Fireworks displays are often the focus of one’s skyward gaze during the Fourth of July in the Iowa Great Lakes.
This summer that changed. Of course, the fireworks were still the main attraction once the sun went down.
It was during the daytime that folks had something different to attract their attention to the sky.
Giant whales, an astronaut, sting rays, an eagle, a beaver, an octopus and even a dragon.
Yes, a dragon flew among the clouds over West Lake Okoboji.
Some might have recognized a few of the oversized kites as the same ones that graced the skies during the most recent University of Okoboji Winter Games.
They are from the collection of Steve Boote, president of Eagle Construction and Talon Development of Sioux Falls, who is also quite the kiting enthusiast.
“When I was young I would fly stunt kites in high school, did that for a few years and that was it,” Boote said.
Then he saw photos on Facebook of a kite festival held in Clear Lake.
A few inquiries and a little research led him to Peter Lynn Kites of New Zealand.
“Over the course of getting overly excited I bought 14 kites and wanted to get people to fly them over the lake for Winter Games,” Boote said.
That goal would connect him to Blake Pelton of Draper, UT, and a kite designer for Peter Lynn Kites. But Winter Games turned out to just be the first challenge to which Boote would enlist Pelton’s expertise.
“We were able to get all 14 kites in the air at Winter Games,” Boote said. “So fast forward to this weekend and about four months ago I asked Blake if we could do it, and he said anything is possible but you’ve got to know there are only a couple of handfuls of people that can fly these kites out of boats.”
Pelton himself has been flying kites since he was three years old.
“I’ve spent my whole life playing with wind and nylon,” Pelton said. “I was making and sewing kites by age eight, sold my first kite at age 10. It’s been nonstop. When Steve said he wanted to pull kites behind boats I told him there was maybe 10 people on the planet with the know-how of the rigging and understanding of the wind. Out on land we could teach people in a couple hours. But launching and retrieving from a boat is just a little bit trickier.”
So Pelton assembled an international crew of kite-flying experts and Boote brought them to Okoboji.
Craig Hansen of New Zealand, Andrew Beattie of Scotland, Patrick Nedele of Utah, and Shad Coulson of Arizona joined Pelton in the Iowa Great Lakes to help make Boote’s vision of flying giant kites over the water of West Lake Okoboji come to life.
Each one took his own path to flying big kites.
For Hansen it started with a Peter Powell stunt kite.
“My dad bought one and I wasn’t allowed to touch it, so of course when he went out of the house I’d sneak off with it and fly it,” Hansen said. “I must have been 9 or 10 and that took me over the edge and I’ve been flying kites ever since.”
Beattie flew those same stunt kites as a kid, and has been a full-time professional kite flier for the past five years.
“It’s a hobby way out of control,” Beattie said. “I did it as a kid. Did it as an adult. I met my wife on the kite field. It makes people happy, including me! One of the most joyful things I do is put a simple Delta kite in the hands of a 3-year-old and have them have their first successful flying experience. Making kids happy is a whale of a time and never gets tiring.”
Nedele was at one point a snow kiting national champion.
“So I come from a power kite background,” Nedele said. “I’ve been flying kites for 22 years and for me it’s a sport thing. I just enjoy harnessing the wind. My main
objective all the time is to do something outdoors with the wind.”
Coulson has had a fascination with things that fly his entire life.
“First it was planes, which morphed into sky diving, which morphed into paragliding, which has led to kite boarding and now getting connected with Blake and big kites,” Coulson said. “What I like most about it is that you meet incredible people and it takes you all over the world.”
This summer it brought them to Okoboji.
“We wanted to put on a couple shows and have some fun,” Boote said. “These guys can also enjoy the Okoboji life and become students of the University of Okoboji — hopefully they get their entrance exam correct!”
If any of the questions involved kites they would certainly have all passed with flying colors.
Flying begins with hours of packing and double checking lines, all undone in a split second, in the hopes that every element comes together and the kite takes flight.
The boat captain then maintains the proper speed and heading as instructed by another member of the kite flying crew to keep the kite airborne.
A test run on Wednesday, July 3, saw a multicolored stingray and a giant panda launched into the air as the group tested their rigging systems.
A giant gecko gave the illusion of walking up the sky with its giant toes splayed out in the wind. Octopus tentacles moved as if the animal was perfectly accustomed to flying as opposed to swimming under the sea.
The resulting spectacle elicited the exact reactions Boote and his collected crew of kite flyers hoped to see.
Lots of smiles, boats and docks full of families taking photos and giving the passing boat and its attendant kites a wave, thumbs up or even breaking into cheers and honking horns.
The people and the memories. Those are the two things Hansen enjoys most about flying big kites.
“When we’re on land people come and picnic under the kites. It’s a lifelong memory. Here they can always come back and say, ‘Hey, remember the time we came out to Okoboji and saw those kites?’ We love that,” Hansen said. “And people who fly kites are an eclectic collection. We’ve got brain surgeons, plumbers, builders, every kind of person under the sun from every walk of life. It’s amazing.”
Boote would like to take his kites on a tour of all the communities where his company has developed property.
First up was Okoboji. First in winter, now in summer.
“They were both pretty special. In winter the contrast of the colors on the snow was breathtaking. And, of course, who doesn’t like water and Okoboji in summer,” Boote said. “I’ve been coming here my whole life. Okoboji is pretty special to me, so we wanted to entertain a little bit and make people smile.”