Barnegat Light — Flooding on parts of Long Beach Island began late last week and didn’t relinquish its grip until Columbus Day weekend was in full swing and after it prompted the cancellation of events that historically mark the end of shoulder-season on the barrier island. The rain, though, didn’t arrive until Sunday evening, dampening Long Beach Boulevard but not the spirit or atmosphere of the finale of the fifth annual LBI Fly International Kite Festival.
As the Sunday sky grew heavy and steely with a light drizzle, kite festival organizers made the decision to go ahead with the night fly at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. The forecast called for clear skies at show time and about an hour ahead of the event the sun attempted to break through a cluster of clouds hanging low above the bay off Barnegat Light as a steady stream of motorists found their way to the northernmost tip of LBI.
“I think Saturday and Sunday were busier than prior years. Even with the removal of Monday and the cancellation of Friday day activities, I would estimate that we exceeded past yearly turnouts in Ship Bottom,” Calla Aniski, one of the event organizers, said. “We had contact with Ship Bottom police who gave us a detailed read on the (flood) situation. After talking over the options, we decided that it wasn’t safe to have people, especially those who are unfamiliar with the area, trying to navigate the flooding and the extra traffic on Friday. Chief (Paul) Sharkey and Officer Ron Holloway were both extremely helpful throughout the entire weekend.”
Despite a bumpy start to the activities, she said the atmosphere was great and the weather conditions excellent for most of the remainder of the weekend.
“Even when there wasn’t enough wind for a few hours on Saturday, people were still enjoying one last summer day on the beach,” Aniski said.
Some highlights of the event include Beach Haven, represented by Black Sheep Studios, winning the Mayor’s Kite Battle on Sunday.
“The weather and wind were both perfect, and, although we had to end it early, the Night Fly was a fun time for both kids and adults,” she said, noting fireworks planned as part of the finale were canceled due to wind direction and the weather as well.
The weather didn’t seem to bother any of the kiters, though.
“Every kite festival is a little chaotic,” said Marc Conklin, a kiter from Richmond, Va., when asked about the weekend’s weather impact. “Whenever you have more than three people together, it’s chaotic. And a lot of fun.”
Conklin, who grew up in Nags Head, N.C., has been kiting for nearly four decades. His skills have improved since that long-ago summer he brought kites at the beach and took them home after vacation only to plunge them into trees.
“I destroyed them,” he said, flying his quad-line sport kite on the beach near Ol’ Barney as kiters and spectators continued to arrive. “My parents replaced them that Christmas.”
The rest is pretty much history for Conklin, who spent two years working as a kite flyer at the Kitty Hawk kites store in Nags Head. Kitty Hawk Kites was found in 1974 by John Harris, a pioneer in hang gliding. In the late 1980s, the company expanded into its three main businesses: hang gliding, selling aviation and outdoor clothing as well as kites and toys through its retail outlets, and providing adventure recreation activities, according to its website.
“It was the best job I’ve ever had,” he said, noting he would probably still be doing that job if it paid more than $5.25 an hour. “I got paid to sit there and fly kites for eight hours.”
Conklin attends about a half-dozen kite festivals a year, most on the East Coast. This past August, he was part of a festival in Washington State that set and broke a world record during the weeklong event. He said he learned of the LBI event from some of the contacts he made at other kite festivals. And while he loved watching the “hot tricks” with dual-line kites, his favorite part of the festival hadn’t yet happened: the night fly.
“See that guy in the black shirt and gray pants? That’s Lee Sedgewick of Pennsylvania. He’s an American kiting legend,” he said flicking his wrists to bring his quad-line sports kite to the ground so he could add the batteries for the night fly. “Watch him. He’s going to do something cool.”
Sedgewick didn’t disappoint; not with his tunnel bubble that was large enough for small children to run through or his psychedelic kites made by using two large poles, tulle fabric, and two different kinds of disco lights, including laser lights.
“I’ve been around a long time,” Sedgewick said, watching as adults and children took over flying his kites, which he calls LFOs (light fun objects), of being called an American kite legend. “It’s so varied and there are so many things you can do. It keeps me active.”
He said he likes to experiment with different materials to see what works and what doesn’t. He often moves from one experiment to another and then another.
“There are so many things that are my favorite parts of kiting,” Sedgewick said, walking into the crowd of growing spectators on the beach in the inky black night as the rain came.
– Gina Scala