It may not be as big as the PGI convention in the United States, but for pyrotechnic aficionados and fireworks fans throughout the BENELUX (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) and Germany, The ZENA Trophy is as close as it gets. If there was one thing that the 2014 edition of the ZENA Trophy fireworks festival proved conclusively this year, was that the event itself has definitely grown. Maybe grown isn’t the best word to use here for its rapid transformation—matured might be more apropos.

Zena Trophy 2015

Reasons for its growth

The ZENA Trophy event was created back in 2006 at one of the ZENA stores located in Baarle Hertog (Baarle Hertog is a very small part of Belgium within Dutch borders). Actually, it was a combination of things that brought about the event. First, there was the ZENA crew’s sincere love of pyrotechnics. And second, there were a host of close relationships they had formed with many of their firework fanatic customers. Put these two together—a great company and great people—and you have the fertile ground necessary to grow a meaningful fireworks festival. And that is just how it all began.

As it evolved, the ZENA Trophy took on an additional role as well: it became a demonstrable way to celebrate the true artistic value of fireworks and the amazingly creative people who use them. This is especially important in the Netherlands today. You see, the current climate in the Netherlands is very anti-firework, and instead of improving, that attitude is actually solidifying and anti-firework sentiment is worsening. Unfortunately, this issue is continually exacerbated because of certain individuals who basically abuse rather than use fireworks. The media, too, provides a continuous flow of negative fireworks propaganda to the public. It seems that any story that underscores the danger of fireworks, or exposes accidents gets the most coverage. Of course, much of this is misinformation—often poorly researched, emotionally laden dribble that rarely speaks to common sense issues. Regardless, the media worries the public, and that in turn influences political debate. Proposals determined to severely restrict Dutch consumers–making it essentially impossible to purchase fireworks in the Netherlands–was now openly discussed. Fortunately, the rules didn’t change–yet. But regulatory restrictions are certainly on the horizon.

Contrary to what the media might have the public believe, the founders of the ZENA Trophy are exceptionally responsible people with an eye towards safety and a healthy respect and passion for pyrotechnics. It is really quite simple: The amateurs and professionals involved in putting on the ZENA Trophy Fireworks Festival want to show everyone–even skeptics–that fireworks can be safe, fun and something everyone can enjoy together. In other words, it is not the fireworks themselves that create the problems with regard to fireworks, but individuals misusing them that create the problems.

History

During its inception, in 2006, there was just the ZENA Trophy itself and a big “ZENA-style” finale at its conclusion. At the time, that was more than most Dutch pyro-fanatics had ever hoped for. Outside of New Year’s Eve celebrations and a smattering of small shows around the county, there was nothing else to see. With the huge success of the first ZENA Trophy production, it was inevitable that a sequel would follow.

At the 2nd ZENA Trophy event in Baarle-Hertog in 2008, ZENA realized that their location (held then at the DOSKO soccer club) could no longer handle the rapid growth of the festival. Similar to ZENA’s own motto of “Harder, Better, Faster!” it was obviously time to change the location of the event. In 2013, they located an almost perfect solution: the terrain around the amateur flyers club (Aero- und Modellclub Feuervogel Büllingen, Belgien), close to the Belgian-Luxembourg border. This wide-open location created a multitude of new possibilities, and as a result the very first “Mascleta” on Belgian soil was orchestrated there (by Tony Gemmink, the owner of freakpyromaniacs.com and co-founder of Pyrotechnic Magazine). In addition, due to the appurtenance of space, the finale was entrusted to Big Smile Fireworks. They created a truly amazing display last year (one of the biggest shows ever held in BENELUX!), but after a dazzling start, due to an unfortunate technical failure, the music died at the moment supreme. Although they still put on an amazing show (fireworks at a level most spectators had never seen before), the lack of music certainly belied its perfection.

Organizing the 2014 Trophy

After another huge success in 2013 (how could they ever top it?), planning and organizing the 2014 ZENA event was given to LVC, a fireworks club known predominantly for its fireworks fanaticism. That is not really a fair description, however. It is much more appropriate to view them as extremely enthusiastic fireworks aficionados. Note: LVC is fully supported and sponsored by ZENA Fireworks, and Joyce and Glenn van der Auwera played a key role organizing the 2014 Trophy.

What does it take, to create an event like the 2014 ZENA Trophy?

Briefly, it took four people, four months of fulltime work to create the 2014 ZENA Trophy Fireworks Festival. As soon as we had the “green light” to use the new location, the four-man team eagerly began planning the event. Of course, getting the proper permits and making arrangements with the local fire and police departments was essential. And there were literally a million loose ends! The logistics alone were incredible! You need plates for paving the grass, crush barriers, big tents, catering, sanitary facilities (including enough toilet paper for several thousand people!), not to mention containers of fireworks and enough volunteers to safely support all aspects of the event for the setup and festival. Overall, it took more than 200 people to make the ZENA Trophy a success.

As good as the location had been on the Belgian-Luxembourg border in 2013, that didn’t stop LVC from actively searching for an even bigger and better location to use for 2014. After a great deal of effort, LVC did manage to find an even better location in Bree, near the Belgian-Dutch border. This offered the ZENA Trophy even greater possibilities! In addition to the mascleta, the Trophy contest, ZENA demo and the Finale display, LVC now (because of the additional space) added an extra daylight show to the program.

In addition to all of that and the amazing fireworks, ZENA also created a “Fun and Kids Corner” and an “Extreme Corner” this year that included awesome activities for the younger crowd. Some activities focused on safety demonstrations showing kids the proper way to handle fireworks, but there was also a free fall, a bungee jump and even a mechanic bull to ride!

Zena Trophy 2015

The ZENA Trophy contest

To reiterate what I mentioned earlier in this article, The ZENA Trophy event has grown dramatically every year since the beginning. The main event, though—The ZENA Trophy itself—hasn’t really changed very much at all. So what’s the big deal? Why do so many people covet this trophy? It is quite simple, really–prestige. The competition itself is very simple, too: The competing teams need to design, set-up and shoot an entire fireworks show using only the products sold in the ZENA firework stores. Since each team is classified as “amateur,” each is supervised by professional pyrotechnicians during their set-up and electronic shooting. This year a jury of firework-enthusiasts, fireworks shop-owners and a representative from the city Bree got to decide which team won.

2014 rules:
– A budget of 750€,
– The show must be within 4-6 minutes long,
– No modifications allowed,
– A jury decides which team wins!

 

2014 TEAMS– Team Vuurwerkbelgië
– Team Freakpyromaniacs
– Team Vuurwerkcrew
– Team Vuurwerkmuseum
– Team Oostenrijk
– Team ‘Panorama’ Babes

 

An audience experience

For me, after being a Trophy contestant last year, this year was more about the “audience experience”. We arrived at about 5:30 PM, and that gave us enough time to take a little tour across the festival terrain before the first show–the mascleta–would begin. At first glance, you could already see several major differences comparing the site to previous years. In essence, everything looked much more professional and festive. There was a large party tent (complete with a DJ), several food and drink stands, ZENA merchandise stands, and even a stand ready to take orders for fireworks for next New Year’s Eve! The new “kids corner” and “extreme corner” were already a popular hit. In

fact, with bungee jumpers and free fallers (falling more than 33 feet onto big pillows) it always seemed like people were just falling out of the sky. Also popular, was the fireworks-throwing championship. This amazing event was very popular last year as well. The object was to see the distance a dummy rocket could fly without lighting it.

By 6:00 PM it was finally time for the fireworks kick-off–the mascleta–to begin. Once again this marvelous event was orchestrated by “Pirotecnia Tony”. What a blast! (Literally, what a blast!). Looking back, I think it would have probably made more sense to switch the mascleta with the daylight show at 7:00 PM. Although the daylight show also was a total eardrum fiesta, it never managed to equal the intensity of the mascleta. The free earplugs provided for both shows, however, were certainly a welcome gift!

Zena Trophy 2015

After the daylight show was finished, the Trophy competition began its elaborate preparation. Since we had roughly an hour to wait before it started, we made ourselves comfortable by moving our camping chairs to a near-perfect spot situated at the crush barriers to watch. Being a contestant last year, I was eager to see how well this year’s teams would perform. Wow! It was certainly worth the wait! Personally, I believe the overall quality of each display this year was very high. In my opinion, I thought Team Oostenrijk (Austria) and Team Freakpyromaniacs set off the best quality displays. I must also give an honorable mention to team Panorama. Even though they had the least pyro-experience, I felt they did one hell of a job.

By the end of this year’s competition there appeared to be some brief confusion circulating throughout the audience about how the Trophy competition would be judged. Previously, winners won as measured subjectively by the loudness of the response given by excited spectators. This year’s displays were not being judged that way, they were being judged using an actual jury. Eventually everything was explained to everyone’s satisfaction and the results were announced. It was Team Vuurwerkmuseum (Fireworks Museum) who took home the 2014 ZENA Trophy! Although some contestants may not agree with me, in my opinion, the ZENA Trophy is more about sharing the passion of fireworks, rather than winning or losing.

To endure the long wait for the big finale, ZENA had scheduled a fireworks demonstration showing off some of its most interesting new products. Everything ZENA-style, of course. For the finale itself, “Big Smile Fireworks” truly outdid previous shows and retuned to demonstrate their pyrotechnic prowess with a vengeance! No pyromusical this time, just an amazing spectacle using imported fireworks from a myriad of countries. I loved it when Big Smile boldly proclaimed this year’s finale to be the “biggest fireworks show in Northern Europe!” Although I was slightly skeptical before they began, I have to admit, I was more than happy to believe them by the end. Challenged by the lack of wind (creating somewhat smoky circumstances to deal with), at certain times the smoke and translucent fog even gave an extra glow to the fireworks I found very appealing. Expectations were very high, but they completely fulfilled each and every expectation. Judging from the “oohs” and “ahs” expressed by the crowd, everyone seemed to share the same opinion. Finally, when the last fireworks exploded, there was one final explosion to come: the thunderous cheers and applause from the appreciative crowd!

With the conclusion of this year’s 2014 Trophy event, ZENA and LVC successfully concluded a wonderful festival that was enjoyable for both families as fireworks enthusiasts alike. Of course, there are always things to criticize when any large event is held like this. I’m confident ZENA and LVC

will take the criticism constructively and challenge their festival to improve. As Glenn and Joyce said at the conclusion of this year’s festival: “From now on, we’ll try our best to make this a yearly event.” That’s the spirit!

On behalf of all fireworks-loving “Dutchies” (and “neighbors”): a BIG THANKS to ZENA and LVC, for making this event possible!

The Zena Trophy 2015 edition is already announced!