INTRO – The word legend gets thrown around a lot, but Robby Naish holds the trump card in this category and has witnessed every transition that windsurfing, and now kitesurfing, have been through. A team rider and mentor, he has a ton of World Titles in his pocket, has helped shaped the future of windsurfing, kiting and SUPing and runs one of the most successful manufacturing outfits in all those sports. So who better qualified to comment on the importance of the comeback of the Red Bull King of the Air and what it could mean for kitesurfing's greater journey?
WORDS - Kiteworld Editor Jim Gaunt
This Feature is taken from Issue #62 - Click HERE to subscribe to Kiteworld Mag
CAPTION | Robby says he and his family are 'cleansing' in 2013. You may find this beast in the classified section soon / PHOTO | Naish
Robby welcomed me into his beachfront home in Small Bay that Red Bull had rented, just next to the Big Bay event site and offered me a coffee. We chatted a little as he pottered around the kitchen enthusing about what was, amazingly, his first trip ever to South Africa. We set ourselves up on the corner sofa, Robby sitting upright, forward, elbows on his knees, hands clasped and resting in front of him, professional, prepared and somehow approachable in spite of his awe inspiring career.
I had posters of Robby on my wall doing huge off-the-lips at Diamond Head and Ho'okipa when I was growing up, but sat here no illusions were smashed as I began to realise that he is just like the rest of us. He may be an icon of wind sports, but he's still just as into it all on a riding level as he ever was. He can also tell the worst of dirty jokes and laughed like a little boy with his team when I said I had to go out to 'grab my tripod'.
But he switches straight back to business in an instant. He must have done thousands of interviews; his answers are so well rounded and naturally considered with a beginning, middle and summary as he links up topics, significant events and reasons his way around arguments and opinions.
Red Bull flew Robby out as a kind of flag bearer for the event. He said he could fit me in at 8am a couple of mornings after the event. After all, with just a week in South Africa in total, there was lots of riding to be done!
ROBBY: ON THE RETURN OF THE RED BULL KING OF THE AIR
To a certain degree the original King of the Air helped launch the sport in general, bringing money, awareness and prestige to the table. I've been in discussions with Red Bull for over a year about bringing back some kind of kiting event, but it had to be unique. The old King of the Air was let go because it had become a little same old-same old and Red Bull like to promote the unexpected. The discussion had been fairly constant about whether to do a wave event or this, or that and we even discussed it before the Len10 Mega Loop Challenge last year. More people, including you, were invited into the discussion early on and I'm glad they listened to the suggested adaptations. The mega loop is very neat for a few people who can get excited about watching them all day, but I was pushing for them to bring back something that wasn't so limited in terms of what the guys were doing. I was still pushing for some sort of visual references in the background that could be added to the event to bring in more general public appeal and instant media response. Media likes things they can package in one picture with a headline, or can make a 20 second news reel clip from. This came as close as any event we've ever seen in kiteboarding. As great as the PKRA riders are, the scope of what they are doing has got narrower and narrower, appealing to a smaller and smaller target audience. I think we needed a return of big air freestyle, not just kite loops – a giant board-off is still exciting and the kind of thing that can be packaged beyond the narrow scope of today's competitive kiting scene. I think the Red Bull King of the Air hit the nail right on the head: the venue, the conditions on the day with the level of riding and the way the guys grasped the concept. A few guys were just sticking to their guns and doing loops, but they weren't the ones awing the crowd.
PHOTO | Craig Kolesky / Nikon / Red Bull Content Pool
ROBBY: ON THE FORMAT
The flag out system was killer, exciting and it really worked well. For me, it was the best kiting event ever, because of everything. The level, conditions, the location, the format, the riders and picking just the right guys for the job and packaging it all in one day. There was no anti-climax, it was built and it built, it got windier and windier; it just couldn't have been better. There are only a few places in the world this event could be held, and Big Bay was a perfect spot. I had a group of kids come from a Laureus Sport for Good foundation in South Africa – a group of skaters and surfers from two local Cape Town projects. They were blown away. I've been to a lot of events in my life, and that was up there on the same level. Maybe only the indoor windsurfing events have been a better 'show', but you'd have to really nitpick to find things that should have been better about this event.
ROBBY: ON RED BULL
They are smart. They grab the organisation that already exists and use it alongside their back-end organisation, especially now with the Red Bull Media House. For the original Red Bull King of the Air they used local riders Mike Waltz and Joe Cool, they didn't just truck in a bunch of Austrians; they get the right people. Having Sergio Cantagalli here organising this event, Susi Mai as a spokesperson and bringing me in for insight just balances things out. Red Bull are all about broadening horizons. They take a concept and say, 'Let's put some fertilizer on this and see what we can make happen.' In they beginning they were exclusively about promoting and being involved with off-the-radar sports. No advertising, no football, nothing like that which helped establish the company and in turn they helped establish a lot of sports and athletes that otherwise wouldn't have had the money to follow their dreams and push things. Honestly kiteboarding needed that as it has mojo on the competitive side and struggled to remain relevant to most riders. Most kiteboarders aren't 17, and this event can be built upon and is easily followed. The names of the riders will become more recognisable, which they're honestly not right now and the guy that's out there kiting on the weekend will become more interested, so it's fricking cool that they've brought it back.
ROBBY: ON CAPE TOWN
I've never been to South Africa. In the early days of windsurfing competition the GTI cup came here and was a huge success but South Africa was very political and I just didn't want to get involved in the whole apartheid thing. Through my whole career I've tried to stay politically correct and in the 80s it was pretty gnarly. It's not like I did it as a statement, it wasn't a big thing, I just didn't go. I travelled so much during the competition days that all I really did was the world cup and then an occasional PR trip if my sponsor really wanted me to, but the rest of the time I didn't go travel for fun. I went to events. When I stopped competing and started travelling for fun, our winter at home on the North Shore of Maui and Oahu is a really key time for getting the conditions that we like to ride. I wanted to come to South Africa, but to travel that far in that season, wear a wetsuit and probably miss something at home? So I never did. I've missed two Jaws days already this week at home, not really big ones, but I'm finally at a point in my life and my career that I don't mind missing Jaws days. It's not gonna rip my spine out the way it used to. So I decided I would come to South Africa, kite frontside and not lose sleep over it. I'm not chasing my ego so much anymore and I'm not worried about who is getting their picture taken when I'm not. I've heard about this place forever and I've only been here six days, but I've had so much fun. I really have.
CAPTION | Riding frontside is a rare enough treat, but getting Big Bay all to yourself is the luxury of very few. Robby putting on a display of cultured wave riding and lip smacking / PHOTO | Ydwer.com / Red Bull Content Pool
ROBBY: ON KITING, WINDSURFING AND SUP'ING
When I'm on Oahu, as I was for the majority of 2012, I kited 85% of the time and windsurfed 15% of the time. I SUP when it's not windy enough for either of those. We live on the beach in Kailua when we're on Oahu and it's not usually windy enough for me to windsurf as I'm not gonna go around on a course board, but you can kite almost every day. I must have gone out at Mokuleia 20 times and windsurfed Diamond Head a few times during the summer, but it really wasn't a great summer. A lot of it depends on where I am. We're mainly back on Maui now and it's got to the point where a lot of what I do depends on what we're testing.
CAPTION | Moments that made him a legend. Jaws, Maui / PHOTO | Eric Aeder
ROBBY: ON TESTING
I'm really involved in kite testing. Obviously I don't test twin-tips, I leave that to the masters, but I test every single kite. We really have a good test team and they just want to make sure I at least get my hands on it. We have a really good vibe going in the department – sales are up from last year and they're going to be way up in 2014 just because the stuff is better. I'm also testing a lot of windsurfing stuff. Although it's not as commercially important as stand-up and kiting, it's still close to our hearts and we want to have good stuff. And windsurfing requires a lot of stuff; even if you're trying to scale back the amount of gear you offer, it's still a lot of stuff. There's just a constant cycle of stuff that needs to be ridden.
ROBBY: ON THE TORCH
Our gear was working so fricking well throughout the event. The precision of flying - of just salvaging the landing and getting the lift and height that was needed and not just going boing; but getting height and then maintaining height and kite control. The cool thing about the Torch is you have the precision of creating lift all round the window, the kite doesn't have to be perfectly above you which is what was giving the guys the ability to come in and just at the last second pull off the landing from wherever the kite was. The Torch hasn't changed a lot over the years; just some little tweaks on various sizes as we don't want to fuck it up. I didn't want to sit there and go 'Yeah, Naish killing it!' but it was nice that it was visually apparent that our team's gear was working really well. From where I was sat Kevin was the only guy that cleared the flag pole with his body five metres higher than the next guy before making a butter smooth landing towards the beach. I got a really nice email this morning from Des at the office who said the feedback was already coming in. I mean he had a guy sending in a warranty claim for a chicken-loop or something and added a PS at the bottom of his message saying that he was proud to be a Naish rider after seeing the King of the Air. That kind of thing is really cool, it's like 'Yes!'.
ROBBY: ON THE TEAM'S PERFORMANCE IN THE RED BULL KING OF THE AIR
Shawn does some stuff that is still the coolest shit but he does it big. He does this throw-the-head-back entry and then goes into a kite loop, covering so much distance and not knowing where he's going because he's looking the other way and all off-axis. I thought he'd surprise some people, which he did, getting a little more technical and less floaty as the contest went on. I knew Kevin had the ability if he was willing to adapt his riding to whatever the judging was doing and I think the final would have been he and Jesse if Kevin had not had that bad ten minutes where he couldn't buy a good set-up. He was a quarter of a second too late, a quarter of a second too early, and literally every single ramp that he hit was mis-timed by just a split second. You could see it falling apart and that he knew it. He was doing the right things to try and resurrect it, like instead of going all the way out after a misfire on a take-off he was coming in and trying again. He was riding smart, but sometimes that happens. Jesse built up a lot of momentum but honestly at the start of that second ten minutes of the final he had three misfires in a row where he crashed three times and it looked like he might choke. Then 'bam!', the fourth one was perfect and he continued to just kill it from there. He mixed it up and that one kite loop handle-pass he did where he did the handle-pass right in the middle of the kite loop with the kite at 3 o'clock, that was just retarded. 90% of people's shoulders would have been pulled out of its socket. It's nice to have that kind of win where you build enough momentum that the public is behind you, that the riders are behind you and everyone's going, shit that guy deserves it.
CAPTION | Podium stoke with King of the Air and team rider Jesse Richman / PHOTO | Craig Kolesky / Nikon / Red Bull Content Pool
ROBBY: ON 2012
2012, personally and professionally, was just fucked. My wife got breast cancer, my dog died, my shaper passed-away and a factory took me for a quarter of a million dollars cash and threw away our 2013 twin-tip season. My wife is completely fine now after five-and-a-half months of chemo and two-and-a-half months of radiation treatment. She just attacked it, working out at least an hour every day in our gym and, with a five-year-old daughter, wasn't about to let it take her.
ROBBY: ON HIS OLD BOARDS
I've got too many! After what we went through in 2012 I'm cleansing in 2013; getting rid of cars and crap and just making life simpler. I have a lot of my classic boards, all the way from my Pan-Am cup days to my first skull board. I have a few that really mean a lot and in kiting I didn't want to miss anything, so I've got every single kiteboard that I ever had. As things became more modern in the last six or seven years I kept a couple of every season's board with all my logos - even ones that broke. I have my very first little skull kite in pink – a two line pre AR3.5 and I have my first kiteboard which was my wife's seven foot mini-mal that I put foot straps on to learn how to jump with in 1997. I've got a Picklefork with boots and bindings. All the early stuff is on Oahu in my garage and all the stuff beyond about nine years ago is on Maui in my big barn. The team riders are really fired up to do a retrospective video on all the gear. Kevin went out on an old kite and an old Sky Pirate board recently thinking that he was so good and so strong now that he'd have no problems, but he said it was every bit as scary as it was back then when heading off the wind at a million miles-per-hour. I'd like to send him out on all sorts of stuff to show the evolution of the equipment and how cool it is now with the safety, security and control. “Ha, now jump on this one Kevin!”
This video from Naish TV highlights how tight the Naish team are, how they share the same vision, featuring excellent footage from their trip to South Africa and the King of the Air and Robby also talks about the influence he had himself from his father and his brother.
ROBBY: ON HIS TEAM
Kevin has been my chauffeur while we've been here in South Africa and we've spent some classic time in the car talking a lot of shit. Kevin's sister Jalou is actually even more motivated than he is; she's like the Energizer Bunny. We'll still be getting our stuff out of the car and she'll be pumped up and heading out, and when we're packing up she'll be just getting her last wave. I really think she's fantastic and I was so stoked for her to win her KSP World Title this year. She's the full package and is for sure better than 90% of the guys out there, really driving into her turns and she just fricking loves it, which is so cool. I don't think I've seen a brother and sister that get along that well. They're neat people and their parents are so supportive and are always taking pictures. It's really been a pleasure hanging out with them. Kevin and Jalou have been with us since they were little kids, but Shawn and Jesse were with us when they were really young. I mean they're still young; Jesse's only 20 and the trip is that he's been in the sport for what seems like forever as he was with us when he was nine-years-old. It's unreal how well they all get on as families; there's no big jealousy, just a lot of love and support. To me family is key. They're all really good with people as they're not big heads or superheroes. Of course we want our team riders to ride really well, but they have to approach their riding and their involvement in the sport in a certain way. They have to understand if they're getting a dollar, where that dollar is coming from. We get feedback from some of Kevin's road trips with distributors and it's not just 'Oh I saw Kevin Langeree and he was killing it', it's 'I saw Kevin Langeree, he was killing it and then I spoke to him afterwards and god what a nice guy!'
CAPTION | With team members, Kevin Langeree, Jesse Richman and Jalou Langeree / PHOTO | Ydwer.com
ROBBY: ON BEING A MENTOR
You know how your view of yourself is always different to how it really is? Well, I don't know what I look like through their eyes, but to me I'm just another team rider, and my signature might be on the cheque at the end of the month, but I don't look at myself as a boss or a sponsor in anyway way at all. I try to steer them in the right directions, but at the same time we're just having fun and they can ask me anything. I don't want to talk to Shawn, or Kevin or Jesse about money. Fuck that, I leave the contracts and negotiations to other guys. My relationship with the team riders is super clean and there are no speed bumps in the road.
ROBBY: ON KEEPING UP TO DATE
I don't have hours to sit on social media and juggle the rest of my life, especially when trying to keep up with the stand-up paddling now as well as everything else, so my guys will tell me to check any good videos that come out, or if something needs my attention on a forum. I keep up pretty good, but I don't try to micro-manage everything. I'm still pretty good friends with Reo Stevens and guys that I've been riding with for a long time who aren't necessarily still Naish riders, so I think I've got a good overview for where I need to be. I'm not fully into it, but that's just not me. I have a good balance, I get the mags but I fucking hate sitting around on a computer. It's just not the way I like to approach my life.
ROBBY: ON THE OLYMPICS
Pffft, there's so much politics in this that I'm not sure I even want to touch it. I think it's a good thing that it's not in the Olympics. In the context of Olympic yachting, which is the class it was going into, then it just wasn't the right package. The box rule doesn't work at all. There were so many things that didn't make any sense for an Olympic class where money is not supposed to be involved and equipment isn't supposed to be the factor that's making one guy beat another; but it was all about equipment and the box rule didn't help that at all. As much as I would have loved to have seen kite racing in there, and as much from a manufacturer's stand point I would like to be involved and have a piece of that, but if they really want kite racing in the Olympics, it has to be with a one design. And that one design would have to be different from anything that is being offered right now. Everyone needs to be on the same kite with the same bar with the same lines; that is Olympic sailing. If kiteboarding was going in as its own sport, then that changes everything; then we could do whatever the hell we wanted. I come from a sailing background. Maybe I was only a kid at the time, but I understand the dynamics of sailboat racing, windsurfer one design, whatever it is - you want to be racing that other guy on the exact same gear. That's it.
CAPTION | Home spot, Kailua, Oahu / PHOTO | JD Photo Fairy
ROBBY: ON WHAT MATTERS
There are some funny little nuances in our sport right now: you've got to be in boots; you've got to be strapless... but I don't know who is deciding those trends. You're not cooler because you don't have straps, and you're not riding any better 80% of the time, so it's funny to be like, 'well I'm core, so I'm not gonna put straps on.' The surfers are going, 'How come you don't have foot straps so you can hit it and then jump? Don't you want to jump?' I'm open to whatever, sometimes I'll get a bit old man and grumpy, but utilise the tools that are available: you've got a kite and you don't want to jump; you got foot straps but you don't want to use 'em. I can rip the head off a wave so damn hard with my straps on compared to with them off. If I want to go surfing I go surfing, but again, it all works and there are some guys that kill it strapless, but I tell you, not most. Keahi's great, Reo's great, there's a handful of guys that are really good. Ian Alldredge is great, Patrick Rebstock is killing it, but again, in moments. If you're pulling into a barrel and you've got perfect down-the-line like a Lakey wave then I'm gonna ride without straps a lot too because when pulling into a barrel you wanna get your positioning right and get your back knee forward, but how often is that happening? Whatever guys wanna do is good as long as they're out there having fun, but telling people they're not cool unless they've got boots on, or that riding a directional with straps isn't cool is fucking stupid. It really is, it's counter productive. I don't think it has to be so open/shut that a guy's gonna get extra points because he doesn't have straps over the guy who is actually surfing better than him. At the end of the day you're riding a wave and it should be about whoever is killing the wave better. I made some sections yesterday that were 50 yards long – a floater all the way along at 500 miles-per-hour down-the-line which I couldn't have done strapless. But yeah, it is what it is, I just hope the sport doesn't continue to go along the pigeon-holed direction it is starting to.
As we finished the interview Robby craned his neck up and peered eagerly out of the window as we all do on our kitesurfing trips and exclaimed, 'Well, what a surprise, it's sunny and windy, Kevin!' He still can't get enough...
This Feature is taken from Issue #62 - Click HERE to subscribe to Kiteworld Mag