WORDS & PHOTOS BY JOHN BILDERBACK

Keahi de Aboitiz – one of my all time favourite shots

From the earliest pioneers who rode long directional boards and two line kites, to the modern kite-loop half-cab sky masters and the wave riding specialists who center-punch previously unthinkable barrels, kiting has exploded over the last two decades. What was once little more than a heart-in-the-mouth rush of being dragged semi-out-of-control across the ocean’s surface has evolved into a huge buffet of refined wind riding thrills. Who could have looked at Flash Austin and those kite pants and seen all this coming? Kiting is currently a wide horizon that now calls all manner of people for various reasons. Yet there must be something we all have in common that makes us say, “Yes, hook me up. Fling me around. I’m game.” Is it our personalities? The personality types who propagate the kiting landscape have really evolved over the lifetime of this magazine and the sport. The pioneers were largely mad thrill seekers. To be known in kiting today takes loads of professionalism. Merely riding, even doing absolutely insane things, isn’t enough in a world gone click happy. ‘Likes’ wasn’t a career goal for anyone when Jeff Tobias first started slamming the water trying to loop his kite in 2005. Now kites are marketed (to a lesser or greater degree) by how well they will do that loop. If you don’t produce social media ‘content’ regularly, touting your image and your brand, you’ll never get anywhere. Today’s top athletes are producers, filmers and stars as well as businessmen and women. It was easier when it was just crazy people. But I believe there is a type of openness to people who kite. You don’t see it in surfers. There is an attitude of willingness more central to the experience than being cool. A willingness to be a kook (again) and learn something new and scary. This is where I think we come together as a tribe, in our collective.

We go. It’s windy. It’s raining, it’s cold. There’s no one watching. There’s no prize. Yet we scramble into damp wetsuits the moment the wind comes up. We are motivated by the feeling we know is out there waiting in the waves, in the spray, on the landing, in the wrapping up and the going home.

Kevin ‘Top Hat’ Senn was one of the vanguard on Oahu along with Felix Pivec. An immensely talented rider and spectacle wherever he goes, I used to love seeing people underestimate him, and then get stopped in their tracks by his intelligence, riding or his business skills. Never judge a book by its cover, especially if it might be wearing a top hat. He was hard into boots and two line kites along with pulley bars in the early days

We, the wet, the sandy. The advanced guard, the point men and women. The ones who built the foundation of a sport while never thinking of it. Remember, this sport is barely thirty-years-old! So what now? Wings. Anyone who was open minded enough to tackle a kite will surely be curious about this other engine and what it can do. We’ve been indoctrinated to ‘The New’. There is nothing quite as valuable as an open mind. Around 1990, big wave legend and tow surfing pioneer, Darrick Doerner, told me bluntly to stop moping around in Oahu’s summers when the surf was flat. “Learn to windsurf!”, he said. I couldn’t ignore advice from him. It was good enough for Gerry Lopez and Laird Hamilton, but what, I was too cool? Ha. Of course not. I picked up a windsurfing wave board and taught myself to sail at Backyards. When I did my first bottom turn on a proper wall at speed, I vowed that from then on I’d always have an open mind; that surfing wasn’t the only amazing way to enjoy the ocean. As a surfer that was slightly hard to accept, but it changed my life. And that led to kiting. Maybe that’s the gift we all unknowingly take home. We’ve suspended our fears, our cool and maybe our grip long enough to witness another world. Riding on the wind, skimming, jumping and pushing forward into unknown places. We have been willing and we’ve been rewarded. At least I know I have. Each of the riders I’ve worked with over the last twenty years have been teachers. Some taught the physical skills; riding, jumping, flying. Some did nothing exactly new, but just did it better. Some taught marketing; getting attention for a brand. Some taught survival. Some taught style. Some went on to crazier things. Surely looking back, it hasn’t been the wind; it’s been people driving this sport all along.