Today, as a spectator, I took part in one of Austin's annual rights of the coming of spring; The Zilker Park Kite Festival and as usual it was a blast! The event features hundreds of kites of all sizes, shapes, designs and colors swirling and dancing in the sky above the Zilker Park Polo Fields. There is something for everyone; kite flying demonstrations, make your own kite workshops, kite battles, contests with many categories, trophies, and all sorts of food vendors. Kites are incredibly popular all over the world and Austin is no different and as everyone knows we have so many opportunities to have fun (and keep it weird). As a child, I remember my Dad helping me build kites, from the first old school models covered with news paper to plastic "Bat Kites" and a progression of ever evolving types and makes. The hobby stuck with me and I have always had a fondness for kites of any style. Over time I have entered the Zilker Park contest many times and in many categories through the years but when I reflect, one entry in particular comes to mind...
A number of years ago when I was building furniture, I had access to all sorts of tools, materials and a wonderful facility where I could build just about anything that I could possibly dream up. One year I got a wild hair (the day before the contest) and decided to assemble an entry in the biggest kite category. I had a design in mind for a huge octagon shaped kite covered with 12mil plastic. Pestering my friend and partner, Tom Wood (cool name for an architect/furniture builder) into helping me, we set about designing and putting the monster together from scratch. Most of the day was spent gathering materials and the evening was devoted to constructing the framework from wood and pvc pipe and covering the structure with the plastic skin that we had painstakingly melded together. Of course, like all last minute ideas and projects, there were many things that had to be "rigged" and adjusted so the work went on well into the early morning hours. The ENTIRE time, my friend kept telling me, "It will never fly". I just ignored him because after all, I still needed his help. Around 3:00am, we finished the kite, my friend went home and I decided to paint my creation. Digging through a closet of spray cans, I began splashing and spraying the kite with all manner of colors, symbols and primitive designs that would have made a DADA-Anarchist proud! The longer I worked, the more bizarre it became and by 8:00am I had done all the damage I figured possible and crashed for a nap in my office!
Knowing that it would take a major effort to get the kite airborne and with safety in mind, we called a number of other friends to help launch and control the kite during its flight. About a dozen of our friends showed up to help and fortified with a cooler full of beverages and party favors we made our way to Zilker Park. I need to mention here that Tom told each and every person on the crew that, "It will never fly". We spent most of the afternoon hanging out and watching the different kites, talking and laughing and generally enjoying the festive atmosphere! I don't have to remind you of this but about every 15-20 minutes, Tom would proclaim to anyone who would listen, "It will never fly..." Toward the end of the afternoon, our event was announced and we assembled our kite got in position and awaited the start. There were only six entries and it looked like we might have a chance IF we could launch our kite and keep it airborne for the ONE MINUTE time minimum.
We had fourteen people ready, two to hold the kite and a dozen people placed along the woven nylon line to help pull the kite along for enough time to get the thing up in the air. As the whistle blew, four of the contestants could not get up, crashed on takeoff or flew apart while the teams vainly attempted to make them fly! Down to us and one other team, we began pulling in unison running and screaming at each other to keep going and slowly our strange looking kite began to lift off. The coordination up to this point was perfect. What is important to remember is that it is crucial for everyone to release the line simultaneously so the kite can catch the wind and propel into the sky! As we were running along the kite gained altitude and I shouted for everyone to LET GO OF THE LINE! Everyone complied with the exception of, you guessed it...Tom, "Mister IT won't Fly"! Unfortunately, his position on the line was closest to the kite so he neither saw nor heard (or maybe ignored) everyone as they released the line. As the wind caught the kite, it began to pull up and twist violently pulling Tom up and down. We were all screaming at him to let go as the kite began to wildly careen up and around but he still held on. At that point the kite shot straight up and then plummeted into the earth, shattering the frame and collapsing in a huge pile of broken wooden limbs, pvc pipe and plastic shreds! All of us began yelling at Tom but he was completely nonplussed and said, "See, I told you it would not fly!" I don't know who said it first but one of our friends shouted, "DOGPILE" and we all jumped on Tom as the crowd watched in amusement breaking into applause, jeers, laughter!
That was many years ago and though I have taken my wife and children to this event many times over the years, I have yet to enter again but always enjoy the show. But you never know, maybe I will give Tom a call and see if he wants to try again...NEXT YEAR! It's still a great time for people of all ages and well worth the trip even as a spectator. I guess my favorite part is watching the thousands of adults and children running around trying to fly hundreds of kites all at the same time. It's anarchy and of course there are all sorts of mishaps, crossed lines and crashing kites along with the infamous kite eating trees mentioned so often by Charlie Brown! These days, the larger kites have taken a different tact and are now made from colorful parachute material that allows the design of all sorts of intresting creatures.The mood is always festive and there is something about taking it easy and watching hundreds of kites flying in the air that is so pleasant and relaxing and just plain fun. It's another of Austin's wonderfully simple pleasures that can be enjoyed by everyone for FREE. So...as long as there is wind, GO FLY A KITE!