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.