When you have a need for speed like Robby, locking your feet to your board is the only way to truly burn!
WORDS: Robby Naish MAIN IMAGE: Dom Daher / Red Bull
People often ask me why I use footstraps when kiting. I also see comments on social posts about how “old school” using straps is. I’m not sure how adding power, control and speed to your riding could ever be a bad thing, but it’s a strange world and, as the saying goes, “to each their own”. When we started experimenting with kites while riding surfboards back in the late 90s, kitesurfing was not yet a sport. My first ever experience was taking a nine-foot longboard out in Kailua Bay, paired with a four-line Sky Tiger kite, controlled with two handles. It worked. I went upwind, downwind and cruised around a bit. Fortunately I never dropped the kite in the water but it wasn’t something that would hold my attention. It was more of a novelty (but it was strapless).
Old school Naish AR5 (pink), brought back out for a sesh in 2013 Photo: Stephen Whitesell
Timeless tweak with a dated directional Photo: Stephen Whitesell
The next step was doing the occasional downwinder from Hookipa to Kanaha on Maui using an old Wipika two-line kite paired with one of my Jaws tow-in surfboards. This was a lot faster and we were using straps. There was simply no way that you were going to blast downwind on a two-line kite with no depower without footstraps. I managed a few jumps here and there, but it still felt like more of a novelty than a real ‘sport’. Eventually this sideline became more fun, which led to development. Don Montague and I began working on higher aspect kites with better control and overall performance. The Naish AR5 four-line inflatable kite that launched in 2000 pretty much changed everything. We also went from using narrow tow-in boards to purpose-built kiteboards that initially looked more like mini longboard surfboards with footstraps. Other guys used wakeboards, which led to today’s twin tips. Once it got to the point where we could stay upwind, go out and ride and make it back to the same beach, then it became a sport! At that point it was really all about jumping. Jumping meant being connected to your board. If you go back and watch videos from the first Red Bull King of the Air events on Maui, there was already some serious air going down!
Remaining photos of Robby in this feature: Frankie Bees / Naish - 2021
Obviously the sport has come a long way since then. Kiteboarding (or kitesurfing depending on your flavour of choice) is a heck of a lot more refined, safe and more diversified now. There is wakestyle, speed, recreational foiling, race foiling, freestyle, big air, strapless freestyle, strapless wave, all-round freeride and, of course, the old-school strapped directional. I for one have pretty much always ridden a directional; a board with a dedicated nose and tail. Of course I have played with twin-tips through the years and totally appreciate that style of riding, but I have just always been a directional guy. During the years of the mutant board (asymmetric shape designed to be ridding both ways), there were fins on both ends, but the tail fins were always bigger than the nose fins and I pretty much always rode with the nose in the front. I am a goofy foot surfer. When kiting I switch my feet when gybing, except when waveriding, where I ride goofy no matter which way I am going. On Maui, that means I’m surfing backside the vast majority of the time since our north shore has wind from the right (if you are looking out to sea). Although I have been windsurfing my whole life and ride frontside in both directions with equal ability, somehow it is different when kiting on a wave. I can surf regular foot, but nowhere near as well as I can goofy — so backside it is. Kiting backside has its disadvantages, but for me riding strapless amplifies them. I like to ride hard and fast, and that can certainly be a challenge without footstraps, especially if it’s choppy. I also like to boost and, though there are certainly exceptions, for most people, including myself, jumping big and actually landing is a lot more consistent with footstraps than without them. I also don’t want to spend half of my session chasing after my board that I just lost while trying to hit the lip.
There are conditions when riding strapless is really attractive. For me those include lighter sideshore winds when riding frontside, especially if the waves are smooth and hollow. In conditions like this where you are really ‘surfing’ and just happen to have a kite with you for riding back out, strapless is awesome. Unless the waves are really big, pulling into the barrel strapped can be a little awkward, too. Back foot positioning when tucking never seems quite right if you are strapped. Once the waves are big however, or the wind comes up and the surf gets messy, being strapped is simply a lot more sure footed. The speeds at which you can ride and still stay in control, the ability to use your rail and really lay into turns (rather than having to make little redirections) and the ability to bounce over chop, kick out over the whitewater, jump, etc. are simply exponentially amplified by using footstraps and having a solid connection to your board. I have been kiteboarding now for well over twenty years, so I guess anything that I do out there would be considered ‘old school’, strapped or not. The cool thing about kiteboarding is that just about anybody can do it and they can do it just about anywhere in the world. There is no other extreme sport that is this accessible, easy to learn and safe. No matter your abilities or preferred style, kiteboarding is awesome. It will keep you fit and childlike (in all the good ways). Getting out into nature, learning something new just about every session, challenging yourself, falling down and getting back up and trying it again; these are all good things! They’ll keep you young, or at least young at heart. The next time you head to a kite spot with a bit of surf (I ride my wave board with straps even in flat water) I suggest you slap some footstraps onto a directional board and give it a try. ‘Old school’ or not, you might discover something new and exciting to add to your riding options. Aloha and rip it up! Robby