How Berck-sur-Mer became the kite mecca

“It is the Mecca of the kites”, “I go there every year on a pilgrimage”. Once we mention Berck-sur-Mer, kite enthusiasts are unanimous: the seaside resort of Pas-de-Calais has become a must in this universe. After two canceled editions due to Covid-19, the International Kite Meetings are making a comeback at Berck beach, from April 23 to May 1. The biggest event of the year with at least 600,000 visitors in nine days and economic benefits running into the millions of euros, they were born almost by accident in 1987.

“That year we celebrated the centenary of the first aerial photography shot with a kite,” said Romain Roger, one of the organizers of the event. On the occasion, a group of enthusiasts gathered on the beach of Berck to fly a kite. Basically, it’s just a benign event between friends. But they came back the following year, and the year after that, and the then mayor agreed to make it a city-sponsored event. †

A sport you can’t live on financially

Thirty-five years later, the bet has paid off as the aviator is now associated with Berck-sur-Mer. More than 300 kite flyers of 18 different nationalities are expected for this vintage from 2022, both for exhibitions and competitions. Among them is Benoît Flament. At 42, this Amiens is one of the leaders in the discipline. World champion, European champion and French champion, he won every possible kite title with his sidekick Maxime Desavoye and their StartAir team.

But do not believe that the kite made a fortune from his passion. If the pilot is indeed affiliated with the French Federation of Free Flight, then no competitor lives on it. Civil IT manager Benoît Flament trains in his spare time: “As a competitor, you cannot live off flying a kite financially. But it is an outdoor sport that requires real physical preparation. If you’re not in good shape, you can’t do a five-minute demonstration, it’s an intense effort.”

“Not everything we do in the air is improvised”

In competition mode, two events co-exist: the precision where the teams have to perform mandatory figures and the so-called ballet, where the fliers perform a choreography to pre-selected music for five minutes. A millimeter work recorded on paper.

“Not everything we do in the air is improvised, Benoît Flament emphasizes. It’s written on some kind of storyboard with small drawings and arrows to clearly determine who does what. Everything is written, prepared, nothing is improvised. We’re reviewing our numbers before hitting the ground running and rolling out our kite lines. “As with figure skating, it is the judges who write down the technique and the choreography to decide between the participants.

Hand sewn XXL kites

But in Berck, in addition to the competition between the best in the world, there is also an exhibition area where enthusiasts can use their most beautiful kites on the two kilometer long beach. Every year it’s up to whoever bets the most beautiful, even the biggest, to impress the audience. Jean-Paul Maurin, 60 years old, is one of those enthusiasts.

This computer graphic designer, based in the Yonne, has even specialized in manufacturing XXL kites in-house for 20 years. “I have kites of between 100 and 200 m2. For example, I built a Nautilus kite, Jules Verne’s submarine, which is 22 meters long, 6 meters high and 6 meters wide. It corresponds to two buses,” laughs the sixty-year-old.

Odysseus by Jean-Paul Maurin will be present in Berck-sur-Mer this 2022 edition.
Odysseus by Jean-Paul Maurin will be present in Berck-sur-Mer this 2022 edition. – Facebook

The Odysseus of Ulysses 31 will be there

To build these behemoths, Jean-Paul Maurin needs a year to make the plans, model in 3D, buy spinnaker cloth, hand sew his artwork for the bridle (connecting the ropes of the deer in a single point of equilibrium ) to make it fly.

“I do about one a year, depending on my inspiration,” develops the enthusiast who specializes in spaceships. This year he has turned the Odysseus, the ship of Ulysses 31, into a cartoon hero. A kite with a diameter of 8 meters that should still amaze a Berckois audience that is delighted to see that international encounters are conducive to magic.