Blustery day makes kite festival a success

Colors Go Airborne

Mnorth@mercedsunstar.comApril 15, 2013 

— It was a bad day for hair, but a good day for kites on Sunday.

Winds gusted above 30 mph as visitors from all over came to Livingston to fly kites during the second annual Livingston Kite Festival.

This year's event was significantly bigger than last year's. Jacquie Benoit, Livingston's recreation superintendent, said more than 4,000 people attended the festival this year at Livingston Middle School.

Besides the hundreds of kites that colored the sky, people were drawn out by the cultural performances, food, pie-eating contests and pony rides.

Julio Valadez, an agent with the Knights of Columbus and an organizer of the event, described Sunday as "perfect weather for kite flying."

The festival was well-attended by locals, but people also came from the Bay Area, Fresno, Visalia, Madera and Modesto, he said.

The wind was much stronger than it was last year, helping the turnout, Valadez noted. He's already planning ahead for next year.

"We'll continue to build off of what we have, but I'm just going to see if we have a bigger place," he said. "I'm sure there will be more people and we need a bigger space."

Some of the attractions that commanded the most attention Sunday also took up the most area.

Several giant kites -- some stretching nearly 100 feet long -- were in flight during most of Sunday's event. They were flown by Mike North, Brian Champie and George Halpin.

North, who's been flying giant kites for about 18 years, had a 90-foot octopus kite and a 40-foot dog kite in the air Sunday.

"The dog is a people magnet," he said. "It's something that everybody kind of associates with."

North has 10 giant kites, and he usually flies them at festivals, he said.

Some cost several thousand dollars and come from New Zealand.

North described Sunday's event as a great activity to get kids outdoors.

"You can always have fun with a kite," North said.

Champie, who was flying a 98-foot lizard kite Sunday, said the giant kites require continual maintenance and care but provide lots of entertainment once they're airborne.

"It's what we do for fun," he said. "If we don't have a festival, we go do it in the park on the weekends."

Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra said he's glad his city was able to welcome so many visitors to an entertaining event.

"For a small community, we sure do put on a lot of events," he said. "Look at it, just about every week there's something going on here."

Samra said collective activities are essential to maintaining a strong community and raising healthy children.

"This is good for the community," Samra said. "I'd rather have them flying kites and throwing baseballs than throwing rocks."

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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