Who the hell are we? asks ace North Shore photographer John Bilderback in his regular Kiteworld photo column
WORDS AND PHOTOS – John Bilderback
I’m currently sat on a plane on my way back from Necker Island. I’m lucky enough that this was actually my second trip there, and it got me thinking. Who the hell are we? I mean, I’d just spent seven days with a bunch of wind stoked kiters – which is normal – but these guys were drinking champagne every day, cavorting with lemurs and being waited on hand and foot. Somehow, somewhere in the last fifteen years something really changed.
We didn’t used to know who ‘we’ were.
In the earliest days of the sport there was a culture vacuum. The nascent Slingshot team had specific instructions to ride hard, but also establish a wild image for kiters. Enter Jeff Tobias, Ben Wilson, and others who bravely and shamelessly tore across the planet missing no opportunity to shock, awe (and piss all over) the unsuspecting. They pioneered the first kite loops. They sought out the biggest and meanest surf they could find on frightening, primitive gear, and they narrowly avoided being arrested, (or didn’t) in a quasi-holy mission to answer the essential question, ‘What is a kiteboarder?’ and make sure no one mistook us for rollerbladers.
Now, more than a decade on, we have actual professionals. The sport has evolved into its separate wakestyle, racing, big air and surfing disciplines. We have proper tours and very nearly got onto the Olympic stage. Our culture now includes all of those riders, each with a different take on how to use a kite, but it’s still all ‘us’.
Much like in surfing, what was once a fringe group of people doing a crazy thing, as kiting is now reasonably well accepted and offers different levels of risk and reward for varying tastes, it’s no longer just for the hardened and fanatical.
We’re pros and weekend warriors, wakeboarders and surfers, kids, women men and billionaires. And somehow we are all kiters.
Perhaps the greatest thing about kiting is its potential. A few pounds of Teijin and Spectra are remarkable not only because they can launch us over the horizon, but that they also have the power to bring wildly different people together. From toothless rastas to venture capitalists; when a few muscles dive the kite, we’re all the same.