Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Dunstable Kite Festival

We hadn't been to Dunstable Kite Festival before, though we had flown on the site during the National Championships. Good memories to go back to, in other words! Weather over the weekend was warm and sunny, especially on Saturday. Wind showed itself a bit finicky: quite strong Saturday morning, but then rapidly falling away to almost nothing; on Sunday, the wind was up and down.

Team Spectrum was present, flying their usual displays of Carl with two kites, Carl and Bryan, and then Carl with three kites. As we usually crew for them, my photos are usually 'from the other side', but I was glad to capture Carl launching his two Air Devils.

The Airheads flew both as a pair and a threesome, where Peter joined Keith and Vee. One of the pair displays turned out to be especially challenging: as the wind dropped, a huge inflatable octopus came down exactly on top of Keith and Vee .... Although I tried as much as I could to pull the tentacles away from flyers and lines, it was a bit of a losing battle!

The Flying Squad was there, of course, as Dunstable Downs is their home ground. Buoyed by the obvious home advantage, they flew a solid set of routines throughout the weekend.

And what about Flying Fish? How did we fare on our debut to Dunstable Kite Festival?

First of all, we had decided to fly two routines in our slots this weekend: our normal routine flown to Kayak's "Ruthless Queen" and a second routine, flown to "Adiemus". This second routine has a choreographed start and finish, but in-between it's mostly 'make it up as we go along', with me calling out the various patterns and moves as I see fit. It turned out that we really needed that second routine, as the PA system couldn't read our CD with "Ruthless Queen", couldn't read the back-up CD with "Ruthless Queen", and couldn't deal with a memory stick .... So we were down to just flying the "Adiemus" routine on Saturday, using our T5 Cubans, which only went so-so (the wind had dropped to almost nothing, but at least the PA system could read that CD!). As we were staying in a B&B in Dunstable, we had no opportunity to burn another CD, but Carl (of Team Spectrum) did go home for the evening and was kind enough to burn a new CD for us with "Ruthless Queen". Carl, thanks a lot, you saved our butts for Sunday, and we could fly both routines in our slots (flying T5 Cubans in the first slot, T5 SULs in the second one). Pretty happy with how the routines went (no major errors in any) and we're now officially a two-routine pair!

Mega-team, do I hear you ask? Well, of course! The Flying Squad and friends (including at some point, I think, Chris Matheson, and Marjorie Truchet from the French Now'Air team) flew a quad-line mega-team:

And for the dual-line mega-team, Flying Fish joined Barry Savell of Flame, Keith, Vee and Peter from the Airheads, Mick Burls, Carl Robertshaw, Thomas Chavinier from the French Panam'Air team, and several members from The Flying Squad (Simon Dann, Gary Tyrrell, Stephen Hoath, Andy Phelps, Steve Matchett, if I remember correctly); a truly international mega-tream! For us, the largest mega-teams we've ever flown in.

Other flyers making their appearance in the arena included Carl Robertshaw and Chris Goff. Plus, of course, many single-line kites and kiters as well; more photos can be found here. We had a great time and sincerely hope we'll be back in the coming years!

Picture credits of us flying: Carl Wright; picture credits of the dual-line mega-teams: Andy Taylor and Sharon Savell

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Brighton Kite Festival

Our very first invitation to fly at a festival was at Brighton in 2012, and so this year we went back to Stanmer Park for the third time in a row as 'invited flyers'. Weather was mostly gorgeous sunshine, apart from a few hours of rain on Sunday morning. On Saturday, the wind started off non-existent, picked up a wee bit, and then died down to almost nothing again. Unfortunately, we had the first and last slot of the day, and really struggled with the lack of wind in those slots, but we did a reasonable job in our middle slot of the day.

There was one thing I was quite pleased with: my landing on, and subsequent re-launch from, the boundary rope just before the routine proper. I'm sure I won't be able to do this again, even if I try 100 times, but it just worked absolutely perfectly: land the kite on the rope, basically balancing it on the stand-offs, let it lean back a bit, and then take off again!

Sunday's wind was a bit stronger than Saturday's, although increasingly blustery during the day. Whereas we flew our Cubans exclusively on Saturday, on Sunday we went from Cubans to T5 SULs to Azurs in our three runs. Last routine, with the Azurs, was the best, I feel, so going out on a high!

The only other team present was Team Spectrum. Glad Carl's 'Chi Mai' routine was on the menu for Saturday! What was also impressive was Carl getting his two kites into what looked like a locked death spiral, and somehow pulling them out again just before they hit the ground in a tangled heap. Still don't know how he did it, but he pulled off the recovery of the festival!

Besides Team Spectrum and Flying Fish, Karl Longbottom was the third invited flyer, and he brought a large selection of single-liners, flown with help of all other flyers in the arena. Chris Goff also showed up (on Sunday), and flew a freestyle routine in his unique style. More photos of the festival are here.

And before I forget: we were made members of Brighton Kite Flyers as a way of saying 'thanks' for flying at the festival. Unfortunately, there was basically no budget for organising the festival, but Brighton Kite Flyers did a great job organising and running the festival again, despite this lack of funding. Thanks guys!

Picture credit of us flying: Roger Backhouse

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Pair and team flying in the UK - an update

About a year and half ago, I wrote a blog post on pairs and teams in the UK, and I felt it was time for an update, given that some new blood is emerging into the sport. And I'm going to do this overview from a perspective of 'tiers': fun, event, or competition. Pairs or teams in the fun tier essentially get together on a Saturday or Sunday (or whatever day of the week) and fly together, purely for fun. They may or may not have a specific routine choreographed to music, and there is no interest in flying public demos. Next is the event tier: pair or team has at least one routine, and performs at kite festivals, village fairs, or other public events. And then we have the competition tier, be it national or international. Guess this speaks for itself: pair or team competes at the UK nationals, EuroCup or WSKC. Compare these tiers to different divisions in other sports, with the big difference that there is no promotion or relegation from one tier to another. Essentially, pairs or teams 'promote' or 'relegate' themselves (e.g. by deciding to start flying at kite festivals, or retiring from competition), depending on their ambitions and ability. The only exception is that in order to compete internationally, a pair or team has to be nominated by STACK.

OK, let's start with Dual-line teams

First we have the reigning World Champions, the Scratch Bunnies, who retained their world title earlier this year. Following this, they retired from competition, and I don't know whether they'll still fly together as a team at events or just for fun. Next there is Flame, the current UK champions. Obviously a team in the competition tier, and they have also competed internationally (they came 10th at the last world championships). Another team that used to be in the (international) competition tier is Airheads (shown in the photo). They have retired from competition this year, but are still very much flying in the event tier. And they haven't ruled out coming back to competition in the future. Sky Symphony has, as far as I'm aware, never flown competition, and have no plans of doing so. So a team firmly in the event tierPallas Family Flyers also has not flown competition so far, but they haven't ruled out doing so in the future. Until that happens, they're in the event tierThe Flying Squad is mostly known as a quad-line team (see below), but they occasionally fly dual-line routines, which warrants them being included in this section. Not flying competition, so another team in the event tier. And then there is L-katz, the team we're part of. L-katz has flown at a few kite festivals last year, but, for various reasons, decided not to do so this year. They may fly again at festivals in coming years, but for now they're a team in the fun tier.

Here's a table summarising the seven UK dual-line teams and their current tier (C = Competition; E = Event; F = Fun):

Scratch Bunnies
Sky Symphony
Pallas Family Flyers
The Flying Squad

OK, on to Quad-line teams

First of all, there is The Flying Squad, already mentioned above. They've flown competition in the distant past, but are now very much a team flying at festival and events, so firmly in the event tier. Also in the event tier, and also having flown competition in the distant past are The Decorators. Then we have Fusion (shown in the photo), which, to my knowledge, has never flown competition, so again, very much a team in the event tier. And finally the Haven Flyers. Again, not a team that has ever flown competition for all I know, but flies at festivals and events, so yet again, a team in the event tier. Which gives us the following simple table; note that there is not a single quad-line team flying competition in the UK at the moment?

The Flying Squad
The Decorators
Haven Flyers

From teams we go to pairs, and I'll first look at Dual-line pairs.

Unlike the teams, which can often vary in exactly who is flying, I will now mention names, as pair compositions are pretty much fixed. Phoenix, part of Flame, consists of Fran Burstall and Tony Shiggins. They are the current UK champions, so clearly in the competition tier. Ex-Grads consists of Keith Griffiths and Vee Griffiths. They have flown competition in the past (up to UK national champions), but have retired from competition, and are now flying at festivals and events, so in the event tier. To be more precise, Ex-Grads is part of the Airheads, and since retiring from competition have abandoned the name Ex-Grads, and are flying under the name Airheads at festivals. Close Encounters (shown in the photo), consisting of Allan and Marilyn Pothecary, have flown competition in the past (making it up to Experienced Class champions), but are now firmly in the event tierTeam Spectrum, made up of Bryan and Carl Wright, have never flown competition and have no intention of doing so. Another pair in the event tier. Dave and Angela Green don't have an official name for festivals, though they sometimes refer to themselves as "The Greenies". They've flown at at least one kite festival, so another event tier pair. Four Bi' Two is a new pair, consisting of Josh Mitcheson and Graham Lockwood. As far as I'm aware, they're flying at a festival in the Netherlands as this blog post gets published, so most definitely an event tier pair. Competition flying will be a bit more difficult for them, as both are flying two kites, and 'multi-kite pair flying' doesn't really fit in the existing competition categories. The Weekend Pilots is a pair within the Brighton Kite Flyers; as far as I'm aware they don't have a routine for festivals, so I'll regard them as a fun tier pair for now. Wings on Strings is our sister pair within L-katz, and consists of Roger Backhouse and Tony Vella. They've flown at two festivals last year, but have decided not to fly at festivals any more for the foreseeable future, so another fun tier pair. And then last, but hopefully not least, Flying Fish, made up of yours truly and Irma Adriaanse, and also part of the L-katz team. And, as you may know, we recently took the plunge and became a competition tier pair. Here's the helpful (?) summarising table again, with the tiers of the nine active UK dual-line pairs:

Flying Fish
Close Encounters
Team Spectrum
The Greenies
Four Bi’ Two
Weekend Pilots
Wings on Strings

Which brings us finally to Quad-line pairs. 

Smallest of the four categories. First of all, The Flying Squad. They have flown competition in the past (up to becoming European champions), and are now flying in the event tier. And then we have a new quad-line pair: Quadrilateral (shown in the picture), consisting of Mark Brackenridge and Teresa Brackenridge. A fun tier pair at the moment, until they get a routine under their belt. I hope to see them move up to festivals, and possibly even competition (nudge, nudge). For completeness, a table!

The Flying Squad

The above gives you all the pairs and teams active in the UK. Clearly, I know of all current pairs and teams in the competition tier, and sadly, there are only three of them .... I probably didn't miss many (if any) in the event tier. As to the fun tier, it's difficult to tell how many pairs and teams are flying in the UK outside of festivals and other organised events, because by their nature, you're unlikely to hear about them unless you see them flying or happen to know one of the members. So there may well be more that I'm not aware of.

Three teams (all quad-line) were mentioned in my previous overview, but I've not heard anything from them, and in one case the web-site appears to be dead. So, unless I hear anything to the contrary, I'll assume that Flying Colours, Team4Mation and Snuff are no longer active.

If anyone reading this notices any errors or omissions, please let me know and I'll correct/update; thanks!

Credit for the picture of Quadrilateral: Ian Forsey

Friday, 13 June 2014

Four Bi' Two

Pair- and team-flying is a pretty small sport in the UK, so it's great to see new blood entering the sport. And in this particular case, it's blood with a twist ...

Four Bi' Two is a newly-formed pair, consisting of Graham Lockwood and Josh Mitcheson. The twist is that both fly two kites at the same time! Here's a video of a recent training session:

I've not seen them perform live, but hope to do so before long. And as each of the two members can also fly three kites at the same time, will we see Six Bi' Two at some point??

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Basingstoke Kite Festival

Basingstoke Kite Festival started rather 'interesting': thunder, lightning, and heavy rain. Fortunately, the bad weather started to clear towards the end of Saturday morning, and the rest of the weekend gave us glorious sunshine. Winds were typical for Basingstoke: up and down, full of holes, changing direction a lot.

On both days, we flew our routine twice. On Saturday, using only our Cubans, while we could move up to our T5 SULs on Sunday morning, going back to Cubans again for the afternoon. Our flying on Sunday was clearly better than on Saturday. Like the other pairs, we did what we could given the finicky wind.

And which were those other pairs? First of all, Team Spectrum, flying on both days. They also struggled with the wind, and had to switch kites or tails more than once.

Ex-Grads (or, I should say Airheads, given that Keith and Vee have retired their pairs name when they retired from competition this year) flew on Sunday only. Like us, they flew Airdynamics T5 kites, and, flying immediately after us, tried to fly a routine which had a really different 'feel' from ours.

Yet more Airdynamics T5s were in the air thanks to Josh Mitcheson flying his three gorgeous black 'n' fire kites.

Doubling the number of lines brings us to The Flying Squad. I don't think I've ever gone to Basingstoke Kite Festival and not see them perform. Prior to flying their routine using their trademark white/blue Revs, they warmed up with Cuban Revs, which I hadn't seen them fly before.

A mega-team concluded the Sunday programme, combining Barry Savell (of Flame), the Airheads (now including Peter Taylor) and us. Or, at least, that was the plan. The wind had dropped down to almost nothing by 4.30 on Sunday afternoon, and after trying a few patterns, we were forced to give up. Especially our Cubans were really struggling; most likely due to ours not having been properly 'run in' yet compared to the others.

As always when I blog about a kite festival, I focus on the pair- and team-flying. Lots more happened, and more photos are here. I do want to highlight one event though: the mass butterfly-ing, in memory of Kelvin Woods.

Credit for the pictures of us flying: Carl Wright (Team Spectrum)

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

UK National Championships

In previous years, I've briefly posted the results of the UK National Championships in this blog (in 2013 and in 2012). The 2014 Championships were different for us in the sense that, a) we were there; and b) we were part of the competition!

'There', by the way, is Dunstable Downs. Weather over the weekend of May 31 and June 1 was dry, but the wind was challenging: it often wasn't there ... On Saturday, we had 0-5mph, with a wind that had a tendency to drop away completely mid-figure or mid-routine. On Sunday, it was mostly thermals and 3mph was considered a gust ...

Competition format consisted of three figures plus a ballet. Two rounds for individual, pair and team precision on Saturday, and one round for freestyle on Sunday. The intended third round for individuals/pairs/teams on Sunday never happened due to frequent wind recesses; there was a struggle to complete even the single freestyle round. So, without further ado, the 2014 winners are ...

... individual champion: Tony Shiggins!

... pairs champions: Phoenix!

... team champions: Flame!

Yes, Tony has his polishing sorted for the coming year ...

And freestyle champion: Yan Spooner!

And what about Flying Fish? We struggled a lot with the very low or non-existing wind, we made mistakes, we didn't fly nearly as well as we could, but we got through our first two rounds of competition at national level. And I didn't forget even once to call 'in' or 'out', which is something I was quite concerned about beforehand (simply because we're not used to doing that when we fly at festivals).

Of course, the day was concluded with a mega-team, with up to 10 kites in the air at the same time: Flame (3), Andy Taylor, Flying Fish (2), AirHeads (2), John Williams and Steven Hoath (of The Flying Squad fame).

In the end results, Phoenix beat us by a mile and then some, but nevertheless Flying Fish is now officially 2nd in pairs in the UK, and Champions in the Experienced Class!

Now of course, you can point at the inevitability of us coming second when only two pairs competed and there was no chance of beating Phoenix (unless they were forced to fly blindfolded and with one hand). But I'd say this in response: First of all, it's not our fault that, besides Phoenix and us, no other pair entered the competition. Whatever their reason, all other UK pairs 'failed' to clear the first hurdle, which is to be in the arena, on the day. And secondly, we didn't just show up, launch and crash a kite, get 0 points and come second. Given the challenging wind, and despite all the mistakes we made, we feel we performed at a level we don't have to be ashamed of. Both Keith Griffiths and Barry Savell said that the scores we got at our debut (overall 47.8, with most scores in the mid to high 40s and a few in the 50s) were higher than the scores they got at their respective debuts. Or, as Barry put it succinctly "Your debut scores piss on our debut scores". 

And winning a piece of kite-flying silverware does feel like a reward for all the hours of practice we have put into our pair-flying over the last few years. So we feel pleased.

Full results of the weekend, including updated UK rankings (where we enter in 3rd position, behind Phoenix and Ex-Grads), are on the STACK web-site, and more photos of the event are here.

Additional picture credits: Simon Dann (us flying) and Andy Taylor (us with trophy).

Sunday, 18 May 2014

L-katz banner

Our official banner for Flying Fish consists of (at the moment) five 'fishy' windsocks, but for L-katz, the team we're also part of, we didn't have an official team banner. Up to now, that is, and here we proudly present the official L-katz banner!

Made by Roy and Hayley of Kites Up. And I must say they've done a really professional job on this. The sturdy pole consists of three parts that lock into each other, and the whole comes in a well-designed bag, with extra pockets for the stake and a hammer. And talking about the stake to be driven into the ground: this is not your average ground stake, but a very professional one, which allows the banner to turn with the wind.

Roy, Hayley, big thumbs up!