On Board with Robby Naish

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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 white-blonde 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 neon-splashed 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 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.

Source: sailing world

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