Sunday 16 September 2018

Festival League

Competitive sport kite flying, whether individually, as pair, or as team, is a pretty small sport in the UK. Numbers of competitors at the National Championships since we started competing have been in the single figures (though this year saw a clear increase again). In order to grow the sport and get more people interesting in flying sport kites at a competitive level, it's important to bring competitive sport kite flying more to the attention of the general public. And where do you get the highest number of people who are generally interested in kites together? Right, at kite festivals!

As you may be aware, competition flying in the UK involves compulsory figures, a technical routine, and a ballet to music. Of these three elements, compulsory figures certainly don't fit at kite festivals; they're not very public-friendly. On the other hand, the ballet to music is by far the most appealing to the general public. And that is basically what is already happening at kite festivals ...

Clearly, for any competition to occur in a festival arena, it's crucial to have festival organisers on board. Keeping that in mind, STACK has been thinking about a way to integrate competition flying into kite festivals in such a way that those kite festivals run basically the same and festival organiser would not have to change anything to be part of this (i.e. no time or arena space required for compulsory figures and/or the technical routine). And from that thinking emerged ..... the STACK Festival League.

Here's how it is envisaged to work. At participating festivals, all sport kite flyers (individuals, pairs, teams, dual-liners and quad-liners) will be asked if they are interested in their scheduled ballets being scored for the Festival League. The PA will briefly explain competition flying, and the existence of a Festival League, so the public is made aware there is such a thing as 'competitive sport kite flying'. One or more easily visible and identifiable STACK judges will then come into arena and score the ballets of all those interested in being part of the Festival League.

The winner at that festival is then simply the competitor who has the highest score, with individuals, pairs, teams, dual-liners and quad-liners all competing against each other (so not in separate disciplines as happens at the Nationals). Scores are announced by the PA, so the public gets a sense of a competition happening. At the end of the festival winner receives a 'Festival Winner' trophy. Again, this shows the public that there is something to be won.

Festival winners are only half of this; we're talking about a League, right? The idea is that results from individual festivals are collated to arrive at an overall Festival League Champion at the end of the year. How to 'translate' results from different festivals, under different wind conditions, and with different judges, into a common and fair scoring system needed a bit of thought. First of all, to allow for differences in wind condition and different judges, all scores should normalised by taking the highest score as 100% and recalculating the other scores against that. If then only the best score is counted, this will result in all festival winners sharing first place at 100%. Also, just taking the highest score doesn't fit with the idea of a 'league', which typically involves gathering points over a period of time, with the winner being the competitor with the highest number of points at the end of the year or season. Turning normalised scores into league points is straightforward: the winner gets a certain number of points, the runner-up fewer than that, the third place again fewer, etc. All points are then added up at the end of the season, and, presto, you have the Festival League Champion! That also has the advantage of having a developing G(eneral) C(lassification) table throughout the season, which the PA can allude to ("Next in the arena are the Spitfire team. They are currently in second place in the GC, but a good performance here could see them top the table!"). Again, this will create the impression of a dynamic competition taking place, not just at that particular festival, but across the entire season.

Two ways of allocating points to placings: top-down and bottom-up. Top-down means that first, second, third, etc place always get a fixed number of points. The downside of that is that if there happens to be only a single competitor at a festival, they would get maximum points without having to do anything for it. This does not happen in a bottom-up format. Under this format, the number of points the winner, second, third, etc place gets depends on the 'size' of the festival, where size is determined by the number of competitors. In other words, winning a festival with two competitors will get you fewer points than winning a festival with half a dozen competitors. And 'winning' a festival where you're the only competitor will just get you a single point. Under this format, the likely winner is one who regularly scores high, and just winning a single festival is unlikely to be enough to become overall champion. Equally, just attending lots of festivals will not make you the Festival League Champion. So the decision was made to use a bottom-up format, and some playing around with numbers of points resulted in the following: 1 - 3 - 6 - 9 - 12 - 16 - 20 - 25. So that means, for instance, that if you win a festival with three competitors, you get 6 points; if you come second in a festival with six competitors, you get 12 points, etc. Another way of looking at this bottom-up format is that you get more points the more competitors you leave behind you.

STACK used 2018 as an experimental year, just trying out some things, with ballets being scored at three festivals: at Basingstoke scoring was done from outside the arena, just to see how scoring during a festival would work (so nothing was said on the PA). Following on from that, Exmouth and Portsmouth had judges present and scoring inside the arena, and results were announced on the PA. Flying Fish won Basingstoke, Ex-grads won Exmouth (with Flying Fish coming second), and Viento Sur won Portsmouth (with Flying Fish again coming second).

Putting all scores across the three festivals together results in the GC table:

Flying Fish, being the most consistent high scorers, top the Festival League table at the end of the season and are the winners of the inaugural STACK Festival League!

Thanks to the organisers of Exmouth and Portsmouth for allowing STACK to try things out during their respective festival. For next year, we obviously want to expand the number of participating festivals. Besides availability of STACK judges, key is to get festival organisers on board with this!

Picture credit: of Flying Fish at Basingstoke: Carl Wright.

Wednesday 12 September 2018

The Beach Kite Fest @ Berrow Beach

Our final kite festival of 2018 was one at a new (for us) venue, and one not organised as usual. The venue was Berrow Beach. Weather on both days was fine (more cloudy on Saturday, more sunny on Sunday), and the winds were deliciously smooth, coming off the water: up to 17mph on Saturday (Airdynamics T5 Taipan Standards first, V1s later) and 15-22mph on Sunday (Taipan V2s all day).

Unlike other festivals we fly at, there was no formal arena schedule. We basically had the 'team-flying' arena to do with as we saw fit, taking turns putting on displays. Two official pairs were present, as well as members of two other teams. Starting with the pairs, they were:

Twisted Bridle, really enjoying flying Peter Taylor's V1s in that smooth wind to Aerosmith's "Fly Away from Here", the routine they've been using at festivals throughout the year ...

... and Flying Fish ...

... flying our "Chariots of Fire" routine ...

... and our "Ruthless Queen" routine.

As our "Ruthless Queen" routine is basically our technical routine set to music, and given we've been working on a new start to that technical routine, we decided at the last moment to try out that new start in a festival arena setting. And it worked pretty well!

Marcus Twidale also flew his Peter Powell single kite and triple-stack:

And Jeremy Wharton had fun dog-staking:

As mentioned above, several members of Flame (Barry Savell, Fran Burstall) and Airheads (Peter Taylor) were also present, and that resulted in a variety of 3-strong, 4-strong and 5-strong mixed teams flying in the arena, occasionally with tails..

The culmination of those ad hoc teams popping into existence was, of course, to combine everyone (plus one guest flyer, Dom Early) into an 8-strong mega-team.

Flying in the smooth winds at Berrow Beach was true aoxomoxoa at times; winds that you dream of, but rarely ever get!

More pictures of the festival are here. And the inevitable aftermath of flying on a beach with wet salty sand ...

Picture credits: Lisa Daubney (Flying Fish), Valerie Hancorn (3-/5-team containing Flying Fish); video credits: Piyush Patel (Flying Fish), Jeremy Wharton (mega-team)

Thursday 6 September 2018

Streatham Common Kite Day

Our 4th appearance at Streatham Common Kite Day, and it almost didn't happen .... Originally scheduled for mid-May, it had to be cancelled when the Common became water-logged following heavy rains. Fortunately, it could be rescheduled to September!

Weather on the day was absolutely gorgeous: warm sunshine, clear blue skies and not a cloud in sight. Wind was very low, often dropping down to absolutely nothing, and frequently changing direction .... As a result, everyone struggled to fly, from the dual-line flyers dropping out of the sky at times, to the single-line flyers not being able to fly most of the larger showier kites they had brought ...

Team Spectrum was of course present, as they have been at Streatham for 10 years or more.

Judging from Twitter, their pairs routine with tails was a clear crowd favourite!

New to Streatham Common Kite Day was Twisted Bridle. Not having that much experience yet flying in ultra-low or non-existent winds, they did a pretty good job keeping things together.

Like the other pairs, Flying Fish flew three slots. The lack of wind limited our options, and we stuck to our "Ruthless Queen" and "Adiemus" routines, which are more suitable for kites slowing down to almost nothing than a strictly choreographed routine (no opportunity for 'wind checks' and a wind recess at a festival!).

In addition to the three pairs above, Streatham Common had a dual-line team flying again! Flying Fish is part of a larger team, L-katz, and Twisted Bridle was recently invited to join the team. Sporting our new festival uniforms (branded football bibs that make it much easier to quickly switch outfit between routines, especially for the girls), we flew a simple make-it-up-as-we-go-along routine to Gloria Estefan's "Can't Stay Away from You". Between now and the new festival season, we will work on a more choreographed of this, as well as start a second team routine.

Irma and I were also interviewed for London Live. Th third Streatham appearance in a row that we were interviewed for local tv; something that, for us at least, doesn't happen at any other kite festival we fly at.

I've said it before: Streatham Common Kite Day has a community atmosphere like no other kite festival we fly at, and the local tv and other interviews we have done over the last three years fit right into that. We certainly hope to be invited back many more times, both as Flying Fish and with L-katz!

A few more pictures are available here (as I said above, not many kites managed to fly ...).

Picture credits, of Twisted Bridle: Carl Wright; of Flying Fish: Roy Reed; of L-katz: Roy Reed / Twitter

Saturday 1 September 2018

Cougar alert!

No, not that one ...

... and not that one either ...

This one!

Why is Flying Fish flying a HQ Cougar, which is basically a power kite and far from a team kite? Well, as you may be aware, we're always looking out for something a bit different to fly as a pair. And recently, we've been thinking more about 'asymmetric' pairs of kites, where the kites are not the same, but still fit together in some way. Our recent Scorpion 2-stack combined with a single Scorpion is an example of that.

Back to the Cougar, in our very early days of kite-flying, when we were really exploring what's around and what we liked, we bought ourselves a HQ Little Beast, a small power kite with a wing span of 2.20m.

The Cougar is its larger sibling, with a wingspan of 2.67m, and the thought struck us: why not try flying a Cougar together with a Little Beast? The kites differ in size, but are clearly linked together due to the same sail patterns. As Cougars are not produced anymore, we had to rely on the second-hand market, but it didn't take long to find one in excellent condition, and for a very reasonable price. So here's the happy couple!

We weren't quite sure what to expect from them flying together. After all, they're different sizes, they handle differently, etc.

But, to our surprise, it only took a bit of tweaking the Little Beast bridle to make them fly more or less at the same speed. And as long we don't try to fly sharp corners, they flew pretty well together!

We need to work with them more, get used to what they can and can't do together, but we definitely have another unusual pair of kites for our festival quiver. Have to think of how we can make use of the kites being different; for instance, come up with a story where the two play different roles, and then find some appropriate music for that story.

Now one thing I didn't tell you: when I bought the Cougar, the seller threw in a complete set of stacking lines for free. So, obviously, we just had to try out stacking the Little Beast and Cougar (would be rude not to, wouldn't it?)

Using the strongest dual line set we have (175daN), we launched the 'Stacked Cougar', and up she went!

Pulled like a truck, and the wind was only around the 8-10mph mark ...