Flying with Intent: An Interview with John Barresi
When I say the words “kite flying”, what pops into your head? Possibly something like this?
Or the scene and song from near the end of Mary Poppins? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBkSy3dnIY8.
That was the extent of my kite flying knowledge when I met my fiancé, George, a passionate kite flyer. Before George introduced me to professional kite “pilot” John Barresi, I had no idea people can earn a living from kiting. Who knew? Did you? Read on and prepare to be inspired.
John Barresi is one of the most prolific and successful sport kite competitors in North America, and has earned national championships in nearly every kiting discipline. He is the owner and Editor in Chief of www.KiteLife.com, the largest kiting website in the world, and is even featured in Wikipedia. Seriously.
George introduced me to John a year or two ago at a kiting event, yet it wasn’t until after I saw this Grant’s Getaways episode https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8spV7xUyap0 (you can see George in the yellow and white tie-dyed T-shirt) on Channel 8 that I approached John for an interview. In the television segment, John said, “When people fly, they’re showing the better part of themselves. Your chin is up, you’re looking up, your heart’s open, and you’re playing with this tension. Your mind goes calm. You don’t have to change your religion, or your diet, or anything, to be a great kite flyer.”
That caught my attention.
Kite flyers gravitate towards a casual wardrobe of cargo-type pants or shorts, T-shirts, hoodies and flip-flops, and John is no exception. From the kite festivals I’ve attended with George, I can also personally attest they’re a friendly bunch.
Yet I doubt many flyers got their start in life quite like John Barresi did. His home was a van; his address, the open road. John spent the formative years of his life with his father, who was retired from the military. They traveled from place to place, making their way through major points of interest such as the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert, as well as travel to India, Ecuador and Costa Rica, all before John was five years old. His father had an interest in all things esoteric, and one criteria for stopping points was how many natural food stores there were per capita; locally grown organic produce was a must. So, rather than from formal education, John learned to navigate life from significant experience, impulse, and an “incredibly articulate and sensible role model.”
In August of 1990, when John was 15 years old, he and his father were staying in the Bay area of California, one of their primary hangouts. One afternoon, when John was lunching with his father on the Marina Green, next to the Presidio, near Joe DiMaggio’s old house…the trajectory of his life changed. He saw a man flying a kite, and curiosity pulled him out of the van. He approached the man, who was flying a second generation “real” sport kite, “built like a Mack Truck,” says John. John was small for his age (until gaining 11 inches in one year at the age of 17) and says he looked about 11 at the time of his first flight. The man asked John if he wanted to try flying the (expensive) kite and John jumped at the chance. Even though the large, slow, hard-pulling kite dragged John right onto his butt and pulled him down the field, he was hooked. A lifetime love affair with flying began that day.
John says, “Every time my father saw something pure and bright in me, something I was excited about, he did his best to feed it.” The very next day, John and his father went through the phone book and located three kite stores in the bay area, two in San Francisco and one in Berkeley. At the latter, they found John’s first kite, a lime and forest green two-line Cheetah kite by Sky Toys. This defining purchase was the start of a 27-year friendship between John and Tom McAlister, the man who still owns that kite store. Both men are now married and have kids, and John manages Tom’s website, http://www.highlinekites.com/.
John says Tom’s was different from the other kite stores. His store was mobile; he worked out of a Winnebago motorhome. He interviewed John and his father, asked about their needs, and what they were looking to do with kiting. He made suggestions and helped in the whittling down process. Staff at the other stores just said what they had and what the kite came with…string. Tom took his time. He walked them out to the grass and showed John and his father how to put the kite together, giving assembly tips that John still uses to this day, along with an on-the-spot flying lesson.
“At least once a year,” John says, “I specifically and consciously remind Tom of what he did, and the way he did it. Something like this can literally change the course of someone’s life.”
Because John wasn’t in formal school, he was able to spend the bulk of his days, “every bloody day for the next three years,” playing, flying, learning to pilot a kite. He went to his first kite festival, as a spectator, in San Francisco the September after the Cheetah purchase. There he saw a quad line kite for the first time. Of all the kites he flies, and John says he doesn’t have a favorite, the quad gives him the most variety. While most people tend to polarize, specialize, John finds the more kinds of kites he flies, the more he’s able to do with even the simplest kite. He constantly exposes himself to new things and new ways to fly.
Before long it became clear John was meant to do more than just master his kite-flying skills. He is now a prolific and successful competitor and exhibition performer, having performed at events like the Shanghai auto show (for Volkswagon) in China, Cavalia circus in Abu Dhabi, and the Red Bull air race half time show in Australia, Switzerland and France. I mentioned how glamorous it all sounds. John agrees, it certainly can be. “It’s quite a trip seeing your team name on huge banners…and seeing over 100 of my kites scattered all over a single beach… Wow. That was awesome.” John performs professionally at approximately 12-35 events per year and helms a team of four professional flyers – Team Kitelife.
But back to “his” kites… John doesn’t consider himself a “from the ground up” kite designer – he doesn’t personally connect with “building a car from scratch,” so to speak. He can, however – after 27 years of experience – look at the shape of a kite and know how it’s going to fly, or changes that can be made to greatly improve its performance. In the early ‘90’s, the General Manager of kite making company Revolution asked John if he would collaborate on a signature series. John’s finely tuned tweaks and adjustments lead to the “B Series” with Revolution, and John was a sponsored pilot with the company from 1992 until 2016.
Prior to John’s first flying team, iQuad, and the B Series, however, he was already teaching flyers in kite clinics, group instruction, and later private lessons. In addition, long before the internet explosion and avenues like YouTube, John took www.kitelife.com over from his friend and former teammate, Mike Gillard. “He was very, very good to me and I learned a lot watching him work and express himself, in everything he did,” John says.
Kitelife was the only American kiting publication left at the time, other than the AKA (American Kite Association) newsletter. The kiting community needed a central place for information about the national circuit, competitions from coast to coast, recognition awards, and all the other cool things happening in the kite world. With just one paying advertiser to prop up the withering site, John began the tedious and time-consuming process of teaching himself web design and how to format an on-line magazine. He eventually added videos, a discussion forum, media posts, and a professional caliber historical and biographical archive of global sport kiting.
John says people keep coming back to your business when they are “larger, enhanced in some way, by interacting with you.” On the site, John keeps a running feed of content and insights into his own rhythm and personality. He ensures readers can truly see kites as they are, and have a direct, visceral experience through the screen. He’s compiled an archive of competition and performance videos from as early as 1986 and out of print publications as early as 1977! www.kitelife.com is now the largest kiting website in the world, complete with first contact to competency level tutorials and a personally-selected digest of useful resources. John has included all the information customers would look for on their own – yet thanks to John’s diligence and “filtering out the bullshit,” they don’t need to. He rotates a library of product from paying sponsors as prizes for subscribers. John smiles remembering his first $2.95 subscriber, Scott Davis, who is still a subscriber today.
In October of 2007, John’s world was again rocked when he performed at the Tokyo Bay Flight Party in Japan and met one particular participant, Takako (TK) Kishi, now his wife. John says he can tell a lot about a person by the way they fly. TK was not a professional flyer at that time, more a passionate Sunday hobbyist. (Oddly enough, tako kichi, sounding similar to TK’s given name, means “kite crazy” in Japanese.) John describes TK as having light energy, like a wood fairy – bubbly, yet well-defined with real world female Samurai energy – with an appealing stoicism; cute, yet fortified. “This is pretty much what I saw when she flew,” he says. “She was out of frame with everything else. She stood out, in a country with a tradition and passion for uniformity.”
After coming home, John joined in making plans for an iQuad tour to Japan and England to celebrate Revolution’s 20th anniversary. He returned to Uchinada in April of 2008. He watched TK flying for about 20 minutes before she even knew he was there. He kissed her on the cheek in greeting and after that, John says, it was “fox and hound” for the next three days. He extended his trip by five days to visit TK in Tokyo, and her first trip to the United States was that July. John proposed during the Tokyo Bay Flight Party October, 2008, under the ferris wheel at Kasai park. Takako and her pet turtle, Ama, immigrated to the United States in October, 2009. John and TK were married that November. Their Son, Luca, was born June of 2016. With unsurprising foresight, John has already reserved the domain lucabarresi.com.
I asked John how they chose the name Luca, which I happen to like quite a lot. John and TK agreed they would separately gather a list of names they each found appealing. Luca was number one and two on both lists. John likes having a short name himself as well – “short, easy, with not much room for misinterpretation.” In addition, the name Luca translates to “bringer of light.” Finally, John asks with a laugh, “Doesn’t it remind you of a good-looking Italian guy with a glass of wine who can cook?” Can’t argue with that.
Before concluding John’s interview, I asked him if he can describe what it is I’m seeing him do with his arms when he flies a kite. If you watch the Grant’s Getaways segment, perhaps you’ll see what I mean. He responded, “What you’re seeing is energy. Kinetic energy.” John flies with efficiency, with intent. He said it’s like doing something on a curve as opposed to going from point to point. The more steps that happen in one second, the longer the second gets. This is what he sets out to convey in his private lessons and workshops. John describes the space and gives people the tools they need to fly smoothly, economically, as free of thought and stress as possible. He doesn’t use the word “practice.” Rather, he “iterates.” With each repetition, the brain processes faster, and impulses get to the muscles faster.
And, besides, you’re looking up, your mind is calm, and your heart is open. Perhaps that’s what it really means to fly with intent.
Authentic Performance Voice Lab Sunday August 13th, 2:00- 4:00 at Sacred Money Studios & Prosperity Pie Shoppe! Speak about your passion with confidence and conviction; inspire people to work with you.
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Authentically Yours, Laura