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The Problem with World Records is....

I have a troubled and perplexing set of emotions when it comes to the idea of Kite World Records. When I was serving on the Board of Directors for the American Kitefliers Association, and then as President of the organization, I noticed a type of question that would come through semi regularly. A person was looking to set a new world record, or a reporter was looking for more information about a given record. Somewhat officially the AKA is the ‘keeper’ of these records, and as the largest organizing body of kite fliers in the United States it made sense to ask them. The problem I discovered is that if there had ever been a formal process for maintaining those records, it was never passed down. Nor were the actual ‘Records’ themselves. Word has it that there are some archived in written records in the bowels of the World Kite Museum, or among the thousand of pages of old kite magazines long out of print. None of it was ever digitized, or preserved in a way that can easily stand the test of time. So, 99% of those requests for more information ended up as a dead end. It was incredibly frustrating and defeating.

But, that is only one part of the ‘World Record’ saga. The other is the gorilla in the room, the de-facto keeper of world records, and that is Guinness. Last year I was approached early in the year to help lay the ground work for a ‘new world record’. From my best guesses by digging through the limited information in the archives, and from chasing down the word of mouth stories, it looked like this would truly be a new record. I would help record it via video and other means to make sure it could be added to the ‘archive’, but why not also ask Guinness if they would recognize it. Well, let’s just say that the process is rather frustrating, and defeating if anything. The short version is that Guinness will not recognize any world record attempt that is perceived as too specific. “Most number of kites flown at one time” is not specific, yet ‘most number of edo kites flown from the back of a cargo ship in the South China Sea” is. I appreciate this approach, because I have watched as people have deemed something a record simply because it was the most obscure random thing out there…. And that hardly feels like it is fitting in with the whole idea of ‘world records’.

While Guinness is focused on celebrating the great achievements in the world they put up this claim that they will not recognize ‘specialized or obscure records’. Obscurity for the sake of human achievement is one thing (such as ‘fastest kite ski traverse of Antarctica’), but obscurity for the sake of being really out there, is not something they recognize …. Unless you pay for it.

Thus why the official ‘world record book’ has not only amazing records like ‘fastest mile run by a human’ but also ‘most individual toys recognized by a cat’. Or longest Human Tunnel skated by a cat. I am not saying all records are bought, however, it somewhat took away from the authenticity of chasing the Guinness seal of approval. ESPECIALLY, when it comes to kites. It re-affirmed that nagging feeling that some of us deal with; that kites (in the western cultural context) are rather insignificant. If that really is the case, than what does that say about those of us that chase kite tails and devote our lives to it?

(check out this video about how Turkmenistan has PURCHASED world records....starting at 12:25)

So, here I am, helping with yet another supposed world record attempt, and I am running into a bunch of issues, and questions about how we can be better about preserving all of this. A recent post about the Bill Brosius record attempt spured several folks to comment that it wasn’t a real record because they ‘knew about another one in the past’.

I pressed them to provide details, to help us record this past in a way that can be carried forward into the future, because no one else is doing it for us. We can not look to Guinness because most of it is ‘too specific and narrow’, nor can we look to the AKA as they have other issues to deal with and have lost the institutional knowledge of how to preserve that information. I am working with the World Kite Museum to sort through the archives and better catalog that information for folks going forward, but that is a long term project and predominantly deals with looking backwards at the moment, not forwards. So how do we preserve any new records? After helping on 4 Kite World Records so far, I have come up with the following criteria that I think would be helpful for others to follow going forward while we all collectively work on a solution to the ‘archiving’ problem.

  1. Have clear defined objectives/criteria that are not complicated and can be easily reproduced in multiple conditions, or by others.

    1. i.e. When doing the Micron Stack, The Stack Fly, and the recent Bill Brosius stack record, the base criteria was “5 minutes minimum of sustained flight. # of maneuvers to the right and also to the left. Kites must remain in perpetual motion.

  2. Record via video from the widest angle possible to capture all of the action uninterrupted. Like wise, publish the video to a platform such as Youtube, Vimeo, etc...

    1. The example I use here is both the stack fly and the quad line mega fly. The video was shot from a drone from a distance, and at no point is the action outside of the camera frame. The camera doesn’t cut away to show vignettes or closer details. I look at it this way, the casual observer from outside of the community could watch the video and see the whole thing and not question the validity of the claim.

  3. Record all of the names and details involved with the record. As much as possible.

    1. This could simply be a list of every pilot (quad Line mega fly) and what they flew attached to the video, or a separate video/write up capturing the story of the people involved, The more information that can be added to the picture, the more complete and valid the record feels. Extra photographs, videos, news links, anything. They might not be included as a part of the record, but they add to the providence.

Hoping that this helps others attempting to set 'world records'.... and know that I am committed to uncovering and showcasing the work that so many did before me. :) Bringing their cataloging efforts to light.


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