Drifting along slowly and lazily without a care in the world, it was only a matter of time before someone thought the sloth would make the perfect animal for the design of a hot air balloon. And they just have.
‘Tico the Sloth’ will be headlining the return of the Canberra Balloon Spectacular next weekend, when the 33.5-metre-high orange mammal-inspired balloon lifts off from the shores of Lake Burley Griffin alongside 25 other hot air balloons from around Australia and the world.
The annual balloon festival forms part of the Enlighten Festival, combining with the on-ground light displays to fill the skies with colour, sound and movement.
Tico’s makers, Scott and Todd Monahan from Monahan Airways in the US, first came to Canberra about 10 years ago with a clown-inspired balloon, followed by a firefighter, unicorn and frog over the years. Scott describes it as a “beautiful place to fly”.
“We love it. It’s the enjoyment of seeing the kids and how happy they are going to these festivals. It’s really a joy to us to have everyone really enjoy these shapes as well,” he says.
Scott and his brother are twins based in New York and joint owners of Monahan Airways.
“He’s a pilot and I’m a businessman,” Scott says. “He has wanted to fly hot air balloons since we were kids. We’ve been doing this for 14 years now, owning these shapes and flying them at festivals all around the world.”
Tico came along about two years ago, when it seemed sloths were taking off among kids.
“We thought it was a perfect idea as they are slow and it was a perfect comparison to a balloon that moves slowly in the air,” Scott says.
As for the name, ‘tico’ is a term Costa Ricans use to refer to a way of life that is pure and simple.
“It is used in a meaning of slowing down and enjoying life,” Scott says. “We thought that would be a perfect name for our slow friend and it fit the way the world should be today. Everyone needs to slow down and enjoy your surroundings.”
From there, it was two months before Scott and Todd settled on a design they liked. But there was still one grey area: Should Tico be eating leaves?
“We posted a questionnaire on our Facebook page and had our fans vote on it. It was a close race but it was decided to make it look like Tico was eating the leaf.”
Scott says Tico has gone onto become one of the most popular shapes in their hangar and he and his brother “really look forward” to seeing how it goes down in the ACT. They themselves have attended in-person a few times, but due to the uncertainty surrounding border restrictions, will be leaving Tico in the safe hands of their Canberra-based contacts.
“This year and last year we weren’t able to get over there as the borders were closed due to COVID-19. But we’ve made so many great friends over in Canberra,” he says.
Scott says local balloon pilot Craig Farrell has a background in flying balloons in the US, Mexico, Taiwan and Australia and will be flying Tico for the Canberra Balloon Spectacular.
The balloons will launch each morning from Patrick White Lawns from 12 to 20 March, with balloon inflation from 6:15 am and launch around 7 am, weather permitting.
For those who have braved the dawn start, there will be a hot breakfast to enjoy as the balloons lift off and drift across the dawn sky. Be sure to check out the balloons throughout the morning with great views around the lake and from the Arboretum.
For more information, visit the website.