By Ann Powers
The next time someone tells you to “Go fly a kite!” don’t take it personally, just take their advice.
And you’ll have your chance at the 41st Annual Rockaway Beach Kite and Art Festival, running from Friday, Aug. 17, to Sunday, Aug. 19, at the Ocean’s Edge Wayside.
Colorful, creative kites of all sizes and shapes will dance through the sky and over the sands through-out the weekend, accompanied by awe-inspiring professional flying performances choreographed to music.
Sanctioned by the American Kitefliers Association and hosted by the Rockaway Beach Chamber of Commerce, the festival also includes kite exhibitions, a vast array of vendors, talented artisans, deli-cious food and flying competitions. Kids will be offered the chance to build, and learn to fly, their own small kites during special classes.
Previous features fliers at the event include Connor Doran, a highly acclaimed kite flier who flew his way to a top-12 spot on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”
“I think it’s a great festival,” he said. “It has a lot of energy and a great festival for young and new kite fliers to start out. Kite fliers will always be happy to work with you and Rockaway Beach is a great place to do that.”
It seems kiting is also a great way to heal. Doran, 25, has epilepsy and founded the Dare to Dream program with his mom, Amy Doran — a renowned kite flier in her own right. The initiative evolved as a result of Connor’s challenges with the neurological disorder and his determination to overcome them.
“Epilepsy gives me a lot of anxiety,” he said. “Kite flying takes away that anxiety.”
Kiting gatherings are also the perfect event for the child in everyone to get out and play and have healthy fun with a warm and welcoming group of people, Amy added.
“We support all kite festivals and events because they’re just needed,” she said. “The kite commu-nity is an open door at all times. That’s the beauty of this.”
While Dare to Dream promotes epilepsy awareness, it’s not limited to that condition alone. The program addresses a range of maladies, both physical and emotional, encourages people of all ages to believe in themselves, inspires confidence and speaks out against bullying.
When traveling to various kite festivals, Connor and Amy visit schools, community organizations and events where Connor demonstrates his indoor kite flying expertise. He conveys a powerful message to the audiences of achieving what may seem impossible — like flying a kite inside.
The duo said the sport’s benefits have not only been life changing for them both, it’s given many others a brighter future as well — like Phil Burks of Portland.
Burks, 53, is also a fan of Rockaway Beach’s annual kite fest. In 2013, he suffered a traumatic brain injury at work which left him completely incapacitated. His doctors told him he would never work again.
“With a brain injury you lose everything,” Burks said. “You start at ground zero and you have to rebuild.”
Burks, a nearly 20-year kiting veteran with his wife Barbara, said the sport helped him beat all odds. He returned to work two and a half years after the accident.
“I used indoor kite flying to help me come back from my traumatic brain injury,” he said. “I know it was instrumental.”
Wayne Dowler couldn’t agree more. The 66-year-old Portlander is a member of both the North-west Skyliners and Quad Squad North West kite flying teams. He started flying kites in 1989 with his wife, Debra, and their then one-year-old son, Seth (now 30).
But in 2000, Dowler had a massive stroke which significantly impaired his balance and hand-eye coordination. He said kiting has helped dramatically improve both.
“You and the kite start to fly together,” Dowler explained. “It’s like a dance couple.”
And much like dancing, he said kiting events are also extremely social and take place in breathtak-ing settings such as Rockaway Beach — which offers a treasure trove of medicinal marvels all on its own.
“It’s quite outstanding,” Dowler said. “It’s fresh air, good camaraderie and the beach is beautiful. It’s hard to beat.”
New this year is the combination of the kite and art fests in Rockaway Beach. Previously, the longstanding celebrations were separate, but equally important for the coastal community’s vitality, according to chamber Vice President Kristine Hayes.
“Both the kite and art festival are over 40 years old in Rockaway Beach,” she said. “They are an intricate part of the community both for year-round and part-time residents.”
The Rockaway Beach Kite and Art Festival is open to professional and amateur kite fliers alike. Guests are encouraged to bring their own kites to fly. Event representatives also want to remind people to have their appetites in tow, and bring a camera to record the kites and dreams taking flight over the weekend.
For more information, call the Rockaway Beach Chamber of Commerce at 503-355-8108 or go to www.rockawaybeach.net/events/kite-festival.