A Florida kite shop owner will be remembered at Ponte Vedra Beach with the first annual Rick O'Shea Kite Festival.
Rick O’Shea once said flying kites is a way to reach for the heavens.
Saturday afternoon will mark the first annual Rick O’Shea Kite Festival at Ponte Vedra Beach.
About 75 to 100 friends of O’Shea’s will meet at 2 p.m. at the South Ponte Vedra Recreation Area to fly kites in memory of the kite enthusiast, who died in 2008.
The idea came from longtime friend and former business partner Patrick O’Rourke. Though O’Shea spent three decades of his life confined to a wheelchair, O’Rourke said it never slowed him down.
A car crash in 1975 left O’Shea a partial quadriplegic at 18. Kites were a passion of his early on, long before they became a symbol of O’Shea’s life to those who knew him.
O’Shea’s friendly, easygoing philosophy on life resonated with the people who met him.
His personality was so infectious that O’Rourke organized a memorial party for O’Shea at his home for the last 10 years in August around his birthday.
O’Rourke put the party on hold this year to create a festival to honor the friend who he called jokingly a “therapist in a wheelchair.”
Jacksonville reminds O’Rourke of his memories with O’Shea.
The two became fast friends in middle school at Assumption Catholic School, opened a kite shop together called Kite Riggers on Spring Park Road and decorated The Jacksonville Landing’s ceiling with kites for its grand opening in 1987.
O’Rourke remembered the day an idea to open a kite shop was born. The trip to Key West was one of O’Shea’s first trips in a wheelchair and one of many trips for O’Rourke, who frequently traveled from coast to coast.
They came across a kite shop. While standing outside, O’Shea said that’s what they should do.
O’Rourke went back to California after the trip while his friend got to work on opening their kite shop.
“I ended up coming back to Jacksonville ... I bought into the kite shop with Rick and we got started,” he said.
Every Thursday O’Shea’s Riverwalk shop hosted the Vaudeville Night Program where fire-eating, juggling and traveling-performer friends of his would perform.
O’Shea was soon quickly recognized at the shop and out in the community. People waited in line to talk to him, O’Rourke said.
Vincent Balanky, a longtime friend who plans to attend Saturday’s festival, reflected on the unique kites O’Shea used to make.
Tie-dyed patterns, Egyptian cotton, hemp twine.
O’Shea called them “eye soars.”
O’Rourke decided to put the old, distressed kites that accumulated over the years at O’Shea’s house to use.
“The kites are spectacular, unbelievably beautiful,” Balanky said. “We talk about Rick all the time. He’s with us all the time.
“He has an influence in the world long past him being here. May we have that influence after we’re gone.”
Balanky said he has an old poster of former Allman Brothers Band guitarist Derek Trucks, who was then 15, at a fundraising event for O’Shea to buy a van that would fit all of his kites.
Balanky said Trucks agreed to play because of the kites. His friend had that kind of influence.
“When [Trucks] was a little boy on the Riverwalk, Rick taught him and would sit out with him and show him how to do the kites and show him how to fly them,” Balanky said. “Rick could fly them really well.”
Inspired by the festival, O’Rourke excavated a few dozen of the kites and plans to bring them to the festival Saturday as well as large windsock and spinsock kites they used to take to shows.
“He just had a way of knowing what made you tick,” O’Shea said. “And he just had a compassion about him. It didn’t matter who you were. He just had a way of getting to know you and making you feel good about yourself.”
“Rick was in a wheelchair, which is really, really tough,” he said. “I know from being with him so much. So, when I see the kites flying it’s like ...” He took a breath before he could continue. “It’s like he’s free, it’s like his spirit up there.”
The South Ponte Vedra Recreation Area is at 2993 S. Ponte Vedra Blvd. O’Rourke hopes to move the festival to the Bicentennial Flag Pavilion at Jacksonville Beach in the future.
This story originally published to jacksonville.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.