- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2008

When people tell him to go fly a kite, Potomac resident Jon Burkhardt thinks it’s a great idea.

If someone makes that suggestion on Saturday, however, Mr. Burkhardt likely will have to wait until after 4 p.m. Until then, he’ll be too busy serving as chief judge and kite committee member for the 42nd annual Smithsonian Kite Festival on the Washington Monument grounds.

“It’s a great visual spectacle,” says Mr. Burkhardt, first vice president of the American Kitefliers Association, headquartered in Walla Walla, Wash., and a kite builder since 1980. “People should bring their cameras as well as their kites.”

Called Brushstrokes in the Sky, this year’s festival celebrates the art and history of Chinese kites and kicks off a public program called China: An Incomparable Journey, a series of educational and cultural programs on Chinese arts, history, cuisine and culture sponsored by the Smithsonian Associates.

The Smithsonian Associates and the National Air and Space Museum organized the festival, one of the opening events of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

“It’s like a three-ring circus. We have a number of different kinds of events,” Mr. Burkhardt says, referring to the kite displays, demonstrations and competitions that will be held that day.

The events begin at 10 a.m. with an opening ceremony featuring Chinese line dancers and registration for the competitions.

“The Smithsonian is the granddaddy of all kite festivals here in the U.S.,” says Brigitte Blachere, program manager for the Smithsonian Associates, the educational outreach arm of the Smithsonian Institution. “We kick off kite festival season.”

That day, a kite-flying troupe from China will demonstrate kite-making and -flying, as will local kite clubs and the Drachen Foundation, a nonprofit kite education resource in Seattle. Special guest and kite master Jiehua Sun will demonstrate the making and flying of the traditional dragon kite.

The “Field of Colors” ground display will show off flags and banners from participating kite clubs; activity tents will include kite-making for children; and there will be an exhibition of Chinese kites and the history of China and of kites.

At 10:15 a.m., competitions for adult kite makers and master kite makers will begin, followed by the children’s competition at noon. To enter, kites must be handmade according to American Kitefliers Association rules and able to fly steadily at 100 feet for one minute. The kites are judged on design, appearance, construction and performance.

Kite maker Harold Ames, a member of the kite festival committee, says he prefers flying the kites he builds rather than the store-bought kind because he puts more time, effort and love into them.

“It’s my art, my engineering,” says Mr. Ames, who lives in King George, Va., and is a member of several kite organizations, including the American Kitefliers Association and Wings Over Washington, a kite club in Northeast.

Kite flying for Mr. Ames, who has attended and competed in the kite festival for nine years, is a suspension of reality, he says.

“All my cares melt away when I’m hooked to the wind,” he says. “It’s like I’m an 11-year-old kid again.”

At 2 p.m., the Hot Trick Competition will take place with fighter kites competing to execute the most tricks in the shortest amount of time. An hour later will be the Rokkaku Challenge, a traditional fighter-kite competition with teams of three aiming to have their kite be the last in the air.

“We follow the American rules,” Ms. Blachere says. “Here in the U.S., the lines can’t be covered in glass. It’s brute strength, wind velocity and the angle at which a kite brings another kite down.”

An awards ceremony will be held from 3:30 to 4 p.m.

“There’s something in kite flying for almost anybody,” Mr. Burkhardt says. “You can do things that are very artistic. … You can have an athletic experience. … Or you can just relax with the kids and have a good time.”

Mr. Ames says the day will present “a lot of color and a lot of flash.”

“It’s thousands of kites flying down the entire Mall,” he says. “You’ll see more kites in the air than you will anywhere else.”

WHEN YOU GO:

Location: The 42nd annual Smithsonian Kite Festival will be held on the Washington Monument grounds at 15th Street and Independence Avenue Northwest.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; rain date March 30

Admission: Free

Parking: There is limited handicapped parking at the Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt memorials. Otherwise, parking in the Mall area is scarce. The closest Metro stops are the Smithsonian and Federal Triangle stations on the Orange and Blue lines.

More information: 202/633-3030, or www.kitefestival.org

Notes: Visitors can fly their own kites throughout the day. More than 800 free kites will be distributed to children on a first-come, first-served basis.

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