EDITORS NOTE: Due to weather, the Blossom Kite Festival, originally scheduled for Saturday, March 29, has been rescheduled for Sunday, March 30. Officials are monitoring weather conditions, and the schedule on Sunday is subject to change.
If ever you happen to find yourself in a Japanese kite fight, stay calm! The first kites to eat dirt in a Rokkaku battle are generally piloted by adrenaline-addled newbies on the attack, says veteran flyer Glenn Davison.
“You want to stay out of the knitting circle at the beginning, where everyone gets tangled up and they all come down,” he says.
You, too, can join the melee: All you need to participate in the 3 p.m. Rokkaku battle during Saturday’s Blossom Kite Festival is a regulation six-sided kite, a plastic line and a solid strategy. (Children don’t need to bring kites or experience to the kids’ battles, starting at 12:30 p.m.)
The flashiest way to take down your opponents is to “behead” them. Fly your kite quickly past another, running your line across a single spot on your opponent’s line. That way, their string gets cut, while yours stays intact.
“You want to be the knife, and not the butter,” Davison says.
A more conservative move is to sneak up below another kite and gently tip it over, causing it to nosedive.
The Blossom Kite Festival favors prudence over aggression, awarding just one point for every downed opponent and six points to the last kite aloft.
“The best strategy is really just to keep your kite in the air,” says Greg Leber, who flew his first Rokkaku battle at the Blossom Kite Festival last year.
Or, just relax and enjoy the show: “Rokkaku is a great spectator sport,” Davison says.
Whatever your intentions, here are a few competitors to watch — or watch out for.
The Defending Champ
Name: Kaziah Hall
Secret Weapon: Mini Marley
A master kitebuilder, Hall began making kites in Jamaica as a child. “Back home, I always tried to fly my kites even in the lightest of wind,” he says. That finesse served him well at the 2013 Blossom Kite Festival’s Rokkaku battle, which he won in a very light breeze. Hall credits his win to the kite he made, which bears the image of Bob Marley. (The kite above is actually a different Marley kite, which Hall made to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence, in 2012.) Hall plans to fly his winning Marley kite in this year’s battle, but he’s also making a smaller one that he’ll use if the wind is very strong.
The Unknown Quantity
Team: Midnight Squadron
Hometown: Laurel, Md.
Motto: “We fly at night ’cause we just ain’t right”
The code-named members of this mysterious kite association won third place in last year’s Blossom Rokkaku battle. It was a bittersweet victory, according to “Complex,” the group’s battle master. Among the casualties was Complex’s sock, which was sliced by a fast-moving kite line, and his ankle, which suffered from rope burn. Complex has since recovered and is ready to lead the Midnight Squadron to victory this year. “We’re masters of light wind combat, but getting better at the cutting techniques needed for heavier wind,” he says.
Name: Chuck Holmes
Team: Charlie Don’t Run
Hometown: Spartanburg, S.C.
A soft-spoken Southerner, Holmes tied for second place last year by picking off his competition with cool, sniper-like precision. “I look for someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing or someone who is bragging a lot,” he says. In addition to about 50 years of kitebuilding and flying experience, Holmes has a talent for between-heat kite repair. “I’m good at battlefield surgery,” he says.
Name: Glenn Davison
Hometown: Chelmsford, Mass.
Motto: “If somebody is in trouble, give them some more trouble.”
Davison has 10 first-place kite battle wins to his name, including one national championship. A former president of Kites Over New England, Davison has developed a new offensive technique: He hovers above his opponents, which forces them to overextend their rope trying to get away. “They are spooling out their line in defense, and you kind of trap them between rising and the ground,” he says.
The Comeback Kid
Name: Greg Leber
Team: Dragon Ask
Hometown: Easton, Md.
Leber isn’t known for being spry, hence his team’s name, which sounds like “dragging ass.” But last year he surprised himself by sprinting to pull his kite out of a death spiral. It was a magnificent save, for about two seconds. “Then I hooked some other guy by accident, and took us both down,” Leber says. “This year I’m going to run less and think more.”
Name: Banks Griffith
Team: Run With Scissors
Hometown: Spartanburg, S.C.
At last year’s battle, Griffith came out swinging. “During the first heat, I took down a couple other kites, and in the process of dragging them down, I damaged my bridle” (the strings that attach the kite to its flying line). With only a few minutes to repair it between heats, the kite never fully recovered. “I’m going to be less aggressive this time,” he says.
Blossom Kite Festival, Constitution Avenue and 17th Street NW;
Sat, Sun., 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., free; 877-442-5666.