75th annual Ocean Beach Kite Festival

Dr. Jim Nickel was a Warren-Walker kindergartner in Point Loma when he attended the first Ocean Beach Kite Festival. He recalls how it took two days to make a kite from brown paper and balsa wood. (Glue took time to dry.)

On Saturday, he showed local Key Club members — teens associated with Ocean Beach Kiwanis — how to make the kites in minutes. The high schoolers in turn helped hundreds of children make and decorate their own for free.

Talk about coming full circle.

Nickel turned 80 last week. That first kite festival? Held in 1948.

Saturday’s 75th anniversary event — held at Robb Field, just south of the tennis courts — lacked the traditional Kite Parade — kids marching from OB Elementary west on Newport Avenue to the beach. That ended about 10 years ago.

“Got to be outrageously too expensive,” said Nickel, co-chair of the festival with his wife, Melanie. “Towing, police and fire [costs] — so many problems and so many complaints from the merchants, and funding from the city dried up over time.”

Jim Nickel, a former pathologist, chaired OB Kite Festival with his wife, Melanie. Photo by Chris Stone

But Nickel, a retired pathologist with his own lab, was happy to see the kites fly high (via 100 feet of line) amid cloudy skies and what announcer Glen Rothstein of Long Beach called “tricky winds.”

(Even so, serious fliers showed impressive skills with the quad-line inventions of Poway’s Revolution Enterprises.)

Rothstein, regional director of the American Kitefliers Association, narrated demonstrations of formation flying and other aerial feats with about 30 members of the San Diego Kite Club attending (along with some from a Ventura County club).

Pat Warren, 78, has lived in OB “since the summer of 1968,” she said with pride.

A former Peninsula Soccer League coach who also was the first girls soccer coach at Point Loma High School, Warren credited the Nickels for having “really resurrected the Kiwanis Club” in OB — with Melanie the service club’s first female member.

Jim Nickel in turn said he was inspired to join (and later lead) Kiwanis by Paul Shank, a chemistry teacher at Point Loma High School whose name graces a scholarship. Shank oversaw the largest Key Club in the nation, Nickel said.

The Kiwanis-sponsored event follows two years of pandemic-restricted turnouts. In 2020, only 10 were allowed (five kids and five adults), Nickel said. Last year, about 120 attended a kite fest at High Tech Elementary.

But kites aren’t just for kids.

Craig Adams delighted in displaying his “spiky ball” float. Photo by Chris Stone

When the young’ns grew tired wrangling lines — while awaiting an afternoon “candy drop” — their parents and guardians took over.

One visitor, Craig Adams of Menifee, brought his own wind-catching creation. He called the giant float a “spiky ball,” modeled after a soccer ball. Kids went nuts pushing it around and up.

Adams was delighted.

“It gives me joy,” he said as he watched the scrum from his portable Jetson electric bike (which helped him tow the float around the field). “It is my time machine.”

Ten years ago, at 58, he learned he had prostate cancer. Stage 4.

“They said I’d be gone in a year or a year and a half,” he said. “Kiting has made it possible for me to keep going. When I fly a kite, I feel like I’m 35 again.”

Adams once lived in a van and was a member of the San Diego Kite Club. Now he takes his creation to kite festivals, including a recent one at a Los Angeles park near Chinatown.

He called the past decade, with his kites, “the best 10 years of my life.”