For the last 45 years, Delaware has held its Great Delaware Kite Festival, and it all started because the governor was challenged to a duel — with kites, that is. Gov. Russell Peterson didn’t participate in the duel, instead charging Lt. Gov. Gene Bookhammer to participate in a kite-flying contest with a maharajah from Bharatpur, India.
“It started back in 1969, when a maharaja challenged the governor of Delaware to a kite-flying contest. The governor was away on business, so he asked Lt. Gov. Gene Bookhammer to do it,” explained Lewes Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Betsy Reamer.
“The contest consisted of a kite duel, and the lieutenant governor won the first year, and again the second year. He was challenged again for a third year, and that was the first year he lost. That contest was the beginning of the great Delaware Kite Festival, and it has evolved into what it is today — which is a kite competition for all age groups, without the kite duel.”
This year, the event will be held on March 29 at Cape Henlopen State Park. Entrants can register free of charge on the field, beginning at 9 a.m. and throughout the morning, with the competition beginning at 10 a.m.
“We probably have about 100 actual competitors, and of those competitors, about half are children.”
The competitions are in three age categories: Children Up to Age 12; Teens 13-17 and Adults 18 and Older. Within each age category, kite-flyers are judged by the type of kite they are flying — homemade or store-bought.
“Homemade and store-bought kite categories are judged differently,” explained Reamer. “The ones that are homemade, they just have to get it up in the air to be considered. They’re judged more on the creative aspects of it.”
The Special Class awards include the Open Individual Ballet (free-flight performance accompanied by music that the entrant provides), Individual Precision (compulsory figures including “The Square,” “The Mount,” and “Ladder Down” are judged on technical execution), Most Senior Flyer, Youngest Flyer, Flyer Farthest From Home, Smallest Kite and Largest Kite. The Highest Kite Award category is open to all ages and takes place around 12:15 p.m.
“It’s very subjective,” said Reamer of the judging. “The judges are Chamber volunteers. We have three judges who view the same kite flyers, and then they average out the score. It’s very family-friendly. We’re very encouraging, particularly of the children, just wanting them to be successful and to have a good time. If they’re having trouble launching the kite, their parents can come in and help them a little bit, that sort of thing.”
For those who have not made or brought along their own kites but who still want to participate, Kids’ Ketch and Rehoboth Toy & Kite Company will be on-site, selling a wide variety of kites, with plenty of space adjacent to the competition field to practice. Additionally, there are food vendors, a face painter and community organizations set up surrounding the field.
This year’s festival will be dedicated in memory of Bookhammer, who passed away Feb. 23 at the age of 94.
“He began sponsoring the Best Overall Award in his name, 24 years ago. Up until last year, he actually came most of the years and presented the award to the winner. His daughters are going to come this year and make that presentation of the award.”
Reamer said the festival has grown over the years and, depending on the weather, can draw between 2,000 and 8,000 people.
“It’s grown in that we have multiple generations of families coming. The number of people is totally weather-dependent,” she said. “It does attract a regional audience. There are people who come over every year from New Jersey, and we promote it as part of the American Kite Association. There are a number of kite festivals that go on in the spring in this region, so there are people that go to all of them.”
While there is no fee for spectators, but park entrance fees apply for Cape Henlopen State Park. Those fees will be collected at the entrance to the park — $4 per car for those with Delaware license tags and $8 per car for those with out-of-state tags.
The Jolly Trolley will transport spectators to the competition field from the state park’s beach parking lot and handicapped-accessible parking is available at the Seaside Nature Center parking lot.
Reamer said she hopes for beautiful weather and for people in the community to stop by and enjoy the day.
“We strive to make this event a very family-friendly event. More than anything else, we want to perpetuate the event by continuing to encourage children to learn how to fly kites and perpetuate it through the next generation, so that we can continue to have people come out and participate.”
For more information, call the Lewes Chamber of Commerce at (302) 645-8073.