This post is inspired by the two articles over at the Fortunafound.org website:
- Reasons That Kite Flying isn’t Catching on as a trending hobby
- Help! I can’t get people interested in kites!
In the first of these articles, the author comes to grips with kite flying as a hobby that is declining in most ways and she is coming up with a handful of well-thought-out reasons for why. In the second article, the author takes a closer look at some strategies that might lead to an increase in interest in flying kites.
So after having read both of these articles, I was inspired to give you an example of the rise and fall (?) of the (sport) kite flying interest up here in my neck of the woods. And who knows? There might be something to learn!
Let’s do it!
In the autumn of the year 2000, I and a friend of mine decided to start a tiny (online) kite shop. We wanted to offer high-quality sportkites to the really limited Norwegian market. You know…nerd stuff!
We got in touch with Peter at Airdynamics and soon the snowball started to roll and the first Airdynamics kites showed up. With online business being in its early stages, we decided that we had to do some real-life marketing, and after some discussions, we decided that monthly fly-ins in the ‘summer’ months, April through October, in Oslo could be a way to go.
So come Sunday, September 10th 2000, we both showed up at Ekebergsletta, a huge grassy recreational area in Oslo, to fly some top-notch sportkites!
Who else was there…? No one, but we did have a lot of fun with the T2s and the other kites from Airdynamics that we’d brought for the occasion!
On the next fly-in, in October, we again had the field to ourselves. If I remember correctly there might be a couple of guys coming over to have a closer look at things, but mostly we could just fly and have a cup of coffee or two.
Things are slowly starting to happen
Then we went into winter hibernation for a few months, but in April 2001 we were back on the field flying again. And we returned every second Sunday of each month throughout the spring, summer and autumn. Now things slowly started to happen. I’ve built a little website for the AERIALIS Kite Club ‘marketing’ the Fly-Ins and slowly but surely the Sundays started to attract more people. The interest was increasing and one major reason for this – at least in my opinion – was the continuity of these Fly-Ins. Every second Sunday of each month people could come and fly with us, get some help with their kites, tips and tricks on how to fly, buy parts or even kites from our on-field kite shop! Things started to grow.
The same story repeated itself in 2002. More and more people showed up on the field to fly kites and generally to have a good time. And I started to notice something interesting. I didn’t get to fly much at these Fly-Ins anymore. I was more into talking with people, helping them out with all sorts of kite-related things, repairing kites, making line sets, selling both kites and all sorts of kite accessories and parts, drinking coffee with people… well, you know… Being super social and not flying so much anymore.
We have a kiting community!
We entered the year 2003 and by that time we could be up to 30, maybe even 40 people spread out on the field doing … kite activities of any sort. At this time I didn’t get to fly at all. I was way too busy creating and maintaining the small community. Because after some three years of not skipping one single Sunday, the community returned for a good time of kite activities up there at the fields of Ekeberg. I was still very active in this community, not flying but involved with all the activities that are required to get this thing rolling, making sure to keep the continuity; a Fly-In every second Sunday of every month throughout outdoor kite flying season!
We closed the outdoor flying season with a very successful OSOW that year with approximately 50 participants taking their kites to the air that kind of overcast and not very windy second Sunday of October. Three years after the very first Fly-In, just two guys flying on a large field, I definitely didn’t have the field to myself anymore! Ir was filled with happy faces and a bunch of kites in the air!
In 2003 we took our first stab at team flying and soon the AERIALIS Team Flyers first saw the light of day. We pretty much just grabbed our kites and played “follow the leader” which added another dimension to our flying. In the beginning, we didn’t take it at all seriously but rather as yet another fun thing to do with kites.
But as the year went on, we made a decision. We wanted to compete! There was this kite festival in Cuxhaven, Germany opening for a six-man kite team to compete against other teams from (Northern) Europe and we thought it would be very exciting to give it a go. But we surely had some work to do. Put together a routine of some sort and … PRACTICE!
So we practised, we practised a lot! At every Fly-In that year the team gathered at Ekeberg to fly together and we put down quite some effort to be prepared for the competition in Cuxhaven in August that year.
We went all in. As soon as we managed to get all the AERIALIS Team Flyers gathered, we flew our socks off and slowly, very slowly, but kind of surely things started to come together. The routine that Anders had created was starting to sink in and from a distance, any occasional spectator could see the figures and patterns we tried to nail up there in the air.
…and I did something I hadn’t done for several years at the Fly-Ins, I flew kites! Gone was selling kites, parts and accessories, gone was fixing other people’s kites, gone was the friendly Rokkaku fights, gone was the everlasting chut chatting with other kite people about kites and … whatnot. We were going all in on our team flying practice!
Then I lifted my head a little and made a discovery. The six AERIALIS Team Flyers were the only ones flying at the field. We used to be a healthy number of kite flyers putting colours to the sky. Now we were only six left. What had happened?
From being quite a few kite flyers present at the Fly-Ins we were now reduced to the team pilots only. Well, every now and then another flyer dropped by, but the community had vanished.
What had taken us two and a half, three years to build up was now kind of gone. And it happened so quickly. But why?
What the Heck Happened?
I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time and I think there are a few reasons why this community of ours came to an end. So let’s take a closer look and see if there’s something to learn from this.
For the first three years, we arranged the Fly-Ins every second Sunday in the ‘summer’ months. Kicking off in April and closing the season on OSOW Day in October and I was there every time!
I guess predictability is a keyword and also a success factor for growing this – or any – community. People know that if I show up on those dates there will always be other people there flying kites and having a good time. So they showed up.
When we were practicing as a team we sometimes had to change these dates in order to get the logistics right. You know, gathering all six team pilots could sometimes be quite a logistic challenge.
This meant things got kind of unpredictable. Was there or was there not going to be a Fly-In on that second Sunday of the month? I clearly see how this unpredictability will have a negative impact on the community and eventually will add to the decline.
In the early days I did fly quite a lot at the Fly-Ins but as things progressed and the community grew my ‘mission’ kind of shifted from flying to being social.
You know, getting to know the people showing up, helping them out with all sorts of kite-related issues they were facing, bringing different demo kites for test flying, fixing kites, helping out with flight issues, teaching a trick or two, running a Rok fight or parachuting teddy bears and dropping candy….. Yes, I could go on.
When we focused on the team flying bit I drifted away from all of this and me playing the role of being the ‘social glue’ of the community diminished. As did the community. …and it didn’t take long.
The Skill Gap (?)
If you happened to turn up at one of the Fly-Ins where the AERIALIS Team Flyers were in their bubble focusing really hard on practising their flying, would you come over and say Hello?
First, you might feel like your limited skill level creates a (social?) gap between yourself and the pilots in the team preventing you from getting in touch.
So you don’t want to act distractive. Interrupting their practice could be a distraction for the team, potentially disrupting their focus and rhythm. You’d probably find it essential to respect their concentration and allow them to perform without unnecessary interruptions.
There are also safety concerns. Approaching the team during their routine could pose safety risks. They may be executing complex manoeuvres or flying at high speeds, and getting too close could compromise their safety or the safety of others around them.
The AERIALIS Team Flyers are likely focused on perfecting their routine. Approaching them without a valid reason or professional purpose might be seen as inappropriate or intrusive, as they may prefer to maintain their focus and preserve the professional atmosphere.
So there are quite a few reasons why you probably won’t come over and that we (the AERIALIS Team Flyers) are socially distancing ourselves from … the Average Joe.
So, can we jump to any conclusions here? Well, at least I can see some sort of a pattern shining trough, and continuity is one of the success factors for building a community like we used to have around the monthly Fly-Ins. If you make sure to be there on that SPECIFIC location EVERY second Sunday in each month over a (longer) period of time you start to establish this kind of continuity.
But you should beware, it’s going to take some time tu build it all up. And – being an outdoor activity that is very much influenced by the weather – prepare yourself for both ups and downs, but make sure to be there yourself and fly your kites no matter the weather. You’re building continuity, right?
When you have worked on creating this continuity and people are starting to drop by, make sure to maintain this continuity. You should also consider to retract from the flying itself and start working on being that social glue. You know, INCLUDE people, BE with them, HELP them out with their issues, MAKE them having a good time. …and do most of your flying on other occasions.
…and if you should be tempted to go all in for your team flying, you better try to pick other dates for this practice rather than at those Fly-Ins. Because when you enter that Team Flying Bubble you are most likely to distance yourself from the community that has taken years to build up and just a few months to tear down.
Just my two cents…