Desert Surfers

Plastic floats in Primm, Nevada. Shopping bags blow across the highway and gather in ‘cotton fields’ of white polyurethane by the road. Beyond the shimmering neon-lit highway, the Mojave desert stretches into the distance. A huge, arid expanse of cracked earth, it resembles a burnt pancake, it’s edges smouldering with distant, dark mountain ranges. Like a rose in this desert, the NABX kite festival has bloomed out of the enthusiasms and passions of a small group of friends who simply decided to meet up and fly kites. For many who attend these gatherings they have become the fulcrum around which their lives pivot and nine years later, NABX has become an institution.

Bouncing through sandy back roads and axle-breaking potholes, we hit the smooth shores of Harper’s dry lake bed. As the cracked earth blurs beneath us, a flotilla of RV’s and trucks bleed out of the horizon. Deck chairs and beer cans fall into view, encircling a small camp fire where the NABX founders are already fondly swapping stories and reminding boasts to those who might have forgotten.

Dean Jordan, the event organiser bounds over to greet us, hands outstretched in welcome. He’s a sprightly veteran and drives the NABX event like a man possessed. It’s immediately obvious Dean is touched by the best kind of madness: passion. In fact, for many NABX is like a masked ball. They may have been chatting to each other for what seems like years on the festival’s web forum but some may never have actually met until today. Avatars and nicknames bridge the international timezones in a wave of greetings and handshakes that ripple up and down the assembled motorhomes and makeshift tents. With each passing day that same warm spirit continues, as the same familial fondness is extended to each and every person that arrives. There are no strangers here, just friendships waiting to be re-awakened with each new truck that peels out of the desert horizon.

NABX isn’t about races, trophies or manufacturers selling you ‘this year’s kite’. It runs on infectious enthusiasm and goodwill. This is no-frills kite buggying. All you need is a three wheeled buggy and a kite to pull yourself along. Kite buggying is a niche sport nurtured by a lifestyle; the poor cousin to it’s increasingly money-showered sibling, kitesurfing. And for a large cross section of those attending NABX, they wouldn’t have it any other way. The guys here are more likely to build something than buy it. That’s the half of appeal. Walking up and down the parked cars and trucks you will see a wide variety of the homemade and bizarre. Buggies, land yachts, kites and monocycles are all on parade. Each on has been designed with only one purpose in mind: to put a smile on your face.

Kites need wind and fortunately here in Primm, Nevada it’s a constant feature. Dust devils routinely burst through the tents and parked kites. Tumbleweeds and balls of barbwire breeze past too; both of which are indistinguishable at high speed, so care must be taken when buggying. However that’s not the only danger. The surface of Ivanpah’s lakebed (or ‘playa’) is like creased sandpaper, dusted with centuries-old pumice. Graze your knees here and an infection isn’t a possibility, it’s a guarantee. As such the Mojave desert can sometimes be a harsh environment that is at odds with the warmth of NABX welcome. If you do fall over however, you can be sure there will be a friendly hand to help you up and dust your ego down.

As the final night approaches, as with many festivals of this kind, there is a raffle  to help meet the costs of the event. Lots come and go. Kites, buggies and curios are held aloft. Whoops, cheers and laughter follow each lot as tickets are checked and scrutinised in the darkness of the event’s main marquee tent. In the end the evening, like the event itself, has been a success and the soul of this festival has been underlined with even more warm memories as the crowd drifts out to nearby bars and camp fires. NABX is a family. And be you a kite flyer or not, they would welcome you next year, or any year for that matter, with the same idiosyncratic welcome should you choose to go.

Blasted by sand storms and baked dry by the sun, they wouldn’t have it any other way…

Mark Esper
April 2012

> To view original multimedia piece with narration and sounds please click here

Status: Unpublished.
Awards: Nominated for the ANI Pix Palace ‘Coup de Coeur’ 2012 Prize.
Prints: Selected prints are available for online purchase.
Image Licensing: Mark Esper. All Rights Reserved.

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