Inside the Basket - Judith Nakamura, President, Balloon Fiesta Board of Directors
As a former chief justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court and longtime balloonist, Judith Nakamura, has a history with and strong commitment to New Mexico. In this month’s Inside the Basket, she shares more about her Balloon Fiesta story and plans as she takes on the role of president of the Balloon Fiesta Board of Directors
1. Give a brief overview of your Balloon Fiesta role and how you became involved with the organization.
I took my first flight during Balloon Fiesta in 2003 and was captivated from that moment! Soon after I obtained my hot air balloon pilot license and continue to fly today. I was asked to join the Board, ran and was elected in 2011. Prior to serving as President I served as Secretary and Vice-President.
2. After serving on the board for more than 10 years, what are you most proud of?
Having served on several committees, including Event Development, Navigators, Finance and Government Relations, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about the inner workings of our amazing event. It makes me so proud to have a role, working alongside my fellow Directors and our staff, in producing this spectacular event. Additionally, I’ve had the honor of flying as a pilot for 15 Balloon Fiestas.
3. What are you most looking forward to, serving as the Balloon Fiesta Board of Directors president?
Now that our milestone 50th event has just concluded it is time to take a step back and ensure we are doing all we can to maintain Balloon Fiesta as the premier ballooning event in the world. This includes ascertaining what more can be done for our visitors to improve their enjoyment of the event. While the balloons are the main event, Balloon Fiesta’s Board of Directors and staff must continue to work diligently to provide other top line entertainment as evidenced by the spectacular drone show that debuted during the 2022 event and the always popular skydiving entertainment team. Of course, Balloon Fiesta’s success depends on our dedicated pilots from all over the world and it is equally important to ensure we are taking good care of them as well! I very much look forward to working both with the Board and Staff to evaluate what we can do to ensure the longevity of this event that is so important to New Mexico’s culture and economy and the sport of Ballooning!
4. What is your favorite Balloon Fiesta memory?
While I have many, an experience that really stands out for me is when I have had the honor of piloting either the Spirit of Fiesta II balloon or the Fiesta Gold balloon during the open ceremony while carrying either the American or New Mexico flag below the gondola. The balloon lifts off with the first note of the Star-Spangled Banner. It is simply an extraordinary experience listening to the national anthem, watching the crowd focusing on the flag while singing, seeing multiple airplanes flying over the balloon and watching hundreds of balloons light their burners when the last note of the anthem is played. I have to remind myself to remain focused on flying the balloon during this simply captivating event!
5. What tips do you have for first-time Balloon Fiesta guests?
The launch field is comparable to the size of 54 football fields. Use that space to your advantage! I highly encourage guests to walk away from the crowds towards the west side of the Balloon Fiesta Park where you can get much closer to the balloons. You will get a better view of what is occurring and have the opportunity to interact with pilots and crew!
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