Patri, Jaws, Maui. January 2022 Photo: Daniel Sullivan

As a magazine team we’ve always been so inspired by waves, leading to some readers saying that we perhaps put too much editorial emphasis on that discipline at times. When it comes to action and emotion in the photos though, there’s always so much to enjoy. There’s no easy way to wrap up 20 years, so for our final issue we asked leading big wave shredder, Patri McLaughlin, to reflect a little on his own wave kiting experience and history

When I learned to kite, wave riding wasn’t very popular. At home on Maui everyone was focused on the flat water doing wakeboard tricks or big air. In fact, only a couple of old salty sailor guys were riding waves on the reefs. The first contest I remember where wave kiting was even a thing was a PKRA event in Matanzas Chile, around 2007. I found a video online that was insane:

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Martin Vari was the guy leading the way at the time and he was riding unhooked with straps. He was also in the first real wave kiting video, Space Monkeys 2 by Tronolone Productions. That was the first time I saw kiters getting barrelled, but there still wasn’t anyone was making a real career out of riding waves. Then Ben Wilson started doing it. He was the one that bridged surfing and kiting. He had a fluid style, was getting lots of magazine covers and making it happen as a kitesurfer. One day he got a giant wave at Cloudbreak in Fiji. I’m pretty sure Kiteworld ran a cover of it. That was the moment I realized, damn kiting giant waves with a kite is possible.

Ringside Photo: Amanda Cantor Beenan

One year I committed to working my ass off all year and saved up some money to do the KPWT freestyle tour. I didn’t have any sponsors but it had been a dream to do the tour and make a name for myself. It ended up being a year of turmoil for the tour and they cancelled two of the first three events within a couple weeks of the start date. I blew through my savings travelling around Europe and not competing, so returned home to Maui and pretty much gave up any hopes of being a pro. I still loved kiting and realized that I live in one of the best places in the world to ride waves with a kite. There are so many outer reefs and insane waves for kiting here so I just did it for fun. Occasionally we would get massive swells and our normal spots would produce huge waves. That’s of course when Jaws really lights up, but we didn’t know it was kiteable at the time. One day in 2011 Jesse Richman and I were going to kite Ho’okipa but it was pretty big and closing out. We drove up the coast to this super gnarly cliff lookout spot for Jaws. It was breaking, but we didn’t have a jetski or any way of getting there. We ended up launching our kites in the lava rocks above the cliff and jumping into the heaviest, surging sea.

Cliffside, from the gods Photo: Erik Aeder

"We had to walk on this two foot wide lava outcropping and jump upwind with our kites in the air. To this day it was one of the gnarliest things I’ve ever done. I wish we’d had a filmer..."

By the time we got to Jaws my adrenaline was already mellowing out. Looking back at it now it was a small Jaws day, but Jesse and I were hooked. I scavenged together $3,500, Jesse sold his Ducati and together we bought a 2007 Yamaha VX110 jetski. Since then we’ve had some insane days out there. I can’t wait to see what the next generation does in big waves.