When the wind blows, size really does matter in Bali. The Balinese are crazy about kites and in the “Island of the Gods” the bigger the better is the accepted mantra. Kite flying and kite making is serious business and subtlety is not really an option. Forget childhood memories of a tiny polygon kite with trailing ribbons; in Bali it means colossal handmade flying machines that take a small army to get off the ground.
It all reaches fever pitch on windswept Padang Galak beach in Sanur which again plays host to the Bali Kite Festival between 13-15 July. Now in its 34th year, this is a true global happening, attracting over 1,200 kites in competition and up to 10,000 spectators. Whether it’s airborne art or sheer indulgence, these Balinese kites, constructed by each competing village, are a sight to behold. Most eye catching of all are those in the ‘non-traditional’ category which range from the frivolous to the frankly bizarre. Past flights of fancy have included depictions of blood thirsty vampires, a green goblin on a tricycle and a gun-toting grandma.
The whole process of designing, constructing and flying a kite in competition is a real team effort by whole villages. The whole community shows up complete with its own traditional gamelan orchestra to literally drum up support manically while sweet young things offer much needed cheerleading duties. Simply getting one of these mammoth 10 meter long kites airborne can take all the strength of up to 20 men. This is when all the fun starts. Getting a huge kite off the ground takes a superhuman effort sprinting at full speed for up to 300 meters – no matter who or what is in the way. Keep your distance and enjoy all the mayhem; food carts, spectators and even competition organizers often have to make a mad dash for cover.
In the ultra-competitive world of kite flying, inter-village rivalries can be fierce with catcalls or simple ridicule of a competitor, especially if a kite unceremoniously drops out of the sky. Aerial dogfights are not uncommon either. This rivalry even extends to spectators with the occasional outbreak of football style chanting for their own favourite. Kites are judged on the ease of launching (notwithstanding the trail of destruction left in its wake), design, how high it flies, stability in the air and most importantly, the landing. Getting a kite back down in one piece in the exact spot needed is a tricky proposition – cue more comical collisions.
As with every facet of Balinese life, kite flying is steeped in religious symbolism. It was originally used as a way to pass on messages to the Gods, and traditional kites, which take the form of fish (Bebean) and birds (Janggan) depict Hindu deities. At every stage of the kite making process, blessings and rituals are performed for good fortune in competition.
There is great fun to be had at Bali Kite Festival. It’s a real carnival atmosphere with the constant din of competing gamelan orchestras, guitar strumming beach boys, free flowing beer, cheap food and dodgy tattoos and everyone dressed to impress in traditional costume. This is one of those rare occasions where you can easily mingle with and see whole Balinese families simply let their hair down and hang out.