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Kite Festival to Claim Skies This Weekend

Tuesday July 22, 2003

With the appearance of a 50-foot-tall flying cat and a 100-foot-long octopus, plus a world record attempt on this weekend’s schedule, the Berkeley Kite Festival promises that for two days, it will “fill the Bay Area skies with more than just summer fog.” 

The 18th annual festival, which will be held Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at Cesar E. Chavez Park at the Berkeley Marina, is put on in conjunction with the West Coast Kite Championships. The production is one of the largest of its kind in North America and is a popular local activity every summer. 

“Most people think of kites as children’s toys,” festival chair Tom McAlister said. “But many of these are actually flying pieces of art. They’re sophisticated kites for adults.” 

Although much of the weekend will be devoted to exhibitions, the competition among serious kite enthusiasts will be fierce. Festival organizers will sponsor contests for both kite making and kite flying, with participants competing for the grand prize in divisions ranging from individual precision to pairs ballet, team trains and hot tricks. 

One of the main events will be an attempt at a new world record for the longest dual-line kite train. Mix McGraw, who currently holds the record with 219 stacked Hyperkites, will shoot for 260 kites in his first attempt to break his own record. 

Though McGraw’s kites look much like the traditional notion of the high-flying toys, many artists and veteran kite-makers will challenge convention with their new takes on the classic design. Some creations, including a group of kites coming to Berkeley from New Zealand, look more like floats one might see in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But if it flies, McAlister said, it is indeed a kite. 

“Some of them don’t really move around in the sky that much once they’re up there,” he said. “Those are some of the artistic kites that people really like to see, like the giant octopus or the cat.” 

Other festival favorites will include giant windsocks, which spin in the wind, and the Chinese-style creations, including huge dragon kites. All of the kites are extremely colorful, a major attraction for spectators. 

“My favorite are the spinning rainbow ones,” said Julie Martin, who has attended the kite festival for the last six years. “If it’s a clear day they look really beautiful in the sky.” 

Another crowd favorite is kite choreography, which uses several small kites to perform a dance routine in the sky. Though most routines are performed in pairs or teams, Ray Bethell, 75, plans to perform his “One-Man Show,” just as he has for the last several years at the festival. 

Bethell creates intricate dance routines for his kites and performs them by himself. 

“They’re amazing,” McAlister said. “It looks exactly like beautiful dancers are performing it.” 

The kite festival will also feature kite-flying lessons, a sales tent for different kite manufacturers, free kite making for kids and live musical performances. 

“It’s more than just a couple kites floating 10 feet off the ground,” McAlister said. “It’s really quite an event.”