Tuesday, September 27, 2011

AKA Convention 2011 Wildwood

Wildwood! C'mon in, the water's fine!

The fields are a little wet.

Tuesday morning it is time for workshops. The weather is still a little iffy.
Gotta run. More later.

Water? What water?
This Tent is Sound and Operations for Sport Kite, otherwise known as American Kitefliers Association Grand Nationals. Kite fliers compete all year to qualify for an invitation to compete at the AKAGN.
Do you see that gate or arch-looking thing in the background? Can you guess what that might be?
I don't see no water...
That white strip of sand at top left, near the ocean, is the water's edge. Well, normally...
Looking at NKA flying from the ocean side of the AKA fields.
Can you guess? 
Can you see the orange snow fence?
Wildwood is in an eddy of a large ocean current. Sand that gets washed away from other beaches along the Atlantic, especially to the south, ends up at Wildwood. That orange fencing is 300 YARDS (900 feet) from the boardwalk.
People saw the piles of sand from the Boardwalk and assumed it was - wait for it - beach refurbishment. Nope. It was quite the opposite.
The ditch was dug by a front end loader so the effluent from the streets of Wildwood could reach the ocean. The piles of sand are from digging the ditch(es).
Call me crazy, but somehow, I think, this might have been constructed before there was a EPA...
Any run-off that could not make its way to the ocean remained on the beach.

Saturday Morning: Friday the sun was out all day and the wind was southeast (off the water) about 12 mph all day. The fields were starting to dry out. Then it poured down rain Friday night. Saturday the fields were pretty wet again.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Convention(al) wisdom, or not...

Ah yes, the annual American Kitefliers Association Convention Registration/attendance conundrum. There are always some people who want to just show up and fly and not register. It has ever been thus. Whether these people are good guys or bad guys is a matter of perspective. So let’s look at some of the issues involved and cover some of the perennial questions and comments.

First, what is Convention and why have it? Convention is when and where AKA members from all over the world gather to catch up and share ideas and creations. The traditional name for Convention is the Annual Meeting, not to be confused with the Annual Business Meeting. The committee position for the AKA person who does much of the planning for Convention is called the Annual Meeting Chairperson. Convention is also called Nationals. It should be noted that the first AKA Nationals was not held until 1987 in Washington, DC as part of that Convention. ‘Nationals’ is relatively new to the Convention.

One of the best kept secrets of Convention is the Annual Business Meeting. Oh, the AKA will tell you it’s happening, but they really minimize its importance to the average AKA member. The Annual Business Meeting is held on Wednesday night and it is the primary purpose of the Convention. The Board of Directors runs the AKA between Annual Business Meetings. The Board is limited by the Bylaws in the decisions it can make. The real business of the AKA is mandated by the Bylaws to be voted on by the AKA membership. Bylaw changes can only be voted on by the people who show up to the Annual Business Meeting. The Executive Committee appointed by the President is voted up or down by the people in the Annual Business Meeting.

Said another way, less than 10% of the membership goes to Convention. About 10% of Convention attendees go to the Annual Business Meeting. So, about 1% of the AKA membership actually vote on important matters at the Annual Business Meeting. The good news is that any AKA member may attend the Annual Business Meeting whether they registered for the Convention or not. Anyone who truly wants a voice in AKA policies needs to be in the Annual Business Meeting, registered for Convention or not.

Why have Convention? Well, it’s always been done, the Annual Business Meeting has to happen, Nationals, Comprehensive Competition, Fighter Competition, and it is a great ‘meet and greet’. Oh, and, there is the little thing of having an Auction on Friday night that provides AKA with much of its funding. It is always kind of a gray area, whether non-registered people are allowed to spend money in the Auction. Oops, another gray area is the Fly Mart, sometimes called the Fly Market. One would think that more customers equal more money. But the conventional wisdom (what pun?) is that this is for attendees. Non-registrants are discouraged from spending money in the Fly Market or out-bidding Registrants in the Auction.

Now, this is just an observation, but the older Convention gets, the bigger it gets (meaning it tries more and more to be all things to all people), the more expensive it gets, and the fewer people go. In these circumstances, in the real world, a business would trim the fat and lower the price and attract more people. But Convention is run more like a Government Program. Members are expected to attend at any price, for the good of the AKA, or, perhaps more accurately, for the good of the less than 10% of the AKA that attends Convention.

      1. If some people don’t pay, the rest have to pay more.

Sounds good, seems logical. After all, there are fixed costs to having a Convention. The short version is that there are two basic camps of thought. The True Believers and Ritual Attendees want every person to pay full Registration so that everyone shares the cost of the Annual Party. But, there are a bunch of people who don’t want the Party, they just want to fly kites with their friends. Their thought is, we aren’t here for their Party, why should we have to pay for their Party?

The obvious Convention costs are the venue (rental or permits for fields, tents), function rooms (Convention Hall), banquet facilities, sound system(s) for competition and demonstrations. Some less obvious costs included in the Registration Fee are rooms for the President, Executive Director, and Kiting Editor. The biggest nut to crack with the Registration Fees is the compensation for the Convention Manager, about $22,000. The fewer people that register, the more expensive Registration becomes. The process for deciding the Fee for Registration means taking total expected expenses and dividing it by expected attendees. Guess right, and Convention breaks even or makes money. Guess wrong, Convention loses money, monies are taken from the Auction to cover it, the AKA has less money to work with for the next year. Hence, there is a little pressure from the True Believers and Ritual Attendees for people to attend and register.

Counterpoint: There are people who want to be at Convention for the people, the camaraderie, the flying, and they care less about the workshops, the banquets, and perhaps this is the worst offense, the Annual Auction. Applying the ‘why should we pay for you?’ argument, why should these people be expected to bear the costs of things they do not use? These people are called Party Crashers by some. But it begs the question: How much should the Caterer pay to work the Party? How much should the Groundskeeper pay to be on his course for the Golf Tournament? If people only want to Field Direct, or Judge, or Pit Boss, or (perish the thought) supply, put up, and take down fields, why should they pay full freight?

Picture a Masters level Nationals competitor who is a Registered Attendee. Their spouse is not competing, but is a talented Field Director and Judge. The spouse is not Registered. The AKA will force that spouse to stay in the hotel room rather than use them as very competent Staff. The ‘freeloader’ appellation does not apply to many of the non-registrants so readily spurned by the True Believers and Ritual Attendees.

Many people for many years have tried to break down the wall and convince the AKA to make Convention more accessible and family friendly. The closest the AKA has ever come to concession is this: If you want to attend only 1 of the 5 days, you can pay half price. Did you get that? If you want to attend for only 1 day, the AKA will allow you to only pay for 2-1/2 days. What a deal!

AKA Board members, True Believers and Ritual Attendees throw up their hands and say there is no way to keep track, where do you draw the line, who gets how much, everybody works hard. A 'tiered' Registration, or an a-la-carte Registration is just too hard to do, that is the conventional wisdom, the party line.

So the people who have tried and tried to work with, and within, the AKA, done considerable work for the AKA, and more often than not been chastised by the AKA for the privilege of having volunteered for AKA, will gather and fly and watch.

      2. Convention is one of the biggest kite festivals anywhere.
          Why does not the AKA use it to promote kite flying?

The short version here is that Convention is, first and foremost, a party for the faithful. Who has time to spend on a teaching field? There are fewer and fewer people willing to pay the costs of Convention and work the whole thing. That means there are no volunteers to spare for a teaching field, an outreach field, a public field. Board Members have written that Convention is for us, not them. This gets us to one of my favorite perennial responses…

      3. Other organizations don’t do that…

The first question to be asked here is, just how far should this comparison be explored? On the one hand, it is true, other organizations don’t generally include the public at their conventions. On the other hand, other organization’s conventions almost universally have a base Registration Fee and extra activities are selected, and paid for, a-la-carte. If we are going to use the analogy…

So, like the five blind men who find an elephant, and each touches a different part, so each has a completely different understanding of what an elephant is, Convention is many different things to many different people. There are AKA members who remember much smaller Conventions, no Convention Manager, and Conventions were fun and intimate. These members know it can be done that way.

Many people on both sides of the Great AKA Convention Controversy want the same thing. It is a shame that such ‘agreement in principle’ gets lost in the arguments. There are many people with legitimate concerns on both sides. It is time for more listening and understanding and less pontificating (he says after pontificating for 1,500 words… )

Please feel free to comment and criticize. It will help everyone if comments and criticism are directed at the thoughts expressed and not the person expressing the thoughts.

This is a Public Blog and anyone can view it and recommend it and comment on it. Have fun. Play nice.