ON BOARD WITH ROBBYN AI SH

De­spite be­ing the lat­est in­ductee to the Sail­ing Hall of Fame, don’t ex­pect Naish to start rem­i­nisc­ing on his glory days. The wind-driven su­per­star has more plans on the hori­zon.

Sailing World - - Contents - FROM THE EXPERTS

The wind-driven in­no­va­tor and new Na­tional Sail­ing Hall-of-famer says wind­foil­ing is the rem­edy for wind­surf­ing’s woes.

O At the third Wind­surfer World Cham­pi­onship in 1976, with sev­eral hun­dred tri­an­gu­lar sails swarm­ing the bay in Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia, it was a 13-year-old scrawny kid with a mop of white­blonde hair named Robby Naish who whooped the fleet. He didn’t know then that the pas­sion this surf­board with a sail ig­nited in him would drive him to the peak of wind-driven ex­ploits, mak­ing Naish syn­ony­mous with wind­surf­ing, kitesurf­ing and now wind­foil­ing (wind­surf­ing on hy­dro­foils).

Though Naish won ev­ery wind­surf­ing world ti­tle from his first un­til he grad­u­ated high school in 1981, racing was not his in­tended path. He saw the laid-back beach scene and ex­plor­ing the sea with friends, shar­ing his stoke, as the life­style he wanted to pro­mote.

Naish dom­i­nated the mar­ket with his neon­splashed wind­surf­ing gear, and even though keep­ing a top world rank­ing as pro­fes­sional wind­surf­ing be­came in­creas­ingly equip­ment sen­si­tive, he pi­o­neered the free-rid­ing realm. The 1990s saw him usher in the kitesurf­ing gen­er­a­tion, and in the 2000s, Naish’s lat­est is look­ing to re­gen­er­ated the throngs of wind­surfers from the 1970s and ’80s with wind­foil­ing.

Now in his 50s and still push­ing the lim­its of the sport and his body, Naish is look­ing squarely

Since win­ning his first wind­surf­ing world cham­pi­onship as a teenager, Naish has built a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar brand and has been a driv­ing force in the in­dus­try. PHOTO : MARC URBANO for­ward, sail­ing and surf­ing ev­ery day, and get­ting wind­surf­ing in front of as many rid­ers as pos­si­ble. His life­work is far from com­plete, but the se­lec­tion panel of the Na­tional Sail­ing Hall of Fame deemed him a wor­thy place­holder among sail­ing’s greats. We caught up with him by phone after he learned of his se­lec­tion. Big pic­ture, you were a racer; has that al­ways been a mo­ti­va­tor for you? It has re­ally evolved for me. We had wooden booms. It was a very sim­ple craft and a very unique fringe of sail­ing. I started wind­surf­ing in 1974 and won my first worlds at 13. It launched my ca­reer. It was full-blown sail­ing. Olympic cour­ses, tack­ing du­els and I loved it. I thrived on out­smart­ing my com­peti­tors and going faster. Wind­surf­ing branched off in the 1980s and ’90s from tra­di­tional sail­ing to high per­for­mance, and there was a de­vel­op­ment boom in freestyle and slalom. Did that time ex­cite you or were you starting to look for some­thing else? We de­vel­oped our­selves out of the mar­ket with new gear ev­ery year. It needed to be blow­ing hard to go wind­surf­ing, and you needed a ton of gear. Kitesurf­ing came along, and I was with that whole group in Maui and work­ing with Don Mon­tague. We were the first com­pany de­vel­op­ing and sell­ing mod­ern in­flat­able kites in 1999. I kept wind­surf­ing, but I was re­ally fo­cused on kit­ing. Now the big­gest mojo we have for our brand is hy­dro­foils. You said you loved the racing in the early days,

but you have re­ally de­vel­oped the sport with the Naish brand. Would you con­sider your­self an in­no­va­tor?

I’m the po­lar op­po­site of some­one like Don. He’s an in­no­va­tor. He tin­kers and finds peo­ple to cre­ate things he wants. I’m a sailor, a surfer, a rider. I do it for the vis­ceral level, push­ing my on-wa­ter ex­pe­ri­ence. In the early days I loved one de­sign. It was me against my com­peti­tors, and there were no ex­cuses. When it got to the point where equip­ment mat­tered, the less I en­joyed. I adapted and that’s why I lasted.

I don’t want to sit in my garage and talk about my crap. I’d sail till my arms were dead. What I did was sur­round my­self with in­no­va­tors like Don. I’m good at rid­ing and pro­mot­ing.

You made a video re­cently where you were hold­ing a Go­pro in your hand and show­ing how to wind­foil. It was sick! There was about 10 knots of wind, and you gave the en­tire tu­to­rial in one take. Is it that easy or is it you?

I’m try­ing to get old wind­surfers back. Those were the best times of our life in our 20s. Then you got a job, had kids, and there’s no time. Now the kids are older. But the av­er­age places peo­ple used to go to, it’s not quite windy enough to go wind­surf­ing. Wind­foil­ing is low per­for­mance re­ally, easy to ac­cess, and sim­ple.

I don’t want wind­surf­ing to die. To go in light wind, you used to need a 9.5 sail with all the cam­bers and a $ 1,000 car­bon mast. If you could wind­surf ev­ery­where again, peo­ple would do it. Fly­ing around in 10 to 12 knots. Back and forth, and the sail re­sem­bles what we used in the 1970s, with no bat­tens. I’m going the same speed in 10 knots as the top wind­surfers. It’s a freak­ing blast. I want to bring it back to ev­ery­one ev­ery­where.

Na­tional Sail­ing Hall of Fame in­ductees are of­ten peo­ple who have ei­ther passed away or fin­ished with their ca­reers. All are in­cred­i­ble in­di­vid­u­als. Do you feel like you fit into that group?

It’s cool. I’m old enough now that there’s some nos­tal­gia. I think I’m still look­ing for­ward. I’m still a highly paid pro ath­lete. I’m do­ing a Red Bull movie pro­ject with a mas­sive pro­duc­tion bud­get right now. But I’m 54. Look at how much time has gone by. This is pretty cool what I’ve done, but I’m not look­ing in the rear mirror to say “look how cool I was.” This is stamp­ing some­thing on my ear­lier ca­reer, rec­og­nized by the sail­ing world. I’m proud of it.

You men­tioned that wind­surf­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion has been in de­cline for the past 20 years. Do you be­lieve that a wind­surfer in the Na­tional Sail­ing Hall of Fame might help the sport?

Not pre­vi­ously, but it could right now. It’s good tim­ing with wind­foil­ing. It’s good for me per­son­ally. A lit­tle younger and this recog­ni­tion would be a lit­tle pre­ma­ture.

You’re still charg­ing pretty hard, like su­per­man. What are your lim­its right now?

I broke my pelvis a year ago kit­ing. And I just broke my foot. It bugs me a bit. The most im­por­tant thing for me is keep­ing stoked and rid­ing. I’ve never got­ten bored of any of my sports. The first few years of kit­ing, I wind­surfed less. I phased out of the pro­fes­sional wind­surf­ing. Then, in 2008, I tran­si­tioned to SUP. It was a whole new sport. I main­tain all three sports (surf, kite, wind­surf). I never want to let my abil­i­ties wain be­cause I’m an old kooky guy.

The first thing I did after my in­jury was start light-wind wind­foil­ing. I was the per­fect stunt dummy. I be­came my own guinea pig. I think this new genre of sail­ing will be more ap­peal­ing. It’s not so tech­ni­cal, pure and sim­ple. I got my girl­friend out in five min­utes, foil­ing in both di­rec­tions. I’m ex­cited about it and how easy guys and girls pick it up, rid­ing through the air with no pres­sure on the sail. Now with ev­ery­one jump­ing on the band­wagon, I see foils get­ting too high per­for­mance. Keep it sim­ple. Don’t com­pli­cate it and it’s a blast. Q

A leg­end in the wind­surf­ing arena and a leader in wa­ter­sports in­no­va­tion, Naish’s in­duc­tion to the Na­tional Sail­ing Hall of Fame re­flects the scope of his in­flu­ence. PHOTO : MARC URBANO

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