Kite Flying: highest, smallest, steadiest, a little creative, largest, most unusual

  BYLINE: David Vance
  DATE: 03-09-00
  PUBLICATION: The Austin American-Statesman

  So you vaguely remember there's supposed to be a big, long- running, Austin-ish
  festival in town but you can't recall exactly what festival. You're pretty sure it has several
  different aspects -- workshops, competitions, just hanging out with a few thousand of
  your closest festival-loving friends. You know for certain it also has a feel-good vibe and
  devoted followers from all over the country. But the breeze of recollection just won't blow
  in your filmed-out, teched- up, music-lost mind so you ask your cubiclemate and he
  says, "Who am I? Ben Franklin?" You call the local alternative weekly newspaper and
  the harried voice says "I don't know. We're really, really busy. Go fly a kite why don't ya."
  Suddenly, like a hurricane-force wind out of the South by Southwest it hits you: the Zilker
  Park Kite Festival! Yep, the Zilker Park Kite Festival, the longest continuous running
  kite contest in the United States and the latest entry in the "what makes Austin Austin"
  line up. Sponsored by the Exchange Club of Austin, a service organization whose
  concession proceeds at the festival go to child abuse charities, and the Parks and
  Recreation Department, the free festival begins at noon on Sunday.

  Started in 1929, the festival was originally organized to promote creativity in children,
  the thought being, says Bunnie Twidwell of the Exchange Club, that kites are "a
  wonderful fusion of art and engineering." Adults were allowed in on the fun in 1956 but
  the creative kite-flying ethic still reigned: "if it doesn't fly, hang it on the wall as art."

  To that end, festival organizers have sponsored kite-making workshops at recreation
  centers around town, where children can decorate their kites and only the sky's the limit.
  The last workshop will be at 5 p.m. today at Parque Zaragosa, though there will be
  ample opportunity to make and decorate your own kite at Zilker the day of the festival.
  More than 500 kites were made last year, and in 10 minutes you too can have a
  high-flying kite made of garbage bags, window shades, Scotch tape and imagination.

  What doesn't take any imagination is realizing how much fun a day at the park flying
  kites can be. On tap for this fun day are stunt kite demonstrations, kite buggies and a
  brand new event, a Rokkaku battle where the last kite still flying wins. Up to 5,000
  people are expected from all over for this funfest in the park, with more than 200
  participants in the kite competitions for largest, smallest, steadiest, highest and most
  unusual kites, among others. Word has it the winner of that last contest just may be a
  giant red octopus.

  So now that you remember what this festival is all about, you're no longer a limp kite in a
  listless breeze. You are, as they say, as high as a kite and your spirits soar in the
  tornado of kite-loving memories that float back from your childhood. There was that time
  you tied the $1.99 Safeway special on to your fishing pole and up it went. . . up . . . up . .
  . snap. Chasing after it, through backyards, across the highway. . . gone. Damn that
  six-pound test line. Then there was the time, all those times actually, with the trees and
  the power lines and. . .

  Well, what exactly is it that makes flying a kite so irresistible? That's easy says
  Twidwell. "It's like you have your own set of wings." Yes, that's it. Like Red Bull ("It gives
  you wings!"), Mary Poppins ("Let's go fly a kite") or the Wright Brothers (whose first
  glider in 1900 flew mostly as a kite) kites can make you (not a machine, not an airplane,
  YOU) feel like you can fly.

  So this Sunday, even if the wind isn't out of the South by Southwest, even if there isn't a
  big red octopus in the sky, the Zilker Kite Festival should take off and fly, and you can fly
  with it. Unless of course it rains, then it will all have to wait until March 19. But even that's
  OK, because in the meantime you can go fly a kite. Or hang one on your wall.
  When: Noon, Sunday
  Where: Zilker Park
  How much: Free
  Info: 647-7488;