On Good Friday, March 21, the Lewes Chamber of Commerce and Delaware Division of Parks and Recreation will once again sponsor what has become one of the state’s most recognized and beloved celebrations, the Great Delaware Kite Festival. The event, set to kick off at 10 a.m. at Cape Henlopen State Park, will run through the afternoon, as enthusiasts and aficionados from all around will take their treasures to the sky.
The celebration, now nearly 40 years in the making, commemorates the contest in 1969 when the Maharajah of Bharatpur, India, challenged Delaware Lt. Gov. Eugene D. Bookhammer to a kite duel.
The two contestants flew their kites, equipped with sand glued part-way down the kite line. They soared and swooped, in an attempt to use the sand-covered line to cut the opponent’s string. Bookhammer was able to pull out the victory, sanding the Maharajah’s kite into the big blue abyss. The Maharajah returned the next year and again suffered a loss. In the third consecutive year, Bookhammer’s triumph was cut short, literally, by a challenger from Baltimore.
More and more people attended in the following years, and started bringing their own kites. Since then, the tradition has lived on, and, today, thousands of spectators and kite fanatic alike have been returning to the shore for high-flying entertainment.
The festival, which has sometimes been dubbed the “Good Friday Kite Contest,” draws hundreds of skilled fliers, contributing to an endless sea of colors and shapes decorating the sky. It has even earned the Governor’s Hall of Fame Tourism Award for Outstanding One Day Special Event.
Families can enjoy the day, with kite and wind-toy vendors, food, contests in 18 judged categories and a kite raffle. Adult competitions, Stunt Kite Competitions, Novice Individual Precision Competitions and the Open Individual Ballet Competitions will take place, following the morning’s awards ceremony. The Valli Boyz, a group of professional fliers, will return to the festival for a stunt kite flying demonstration. A reenactment of the lieutenant governor’s historic battle will take place at noon.
Registration will start at 9 a.m. Entrance fees for competitors up to 17 years old are only $1, and are $2 for everyone else. Entrants can also pay an additional $2 to compete in the Highest Kite Award category.
Those attending as observers do not have to pay to attend, but state park fees do apply for cars entering, at $4 per cars with Delaware license tags and $8 for out-of-state tags.
The activities will be hosted by WGMD’s Dan Gaffney and the Cape Gazette’s Dennis Forney. Sen. Tom Carper will also be in attendance. Times may vary, depending on weather conditions and the number of competitors.
The Great Delaware Kite Festival kicks off National Kite Month, which runs from mid-March through late April, and promotes festivals and celebrations all over the country. The not-for-profit venture, established by the American Kitefliers Association and the Kite Trade Association International, promotes the education and entertainment of the art of kiteflying, its history and their artistry. This year, National Kite Month begins with the Smithsonian Festival in Washington, D.C.
For centuries, kites have been utilized as vehicles, tools and even weapons, as well as a treasured pastime. Researchers estimate that kite flying was first invented and popularized in China, roughly 3,000 years ago.
Paper kites caught wind by at least 549 A.D. They were used to carry messages in rescue missions, measure distances and test wind calculations. From China, the popularity of kites migrated to Japan, Korea, Thailand and other islands of the Pacific. Marco Polo was reportedly the first to bring kites to Europe, around the 13th century. In 1752, Ben Franklin’s infamous evening when he discovered electricity in lightning, has become one of the most popularized accounts of kite-flying in history, though some consider the tale to be apocryphal.
For more information about the Great Delaware Kite Festival, contact the Lewes Chamber of Commerce at (302) 645-8073 or visit them online at www.leweschamber.com.