By David King
Visit the park at Martinez Marina and you may be fortunate to see some of the world’s most amazing kites. Some are huuuge! And that’s not Trump hyperbole. Tony Jetland, 55, is the Kiteman of Martinez and a world class kite flier. He owns over 300 kites, some which are custom made from master kite makers from around the world.
Jetland is a general contractor in Martinez. That’s his real job, but as for kites, “This is an obsession, a passion for me,” he states.
He has flown kites all his life. He moved to California about 18 years ago from Minnesota. Once his kids had grown and moved out on their own, his kite flying enthusiasm elevated to the next level, dual line kites from Prism Kite Technology. These stunt and sport kites had revolutionized kite flying.
He is registered with the America Kitefliers Association, whose members are deemed pilots. According to them, they are some of the nicest people you could meet. This group of like-minded people share the joys of kiting and look forward to meeting up to as many festivals their schedule permits. “I met amazing people from all over the world that became some of my closest friends,” Jetland says.
About 15 years ago, he began attending the Berkeley Kite Festival as a representative of Prism and would teach people how to fly the dual-line kites. “People have to be taught how to fly dual-line, or they will get frustrated and give up,” he says. He’s been going every year since. This is a large event with 35,000 plus in attendance at Caesar Chavez Park by the Berkeley Marina. “It is an amazing family event.”
Five years ago, Prism started sending him to Treasure Island Kite Festival and Sport Kite Competition in Florida, and to Wildwoods International Kite Festival in New Jersey. Soon, other organizers and producers of festival and events started to pay his traveling costs to fly his kites at their event. Two years ago, I decided I wanted to get into the big show kites. The dragon, trilobites, pterodactyls, pigs, elephants, 30-foot penguin.
His kites are a major attraction for these events. Where other marketing efforts fail to draw, his spectacular kites can be seen from almost a ½ mile away, attracting the curious to see what’s going on. For example, “When I fly at the Martinez Marina, they can be seen as far away as the Amtrak station,” he says.
How big are they? The trilobite is 1168 square feet of kite. “I have a bathroom and closet smaller than that in my house,” he quips. Dory is 33 feet long, custom made and is the only one in the world.
“I buy a lot of kites directly from a company in China, and they are paying for me to go there to fly kites in their festivals. When I return the following week, I go to St. Louis and then on to Ocean Shores Washington.”
But the one he’s looking forward to the most is in mid-July. “I will be going to Kitty Hawk North Carolina for the 39th Annual Wright Kite Festival. I’m flying the dragon on the same ground and over the same markers as Orville and Wilbur Wright’s 1903 first flight…and I can’t wait,” he says.
When is the best time to fly your kite? “It depends on the rains, but the best winds are spring and summer. Winds are consistent from April to about September. April is when most of the Festivals start kicking in,” he says.
As for the Diablo area, the Berkeley Kite festival is at the end of July and the San Ramon Wind and Wine Festival is on Memorial Day weekend. Enjoy the photos, but better yet, make plans to attend one of these spectacular local events and meet the “Kiteman from Martinez.”