Berkeley Kite Wranglers.

In a space not much larger than a good sized swimming pool, the team stacks up an astounding number of big inflatables. This year they presented 12 giant Peter Lynn Octopi. That’s a North American record!

The Wranglers have taken mass-flying to a new level. And I’m proud to say that Susie and I have been a small part of the evolution.

Back in 2000, the “big kite field” was used for commercial learn-to-fly programs. But when Revolution missed their flight from San Diego, Susie and I took the opportunity to launch an Octopus and Squid in the small open space.

In 1998, we had experimented with massing large kites, creating a seven-piece Trilobite Swarm in France.

For 2001, the Gombergs, Al Sparling, Mike North, and Dan Whitney flew four Octopus on Berkeley's "show field". By 2002, the space had been expanded and the commercial displays moved. Al Sparling, Mike North, Joe Tait, Dan Whitney, Rod and Cindy Thrall, Brian Champie, Dave Hoggan and the Gombergs lofted 20 giant kites over the course of the weekend.

At the same time, the Wranglers had come together as a team. In 2003, the “Octo Pile” premiered at the Berkeley Festival with six kites in the air together flown by the Wranglers and GKPI.

During the next four years, the Wranglers expanded their show and went on the road. They have since performed in New York and in Japan. GKPI has organized similar Octopi gatherings in Thailand, France, and Wildwood.

So my point here is not to try and take credit for anything, but to just outline how the program has changed and grown. The Wrangler Kite Show was delightful this year, and larger than anything ever seen in Berkeley before. Everyone involved should be proud of what they have accomplished.

Photo by ChrisCochems

This year, Susie and I parked ourselves lower on the Caesar Chavez hillside. That gave us a chance to interact more with other fliers from the main field. It also gave me a nice opportunity for some fun with my pal Ben Lumas. It was good to see Ben back on a kite field with a smile on his face.

Caterpillar Crawl Caterpillar Crawl Caterpillar Crawl

Next to our flying area, a variety of art kites challenged the stronger winds. A small kitemaking competition was held with roughly six entries.

Art Kites Art Kites Art Kites Art Kites Art Kites

Returning a second time was a team from Hamamatsu, Japan.

Hammamatsu hosts a major fighting festival each May. Neighborhoods each organize kite teams, supported by crowds with bugles, drums and whistles. The teams party each night and then parade into the streets. When they meet another team, they join together and march to the next intersection. And suddenly there are thousands of chanting, drinking, joyful kite enthusiasts parading in what can only be described as a ‘kite frenzy’.

Hamamatsu Hamamatsu

Other activities included a sport kite competition, candy drops, fighter matches, kitemaking for kids, and a large running rok battle. The public are invited to sign up and then given a few quick lessons. Then thirty-five kites enter the arena with the last one in the air winning.


As I said before, Berkeley continues to change. Ten years ago, competition was the main attraction. Five teams would pursue wood on the gusty hillside and as many as 150 competitors would register. Dozens of single-liners would add to the background. And the Bay Area Sundowners would awe the large crowds with their stacked hyper kites.

Photo by ChrisCochems

Publicity and parking issues reduced attendance a bit this year and contests are a fraction of their former glory here as they are around the country.

But the main demonstration field now features IQuad and Ray Bethell. Spectators leave their cars and walk a mile to enjoy the show. Traffic still grinds to a standstill on neaby I-80. And of course, those huge octopus throw a bouncing shadow over everything.

The venue at the edge of San Francisco Bay with the Golden Gate in the background is among the best in the world.

Yep – Berkeley is still one of the best. It changes but it is still going strong. We were glad to be back for what I think is 18 in a row. See you there again next time!


Ghost Sale!

These darker colors really glow on the bright summer sun. So let’s put them on sale and get a few more into the sky.

Choose the blue, purple, or black Ghosts in either the 7 or 11 foot size and we’ll take 20% off the list price. That’s $56 or $120. Offer is good until August 10.

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