Saturday’s Kite Festival to Honor Billy Taylor

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“Let’s go fly a kite, up to the highest height…” Kites galore will take to the skies above Beach 84th Street on Saturday, July 20 as part of the Rockaway Kite Festival. As the kites fill the sky with color, many will be reminded of the colorful personality of the man who started it all—the late Billy Taylor.

Taylor was a man of many trades and talents, and one of them was purely unique—kites. In 2015, Taylor spearheaded the Rockaway Kite Festival, an event that many hadn’t seen the likes of since the late 2000s when the last kites flew above Riis Park as part of the New York Kite Festival. With his own interest in kites, Taylor started his own festival in Rockaway Beach to not only share his love of kites, but to help bring back something else that was missing from the community—Whalemina. The beloved whale statue returned to the sea during Hurricane Sandy and at the urging of the community, the artist who painted her, Geoff Rawling, was determined to bring her back in some form. Rawling now credits Taylor with helping make that dream come true.

“Billy Taylor is a longtime friend of mine and a big supporter of Whalemina. He started the kite festival in 2015 and helped give a majority of the money to rebuild her,” Rawling said.

At the Kite Festival in 2015, Taylor flew unique kites above the beach, and sold kites through his company, Boardwalk Kites, while a beautifully painted inflatable version of Whalemina bounced around the beach to renew interest in the whale and to help raise money for her rebuild. The event was a success and according to Rawling, Taylor contributed about 90% of the funding to rebuild a new Whalemina. While the Parks Department wouldn’t allow for a new statue, according to Rawling, the artist found another way to bring her back—by making her mobile. The Whalemina float made her debut at the Coney Island Mermaid Parade in 2018. “We have the whale now, which Billy was largely responsible for,” Rawling said.

Taylor never got to see it. In January 2016, he died after a battle with cancer. But his spirit lives on through Whalemina and will continue to live on through the kite festival. Saturday’s event will serve as a celebration of Taylor’s life and all that he loved. In addition to Rawling, helping with the effort is Taylor’s son, Matthew, who will continue the legacy of his father. “Matthew took over the responsibility of the kites, so we decided early this year to do another kite festival. We’re going to bring out the whale and celebrate Billy and keep the spirit alive,” Rawling said.

At the event, which will run all day from 10 a.m. ‘til 9 p.m., there will be unique kites to see, a variety of kites to buy at all price points, kite giveaways, and of course, opportunities to take pictures with Whalemina 2.0. So during this beautiful beach day, head to Beach 84th to celebrate the spirit of Billy Taylor, the rebirth of Whalemina, and maybe even fly a kite.

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