Up In The Air: The Closest Thing to Heaven Without Dying

balloonAs a native of Roswell, New Mexico, I’m accustomed to looking to the sky for activity. We consider it a tourist attraction. In Rhode Island, however, The Ocean State, it makes sense that most people look to the water for summer fun. And while I cannot argue with anyone wanting to anchor down at Potter’s Cove for AquaPalooza, I want word on the street to reflect Rhode Island’s plentiful reasons to keep your eyes to the sky as well.

Newport’s Annual Kite Festival

“It’s a bird … it’s a plane … it’s — a gigantic dragon?” is what you could be saying if you head to this year’s Kite Festival on July 13 and 14 in Newport. The festival takes place at Brenton Point State Park, a premier spot for kite flying that keeps the sky colorful all summer long. For those with young’uns, there is no better way to spend a Saturday. There will be contests like the Bol races (running upwind while pulling a parachute) and the Candy Drop — something akin to a large piñata that releases candy, which is, unfortunately, restricted only to children. New kites will be given to contest and raffle winners, and if the festival sparks an interest in a new hobby, even better! Ron Kitt, owner of Kitt Kites and host of the Newport Kite Festival, has a mobile site at Brenton Park and offers free lessons every weekend during the summer.
The events are free of charge, and beginning at noon on Saturday and Sunday, there will be demonstrations of Sport Kites and Power Kites, Rok (and roll) battles among traditional Japanese Rokkaku-style kites, and The Largest Kite contest. Randy the Kite Man, known for his large show kites, will be back this year from Florida and bringing a gigantic dragon with him. Grab a Del’s and enjoy the show.

Another “super-fly” event worth attending is the South County Hot Air Balloon Festival at URI on July 18 through 20. What was once a small gathering of hot air balloonists has now become one of the greatest summer attractions in Rhode Island. Now in its 36th year, this festival has a calendar so full of activities that people will enjoy arriving at an ungodly hour of 5:30am to catch the sunrise balloon launch and staying until 9pm to watch the dusk balloon lighting and firework display. There will be wildlife shows, carnival games, craft booths, a car show, tightrope walkers, steel drummers and a rockin’ R&B band. All are free with admission. There will also be a BBQ contest in which teams compete for $1,000 and a chance to represent Rhode Island at the National BBQ Championship this year. (Great news for foodies like me: It’s not too late to be a BBQ judge! You can find applications online.)

But the main attraction is, of course, the hot air balloons. One of the pilots, Jeff Haliczer, will be coming to the South County Festival for the first time with his dog, Ben, and his “Off the Wall,” Humpty Dumpty-shaped balloon. Jeff got his start flying hot air balloons in Gallup, NM (New Mexican high five!), and he’s looking forward to flying in Rhode Island, one of the four contiguous states he has not yet visited. He won’t be hard to miss with his funky balloon at the dusk glow Friday and Saturday night, or flying high each morning as the sun comes up.

I’ve often wondered if flying in a hot air balloon was a peaceful experience, since I imagine floating through the sky would be, so I asked the expert.

“My passengers fill out a guestbook after they’ve ridden with me,” Jeff replied, “and one of them once described it as ‘the closest thing to heaven without dying.’ I think that sums it up pretty well.”

For those who are interested in experiencing heaven at this year’s festival, pilots can be contacted directly. Tethered rides are also available throughout the day. Details for balloon rides and other events can be found at southcountyballoonfest.com

Even without a festival to attend, Newport is a popular summer destination. Daredevils and adrenaline junkies (you know who you are) can skydive Newport or Lincoln, RI, with Skydiving Rhode Island (1-800-591-7984). Take pictures! More subtle adventurers should look into Island Style Parasail. Parasailing is an activity that perfectly combines the air and water — soaring through the sky with a parachute while being tethered to a boat. My hot-air-balloon-serenity theory came from parasailing: amazing views, open environment, stress-free. Wade, the owner, has 17 years of experience parasailing in Hawaii and began this operation last summer. Even people afraid of heights will find nothing to fear. Tandem rides are perfect for friends, families and couples. Wade brings the Island Style to RI by igniting laughter, throwing shakas (thumb and pinky finger out), and showing folks a lot of Aloha. Call 401-601-0330 for reservations.

This summer, remember to keep your eyes up or take to the sky yourself. There’s plenty to do up in the air.

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