Story by Bobby Blanchard, video by Colleen Nelson and photos by Chelsey Pena
Long-time kite flyers and sunny day fans Gene and Kerry Raymond were hoping it would rain hard on Sunday, March 1, so officials would postpone the Zilker Kite Festival.
But it didn’t. While weather forecasts had promised an ugly day with low temperatures and heavy clouds, Austin did not receive heavy rain. Gene and Kerry said they would rather it rain heavily so the Kite Festival could be rescheduled for a sunnier, cheery day. But that didn’t happen.
“Even this doesn’t keep us away though,” said Gene, a 36-year-old Austinite who’s been going to the festival with his wife since their first date in 2002. “We come here for the memories…to remind ourselves of the good times behind us and the good times ahead.”
Despite an average temperature of 43 degrees, more than 10,000 people swarmed Zilker Park on March 1 for the 86th annual Kite Festival in Austin. Attendees said the kite festival brings out Austin’s southern friendliness and urban weirdness.
Gene and Kerry Raymond were just two of those 10,000 attendees. They were there for tradition — they had their first date at the Zilker Kite Festival in 2002. Unlike the 2015 Kite Festival, 2002 was a sunny and warm year, they said. After attending the festival for the first time in 2002, they got ice cream.
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“It was a warmer day than this, and we were hot and sweaty from running around with kites,” Kerry said. “I was really worried I smelled awful and he’d would be grossed out.”
Since then, the couple said they have only missed two kite festivals. Once in 2006, when it was scheduled on a weekend when they had work obligations. And again in 2009, when Kerry was pregnant and expecting her first son – Zachary Raymond. He was born three days after the Kite Festival.
Zachary, a soon-to-be six-year-old, was shy at the Kite Festival on Sunday. But he said his favorite kind of kites were the red ones because “you can see them in the sky.”
This year, the Raymond’s made a simple, red diamond-kite for the festival. They said they had made more complex designs in the past, but did not have time this year.
“We were a little bit lazy,” Gene said. “But that’s okay, maybe we’ll make one of those dragon kites next year.”
The Zilker Kite Festival began in 1929 and continues to this day, to “encourage creativity in children,” according to the event’s website. The City of Austin claims it is the longest running kite festival in the United States. It is hosted every year by the Exchange Club of Austin, and money raised from the event go to charity organizations.
While the Raymond family attended the kite festival as part of family tradition, others said they took to the Kite Festival because it reminded them of Austin culture.
“It keeps Austin weird — this is just our spirit,” said Melissa Lloyd, 27. “It also keeps Austin friendly. What’s nicer about flying a bunch of kites?”
Not everyone thinks kite flying is so “nice”, however. Crystal Webb, a 29-year-old Austinite who says she participates in “kite fighting,” viewed the kite festival through a different pair of eyes. She did not bring a kite to the festival this year. She said she was there to “watch and observe.”
“I come every year, sometimes I bring a kite and sometimes I don’t,” Webb said. “Mostly though, I am here to scope out new designs and ideas.”
Some people just want to have fun, however.
“A lot of work goes into making a kite,” Kate Raymond said. “Every year, when I see ours flying, I like to think we’ll do better next year. And hopefully the sun comes out next year, too.”