Flying the dragon kites seemed to be the testosterone event, full of large groups of men and ever-bigger entries. Dragon kites are rare in the US, and the ones I had seen in China were usually pretty small, and obviously made in mass production. The ones at the festival, though, were hand-made works of art. It was exciting to see so many different kinds, and even more fun to peer into the faces of the proud owners!
Before the competition, we had to be careful not to trip over the kites piled on the ground everywhere. Up close, they didn't look fearsome at all!
When the competition was ready to start, the teams grabbed their kites and made their way over to the authentication area:
We were amazed to see how intricate the construction was, especially since these huge kites could only fly in a stiff wind. Not only were they beautiful, but they had to be super sturdy as well.
The teams were delighted to line up for photos before they took to the field.
As you can see, some of the teams looked really sharp, with matching track suits and baseball hats. The modern garb was a wonderful contrast to the old-style kites themselves.
The judging for this competition had an extra step. Each team briefly presented its kite to a panel of judges, who presumably scored the head of the kite on appearance:
Some of the kites were given a cursory glance, but other kites got a careful going-over, with the judges asking the team captain to show them various views of the kite. The whole process happened quickly, but it was clear there was a careful choreography going on!
Then it was time to start! Launching a dragon kite is not easy, especially when a lot of them have to be launched at the same time, on the same field. First, the team spread out the body of the kite, being careful to make sure the wind didn't flick it up into the air before they were ready.
Then it was time to lauch! The team started from the tail end of the kite, and carefully made sure each piece was successfully launched, without tangling, before proceeding to the next section. After less than a minute, the whole kite was up in the air! (If all went well. We watched one team struggle for 15 minutes to launch their kite, because the sections kept getting tangled. Then, seconds after it lifted up in the air, it crashed spectacularly into another kite!)
The team kept letting out more string in order to get the kite to go even higher. Although they were so high we could no longer see the details of the kites, now the game was all about who could go higher.
The photo above was actually shot through a long telephoto, since the kite was REALLY high by this point. See how close it is to the other kite? As it turns out, mid-air collisions were quite common, and very dramatic. Unfortunately, we never caught a collision on film, and it wasn't worth taking a picture of the scrum of teammates who descended on the tangled kites in a desparate attempt to straighten the strings so they could re-launch!
All in all, the Festival more than delivered on my years of building expectations. If you have the slightest interest in kite-flying, make the pilgrimage!
Not only does Weifang have the Festival, it also boasts some interesting tourist attractions, including the justifiably famous Weifang Kite Museum. Click here to learn more.