Tom Van Sant
and his famous Centipede kite
On May 18, 1996 we gathered a group of dedicated kite fliers from all over California to share the magic of Tom Van Sant, one of the fathers of modern kite making-Tom was the first to use fiberglass and ripstop for kitemaking in 1974. (See his Geosphere Project Email: email@example.com ) Tom had not flown his famous centipede kites in many years (since the 1970's!). The winds were gentle, the skies a bit overcast, the beach warm, as Tom worked in his usual very organized fashion to assemble the Centipde, as he talked to event co-coordinator Jennifer Snyder:
And then the winds came up and away it went! 110 Feet of Centipede Power!
And if that weren't enough we were able to entice his old teacher Tyrus Wong and his and our friend Tom Joe to attend as well:
Later that nite after watching the crescent moon rise over Santa Monica, we went to Taka Sushi with his old friend Oscar Janiger. Over sake we managed to get the story out of Tom about his early interest in kiting. Seems he was a Marine in the early 50's in Japan and made some connections into the Pacific Rim. As he began his sculpting career, he got a job doing an installation at the newly built Taipei airport in Taiwan. While he was finishing work he became interested in local kite makers from China. On his return he dated a woman who was related to the Browning weapons family. It seems that the Browning company decided to get into the fishing rod and arrow business. The business was not successful and so decided to discontinue their operations. They had an inventory of some $80,000 in fiberglass rods and parts which they offered Tom for the sum of $5,000. He immediately thought of kites. For the next three years he made several centipede kites from fiberglass and ripstop nylon (and others including his bird kites seen on the Flight Forms video he made). One centipede kite was made in sections that could be attached while the kite flew so the total length was over 1/4 mile!! And thus the modern ripstop/fiberglass rod kites were born!