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Into The Wind


This issue's interview is with Hans Jansen op de Haar, one of the leading lights in the progression of sport kite rules and judging. We caught up with Hans at the Wildwood festival, where he assisted with judging of the event. Hans resides in Holland.

: Hans, welcome to America.

Hans: Thank you, it's been a serious pleasure to be at Wildwood so far. This is my second time in the US; the first was three years ago at Long Beach, WA for World Cup and the All-American.

KL: We managed to arrange for rain again this time, to help make you feel at home.

Hans: (Laughs) I don't think I have ever managed to be at two consecutive kite festivals without rain. No, it's good; keeps you working.

KL: You've been very active for years in the European sport kiting organization and events, and have seen the sport grow and mature. It's nice seeing you here at the largest US sport kiting event. Could you compare and contrast what you've seen here this weekend, versus what you are used to seeing at European events?

Hans: Yes, I'd be glad to. I think I can compare things, based on about 65 international festivals or roughly 1,000 routines. I've seen some of the Americans before, in '97 in Guadeloupe, and also at the 5 World Cups I judged. The level of flying, if I could use the scores that I have given this weekend, I would say is slightly below what you would see in Europe at the big festivals. 

There are differences between individuals and teams and pairs; as well as a difference between precision and ballet. Precision is at a higher level, and individuals are definitely up to the Europeans in this. Individual ballet is quite comparable with the level of European's performance. Having said that, I was slightly disappointed with the team ballet; it was not on the same level as the Europeans and also different in style..

KL: From what I know of the Euro sport kiting scene, it seems to be evolving as a serious sport; where here in the US it seems to be more of a "family picnic" type of affair. It also seems that there is a big difference in the average age of the competitors on the two continents.

Hans: I'm not quite sure it is developing into a serious sport, anyway not without quite giving up on the "family" type of affair - a lot of competition in Europe is part of larger kite festivals where a lot of people show up, many of whom are aware of quality flying. So, in that sense it has not been singled out in the public's mind as a sport but stays part of the larger festival scene. Events such as Bristol are a "family picnic" affair, with 5 or 10 thousand around the arena to watch single-line flying as well as dual- and quad-line competition. 

Age difference? Yes. It may not be a disadvantage, but the average age, especially of team fliers seems to be quite a lot higher than in Europe. What I've seen this weekend, I've seen young teams, I've seen very young fliers, I've seen old fliers, so I do not have the same impression that I had at Guadeloupe, where it looked astonishingly different. I was surprised that there were so very few youngsters there. 

KL: A change in direction here. Over the years, you have done some interesting, if not groundbreaking things in the areas of rules, compulsories, and the like. I'm really excited about the virtual reality work you are doing now, to effectively help design, execute, and judge compulsories and routines. Can you tell us a little about that project?

Hans: As a former team flier (The Dike Hoppers, a 6-person team), at every event we attended, the head judge would explain the figures, and then would say, "But, The Dike Hoppers will fly it with only the first 4 kites on the entry line" or something similar. It was obvious to me that agreement between judges and fliers about how you look at compulsories and routines is of vital importance. 

As a judge I grew into the European habit of having a serious judge's meeting about judging (ideas) before any event. It became obvious that there was some work to be done on that agreement between judges and fliers, of how to judge. The easy elements to discuss seemed to be the compulsories, but having compulsories done is not the goal - the goal remains that agreement between judges and fliers - about how to judge what you see. My first serious work into compulsories came when I translated the compulsory part of the rule book, I think it was AKA version 2, and for that book we needed serious, copyable diagrams, so I remade the diagrams on the computer. Having done that, I got a request from the World Cup judges to make nice diagrams of their inventions. 

After getting their ideas, I was hardheaded enough to give some advice about what to change and how to form them. So, I gradually grew into working seriously on compulsories. Once quad line flying came into competition it was necessary to have quad-line compulsories too, first for individuals, and later for pairs and teams. So, I designed about half of the individual figures and all of the pairs and team figures. In Europe, it was obvious that if you want to have a champion, that champion would have flown a ballet, and a full precision. 

A full precision means three compulsories and a freestyle, not league-style - at least, that was and is the European idea.. The other reason was that the AKA books were quite limited on team figures, which was the reason that World Cup judges made new figures for their event in the first place. And some of the figures like "Infinity" simply would not discriminate between a good- and a not-so-good flier. You would get 9.8, 9.8, 9.7 for an Infinity, or for that matter, a square, a circle, or a triangle. We needed figures that were a real test for fliers, so I collected ideas and started to design figures that were "hard to fly, enjoyable to watch, and easy to judge". 

Easy to judge in the sense that it should be obvious when a mistake is made, and what the good points are on what was flown. Hard to fly, fliers are not that good in selecting figures… they would select the figures they like, and leave out the hard parts! (Laughs). Then you would end up again with the 9.8, 9.8, 9.7 scores, and as we see in figure skating, there is the risk you get a 0.2 deduction for a bad nationality and a 0.1 for the bad figure. In the judges' discussions, we talked about determining what is center window, does it moves with the flyer, what is a 100% window. In the old rule book there was a drawing by Rüdi Weisskopf of Switzerland that showed a quarter-sphere on which the kite was flying, as well as grid widths and measurements. If you combine the two, you get some interesting results. 100% vertical is only 53 degrees - so, 100% is not the top of the quarter-sphere. 100% sideways is not 90 degrees left and right, but only 53 degrees. But, those measurements only work on ground level and top level, because 26 degrees is not 50% according to that drawing. 

Two years ago (working on a new rulebook) I defined a sort of coordinate system for fliers and judges that shows where kites are, in an as workable way as possible. Although I think it is not complicated, a lot of people thought it was, and the only solution seemed to devise a method to show on screen exactly how kites fly figures or routines. That is the basic rationale behind doing 3D animations. You now can see that quarter-sphere, that coordinate system, and you can see what could be and should be the way that a compulsory has to be flown. []

KL: You made a brief reference to League-style vs. "normal" precision (3 compulsories, followed by a technical routine); can you tell us what you think of league-style precision?

Hans: Well, if you read your rule book about league-style precision, it says four compulsories and some transitional moves. I think at the present level of flying it doesn't do justice to what people can do with a kite, what they can show with a kite in between figures. You cannot put everything into a compulsory - putting an axel into a compulsory, I tried, and it is not a great success; it works, but only to a limited extent. I don't think you can describe tricks well enough to put them into a compulsory, which leaves only the "freestyle" part of league style for fliers to show off. I don't think league-style is good for fliers. And giving them 80% for the compulsories, and only 20% for everything else that they might do, I think that is ignoring the level of flying that they are capable of.

KL: What do you think of the idea that has been batted around, the concept of going with a more compact program; using several compulsories as a lead-in to the competitor's ballet performance?

Hans: I think it's important to recognize that there are three parties involved in a good competition and kite festival - organizers, public, and fliers. Judges are a bit of a byproduct, and sponsors are a necessary ingredient, more on the outside. Now, it's good for an organizer to have a fixed and workable time schedule, and it's essential for the fliers to have a way to determine who is the best flier, a good way to decide. It's good for the public to stay entertained once they arrive. One solution is doing the slightly boring compulsories in early morning, and doing the ballet once the public arrives. 

But I think it's possible to test the technical abilities of the flier, his ability to improvise, his ability to devise good choreography; combined into a more compact format. I've tried to set up rules for several formats in my rulebook. One form would be combining three compulsories and a ballet. In regional competitions, it is already being used in Europe. It saves time, and -very important- it discriminates between the best and poor fliers just as well as a full program. 

Of course, your judging elements like artistic, technical, degree of difficulty etc., should have a slightly different weight than if it were a normal ballet, because you are now putting some more emphasis on the technical ability of the flier within the ballet. It could be made even more compact by taking two fields and alternating; then there will always be music, and something else to watch, with a good commentator telling the public why one competitor is doing the figure less good, and which is the better one. 

KL: Over the last ten years, the rulebook has grown larger and larger; to the point that I wonder what percentage of fliers know what's in it. Your thoughts?

Hans: Starting in writing proposal for a rulebook myself I've asked myself, "Can we put the rules on two pages? If not two, how about one and a half?"

KL: And how small would the print be to fit it on two pages?

Hans: Have you seen the Bible printed on a grain of rice? (Laughter). No, seriously, I started with the thought of doing it on two pages. And then, I realized that to cover a whole competition would create more text than would fit on two pages. The organizers want, the fliers want, and the public wants to see flying. Discussions, especially from a distance, are quite boring. To have no discussions on the field, or at least as little as possible, means good, consistent rules on paper - so, the two-page idea became thirty-six or thirty-seven. 

Small pages, with big print, but still much more than I had originally planned. What I tried to do was cover the whole weekend for a flier. Do I have the information thirty to sixty days before? Once I arrive, where can I put up my kites? What is the setup time? I know that there will be a pilot's meeting, before the event, as well as a meeting before each discipline. And you should know how judging works, a judge's book would be exactly the same as a flier's book, they have to know the same stuff! 

All of the things that you can explain before should be in that book, so you don't have to discuss it on the field, since you are there to fly! Quickly, easily. You have to explain to both judges and fliers what is important in judging, and again, compulsories tend to be easier to explain than a freestyle routine or ballet. This is why I put more attention to what to do with compulsories, judging and flying, than to the other stuff. On the other hand, there are some details in the ballet and freestyle that should be very explicitly explained since you are essentially judging homework. 

Sixty to ninety five percent of a ballet is what you have done at home to design your routine. There is very little room for improvisation. You might consider a ballet as a four or five minute self-inflicted compulsory! 

You have no choice, once the music starts you have to fly what you have designed. So, it is essential to know how judges will look at your creation, how they will react to your music, because otherwise your homework, your months of training are for nothing. That's the essential reason to put as much about judging into a rulebook as possible. Not for the judges, for they have time during the weekend to discuss, but for the fliers, they need the information months before. It also means that the rules have to specify what an organizer has to provide, for it is very hard to design a team-routine in which you use forty meter lines for your space and timing, and find out 'your' organizer sets you up with a seventy five meter field! 

So, it is essential to be able to rely on certain circumstances, otherwise, flying in competition would be a bit difficult. It's one of the things, that, I think, is a bit ignored , nobody would think of shrinking a baseball field because people like home runs. So, why should you shrink a kite field because the organizer ran out of room or tape? Simply put, you must guarantee the circumstances which the flier can use when he is in training. 

KL: Hans, thanks for sharing your views with our readers. We appreciate your contributions to the sport, and I hope we meet again soon.

Hans: It's been my pleasure. I'll see you on the field again, I'm sure.

Be sure to check out Hans' website here.


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