Portsmouth’s International Kite Festival: Ups And Downs

S&C reviewer Emily Priest reports on the annual kite festival and finds this is one hobby that goes straight over her head. 

This year was the 26th anniversary of Portsmouth’s International Kite festival which brings colour and life to Southsea Common every year. As the bare bones of Victorious Festival loomed in the distance, large kites flew overhead of various shapes and sizes. I could see Aladdin, a sting ray, crocodile and half a male torso. Smaller kite trains and ladders dotted here and there, as underneath the crowd circulated through a forest of flying banners, pausing at food and merchant stalls.

Over 100 kite flyers were invited to the Festival from all over the world, including Australia, France, South Africa and China. Some of the big names in the kite world involved in the event included David Ellison, Brighton Kite Fliers and Evert Den Blanken.

Against the Portsmouth backdrop of the Spinnaker tower, the kites looked impressive and hundreds of visitors had already flocked to see them as I arrived. Tents sold wares, like knitted Pokemon hats, paintings and the world’s smallest kites. Children surrounded them, flying kites in the sea breeze. Love Southsea’s market was featuring local traders, but there were so many bodies in there, I didn’t last long.

I walked around the Common, staring up at kites shaped like crabs and one shaped like a teddy bear. Onlookers sat in pop up chairs, gazing at the display through binoculars. I had no doubt a lot of them would be there all weekend and had been looking forward to the festival all year.

On posts, by the stages, programmes were pinned up listing the days entertainment, including musical kite demonstrations and a banner march scheduled for 10 minutes’ time. I grabbed myself a shaved ice cone from a nearby seller and sat down on the grass. Slightly bemused by the enthusiasm of the crowd around me, I wondered if a kite-flying display would capture my interest in the same way.

First up were the banner men parading flags covered in a range of beautiful designs, including geishas and sugar skulls. The commentator, George Webster cracked jokes over loudspeakers scattered around the Common, and shared detailed information about the kites and kite flyers.

It was fun for a while, but the novelty soon wore off for me. The flags that were so impressive at the start soon became bits of fabric carried around a field for a few minutes.

Soon after, the second display began. I watched a kite ladder that went up to 10, 15 and 20 kites high and then, to the tune of Chariots of Fire, a display of kites battling, or were they dancing? I wasn’t sure.

I could tell the spectators around me were impressed, but the display did nothing for me. Each to their own, I thought as I decided to head home.

Before leaving, I looked around for a spot of lunch at the nearby stalls. There were chips, hot dogs, burgers and ice cream, as you’d expect, but I decided against buying something. The prices for the food were very expensive, around £6 for a hot dog, so I went elsewhere.

The International Kite Festival is a highly popular event in Portsmouth’s calendar and is clearly an asset to the city’s cultural life. Though it only entertained me for a maximum of 30 minutes, there were clearly enough people marveling at the sky to show that for many, perhaps most, the Kite Festival is a great day out.

And judging by social media last weekend, at the very least, it provides some pretty impressive photo opportunities.

Photography by Emily Priest