Every year, large contraptions take flight in Bali. No matter where you are, from approximately July until October, you can see a multitude of colors and shapes dotting the sky. Many locals launch giant kites and simply tie them down and let them sail through the sky for the entire day. Flying kites is more than a hobby in Bali; it is an obsession. So much so that competitions take place all over the island, but the main one is just north of Sanur, in Padang Galak. The Bali Kite Festival (Festival Layang-Layang) is a competition for local males to showcase their village's aeronautical skills in the sky.
The festival was originally held to thank the heavens for bumper crops, but eventually morphed into a fierce competition for ‘banjars’ (villages) to send their own teams to win prize money. It is also viewed as creative way of preserving Bali arts and interpreting traditions. Padang Galak has a very large, grassy field next to the ocean that overflows with a mass of locals and a few tourists during the event.
The teams parade into the festival, branded in logoed t-shirts and accompanied by a gamelan orchestra playing a variety of percussion instruments to loudly announce their arrival. They walk proudly in with their dismantled and bundled kites from the journey. Each banjars team claims a part of the field to reassemble their kites. The men then wait in nervous excitement for their kites turn to take flight.
These aren’t normal kites. They are huge. The Balinese traditional kites (bebean) can be 4 metres wide and 10 metres long and are shaped like a fish. Some ‘janggan’ type kites have tails over 100 meters long. The men of a banjar construct the frames from bamboo and then pick lightweight fabrics to represent their village colours. It takes a convoy of motor vehicles (a truck and several motorbikes) to transport these gliding apparatuses to the competition. These gigantic kites are so large that they cannot be anchored to the ground by string. Thick ropes are manipulated by a dozen or so men to make the kites dance and dive in the sky.
Other 'new creation' kites look like things in life that have taken to the sky in 3D form. Insects, people, demons, and even a carriage somehow fly in the wind. The massive Dangin Peken dragon kite is a true test of aviation as it weighs in at 700 kilograms! The heavily decorated dragon has sharp pointy teeth, bulging eyes, and a Hindu crown on top of its head. By some miracle, the men are able to get this monster off the ground to soar through the sky. Its white wings spread wide and a long red, white, and black striped tail flutters in the wind for 250 meters.
Landing the kites is a dangerous business. The teams of men gingerly pull the ropes in to lower their large vessels to the ground. Sometimes they can be blown astray into a rice field or even the crowd. An event at Mertasari Beach with the largest kite on record had an unsuccessful take-off that was almost fatal. Normally however, these professionals safely land the kite.
The teams compete for the best launch, the best design and the longest flight to win money provided by sponsors. The last competition in 2018 saw 866 kites compete. The
Bali Kite festival is free with local vendors providing food and drinks.