Mauricio Abreu joins kitesurfing’s elite in the Bocas del Toro Islands.
Rippers’ Round Table A group of the world’s best kitesurfers postulate on the future of the discipline By Michael Behar
Photos: Erik Aeder; (opposite From Left) Ashley Kissenger; Erik Aeder
n January, nine world-renowned kiters converged in Panama to join The Best Odyssey Pro Wave Invitational in the Bocas del Toro Islands. Aboard the Discovery, a 60-foot catamaran captained by Odyssey founder and event organizer Gavin McClurg, the riders crisscrossed 100 miles of archipelago, determined to be the first kitesurfers to ride the virgin breaks in Bocas. Their search for that elusive tryst of wind and waves in this far-flung northeastern Caribbean province of Panama yielded ample adventure and high jinks and even a few good kite sessions in these rarely visited islands. Kiteboarding magazine contributor Michael Behar tagged along to find out whether wave riding heralds the future of kiteboarding. On the final day of their kite quest, Behar gathered the team aboard the Discovery one last time for a post-expedition rap session.
The Riders: [clockwise from top left]
ow do surfers perceive kitesurfing now, as compared to three years ago? Are surfers finally giving kitesurfers respect? Abreu: Three years ago, there were only a few guys in the world playing around with surfboards and kites. Since then, kiteboarders have seen a correlation to surfing and have tried to find ways to surf as a surfer does, just using the kite to get into the wave. Still, some surfers are hesitant of embracing it. They look at kitesurfing and say, “Oh, that’s not really surfing.” Simonsen: We suffered a bit from a bad reputation in the beginning, when a lot of people got hurt because the kites didn’t depower. Surfers are still scared because it takes awhile for them to see what’s changed, to see the freedom the newer, safer gear has given us to surf a wave in a way we could never do before.
Mickaël Fernandez Age: 32 Country of Origin: France Affiliation: F-One Kites (f-onekites.com); Mormaii (mormaii.com.br) Amit Anbar Age: 35 Country of Origin: Israel Affiliation: Best Kiteboarding (bestkiteboarding. com); 7UP (7up.com) Raphaël Salles Age: 45 Country of Origin: France Affiliation: F-One Kites (f-onekites.com) Scott Wisenbaker Age: 32 Country of Origin: USA Affiliation: Odyssey Shareholder Chris Wyman Age: 36 Country of Origin: USA Affiliation: Kaenon Polarized (kaenon.com)
What principal advancement in kiting technology has allowed kitesurfing to progress? Niddam: Depower. That’s the biggest advantage. Salles: With full depower we can use more of the wave, and that gets us closer to real surfing. Abreu: With the new kites, 5 or 6 inches of centerline will depower your kite completely, and it won’t fall out of the sky.
Mauricio Abreu Age: 30 Country of Origin: Brazil (lives in Maui, Hawaii) Affiliation: Liquid Force Kiteboarding (liquid forcekites.com); Kaenon Polarized (kaenon.com) Moehau Goold Age: 27 Country of Origin: Tahiti (lives in Maui) Affiliation: Liquid Force Kiteboarding (liquid forcekites.com); Hinano (hinano.com)
Whose efforts in kitesurfing have helped the sport get where it is today? Wyman: Mauricio and Moehau. Raphaël Salles. Ben Wilson has been very influential. These guys have spent the last couple years charging waves that we didn’t even know were feasible to kite. They really pioneered the progress of kitesurfing. Salles: The first video of tube riding with a kite changed a lot of things, too. We got more respect.
The Best Odyssey Pro Wave Invitational crew aboard Discovery.
Will James Age: 31 Country of Origin: USA Affiliation: Blade Kites (bladekites.com); Kaenon Polarized (kaenon.com)
Photo: Erik Aeder
Should kitesurfing have a world tour or should it remain a solo sport? James: It’s hard enough as it is to get a really good wavekiting session. If you try to
João Pedro Simonsen Age: 41 Country of Origin: Brazil Affiliation: Best Kiteboarding (bestkiteboarding. com); Osklen (osklen.com)
Moisés Niddam Age: 34 Country of Origin: Colombia (lives in Panama) Affiliation: Best Kiteboarding (bestkiteboarding.com)
[Mauricio abreu, Moehau Goold, Raphaël Salles, Ben Wilson] have spent the last couple years charging waves that we didn’t even know were feasible to kite. They really pioneered the progress of kitesurfing. — Chris Wyman
Photos: Erik Aederp; (opposite Clockwise from top) Erik Aeder (2); John Bilderback
Abreau catches a session on a virgin wave in Panama. Left: Moehau Goold. Below: Goold’s surf background prepared him for this bomb.
run a competition someplace during a set period of time, say seven to 10 days, and you try to run 50 heats during that time frame, you’re not going to get a very good result. We’ve brainstormed the places where we could have a good competition, with sideshore wind and good waves, and there are only four or five spots. And a lot of them are tide dependent, so you might only have an hour to really ride. Abreu: And then there’s sponsorship. In surfing, people complain that the tours are being held in Huntington Beach, California, Japan and Brazil — places where the waves are horrible. If we started a world tour of kitesurfing, it would stop the sport from evolving because some cell phone company is going to want their event to be witnessed by 10,000 people. But the best wave spots for kiting are in places like this, where there are only 2,000 people. Simonsen: The surf industry is a lot bigger. Abreu: Just in the States, there are 1.6 million surfers. Simonsen: The number of kiters in the world is about 100,000 or 200,000. Someday the gear will give us more freedom — we’ll need less wind — and new spots will be discovered. At that point, maybe we could have a pro tour. But it will take awhile. Salles: Maybe it doesn’t have to be a competition? Maybe it could be something like this trip, where you ride together and learn from each other? Abreu: That’s more important than having a world champion. Because, really, we’re all just beginners. All of us have been kiting on surfboards for, what, like three years? And now you want to see who’s the best? We’re still just scratching the surface. If there was a world tour, name the top four waves you’d want to compete on. Abreu: Indo. Fernandez: New Caledonia. Simonsen: Peru is very good. The waves are head-high, and it’s always windy. James: Hawaii, maybe. But I lived there for five years and it only goes off a couple times a year. Simonsen: There’s a great spot in Chile, too. But if I tell you where it is, I’ll have to kill you. Would those waves be different if there
wasn’t a competition? Anbar: Wherever you ride, it’s much more fun when you’re not competing. Abreu: In California — Waddell Creek, C Street — all those places can go off. You just have to be at the right place at the right time. James: There are a couple waves in Hawaii that are great, but only for one or two hours, two days a year. Abreu: Even places like this, in Panama, have so many epic spots. But you only get
There are many sports we can tap into. Not just surfing. There is wakeboarding, snowboarding, skateboarding, paragliding and windsurfing. If we tapped just 10 percent of each of those, we’d be the biggest sport in the world. — Mauricio Abreu
There are a lot of guys riding in front of big waves, but there aren’t too many people actually riding the waves. Abreu: I think it’s irrelevant who kitesurfed the biggest wave. We can’t even ride headhigh surf as well as surfers. Can you imagine riding 50-foot surf like Laird [Hamilton] does? We’re very far away from being able to do that. Has the best kitesurfing wave been found or is it yet to be discovered? Salles: Just finding big waves to ride is a problem. Then you need wind. James: And once you get on a big wave, you get so loaded up that your apparent wind increases and you start to run away from the wave going 500 miles an hour down the line. That’s slowly starting to change. In the last year, I’ve seen a few new kites with enough depower to let riders hang back and fade farther toward the peak. Abreu: Nowadays, the epic condition is side-offshore. But like Will said, in a sideoffshore with a 30-foot wave, the wind is going to triple by the time you get to the bottom. Maybe Liquid Force will come up with a better kite [everyone laughs] and I’ll be able to do it? James: They are just going to copy Raphaël’s kite at F-One. Salles: Don’t even try it. Where do you envision kitesurfing five years from now?
a short window when the wind blows — maybe a hurricane is going by — and the surf and wind line up perfectly, and you can kite where nobody has ever kited. But you gotta be here, ready to go, when that day happens. Who has kited the largest wave to date? Wyman: I have [everyone laughs]. Abreu: Wyman’s the man. Wyman: Seriously, though, I don’t know. Abreu: That dude in Mavericks? (Editors note: That dude was Jeff Kafka.) Simonsen: What about the guys at Jaws? Salles: Nah, I saw that. Wind or no wind, They just went straight, Abreu enjoys which really isn’t riding a some of the punchiest beach big wave. breaks in the James: You gotta be Caribbean. engaged on the wave.
is that surfers have a very narrow mind, in my opinion, of being able to look at the big picture. I’ll go to a surf destination and it gets blown out and they’ll complain about it. But do I sit on the beach and do nothing? No. I take my kite and suddenly I’m having fun again. Kiting takes getting skunked at a surf destination out of the equation. Salles: There is also a market for people who have never surfed. It’s much easier to surf with a kite. To become a good surfer, you need to be close to the water and be in the waves all year long. If you are a kitesurfer, you can take a two-week holiday, go to a surf spot and you’re able to easily catch waves right away. Abreu: There are many sports we can tap into. Not just surfing. There is wakeboarding, snowboarding, skateboarding, paragliding and windsurfing. If we tapped just 10 percent of each of those, we’d be the biggest sport in the world. Raphael Salles glides into a left in Bocas.
Simonsen: We’d all like to know. Anbar: I think it’s going to go through what windsurfing went through. Wyman: You gotta elaborate on that one. Anbar: Windsurfing was booming. Then equipment got too expensive, and the number of riders started decreasing. It’s already happening the same way with kiting. Salles: I don’t think so. Simonsen: Yeah, I don’t think so either. When windsurfing began, it was one board and one sail. Then you had to have multiple boards and sails and masts and
booms. Everything got complicated and expensive. Kiteboarding is going in the opposite direction. We started out with a whole bunch of kites, like six, and now it’s down to two or three. Kiting is getting simpler and cheaper. Salles: And we need a lot less wind to have fun. Is the next big boom in our sport tapping into the enormous pool of surfers? Wyman: That’s the goal. To create growth, it’s essential to attract surfers. The problem
Have any of you learned anything on this trip by being around this many highcaliber riders? Wyman: Yeah, that I suck. Simonsen: That I still have a lot to learn.
Someday the gear will give us more freedom — we’ll need less wind — and new spots will be discovered. — João Pedro Simonsen
Photos: Erik Aeder; (opposite from top) John Bilderback; Ashley Kissenger
To become a good surfer, you need to be close to the water and be in the waves all year long. a kitesurfer, can take a two-week holiday, go to a surf spot and be able to easily catch waves right away. — Raphaël Salles
Who impressed you most on this trip? Goold: Rambo [speaking of Rami Beracha, aka “Rambo,” a former Israeli soldier who lost his right arm and left leg in 1983 when he stepped on a landmine while trying to rescue an injured compatriot during the Beirut War. Beracha, who traveled with Anbar from Israel, rides with prosthetic limbs made especially for kitesurfing.] Simonsen: By far, Rami is the man. Anbar: Seriously, I’ve worked with Rami for a few years and it’s amazing to see what he can do. People always ask me, “Do you think I could learn to kite?” And I tell them, “Look at Rambo. If you want to, you can — it’s just a matter of wanting it bad enough.” Abreu: In many ways, he’s more able to do things than we are. We’re always questioning the conditions, whether the wind and the surf are good enough for kiting. But Rami is like, “I don’t care, I’m going.” It’s inspiring. It really gives you a perspective of how lazy the rest of us really are.
A kiter’s dream wave. Bottom: Mickaël Fernandez.
Hooked-in versus unhooked? Goold: Unhooked. Abreu: The whole hooked and unhooked thing is all where you are in the sport. People learning front rolls or back rolls might hook in. People learning raleys might unhook. Simonsen: And if you want to depower in the surf, you need to be hooked in. Or if the wind is strong, gusty and offshore, you need to be hooked in. Abreu: It’s all about preference. I cannot wave-ride hooked in, in any conditions. But I’m not saying this is the only way to do it.
Abreu: We learned from Mickaël that we should all lose a lot of weight. He kited more than anybody. [Fernandez weighs 127 pounds.]
Strapped versus strapless? Wyman: For me, personally, riding strapless just makes it more fun and exciting. But if the waves are big, I use straps. That’s the only way I can handle it. Abreu: Of course, if you are in giant surf, you’ve gotta have straps. When conditions get out of control, you have to try to control
your equipment as much as you can. But those conditions are very rare. One of my best friends, Elliot Leboe, rides with straps. I’m never going to tell him, “Hey, take your straps off.” With straps, your learning curve is really fast. But when you link that first turn without straps, you’re going to really see what it feels like to be a surfer. James: I didn’t grow up surfing. I grew up racing snowboards. I like turning hard, so I gotta be strapped in the whole time. What is it about kitesurfing that draws you to it? Abreu: The money! No, really though, there is no other sport where you can be doing 40-foot jumps after only a threemonth learning curve. Goold: You get to catch a lot of waves and you can go out when the conditions for surfing are really shitty. Simonsen: It’s just a lot of fun. Period.
The best pros from around the world join the Best Odyssey in Panama for the first kite expedition in the region