“I don’t like to fly on windy days like today. It’s not good. I’m not going to come out to the beach anymore, this is not good to fly in. Too strong. Wind is too strong...look at my owls. They flying everywhere...too much wind.”
That was my introduction to a legend in life, Tyrus Wong. Many of you may never heard of him, but for the few of us that are members of the “mature” kite club, Tyrus Wong is an icon of the skies.
A child who immigrated from China with his parents, landing in California and learning to accept the new life under the California sun, he was introduced to kiting as part of his own culture from China. At the time, it was nothing more than a past time, much like any of us had done as children, a way to entertain ourselves on a windy day. Tyrus’ fascination was more than just that passing day in the sun, it has been a lifetime of building kites for flying in the Los Angeles area.
At his surprising alert age of 101.5, he still walks by himself from the parking lot to the beach to fly. His support is his family, generations of Chinese daughters, granddaughters and great grandchildren, all who come by whenever he is out on Santa Monica beach flying one of his own creations. He imparts his own information, conversing freely with anyone who will strike up a conversation, “I don’t make new kites, I only work on the old ones.” A cluster of bowed sleeve owls of paper and bamboo flies off of one line, erratic in flight due to the strong winds. For most small paper kites, this wind would have been devastating, but for Tyrus’ production, they are flying without problem.
Tyrus is here this weekend to support his friend, Tom van Sant. Tom, a kite flier from 35 years ago, decided to start the first Santa Monica Kite Festival with the Otis College of Art and Design. The art school decided to use kites as a part of one of their design classes, and they remembered an alumni built extraordinary kites 35 years ago. Enlisting him to help teach the class, he could not help but indulge himself by bringing out some old kite friends and starting and staging a world class kite festival on literally no budget but overwhelming "good spirits."
And never one to be left out, Tyrus Wong came to fly.