Berkeley Kite Festival soars through Berkeley Marina

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Yukun Zhang/Staff

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This weekend, hundreds of kites flew above the San Francisco Bay at the annual Berkeley Kite Festival.

The two-day event, which took place at César Chávez Park in the Berkeley Marina, featured free kite-making, Japanese taiko drum performances and booths where participants could buy crafts and snacks. Young children and seasoned professionals alike gathered to bond with other attendees, watch demonstrations, and — of course — fly kites, whose shapes ranged from small handmade squares to 90-foot multicolored octopi.

“The mere physical act of putting your eyes above the horizon has a positive physiological effect on your body,” Tom McAlister, founder of the Berkeley Kite Festival and owner of the local kite shop Highline Kites, said. “Kites force us to look up … and to see the world in new and exciting ways.”

McAlister said when he dreamed up the festival more than 30 years ago with some friends, it took three weeks to plan and only hosted about 500 attendees. Today, the festival takes months to plan and attracts more than 35,000 people over a two-day period, according to McAlister.

In one corner of the festival, the Bay Area Sport Kite League hosted its West Coast Kite Championship, where expert kite fliers competed and, later in the day, hosted kite ballet demos.

Carol and Cass Pittman, members of kite-flying team “Four-Ce,” performed a duet to the tunes of the musical “Les Misérables” at the festival. The two compared competitive kite-flying to ice-skating at the Olympics, as both sports involve short routines set to music that are scored by judges.

“You should be able to see the music in the sky,” Cass Pittman said.

In another area of the festival, the Berkeley Kite Wranglers, a world-renowned kite-flying team,  flew giant animal-shaped kites, including a fleet of gargantuan octopi. Most of the octopus kites were about 90 feet long and up to 18 feet wide, according to Michael North, one of the five members of the Wranglers. North himself owns four of the octopus kites, including one that is 130 feet long.

kite2_yukunzhang_staff-copyAlthough only 11 octopi flew on Saturday, North mentioned that the Wranglers flew more than 20 at once in 2010. He added that he and his friends come to the Berkeley Marina every weekend to fly kites and talk to spectators.

“The best part about doing it is just to see smiles on people’s faces,” North said of his kite-flying hobby. “Come out here on the weekends and say hi. We’re usually flying something big.”

Among those attending the festival and watching the kites were Eva Chapa and her family, who drove up to the event from Redwood City.

The family owns seven kites and credits the Berkeley Kite Festival with this hobby — Chapa said her family started flying kites festival years ago.

“They’re so fun to see — some are gigantic and some are tiny,” Chapa’s nine-year-old son Matthias exclaimed as he watched his younger brother maneuver a butterfly-shaped kite.

The festivities weren’t limited to just families with young kids and long-time kite enthusiasts.

Evelyn Klein and Samantha Straw of San Leandro said they attended the festival for the first time Saturday and ended up leaving with their first-ever kite.

“We had a lot of fun with it,” Straw said of the kite. “I used to know how to fly them, so it was like falling off a bike.”

McAlister said the excitement of watching attendees enjoy the festivities keeps him happy about organizing it.

McAlister added that his favorite part of the festival is the candy drop, where kites fly above groups of children and rain candy down upon them — he noted that he loves to sit in the grass and watch the kids run toward the candy.

“It’s the most cool thing you’ll ever see in your life,” McAlister said.

Contact Rachael Cornejo at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @RachaelCornejo.