Issue 42: ProFile with Ron & Sandy Gibian

If we’re very lucky, at least once in our lifetime we’ll meet someone we just click with. Someone who inspires us, who challenges us, who brings to the table a sense of themselves and the world around them that we can truly relate to. They’ll have a passion for life that we can only wonder at, and when we’re with them the world just seems a better place to be. Such is my friendship with Ron and Sandy Gibian, a couple I’ve known for only five or six years but feel like I’ve known my entire life.

People, especially Ron and Sandy, are not JUST about kites or any one thing in particular. I didn’t want this to be just another article about kites or someone who makes kites, for people to put a label on it or think of it as something ordinary. Why? Because Ron and Sandy are FAR from ordinary people.

What I wanted this to be is a story; a story about two people I am very close to who just happen to be involved in kiting. There is a great deal more to this story than just kites, and my hope is that when you finish reading it, you’ll know enough about the Gibians to understand that we are ALL just part of the same puzzle. And that puzzle is LIFE.

A Fireside Chat with Ron & Sandy Gibian… Born and raised in Santiago, Chile, a country similar in topography and geography to California, Ron left South America when he was 14 years old. His mother moved him, lock, stock and barrel to the United States to attend school, and they stayed. Sandy was born in Buffalo, New York, moved to California when she was seven years old and has lived here ever since. The Gibians currently reside in Visalia, California, a small town known for its resident artists and a quality of life that outsiders are often envious of.

Ron’s father was a well known commercial artist in Chile; Max Factor being a very big client of his. Trained in Vienna, Austria, he was a photographer, an artist (a painter) and had a huge impact on Ron from an artistic standpoint. Ron’s mother owned and operated a Couture in the fashion district of Santiago where she made her living as a fashion designer.
Ron was surrounded by contemporary art from the period and his appreciation for art in general developed at an early age. As a highly successful commercial artist, Ron’s father is featured in art text books and his techniques are taught in art schools to this day. After leaving Chile at the age of 14, it was 30 years before Ron returned to that country, his father, Gerardo, having moved to Spain.

Sandy’s father owned and operated a sewing machine repair shop and she developed an interest in tinkering with mechanical things at an early age. Learning to sew came later in school, along with a keen interest in a variety of other disciplines (computers, mechanical things in general and tinkering around the house).

Learning by doing (by example) was a big part of her upbringing and she worked in her father’s shop and learned a great deal about sewing machines. Her mother worked in the aerospace industry and taught Sandy, among other things, to use a soldering iron. That hands-on approach to knowledge building and learning new skills stuck with Sandy and her own approach to many things reflects that philosophy. Among her many other accomplishments, she is now a successful real-estate agent.

When asked about his childhood, Ron recalls a feeling of stability and safety. Art, music, acting, and fishing were some of his earliest pastimes and influences and during his summers in Chile, Ron’s parents would take a summer house on the coast. He remembers those times fondly and with great clarity, and he also remembers many vacations touring the continent on extended trips to other countries in South America and a relaxed yet busy existence.

Sandy remembers the open market atmosphere where she grew up, shopping in small, local stores, running errands for her parents and having a personal affinity to the local merchants. She remembers the little ice cream wagons that toured her neighborhood and the “Italian Ices”, a smoother more “slirpy” version of a snow cone. She grew up in a large, Italian family with 2 sisters, numerous cousins, aunts and uncles and learned that the word “family” means everything. To see her face light up when she talks about the old days and of her family is truly a sight to behold.
Ron recalls also that his dad loved classical music and played it constantly in his studio. In school, Ron used to play virtual drums with pencils on his desk during tests and would frequently get into trouble with his teachers. His musical ability, though, is completely self-taught. He has always been fascinated with drums and other percussion instruments, even from the early age of seven. Ron’s dad wanted him to be a violinist but Ron had ideas of his own.

During his younger days, Ron was also a stunt man. While finishing his last year of high school and through his first year of college, before the Manson family moved in, the Spawn ranch was a riding stable and western town front where Ron and others performed. He met and became friends with the foreman of the ranch, who was also Richard Boone’s double in the TV series Paladin. Before he knew it, Ron was spending his weekends at the ranch, performing in six gun shootouts, riding horses, performing a variety of stunts, and putting on western-style shows for the people who were guests at the ranch.

Ron has a formal art education and from 1979 to 1982, he owned and operated “Reflections Custom Design” here in San Diego, specializing in wall decor. During that time, he moved the manufacturing plant to Mexico, and before taking clients across the border for private showings, would wine and dine them in Seaport Village (a downtown water-front area) where multi-line kiting was really taking off.

Ron and Sandy met in 1982 and together, they moved to Visalia. On a weekend trip to the coast, they walked into a kite shop in Moro Bay, bought a kite and the rest is history. In the small coastal town of Monterey, they met Corey Jensen of Windborne Kites, who introduced them to the “Hair of the Dog Fly” where single and two-line kites were featured. Skynosaurs were the inspiration for Ron’s first stack, a highly successful design at the time. He and Sandy attended many workshops and kite festivals in Santa Barbara and the surrounding areas, both of them getting involved in (and hooked on) kiting at the same time. Corey Jensen was the biggest influence on them during those early days and is the person responsible for convincing them to build kites.

Ron’s earliest kiting influences include Stan Swanson, Scott Skinner, Joel Shultz, Bobby Stanfield, Lee Toy and Kathy Goodwind. As Ron’s art and kite building skills progressed, people kept asking more and more for custom kites and the next thing he and Sandy knew, they were building kites for a living. It took them 3 to 4 years to develop the “Gibian style” of kites. The Gibian style actually sprang from the Charlie Chaplin kite and was the beginning of a truly recognizable signature in kiting. By 1994, the Gibian style was in full bloom.

Characterizing the Gibian thumbprint is not as simple as it may seem. There was a period of time when Ron would make everything — every style of kite known to man. As the years progressed though, the Gibian style encompassed a more recognizable form of kite. The “noodle”, a rectangular-shaped kite with one and sometimes two spine rods supporting symmetrically stacked panels, became one of the formats for his art that provided a fairly large canvas.

The Gibian “signature,” as Ron himself describes it, could be defined as “simple color patterns, shapes, random combinations (seemingly) that when combined create a form and function that is distinctly Gibian. Modernistic, abstract patterns, unusual shapes, sometimes inspired by surprising objects (a neck tie, for example, that the bass player on the Diana Krall Live in Paris DVD wore), an insect or a plant (the Venus Flytrap, for instance).” Where art meets technology, the Gibian style became an artistic journey and story that is conveyed from one kite to the next.

Ron has run the entire gamut of kite designs, from the obscure to the highly refined. As materials progressed, his designs progressed and the relationships between one collection of kites and another began to meld… sometimes randomly, sometimes in totally unrelated and obscure ways, but always as part of the journey… the story.

Owning no fewer than four of them myself, when asked about what many people consider to be his most successful design (the Astral Glide), Ron stated —

In terms of reliability and function, it works. As an all-around, high performance kite, it is highly successful. It’s a very forgiving design and everyone from the novice to the expert will have fun with the kite. Its wind range is near zero to over 30 MPH. Tie it down and walk away, fly it indoors or use it to lift cameras. It’s an all-around kite.

When asked about any failures he may have had, Ron says —

A failure is just a short-coming in the process. I don’t get upset about it. I have a kite at the moment that although it is not a failure, it is a problem kite (a challenge). If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, I’ll turn it into an artistic statement.

Making an artistic statement is Ron’s primary focus in his art. Whether by shape, by oddity or just making a bold statement, his ideas and themes are derived from… who-knows-where (Planet Ron)?

When asked what he sees his art evolving into, Ron states —

More of it! Just when I think I’ve run out of new ideas, boom! It happens again and I’m inspired to do something new. It’s endless. You have to reinvent yourself every chance you get and when it hits (the ideas), you have to take it and run with it immediately.

Most people know Ron and Sandy only for his contributions to kiting but happily, it doesn’t end there. Ron is a member of “ZZah,” an up and coming of age fusion jazz band that is currently in the studio recording a new CD. This will be the 5th CD the band has produced, by the way, and Ron plays percussion in the band. Ron played with the band for about two and half years in the late 80’s and has been back with them now for the past two years.

Ron has also recorded in Nashville and been on tour with a number of bands during the 70s and 80s. He’s played in Las Vegas pit orchestras, played in a couple of shows with Charo and toured with Linda Rondstadt as her drummer. He’s done commercials, TV soundtracks, has had a role in a locally produced movie, has been on the same bill with the James Gang, Willie Nelson, Doug Kershaw and Charlie Daniels, to name but a few.

The music scene has been a huge part of Ron’s life. He’s also done a great deal of studio work (day jobs) and at one point, it became WORK! Touring with a band, you do one show at 9:00 PM, another at 11:00 PM, another show at 1:00 AM and eventually it becomes too much like a regular job. Performing the same songs, night after night, takes all the fun out of being a musician.

Ron is now 53 years old and when asked what he thinks might happen if ZZah’s new CD takes off, he responds —

Go with the flow and try not to envision too much.

When I asked Sandy the same question, and about the possibility of Ron touring again, she responded —

I have mixed emotions. The music is great, very heart-felt, and if the new CD is a success, I think it would be great. I know that music is a big part of Ronny, part of his soul. He was born with it and it will always be a part of him and I love it.

She went on to elaborate —

Ron was playing rock and country western music at the time we met and because of the nature of the business, one night you’re playing in a nice club and the next night you’re playing in a toilet (almost literally). The only life I’d known up to that point was NOTHING like the life I came to know as the roadie of a drummer. I learned to set up his drums, pack them up and put them into the truck and I was exposed to a whole new world and way of life.

Common threads – tragedy (and perhaps fate) brings two people together.

Ron and Sandy actually met in a gym at a boxing school in Canoga Park, California. They both lived in Simi Valley at the time and they both had just gone through divorces. They were introduced by a common friend, Ray Notaro — the man who trained Sylvester Stallone to box for the Rocky movies. And the world, as we know it, keeps getting smaller.

Fly Fishing — more common threads (with me). I asked Ron how he got involved in fly fishing and he responded –

I fished as a kid with a coffee can with line wrapped around it (in Chile) near a fishing village. Camping on a beach with a group of people, living off of whatever they could pull out of the ocean. Fishing wasn’t an art form back then but I remember seeing someone fly fishing on a virgin river in Chile. It was beautiful to watch.

He went on —

In Visalia, I started out fishing the ponds with regular rods and reels and then decided to try fly fishing. I met a few people at the local fly shop in Visalia and got hooked on fly fishing. Buzz’s Fly Shop was the big hang-out and I joined the Kaweah Fly Fishers, a Kaweah River group of fishermen, and learned fly tying and rod building.

Being a fly fisherman myself since the age of about eight or nine, I asked Ron how he feels about fly fishing now that kiting and music is such a big part of his and Sandy’s life, and he stated —

Kiting took me away from fly fishing to a large extent. I learned how to read water and a man by the name of Pat Elam taught me how to fish. Pat is a guide and local fly tier in the Visalia area. I miss fly fishing, but I’m so busy with everything else we’re involved in that I don’t really have a lot of time to dwell on it.

ZEN and the art of music, kites and fly fishing —
Ron, Sandy and I then talked about the Zen-like qualities associated with activities like kite flying, kite building, fly fishing, fly tying, rod building and music and Ron responded with —

I feel like I become someone else; whether it’s up on stage, designing a new kite or fly fishing. That zone or state of mind is unique and filled with endless possibilities.

For myself, it is exactly those Zen-like qualities that keeps me coming back for more. I won’t elaborate on any more of what we talked about because frankly, it was pretty far out there (as conversations about Planet Ron tend to get). I’ll end this with the usual and hope that you enjoyed the story.

We tend to look at kites as “things” we can control, to one degree or another and depending on whether we’re discussing single-line or multi-line kites. In the case of a Gibian kite, it is a work of art and to imply that anything in art is controlled is contradictory. The creation of art and the act of creating something unique is a letting go — of emotions, of any normal thought process that keeps us rooted in this world and is a reaching out to that other world that lives within us.

Whether we’re sewing seams in sail cloth, making that perfect roll cast with a graphite or bamboo fly rod that we built, or strumming a chord on a guitar that resonates to the rhythms of our soul, it is all a form of artistic expression. What makes it unique is our ability to comprehend its meaning and find a connection to that art that makes us feel, somehow, part of a different plane of existence or a greater form of consciousness.

It may or may not be real or anything more than our active imaginations. What it is though is a way for us to feel free — to find within ourselves an escape from the mundane and the ordinary lives we normally find ourselves living in from day to day. And THAT is what makes it special.

This is what kite flying, flying fishing and music have always been for me and beyond a shadow of a doubt, I know that it is exactly the same for Ron Gibian. My brother from another mother.

Cheers, buddy.

Al Stroh