Kiters plan to ‘kiss the sky’

Songs of 1970s rock legends reverberate through the garage of Ian Islip, 61, of Parow, as he sits at his vintage Singer sewing machine piecing together colourful kites he will show off at this weekend’s Cape Town International Kite Festival in Muizenberg. Ian’s love of kites started when he was six and living in Glenboig Street, Parow.

“Our neighbour, who was originally from Holland, would make kites made of paper called tissue kites for my friends and I. As I got older, my father Malcolm, 89, and I would fly 3-metre gliders on Tygerberg Hills. The thermal current, aided the flight, and it was like flying with the birds.”

He describes the experience as “amazing and peaceful” and one he will forever cherish.

“I have always liked nature and I have surfed all over the peninsula most of my life,” says Ian.

In later years, the retired Telkom engineer tried his hand, at stunt and power kites.

Kiters from China, England, Germany, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Poland and South Africa will adorn the sky with fish, dragons, dinosaurs and other whimsical wonders, including a little pig, during the 23rd annual Cape Town International Kite Festival on Saturday and Sunday October 28 and 29 .

The festival is South Africa’s biggest mental health awareness event and all of the profits will help Cape Mental Health provide vital mental health services to children and adults in the city.

Ian says it is important for him to contribute to creating awareness about mental health issues in the country.

“In the past, people with mental illnesses had to hide their condition from society. When I was younger, I also knew someone who suffered from a mental illness and that is one of the reasons I take part each year.”

Ian is aided by his wife, Jenny, whom he dubs, his “right-hand man”. The couple met at a dance at Settlers High School, in Bellville, when they were teenagers.

Ian flew kites for about 10 years before getting involved in the festival six years ago. A self-taught kiter, he has built more than 90 designs since he retired 16 years ago.

“If I don’t understand something during the process, I work through it. It enables me to comprehend better,” he says.

He and Jenny will be heading to the festival with a “car full” of kites: dragons, worms, octopuses and a squid with a partly visible diver in its mouth.

“My sewing machine gave in recently. It’s left me four weeks behind in my preparation. I am working around the clock to ensure that I am ready for the festival,” says Ian.

When he is not exhibiting his own creations, he sells smaller diamond and stick kites by word of mouth to keep afloat a hobby that has become a full-time job.

His other hobby is collecting LPs and he blushes when he admits he has more than 1 500 of them.

“I can’t sew without music and I listen to musicians like Marc Bolan, Jimmy Hendrix and the Rolling Stones while creating my kites. The ideas for the designs just come to me, and I am constantly drawing new ones.”

Ian is proof that aspirant kiters are in for a special kind of magic when, in the words of Hendrix, they “kiss the sky” with a kite.

The festival will take place on and above Zandvlei Nature Reserve in Muizenberg between 10am and 6pm. Entry is R40 for adults and R15 for children 12 years old and under. Tickets are available at the gate or through