With blue skies and a gentle breeze blowing over the Marina Saturday and Sunday, conditions were ideal for the 15th annual Berkeley Kite Festival and West Coast Flying Championships.
The event brought kite fanatics and casual observers alike to the waterfront, some coming from as far away as Canada and one group even traveling all the way from China to participate. Many among them travel around the country attending kite competitions.
“I’ve been coming (to the Berkeley Kite Festival) for quite a while,” said Tim Helwig, an event crew member from Alameda. “I travel the west coast going to these festivals. I love it, it’s one of my major pastimes.”
Competitors in the West Coast Flying Championships vie for honors in one of three categories: ballet, in which people choreograph kite routines to music, precision and freestyle. A panel of judges score the events. The scores count toward each of the competitors’ national flying ratings.
The winners of the weekend’s competitions will compete in the national finals, which take place in Tampa Bay, Fla. in October.
All eyes were on Ray Bethall, a more-than-70-year old competitor from Vancouver, British Columbia for 10 minutes Saturday. Bethall managed to fly three kites in perfect synchronicity – one controlled by each hand and one fastened to his waist.
Organizers of the festival expected that by the end of the two-day event, between 10,000 and 20,000 people would have attended.
A team of 60 volunteers worked at the festival, which was organized by Tom McAlister, who started the festival in 1986.
One kite team from Yang Jiang City, China exhibited a 400-foot-long Chinese Dragon kite.
“The kite from Yang Jiang is very much a handicraft,” said Lavinia Yu, a spokesperson for the team. “Also, the unique style and the artform are very emphasized (in China).
The main purpose why we come here is for the cultural exchange and to improve the understanding between the two different cultures.”
While it was the team’s first time at the Berkeley Kite Festival, it has traveled to France and other parts of the United States for similar events.
“Every festival has its own edge,” Zheng You Jian, Yang Jiang City’s vice mayor, said through a translator.
At this festival, kites ranged in color, style and size. While many people flew small kites, the sky was also filled with huge squids, octopuses, centipedes and several windsocks that were larger than a house.
Not content to simply watch the competition, many locals brought their own kites to fly. There was plenty food at the booths for those who worked up an appetite and special activities for children, including a candy drop and kite-making lessons.
The variety of activities appeared to fulfill the organizers’ promise that there would be “something for everyone.”