It started with a trip to the park. Multi-winning world champion kite-flyer Chris Goff was six years old the first time he flew a kite, writes Cara Cummings…
“It’s all because Dad wanted to get us out of the house,” he laughs. “He bought a kite to get the family outside. It was supposed to just be a way of us spending time together.”
But a chance meeting during the Goff’s first kite-flying excursion changed everything for Chris.
“We were in our local park and a kite shop owner happened to be there at the same time. He saw me flying, told my Dad I was a natural and asked how long I’d been doing it for.
‘About 20 minutes!’ was Dad’s response; and things just went from there.”
Since that fateful day, Chris has won the World Sport Kite Championships three times, the UK National Championships more than 20 times, and has spent the last two years travelling the world as Cirque du Soleil’s kite expert-in-residence, performing across the globe in TORUK – The First Flight.
‘Le Petite Phenom’, as he was known on the circuit as a child, has come a long way.
“I feel so privileged – I can’t describe how lucky I feel,” says the 29 year old former Woolwich furniture designer of his latest adventure. “Although people normally think I’m making it up – it’s quite a thing to say you ran off and joined the circus.”
Inspired by James Cameron’s Avatar, TORUK is a spectacular live reimagining of the alien land of Pandora and it’s blue-hued Na’vi people. The theatrical odyssey is also the first show in the world to use kites as part of an indoor performance.
Chris’ transition from world champion to international stage star is a tale of how creativity, grit and persistence can pay off extraordinarily. Even if the audition process was a little unorthodox – “I had to send in videos of me running around my office, moving like a Na’vi,” he chuckles. “I’m not sure my colleagues really knew what to make of it!”
For despite his prodigal success – Chris won his first competition at just 10 years old – the humble Londoner never thought his “lifelong addiction” could become a full-time career.
“I didn’t realise you could do it every day,” he explains. “When I was approached by Cirque du Soleil, it was like: ‘Oh my god! – this is my dream job, and I didn’t even realise was an option!’
I was settled and comfortable at home, but I knew I had to do it. For the inner child in me – I couldn’t let him down.”
Chris left his job, packed up his flat and headed to Montreal for three weeks of intense training at Cirque du Soleil’s Canadian headquarters. Having never been onstage before in his life, he had to learn to act from scratch.
“I found it really nerve-wracking,” admits Chris. “But it’s a bit like kite-flying – it takes dedication. You have to keep pushing to get better. And as long as you’re enjoying it, you will; I’ve learnt that from the acrobats here at Cirque.”
Determination, coupled with his innate creativity – Chris studied at Central St. Martins and designs his own kite range – has built him a reputation as one of the most innovative and exciting flyers on the scene.
“We didn’t have YouTube back when I started out,” Chris recalls, “so I’d study what people were doing with their hands. I’d work out a new, continuous trick, then I’d learn it on both hands. I still do that now. I try and fly to current music instead of classical, too, so that people can dance around whilst I did my thing. I caused a bit of a stir once in France, though, when I realised – too late! – that a song I was using was full of swear words…”
Chris credits south London as a key inspiration for his unique creativity. In particular, New Cross Gate and Woolwich, both areas where he used to work. “When I first came to south London it was so inspiring, so diverse,” he says.
“It has completely influenced me in terms of being open to new things, because there’s always something going on in that part of the world.”
That connection adds an extra poignancy to TORUK’s London shows at the Greenwich O2. The run will be more than a homecoming for Chris – the performances are the last of the show itself, which will officially close after the final curtain falls.
“I can’t believe I get to close the show where I grew up,” says Chris. “It’s going to be a really emotional experience.”
Along with his friends and family, some of Chris’ lifelong kite-flying compadres will be in the audience, too. “We call them kite family,” he says. “I’m so proud to show them what I’ve been up to.”
It’s a global clan – in every country Chris has visited with the TORUK tour, there’s usually been a kite-flyer or three to catch up with.
“When we were in Shanghai, 40 kite flyers came to fly with me,” he says. “it was mind-blowing! Arriving in a field in the middle of nowhere, with a load of people who don’t speak the same language but are flying your kite… It’s something I’ll never forget.”
But for now, Chris is focused on his final home-turf performances and hopes TORUK will motivate a new wave of Londoners to try their hand at kiting.
“I wish that I could have seen something like this when I was younger,” he says. “I’m so proud to show people how far kites have come, and what’s possible if you love flying them.
There’s no greater feeling – kites are such a beautiful, natural thing. People walk around nowadays with their heads looking down at their phones; but with kites, you’re out in nature, looking up. How often do people do that today?
“If I can inspire someone else to give it a go, then I’ll be happy.”
TORUK – The First Flight plays at the Greenwich O2 from June 26th-29th.