- THE IRREPRESIBLE STYLE OF ANDRE PHILLIP
INTRO ? This laid back Antiguan is a true kiting superstar. Coming from humble beginnings as a fun loving island boy he has accumulated an enourmous wealth of talent and now has the world's wake-style fans at his feet
Effortlessly oozing his own natural style, Dre came through a spell fighting some unnatural style demons during a few painful years making a name for himself on the competition circuit, but was then set free by Cabrinha to become part of the super-tight crew of Maui wake-stylers. He maintained his core reputation and stayed true through wake-style's demise and almost obliteration a few years ago and now finds himself out the other side and part of a select group of elite riding royalty that can seemingly do no wrong.
His influence over the sport has been, and continues to be, huge. Regularly finishing top of any polls related to style and influence for the last eight years, at 32 years-of-age he still holds his own in a demanding riding discipline that takes its toll on the body and continues to jump from cover to cover of the world's kiting magazines.
In an issue all about celebrating our love for kiting, Dre has done as much as anyone in any discipline to make the sport look attractive. Google him and we guarantee you won't find any weak images or footage. They don't exist.
We caught up with him having just landed at one his favourite events, the Triple-S event in Hatteras at the start of June
WORDS ? Jim Gaunt
How and when did you first start kiting?
In 2000 a friend, Eli Fuller, brought kiting to Antigua. I saw it and thought, wow, that's like all the watersports I love mish-mashed into one. I begged Eli to give me a lesson, he put the kite in my hands, shoved the board on my feet and gave me a little crash course on how it worked. I dove the kite went straight out to sea, crashed and burned but managed to get the board back on, came back to the beach, ran straight up the beach, then got dragged back down the beach, sand in the face and all. But I loved it from the get-go and it started to eat into my windsurfing time more and more.
When did Cabrinha pick you up? It seems like you've been with them forever.
Late 2001. Everything came about really quickly. I had started working at Alex Portman's school, Kite Antigua, and as there were only about three of us on Antigua kiting at the time, we were literally just figuring things out. Alex suggested I get out of Antigua and start competing. It sounded like a good idea, but I couldn't it. He said he'd help and straight off the bat I did pretty well, winning an event in St Maarten. Shortly after that I bumped into Pete Cabrinha at an early world cup event in the DR. I basically told him my dreams and aspirations and a few months later Cabrinha picked me up. That first world cup event in the DR was something else though and I pretty much got my ass handed to me. It really put a perspective on the world competition level though and I went home, started riding a hell of a lot more and really pushed to get my level up.
What was the key move back then?
Pretty much boosting, spins and transitions.
Did it feel like it had any resemblance to wakeboarding, which you were already heavily influenced by?
It was fairly close because I was riding my wakeboard boots and the front and back rolls were similar. There was also the new element of boosting, which was really fun.
I was watching the Cabrinha movie, Catalyst, the other day. Your family pop up. You said your dad used to help you out with boards when he could, but you weren't showered with gear from your parents were you?
I didn't come from much money, so for me I had to save up for gear. My old man would put some money towards gear, or I would borrow from Eli. Everything had to be imported, there were no surf shops or anything like that and there were only a few people actually riding, so just the access to gear was a big factor.
What gear did you use in the beginning?
Eli rode the Naish AR5s and this huge directional board. I learnt on his gear, but then as soon as I could stay upwind I switched to my wakeboard. It had a hell of a lot of rocker so was difficult to stay upwind on, but I was comfortable because I knew it. I just figured that it was a board, it rode on water and was made for it.
Was there a moment that you thought, actually this is all coming together, I'm making some money, I'm travelling and this really could work?
I think the moment I got picked up by Cabrinha was a bit of a turning point mentally. I thought, 'Whoa, I could probably do this for a living.' Luckily Alex from Kite Antigua helped me get off the island and travel. Before that I was just having a good time.
Just to jump forward a little bit ? you were one of the first pros to step away from competition, but still maintain full sponsorship. There were maybe a couple of other guys like Ben Wilson and Mauricio Abreu who had done it before you, but you seemed to set a trend for top riders for the next few years. I guess they saw how successful you were and how much publicity you were getting off the tour. What was it that you weren't enjoying about competitions in the first place?
I never enjoyed competitions. I don't enjoy being put in a box and judged on what I'm doing. But I did realise early on that coming from a small island, the only way I was going to get the recognition and support I wanted, was to do well in contests. So I got my head down and tried to do well. As soon as I felt like I had enough support, I told Pete Cabrinha that I'd like to get away from the contest scene and focus a bit more on making video parts, working on travel stories and promoting Cabrinha. He was 100% supportive and I must really thank Pete for giving me a long leash and letting me follow my dreams.
What was your best result on the world tour?
I finished second overall one year, but for me the best was winning the event in the Dominican Republic in 2003. It was at a time that a lot of guys were hot and the competition was fierce. I ended up battling it out in the final with Vari. We won a round each and had to have a decider. Event riding definitely pushes your consistency and that's definitely a good thing, but other than that I don't miss it.
Can you talk us through your thoughts and the development in your riding that happened in the years after you left the tour? Your current style really started to develop in terms of change from there. Was it the freedom that helped do you think?
I think when I started off I was really influenced by my wakeboarding, surfing and of course windsurfing. I then got pushed into the contest scene that was going towards board-offs and dangling. Deep down I was kind of like, 'What am I doing?' It wasn't what I'd imagined in the first place, but I was kind of going with the flow. I wanted recognition so had to do well in competitions.
And it was putting money in your pocket.
Right, but as soon as I could get away from the contests I seemed to go back to my roots and what I believed made me happy, which was wake-style, riding in boots, building features and cruising with my friends. I think that's when my riding started to fall into place. I basically just ride the way I like, doing what feels good and natural. Now I'm not being judged by a panel I guess my riding is a result of that.
What I really enjoy watching in your riding is that there are so many seemingly simple elements that you bring into it, but they obviously require a lot of vision as you're not copying anyone. As well as your full-on wake-style, it's all the little stalls and presses you do, even spinning the board 180 on the beach or some super slow transition. How do you come up with all that? Is it just about spending so much time on the water or is it related to inspiration from other sports?
I think it's a mixture of both. Spending a lot of time on the water I get bored doing the same things, so I find little ways to mix it up. I also get inspiration from other sports and I think watching other riders helps as I spend so much time at the beach, so I take bits and bobs from them and put my own little twist on it.
I wanted to talk about the Autofocus movie you were a part of made by Elliot Leboe. To me it was a really seminal DVD, released in 2005 just after you'd left the tour. Industry people and dedicated wake-style riders loved it, but a lot of the kiting masses - the intermediate DVD buyers - didn't really get all the slider action. It's still easily one of my favourite movies ? the music, the edit, the riding, the characters... it was totally on another level. You might say it is a cult classic. What are your memories from shooting it?
Autofocus was probably one of the best, most fun projects that I've worked on. Our crew was just so solid and we went to some amazing locations, built lots of fun features and were just kind of living it, doing what we loved to do. Elliot and Tracy were there capturing it all and basically it was just good times. We started off in Antigua, rented my friend's beach house which is just an epic, epic private spot. We could leave all our kites pumped up the whole time in this field and would literally just stumble out of bed, into our harness and start shredding.
It was like your own private back yard for kiting and the set-up looked incredible.
Yeah, such a great location. None of the features are still alive though, but I do still ride there and have a few other features, but everything is getting kind of old and out of shape. Redoing the park is in the works, so stay tuned, but yeah, Autofocus was a real small group of riders that were into the park scene and riding really powered. I think that's why we all clung together so tightly.
Perhaps what really worked was having a crew all together on site for that long. Now that full-on DVD projects aren't being funded so much and a lot of the internet videos are all brand based, we don't seem to see that independent, authentic collection of core riders all working together.
It's weird, I guess with the internet and everyone craving fresh media, almost daily, everyone seems to be just working on really short clips and moving onto the next. For me I really do enjoy spending more time in less places with fewer crews and working on something more substantial. So yeah, it was definitely good times just working with that crew for a long period.
For people that don't know about rails, can you explain what it is about riding them that does it for you?
There's just something about that feeling of sliding across something mixed with having to balance while you're sliding. If you experience the feeling, you'll enjoy it. I guess for me the whole thing of designing a feature in your mind, building it and then having a session on it is something special.
What's the key to a good feature? Is it the length of ride, the challenge, the technicality or the feeling? The big Camel Toe at the Triple S a few years ago looked difficult to ride, but it didn't look like a lot of fun.
I think there are two things: there's a really technical side that adds the fear factor. The Camel Toe had a bit of the fear factor and took a few people out, including breaking a couple of Jason Slezak's ribs. There's a rush that you get from technical sliders, and then there's the more mellow, wider, more fun factor style sliders and I like both because they give different feelings. The ride; that moment of goodness lasts a little bit longer than it can with other things in kiting.
All the riders from Autofocus - yourself, Mauricio Abreu, Bertrand Fleury, Moe Goold, Jason Slezak, Josh Stone and Stav Niarchos ? seemed to be brought together in Maui, which is strange, because there's next to no wakeboarding out there at all.
The biggest wake-style scene was definitely there as the guys that followed wakeboarding, like Lou Wainman and Mauricio, had moved there for kiting. We all rode on Kite Beach where there's just a small section of real flat water sweetness just inside the rocks. You come in, do your trick, make a turn and then hit the little ramps on the way out. You can sit next to your car and still be close to the action; it's like a little stadium and I think everyone was just so stoked because the sport was changing daily. Everyone was pushing the limit and it was a real team effort.
You still spend a lot of time there. What's changed?
Maui was such a hard place to learn because it's so windy and the gear didn't really accommodate beginners unless you really wanted to fight to learn, so that kept the weak out, I guess. The gear is now much easier and safer to learn on, so there are now a lot more people out there. To me Maui is still basically the same. It's real similar to Antigua; mellow with that island vibe. It's also windy like 360 days a year, Cabrinha is based there and I've made lots of friends, so I always enjoy going back.
Who do you stay with?
Mauricio and Elliot passed through Antigua way back in the day when I was just learning and they were like, 'Oh you've got to come to Maui - you can stay with me, blah blah blah.' I totally took them up on the offer showing up one year. I also stayed with shaper Sean Ordonez who went to school in Antigua and is good friends with my brother. But most years I stay with Jason Stone. I used to live on his couch, then he got married and I still lived on his couch. He's now had kids and I continue to live on his couch and am like the in-house nanny.
You and Jason both enjoy posting on Kite Scoop. What's the deal with Kite Scoop?
A friend from Antigua wanted to set up some kind of forum where people could hang out and talk smack. I got involved a bit further down the line to expand it and add photo galleries, videos and stuff. It's been a fun project and it's nice for people to be able to go and see the things that we're into.
You're like the Scoop Lord and seem to sort it out when it's getting a bit out of hand, don't you?
Ha, yeah I guess I'm one of the moderators, but there's a few around the world. You definitely don't want to take it seriously.
Even Aaron was getting shit on there for the way he rides. I couldn't believe it, but then there was some backtracking.
Everybody gets shit. There's a pretty core group of people that hang out there, so if you're doing something less than legit you definitely get called out.
I can remember when the first bow/bridled kites came out and Cabrinha were among the first to release them. You were pretty vocal at the time that you wouldn't ride them and would stick to the C kite. What changed?
I liked the idea of a kite that had much more depower than the C kite and a much easier relaunch. I remember taking a run on one of the first protos. I went out to sea, came straight back, handed it over and was like, 'Dude I'm done with that.' It pulled like a Mac truck, my forearms were all pumped up and there was no way I could unhook without getting blasted. I still thought the concept was great, but that thing needed work. I don't think I rode bridled kites for another two years. The Nitro kites were still so good as we'd been developing them for years, so I stepped back from bridles for a couple of years. They're now amazing kites for any style of riding.
You've had almost a ten year career already, obviously you're still going strong, but do you see a future in business, and in what capacity?
I've watched the sport change, maybe helped it change some and I would love to still be involved for years to come. Maybe eventually a bit more behind the scenes, but we'll see what position I fall into. Maybe design related, but I don't know.
Is there anything you miss about the early days of kiting? A lot of people will have heard how the sport used to change every day, but back then in the early 2000s, it literally did, didn't it?
Oh my god yeah. The riding was changing and the kites were changing, daily. I think I miss how tight the crews were. For a while everyone kind of went on their own mission. Wake-style is the style that I love but it started to fade away, man. I think I could count the amount of people that rode boots on one hand and at one point I really thought it was going to die. There were only a handful of people that were holding it together and keeping it alive. Mauricio Abreu deserves huge props for holding it together.
He's definitely a politician.
He's a politician, he's a guru, he's a legend, he's the godfather. I do think he's one of the reasons it stayed together. I also tried to carry the flag, but a lot of our crew went to the surf scene for something different. The Scoop kind of held it together a bit as a place for like minded people to go and talk about the sport. I think Autofocus actually held it together as well. It almost died and I almost gave up because when you enjoy something it's nice to share it with other people ? I thought there's no way it could survive as dangling was taking over ? but that was cool too as I think it's fine that people wanted to go down that road. Wake-style has re-vibed itself now though and there are crews of people cropping up all over the place, building features and it's nice to see.
Okay, two things: why do you think it dropped off and why has it picked up again?
I think that it's much harder to progress in wake-style. You're attached to your board, so when you wipeout or catch a rail you really take licks. When you have foot straps it's just a lot easier and you don't go down as hard. I think the whole board-off movement didn't really help. There was really no avenue for people in wake-style. Getting recognition and sponsorship was just so hard, so people were forced to follow the board-off train. But things came around and it's now basically taken a life of its own. I've even heard that a number of guys on the tour are now riding in boots. To me it's great to see that kiteboarding is so diverse and you can literally pick what you want to do and follow it.
Let's talk about waves. I think your wave section in Catalyst is incredible. You obviously surf a lot and the link between your wake-style and surf-style seems to be that you can just keep it all so smooth.
That must be from the Antiguan rum and the mellow lifestyle. I love surfing so my surfing crosses right over when I grab a kite.
I don't think there were many people riding strapless when you first started, and although you're not widely credited for it, I think you were among the first riders to really make it look good.
I've never really pushed the surf thing, but I do enjoy doing it and love to jump on a surfboard when the conditions are good. For me riding strapless was natural coming from surfing, so I was just doing my thing.
I'll see if we can get that section from Cabrinha and get it up. I always enjoy watching you in the waves, you should do more.
Thanks. That little section in Catalyst was shot in Guadeloupe. Susi and Pete had to leave but Elliot and I stuck around for a bit and stumbled upon that wave. It's one of those waves that you wouldn't really surf because it's kind of quick and closeout-ish, but it was really fun for kitesurfing.
I think I'm more into refining things now. I'm still learning lots, but I guess you eventually get to a stage where progression is a lot harder to come by. In the early stages when you first pick up a kite the progression is through the roof. I've been refining things a lot but it's minor tweaks.
Can you feel the progression though?
Oh yeah, for sure. Holding grabs longer, tweaking things out a bit more. That sort of thing because I'm more comfortable with the actual tricks.
We're getting in to the rapid fire questions now, Dre: If you could pick one move to do for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
I think I'd go with a backside 1. It's one of those nice, simple tricks that feels really good because you fly backwards through the sky for a while and there are a lot of variations, so I think it would never get old.
Who have been your favourite riders in the sport from anytime and why?
From back in the day I'd say Morris. Just the way he approached the business side of things and was always super stylish with everything he did. Moe Goold as well because, man, he just always charged to the next level. I'm quite calculated and, although I push my limits, I stay within my boundaries. Moe would just go huge and it's really inspiring to watch someone huck themselves like that. Lou was also a big inspiration, just because he was so sick and way ahead of his time. I don't think people could comprehend how sick he was and even today people are still trying to do the things he did. Style to me is number one over just making a trick, so it's still about anyone who is super stylish.
Any young up and coming riders we need to look out for?
Jake Kelsick. He's just 19, but has got mad style. It doesn't matter what he's doing, he just makes it look good.
When did you lose the dreadlocks and why?
I just woke up one day about three years ago, was over them and ready for a haircut, so I shaved my head. Sometimes it's just time for a change. I remember the first time I went surfing after shaving them off, I did a duck dive, came up and shook my head like normal and I swear I nearly broke my neck.
If you could change one thing in kiting, what would it be?
I really hate how lines get caught on everything, so I wish they could be a lot shorter. I would also make it easier and safer for people to get into the sport. That's two things, but anyway, I would also change the price-point so that people who aren't rich can get into it more easily.
OK Dre, you love a shout out. Any final ones?
I definitely want to give shout out to Tracy. I've worked with a lot of photographers over the years but I've spent the most time with her. She's amazing to work with, very professional, always has good ideas and is always open to suggestions. I definitely thank her for working with me and I guess helping mould me as a pro. I think we've always been on the same page about quality over quantity and I don't ever have to go through her shots and tell her what not to run.
Good call. Hopefully you won't have to be having words with us about this layout either!