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"We have met Andreas Ågren, a Swedish kite flyer"

This is an interview published in the Belgian national kite club magazine "Le Noveau Cervoliste Belge", the March/April issue 1997. The interview was carried out by Raoul Fosset.

Your name is Andreas Ågren, you come from Sweden, may I ask you what is your regular job and if you have any artistic background?
- I am a software engineer at an ABB company, doing a bit of programming and trying to get things working together. No, I can't say that I have any artistic background, and I'm not sure that I would put the label "Art" on my kites, it feels a bit too presumptious. I think I'd like "Creative" better, or why not "Conceptual"?
May I ask you your age?
- By all means: I am 47, still wondering when the peak of life will come, since I'm getting better all the time.
How long have you been involved with kiting?
- Only for four years now. I don't recall playing with kites as a child, and the few times I bought kites to my children we never managed to get them flying. Since youth I have been a dedicated reader of the comic strip Peanuts, and I always felt a strong relationship to Charlie Brown. As you know he has never managed to make a kite fly, so I thought that flying kites really was something difficult. I guess I developed some kind of Charlie Brown syndrome.

Fly a Kite, Charlie Brown
What got you interested in this hobby, and eventually is it your main trade?
- I live in a small town, Sala, some 150 km west of Stockholm. In Sala there is a group of people, Sala Kite & Tango Party, who have been playing with kites since the early 70's, or even longer. They were invited to the Cervia Kite Festival in 1992, and their first scheme was to go there by bus. I had known several of these fellows for some time, and now they asked me if I would like to join them on their trip to Cervia. Actually, I think they just wanted to fill up the bus. Anyway, in the end we went by air, and in Cervia I saw, or rather, I experienced what kites really could be, and then and there I became an instant kite addict.
Now I spend most of my controllable spare time (which is far less than I would wish) contemplating on kites, planning kites, designing kites, building and testing kites, waiting for wind and flying kites.
Do you have some sort of personal philosophy behind this interest?
- Only the knowledge that getting a kite up makes me happy; at a succesful virgin flight it's almost like falling in love.
A friend of mine, Olle Nessle who is our local kite guru, has phrased: "Kites are a beautiful compund of poetry and technology." Beeing an engineer, this is very true to me, and who has not written poems to sweet little girls?
Poetry is something that touches your mind. I like my kites to touch the mind or even twist the mind or raise a question when you look at it. Maybe you can call it conceptual, in the sense that the kite expresses an idea from different, sometimes unexpected aspects.
I am also pretty keen on having good names for my kites. To travesty T.S. Elliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats: "The naming of kites is a delicate matter, it's certainly one of your holiday games...". Several of my kite ideas have actually started off as a play with words resulting in a name of a kite.
Is your family involved in your passion for kites?
- Not really; my son came along with me to Cervia in 1995 where we flew ourselves, the "Who's Flying Who" kites, which he enjoyed with a limited enthusiasm but without getting hooked, and my daugther mostly shakes her head about my kiting, and occasionally, when her patience ceases, forces me to tidy up in our combined kite workshop/computer room.

Who's flying who
Where do you find inspiration for the decoration and the design of your kites?
- Till now I haven't really thought very much about decoration.
Things I see, things I hear, things I recall and things I misunderstand can give me an idea of something flying in the sky. When an idea of a kite comes, I instantly before my eyes see the picture of it flying. All I have to do is to make this picture come true, that is to find a frame and a bridling that works. Like the other other day at a meeting at the office: I was scribbeling with the pen on the notebook, I noticed I had written the word "Airmail", and just like a snap of a finger I saw the AirMail Kite in the air.
It is based on national folklore or does it come to you after a good nights sleep?
- Neither, I would say. I think I have a "Kite filter" somewhere between the ears, the eyes and the brain. Everything I hear or see is filtered through this, and now and then something is stored as an impulse. Suddenly pieces fall together and a see a kite.
The kites I have made so far are all quite different from each other, maybe that shows that my kite mind work like a pop corn machine?
The Viking longship kite maybe can be called national folklore, and I would like to elaborate on the Viking theme for a while.

Sverker Strongship
Which aspect of the kite interests you most? Shape, decoration or technical aspects?
- Of those three it is the technical aspect. I think I like "pure" kites, kites that are not overdone, but look simple and obvious. So to realize the "Idea" I find it a challange to come up with nifty solutions.
Like the Paper Kite. The Swedish word for kite, drake [dra:keh] among other things also can mean newspaper (tidning). Over a cup of coffee a friend of mine said the word tidningsdrake. Instantly I saw a train of newspaper placards on a line. In our Party we had experienced problems with tails and several lines of this type of kite train, so the challange was to make rectangular kites fly on a single towing point and without any tails.
Are there any particular techniques you use to build your kites?
- I'm certainly not a good craftsman, so I suppose my technique could be described as "Cheap and dirty". The only special trick I have is for bending bamboo: I soak it thoroughly and then use a hot air gun for the bending, but I doubt that that is very revolutionary.
How much time do you spend practicing kites.
- As I said earlier practically all my controllable spare time. Well, this is during the too short kite season. In the tango season it is fifty/fifty between kites and tango. Counted in hours per week I suppose it varies between 0 and 10, with an average of 4-5. I really never have counted.
Do you have any particular project in mind at the moment?
- Too many! I have a list of more than 20 ideas, some of them rather rudimentary, others quite elaborated. During this winter I very much would like to have a go at a high aspect ratio wing. I also hope to re-make the big Viking longship kite, using high tech materials. And, why not, may be your readers can let me have a go with the "AirMail" kite by sending me airmail letters?
What often happens though when I am occupied with one kite, is that a brand new irresistable kite idea pops up which I feel I absolutely have to try before anything else.
Do you practise all disciplines of kiting; single line, stunt kite flying or buggy?
- No, I do only single lines. I made a stunt kite two years ago and I fly it now and then, but it doesn't give me that ease of mind as a single line kite does, living his own life at the other end of the string.
I have been fortunate to see the very best fly their two and four liners, and I certainly admire what they can do, like David Brittain when he with millimeter precision is playing with kids, or the Decoraters or Airkraft when the put up their ballet act, so beautiful!
If you fly stunt kites, do you enter competitions and what is your opinion on the subject?
- I think stunt kites and stunt kite competitions today can be a good way to bring kite flying to especially young people, and this is very good. This also seems to be the case in countries with a long kiting tradition: the traditional kites are not hefty enough to attract young people, but by getting interested in stunt kiting they become members of the kite community. I think that sooner or later they will also learn to appreciate their own traditional kites.
So all in all I think the kite community benefits from stunt kite competions and shows.
Are there any festivals organized in Sweden, how are the attended by the public?
- In Sweden very few people build and fly kites as a hobby. However, there are a few Kite festivals in Sweden. The one in Stockholm, "The Kite Party at Gärdet" is probably one of the oldest in Europe and it has been held every year since 1965. It is beeing organized by the Art School of Stockholm, and it is very much like a big picnic. Families, young and old build this years kite, bring the picnic basket and have a good time one Sunday afternoon in May.
At Gotland, the island on the east coast, there are two festivals in July, and there are also festivals in Västerås, Gothenburg and Härnösand. I think there are about 10 festivals alltogether.
All these festivals are like big friendly picnics with many rough kites made with love and humour. Very little high tech material is used.
The Stockholm festival can draw round 5.000 spectators/participants, and the smaller ones a few hundred.

Gärdet, long before the Festival...

Are there any kite association or clubs in Sweden, do the regroup many members?
- There is a quite big one, Sällskapet Flygande Drakar (The Flying Kites Association) in Gothenburg with about 150 members nationwide. Only maybe 20 of them fly kites fairly regularly and the core of 5-6 are dedicated. I think there is another association in the south of Sweden, much smaller.
Then of course there is the Sala Kite & Tango Party. We are not a regular association or club, but whereever two or three of us are gathered we are a Party. In the summer season we play with kites and in the winter season we dance tango, the genuine Argentine tango of course. I dare say that within our Party we probably have the the most active and creative kite fliers in Sweden. (Since the kite community in Sweden is so small, the statemant is quite safe.) We like to say "We are not much for competing, but it's bloody fun winning", and for four years in a row now, Party members have been awarded both the 1:st and 2:nd prizes at the Stockholm festival.
Do you have difficulties finding materials to build kites, which are your favourites?
- I use bamboo a lot, since many of my kites require bent spars. Good bamboo is impossible to find, I have to settle for what I can find in garden shops. For smaller kites the thin bamboo sticks in window blinds are very useful, though they often are too soft. One of my dreams is to attend a "Bamboo school" to learn to work with bamboo properly, I really am a novice!
For the sail I find a pleasure in trying to use material that is easy accessible, and not specially intended for kites. For small kites this is good enough, but for bigger kites I have started to use ripstop more and more.
No, it is not the material that is my problem; it's the lack of wind. It can be weeks between days of reasonably good kiting wind.
Do you travel extensively to go to festivals, which ones did you attend and what is your favourite one?
- For the last two years I have spent my entire vacations and all (and more than) available money participating in Kite Festivals. Two years ago (1995) I went to Cervia, to Indonesia (a tour of six different festivals) and to Fredrikstad in Norway, and last year (1996) the entire Kite & Tango Party made the Grand Viking Tour to England and France: We first attended the Washington Festival of the Air, then all 12 of us spent a week on a narrowboat on the Oxford canal, and the next weekend we were in Monmouth. A month later we were invited to the Portsmouth Kite festival and finally we went to Dieppe.
My favourite festival is Cervia, partly because it is my kiting birthplace, but moreover because of the hospitality and the fantastic Italian cuisine.
Another festival that has been etched in my memory is the Kebumen festival in Indonesia, because of the m-a-s-s-i-v-e crowd: 80 000 to 100 000 people had walked more than 20 km to see these Westerner's kites, and the warmth and the friendliness of these people still make my heart pound when I think about it.
What is your opinion on the future of kite flying in your country and abroad? What could be done to preserve that future.
- Who am I to have an opinion on this? I have been playing with kites for only four years, and I have so much to learn myself... In Sweden I have noticed a slightly growing interest; a few new festivals have been arranged over the last years. Unfortunately information on this is not spread in advance... Most kite fliers don't know of each other, so we have an information problem. Once we have solved that we maybe should organize a national or why not international kite festival...
I think Sweden can contribute to the International kiting with a fresh playfulness and humour.
I am very happy to see that kitemakers that make kites of pure natural material are given attention at kite festivals, like leaf kites from Sula Wesi and from Martinique. Also skilled kitemaker from the asian countries like Malaysia and Thailand are given opportunite to show how they make their Wau Bulans and Chulas.
I think this is valuable for every kite player, no matter what kites you fly or what material you normally use.
To conclude, do you have an amusing anecdote to tell us concerning your "career" as a kite flier?
Well, this happened one of the first days in Dieppe '96: It was a good wind, and I had my nArrow Escape (a train of six arrows) flying quite high. Rob from Holland had lent me his line-sound amplifier, which we had hooked onto the kite string. Later in the afternoon my good friend Stefan Andersson from Gothenburg took out his new kite for a virgin flight: 17 small plus-shaped kites of a new design attached to a common string. It took him some time to launch all the 17 kites, and just as he started to feel the sweetness of success, the line to my kite broke behind him. The heavy sound amplifier bounced over the ground dragged by the strong kite. According to Murphy's law, Stefan's kite was exactly downwind, and like an anchor the sound amplifier caught his thin kite string and pulled away with all the 17 kites.
The sound amplifier continued bouncing away over the field, across the street and started to climb up the wall of the house at the other side of the street. Somehow it reached the roof top without breaking any window, which was a relief. Now it would disappear over the city...
But wait a minute! Now the two kites, the six arrows and the 17 pluses, seemed to fly steadily on the same spot!
I went into the town and soon enough I localized the two kites flying perfectly over the towns square and church. But where was the end of the line?
Along the wall of the houses at the square there were high voltage electrical wires, some 1.5 m outside the wall and 2 m. below the roof. Again according to Murphy's law, the sound amplifier had fallen down from the roof between the wall and the electrical wires and got stuck at the bottom wire. So now we had got an electrified sound amplifier!
People from EDF came with long ladders, but went back for a skylift. Slowly and carefully they manouvered the skylift up to the kite string as the growing crowd cheered: The spot was perfectly picked, everyone passed it on their way to dinner. The EDF guys brought the kites down safely and also the sound amplifier. This was only a bit dented, my kites were completely undamaged but Stefan's kites were wrecked, only three were OK. Stefan's statement was: "Shortest fun I've ever had, including women."

nArrow Escape