By Elinor Holland
Participants in the Berkeley Kite Festival set a new world record Saturday when they flew the most giant octopus kites together at one time.
The Octopile joined forces with the Gomberg Kite Production to fly 22 octopus kites. The previous record had been 20 kites.
The octopus kites are massive and heavy and maneuvering them in the wind is not easy.
“They pick up so much wind, they are able to tip a tractor over,” said Pam McAlister, whose husband, Tom, founded the festival about 25 years ago.
The giant octopi are 20 feet wide and nearly 100 feet long. They are held down by 44 inch, 2,000 pound stakes that are driven into the ground, two stakes per octopus kite.
This year, about 20,000 people gathered at Cesar Chavez Park to marvel at the giant kites, watch performances by professional stunt kite teams, and fly their own personal kites.
McAlister started the festival after he watched the popularity of kites grow. He began selling kites out of the back of his red Honda Civic in 1986 to pay for his student loans and christened his business Highline Kites. Soon after, he upgraded to an RV, and eventually was able to build a solar powered truck with the help of some friends. Because of the popularity of Highline Kites, McAlister decided to produce a kite festival.
“I wanted to find a way to give back to the community, that’s why it’s free,” says McAlister.
McAlister is also a member of the Berkeley Kite Wranglers, a troupe of kite performers who fly giant kites in the shape of cats, bears, geckos, manta rays, tropical fish, lobsters, frogs and a prehistoric trilobite.
The group also created the Octopile, which flies dozens of octopus kites together in perfect formation.
The group teamed up with Gomberg Kite Productions, an Oregon group that flies the largest kite in the world, to break the world record for flying octopi kites.
Another tradition at the Berkeley Kite Festival is the Kite Team of Japan. They fly Machijrushi kites from the city of Hamamatsu, Japan. These kites are made from bamboo and very fine paper.
Other exciting performances come from kite teams like iQuad, Air Zone, Too Much Fun, Bi-Dance, and the Bay Area Sundowners.