Title Nine Cover Shoot!

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Title Nine Cover Shoot!

This past summer I had the please of working with a women's clothing company that I've long admired, Title Nine.  Title Nine has always marketed their products towards the active, healthy, inspiring, REAL woman.  They use real athletes and influencers in their catalogs and even include small bio's and blurbs about who the women that grace their pages are and the cool things they do in their daily lives.

So, when I was approached about being included in one of their photoshoots, not only was I thrilled but I was truly honored to be featured amongst such a group of powerful women.  Huge thanks to Title Nine for the opportunity as well as my partner in the cover photo, Victoria Williams!

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The Brazilian Buzz

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The Brazilian Buzz

We’ve all heard the stories, seen the videos and many of us have even visited the Latin hotspot….Brazil, most notably, the state of Ceara and the Northeast coastline, THE go-to kite spot from late September to early December.  Adored for it’s hairdryer winds, glassy lagoons, endless downwinders, buggy strewn beach highways, strong cocktails and antioxidant rich Acai.

Year after year, pros, aspiring pros, vacationers and the like flock to one of the many established kite lagoons or coastal spots to spend their holiday or even their entire fall season at the thriving kiteboarder’s paradise.  Brazil’s popularity as a kite destination continues to skyrocket, attracting more people each year to it’s idyllic locales.  Having just returned from 5 weeks spent at my personal favorite Brazilian lagoon and witnessing by far the most crowded conditions I’ve ever kited in, I can’t help but ask the looming question…. is Brazil’s stellar popularity leading to it’s demise?  Have the perfect flat-water lagoons exceeded their max capacity?

What once felt like the ultimate kiteboarding wonderland now at times feels like rush hour when you’re already late for work. Of course the wind is still constant, blowing around the clock with a steadiness that is unparalleled but is that enough to maintain the growing popularity of the spot?  Or will it find it’s tipping point where the lagoons simply become too crowded to make the most of?

There’s no question that the kiteboarding conditions in Brazil are a step above the rest and are the breeding grounds for up and coming talent.  Maybe this overcrowding is simply a phenomenon similar to what happens at any popular surf spot where locals and more advanced riders run the rotation.  Or maybe Kiteboarders are simply cut from a different cloth and relish in the hustle of the jammed spots and it will forever be the more the merrier. 

I can’t say I know what is to come of our beloved South American lagoons but if we take this phenomenon as a litmus test for the general well being of the industry, I’d say we’re doing great.  And who knows, maybe the overcrowding is just the push we need to break out of our comfort zones to take the road less traveled once the leaves start to fall.  Or possibly the next ‘it’ spot is already on the rise waiting to be exposed just as Brazil was only a short while ago.  One thing I’ve learned for sure is that Kiteboarders are insatiable when it comes to time on the water during their holidays; so whether its Brazil or somewhere new, the buzz is only getting stronger.

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Summer Loving

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Summer Loving

Growing up, summertime meant loading up the van with all the toys and heading down to Hood River, Oregon.  Day after day of 2-3+ sport days spent mt biking, hiking, windsurfing, rafting, golfing, SUPing, etc.  All these years later, it’s still the only place I want to be as soon and spring is nearing its end.

Sure there are loads of activities you can do day after day but that isn’t the only draw to the area.  The people, the food, the brews, the vibes on the street, the epic sunsets that make their decent behind the rolling hills that light up the gorge in beautiful hues of orange and purple, in my book, there’s simply no better place to be.  And after this past summer spent enjoying the town of Hood River and the greater Columbia River Gorge area, I believe more Kiters than ever share my sentiments.

Hands down this was the busiest summer I’ve ever experienced in the area.  In town or on the water, loads of people have discovered this action sports gem and I believe it’s made it’s place in their heart as it has mine. 

Particularly in the ‘wakestyle’ scene, professional kiters from all over the world flocked to the Slider Project park to spend the season riding in the park and exploring the area.  Normally a place where it feels almost like your private park, regularly riding with only a few close friends and a handful of local homies but this year the park was going off at all hours of daylight.  At times it actually felt like too much.  Heading down for a quick session to find 30+ kites already sessioning the coveted 5 features and knowing that with each pass you’ll find yourself jockeying for position to get in your hits. 

It’s a great thing for the park riding scene to have so many riders amping to focus their energy in the park but does this mean our days of summer hood sessions with only the local crew are over?  Or is park riding in Hood River just the ‘It’ place to be at the moment?  Or maybe this is just a sign of the times.  Kiteboarding is growing and with it, so are the towns that have supported it over the years.  Either way, I’m thrilled to see the progression of the sport as well as the industry support that comes with more riders getting excited about the park.  Although a small part of me will always miss the quiet sessions with just the homies.

Text published in KiteSoul Issue #5 2016

           

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Hood Jam Photo Gallery

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Hood Jam Photo Gallery

What started as a simple idea discussed in my living room over a cold beer one lazy evening last summer with Rich Sabo, Brandon Scheid and Craig Cunningham before hosting the original Hood River Slider Jam has now been nurtured into a full-fledged weeklong shred fest with all of the worlds top park riders in attendance.  Home to the only truly public slider park in the world and now filled with more HDPE features than ever, Hood River, Oregon was the perfect venue to host such an event.  Twenty-nine competitors gathered in the Slider Project Park from August 5th to the 11th to see who would throw down the hardest and claim their spot as the top park rider of the event.  What proceeded was intense competition from the very first heat until the last amongst both the men and women with several heats coming down to mere fractions of a point between riders.  Some would even go as far to say that kiteboarding history was made in The Slider Project Park this week and we were lucky enough to have legendary kite photographer, Toby Bromwich, there to capture it all.  Here is a brief look at what happened during this epic week! 

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Quick Interview with 4KiteSurf Magazine

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Quick Interview with 4KiteSurf Magazine

You’ve been moving around a ton lately, what has been your favorite spot you’ve recently travelled to?

It’s halfway through the year and I’ve already been to 17 countries but there is one trip that definitely sticks out.  In February, Craig and I wanted to do a bit of exploring and through one of Sam Light’s best buds from home we ended up in Watamu Kenya. Sam’s friend Ben Kelliher runs a kite school there called Tribe Watersports and he welcomed us as if we were old friends.  He showed us all the best spots on the water and off and everyday we were blown away by something.  Perfect flatwater, steady wind, delicious food, friendly people and loads of unique places to explore.  We’re already planning our trip for next year!

Any exciting new videos or projects coming out soon?

Make sure to look out for Craig and my video from Watamu, we’re planning to release it in the next couple weeks.  This way you don’t even have to take my word for you can see for yourself.

Where are you currently?

Magdeline Islands off the east coast of Canada for our latest North Kiteboarding Vegas shoot.  I’ve just recently arrived and already it is one of the best places I’ve kited in North America. 

What are you most excited about for this upcoming NKB shoot?

Craig flew out here early to build a few features for the shoot.  Now that I’m here I can see that he has in fact been as busy as he’s said he is!  The setup he’s created is going to be super versatile and perfect for our location.  I can’t wait to try all the different setups he has in mind.

Anything you can tell us about the new gear?

Well of course it’s top secret but I can say for sure that it keeps getting better.  I’m stoked to ride for a brand that takes so much input from it’s riders into developing the gear.   It’s also a really good feeling to know that you helped create the products you get to ride everyday.

We know you are helping organize the upcoming Hood Jam event, can you give us the inside scoop?

Last year, Brandon Scheid, Rich Sabo, Craig Cunningham and I organized Hood Jam over a pint of beer at my bother’s house in Hood River two weeks before the event with zero sponsors…. it was awesome.  We rode a ton, had solid competition and the industry loved it rewarding us with loads of coverage.  Everyone involved from last year wanted it to continue for this year plus tons of other riders encouraging us to keep the tradition alive.  In effect, we’ve had to organize ourselves a bit more and for this year we’ll host an official event.  We’re stoked that we’ve been chosen as one of the Kite Park League official stops and from the messages we’ve received from around the globe are anticipating a huge turnout of competitors.

Overall our goal is to still keep it laid back and an event that is truly for the riders.  Everything we are planning is to make it the most enjoyable event possible to attend.  Plus we’re getting quite a bit of love from sponsors that wanted to be a part of the action so we’ll have parties throughout the week, an official livestream hosted by Sioeye, an all-star media team and a prize purse to give back to the riders putting it all on the line.

The event will be held August 5th-11th in Hood River, Oregon.  Make sure to check the Slider Project’s facebook frequently for updates.

Question from Noe Font: How is it to take on the “mom” role when you are traveling with the team?

Well to say that I am the team “mom” would be an overstatement in my opinion but yeah sometimes I do find myself organizing things for the group and taking care of things that the others don’t necessarily see right away but I think that’s just who I am.  I enjoy helping and encouraging the other riders and doing things to make whatever we’re doing a success on the whole not just for myself.

Text as published in the spring 2016 issue of 4Kitesurf as part of a joint interview with teammates Craig Cunningham and Noe Font

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The Flip Side

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The Flip Side

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Each year, thousands of kiteboarders pack their bags to spend their holidays in one of the best countries in the world to kiteboard, Brazil.  A massive country made up of 26 sates expanding 7,491 kilometers of coastline and home to thousands of butter flat lagoons.  For the average kiteboarder headed to Brazil, their final destination reads Fortaleza bringing them to one of the many epic kiteboarding destinations in the state of Ceara.  However, this travel story is about another part of Brazil.  A place that seems a world away and yet still carries with it some of the dearest qualities that many of us have come to know and love about kiteboarding in Brazil.  The marvelous city, famed for its Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, mosaic sidewalks, sprawling favelas, vivid street art and home to Christ the Redeemer as well as 6.3million people, Rio de Janeiro isn’t only one of Brazil’s most vibrant cosmopolitan cities but is also a destination to be included on any kiteboarders must-see list.

It had been on my personal list for quite some time now, having visited Brazil every fall for the past five years and not once stopping in on my good friend and teammate Reno Romeu who calls Rio home.  I’ve heard the stories from Reno for years now, ‘Rio has perfect flatwater, waves AND a lifestyle that can’t be matched’.  So when he invited me to join my other North Kiteboarding teammates, Tom Court and Sebastian Ribeiro for a ten-day trip in his home city, I couldn’t wait.

I had landed home from my previous trip not even a mere 48 hours before my Rio departure, exhausted as always but I could barely sleep in the days leading up to the trip because I was so excited.  Reno welcomed me at the airport in his usual unassuming and friendly manner, driving the scenic route around the city so I could get a glimpse at the stunning beaches and intermittent lush green mountains and then it was straight to one of his regular churrascaria’s for a casual mouth watering steak lunch.

In the short walk from the steak place to our apartment, I could already tell that I was going to like this place.  It bustled with life.  Everywhere I looked, young people exercised on the bright mosaic boardwalks, surfers ripped the sizeable shore break, paddle boarders explored the depths offshore.  The city was alive and buzzing with activity.

As soon as the others arrived, we headed straight for a session.  Reno warned us that it would be a bit of a drive but it would be worth it. Navigating the packed highways that wound their way from meandering coastline through bustling city and around the jungle topped peaks that Rio is known so well for wouldn’t be quick but with Reno at the wheel, it would be as efficient as possible.   Heavy on the gas, quick on the horn seemed to be the best way to get from point A to B and two hours later we were unloading the truck at a spot we coined ‘coca-cola lagoon’ due to it’s uncanny resemblance to the familiar beverage.  Although the water was a somewhat unsettling color, it was actually quite clean and we learned that the brown red hue was actually caused by a native algae that populates the lagoon.

Although our morning was spent in the hustle of the city, dining at classy restaurants and quickly immersing ourselves in the swanky beach life that surrounds our new neighborhood, we had been quickly transported to a world that felt incredibly familiar.  Tom, Reno and I had a perfectly powered 10 and 12m freestyle session in glassy smooth waters that rivaled any lagoon I’ve ridden in northern Brazil.  Only one thing was missing….we were completely alone.  We had the entire lagoon to ourselves minus a few on-lookers who showed up on the shore to see what was going on.  Sebastian even scored a brief wave session just on the other side of the small strip of sand separating the lagoon from the Sea.  The trip was already off to an epic start.

Our drive back to the city wasn’t short as Rio’s traffic isn’t for the feeble but feeling completely satiated from the session, we didn’t mind one bit.  In the next days we rode at our favored, ‘Coca-Cola’ lagoon, more formally known as Praia do Foguete, we also regularly rode at a spot with a significantly shorter commute located just a stones throw away from our apartment called Barra da Tijuca. 

Barra da Tijuca is everything I imagined Rio would be.  We would pump and rig our kites at the K08 kite club where we’d rinse off in the outdoor showers, snack on delicious Acai and sip frosty post-session Bohemias from our sun shaded hammock hangouts.  Our biggest concern when kiting at Barra da Tijuca was simply navigating the bikini-strewn beach between the launching area at KO8 and the water’s edge.  Although the area is the designated kiteboarding spot, you are certain to be greeted by sun kissed cheeks, colorful umbrellas and beach goers planted across the wide stretch of beach.  Barra da Tijuca is known for it’s sizeable shorebreak something Reno and Sebastian have come to know quite well, the two riding together yet Reno using the incoming waves as kickers and Sebastian taking them down the line on his wave board.  Tom and I fell seamlessly into step with our Brazilian teammates launching off kickers and enjoying the spot for it’s smooth winds and beautiful backdrops.  With the city looming just north of the spot, it was easy to get absorbed in the stunning cityscape on your tack out.

A few days in to the trip and we were already scoring sessions and making the most of our days in Rio.  With a weak forecast for the next couple days, Reno put on his tour guide hat and showed us a few more reasons why he wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.  We went wakeboarding and wakesurfing in the center of the city on Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, we climbed to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the impressive statue of Christo Redentor, we dined at delicious restaraunts and partied at high-end night clubs transplanted to the middle of the jungle for one-time exclusive events.

Only a short couple days of no wind and the forecast was back on form.  We loaded up Reno’s truck and strapped in for a long day.  Reno had been telling us of Arubinha since we’d arrived, boasting about it’s hard dryer wind and buttery flat waters.  We pulled up to the spot and were eagerly greeted by a dozen or so friendly locals and could see that Reno had not lead us astray.  It was just as promised, a long narrow sandy point with perfect cross-offshore winds.  It was even flatter than our beloved Coca-Cola lagoon.  Tom, Reno, Sebastian and I kited for hours.  We rode until the sun went down and we could barely muster the energy for another trick.  Leaving me with the same feeling I often get only after long days spent at my favorite lagoons further to the north.

Having felt quite at home kiteboarding in Brazilian beach towns after the past half decade of visits, at the end of our epic ten day trip, I couldn’t believe it had taken me this long to experience another part of this beautiful country I have come to know and love.  Not only because the kiteboarding was spectacular but because visiting Rio gave us a chance to experience a cultural and historical side of Brazil that I hadn’t understood before.

This text was recently Published in The Kite Mag Issue #14

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The Legendary Week: Triple-S Invitational

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The Legendary Week: Triple-S Invitational

Another year has come and gone and here I sit amongst my North Kiteboarding teammates in our 1970s Cape Hatteras rental overlooking the Pamilco Sound.  The usual background noise fills the air as the crew flips through the latest video releases in any number of action sports as well as the yearly catching up banter amongst friends who stop by to say hi and pass the time.  There is a steady murmur of predictions for what’s to come in the following days as everyone eagerly awaits the much anticipated Southwest winds.  It’s the week before the Triple-S Invitational.

Over the past four years, I’ve made the annual trek to the small chain of islands that lie off the coast of North Carolina for North America’s most prestigious kiteboarding event.  It’s one of the weeks I look forward to the most throughout the year.  The friends, the parties, the kiting….a sweet mix of lifestyle and action, just the way I like it.  And although I would now be regarded as a ‘veteran’ of the event having competed and stood on the podium for the past four years, I always come with the expectation to be surprised by some sort of significant change to the event.

When I first competed in 2012, 45 minute jam sessions ensued where 20+ riders per ‘heat’ rode together in the slick, sliders and surf.  At the end of the week you cast your vote for your favorite in each category and celebrated your winnings….which were bragging rights.  Then in 2013, the prize purse shot to 40K and with it came a panel of judges who would critique your riding in the same before mentioned categories.  2014 took a purely ‘wakestyle’ shift, eliminating the surf riders from the invite list and hosting the third ‘surf’ discipline in the ocean but using waves as kickers and riders using twintips instead of directionals.  Last year’s event saw arguably the biggest change, completely eliminating all freestyle and wave disciplines and going all in on Sliders, a drastic change but welcomed warmly by most of the participants.

So what could event host, Real Watersports, have up their sleeve for this year?  Already, with the announcement for the 2016 event we saw the invited rider list shorten from 32 men and 12 women to only the top finishing 16 men and 4 women from last years event with four additional invites given at the steering committees discretion.  But will that be THE big change for this year’s event or will the event continue to evolve?  According to head judge Brian Wheeler, “The park setup and format will be similar to what we had in 2015…. For the 2016 Wind Voyager Triple-S Invitational, like last year, the park will be divided into three zones, where each group of riders will get two or three attempts to post their best score on each of the features in each zone. All of the competitors will ride through zone one, then all through zone two, etc. Each rider’s score will be the sum of their top scores for each of the five features.”

In addition to confirming that the overall format will stay consistent from last year, Wheeler also shared that there will be another surprise in the cards.  For 2016, we will see the introduction of the Wind Voyager Triple-S Challenge Series.  Tapping into the historical spirit of the event pushing rider progression, there will now be 3 additional cash prizes up for grabs.  For the first female to do a 720 in competition there will be awarded 720usd, for the first person to do a 900, there will be 900usd and if anyone is able to land a 1080 during a heat, they will get an additional 1080usd prize.  If any of the challenges aren’t met for this year, they will move over to the next year and the prize money doubles.

 So the real question is who will step up to the challenge?  We know a few 900s have been done already so I would expect to see this but can one of the ladies pull off a 720?  And can anyone stomp a 1080?  These tricks have made history in other boardsports and maybe the time is now for kiteboarding to take it to this next level.  Or maybe this will start a trend of ‘spinning to winning’….I guess we will just have to wait and see.

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50 Shades of Turquoise

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50 Shades of Turquoise

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This is it. This is the point in the trip where our luck would turn around, I could feel it. So far things hadn’t exactly gone as planned but we were about to change locations and we could only hope for a fresh start.

Rewind to just 10 days earlier and Craig Cunningham, Aaron Hadlow and I were stepping off our respective flights hungry for flatwater sessions and full of ambition to build a few features for our upcoming team shoot. We would have just one week to assess the scene at the kite spot and get to work. Having built his share of sliders in the past, Craig would be taking the lead on the project and had big plans for what we would construct.

The three of us had made our way to Isla de Coche our kiteboarding paradise for the next week and a half. The legendary flatwater at Punta Playa, the main kiting spot on Coche, was situated only an hour’s flight and short boat ride away from the nation’s capitol, Caracas, which is located on the coastal mainland of Venezuela. We were in and out of the capitol city in the blink of an eye, just as we had planned. Currently regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous cities, Caracas faces political instability and heavy drug trafficking. To make matters even more interesting, recent policy changes now advised US citizens from traveling to the country and required special permission to be allowed in.

While the boys wouldn’t have any issues here, hailing from Canada and the United Kingdom, I had had to jump through a few extra hoops in order to attain the necessary visas. For the first time, I paused to consider if it was a good idea to visit a country my government deems so dangerous? I’ve become accustomed to traveling where and when I want and without reserve, but my intuition was telling me to go. With only a few extra questions, the Venezuelan customs agents miraculously deciphered my broken Spanish and soon enough I was bouncing my board bag down an uneven dock on Isla de Coche alongside my North Kiteboarding teammates. It was going to be a good trip.

The next few days, the three of us slipped into an easy routine. Wake up to a traditional Venezuelan breakfast often complete with beans, fried plantains and Arepas (corn cakes) then wander down the 200m stretch of beach from our hotel towards the undeveloped sandy point that would grant us copious amounts of flatwater and smooth wind.  From there, we’d take a quick, or long, morning session depending on the day’s list of‘To-Dos’ for the slider build, start checking off tasks for said slider build, kite and repeat.   If the first two days were any indication, this trip was off to a great start. The spot was just as good as we expected and we couldn’t wait to have the rest of our crew here and to have the sliders finished.

Somewhere around day three we ran into our first setback. Venezuela as a country has experienced incredible economic and political instability in recent years, because much of their economy is based on oil exports the recent fluctuations in crude pricing has led to rampant inflation with little investment in transportation and energy infrastructure.  The small town, San Pedro de Coche, had begun facing frequent power outages, which meant businesses were more often than not closed, making it impossible to get the needed materials within our short time frame.

Challenges like this are expected, and logistical hiccups are bound to come up during international travel, so we pressed on and did what we could. Minor delays began stacking up as construction progress ground to a standstill. Our time in Coche was nearing its end with not a single feature completed and the rest of the photo and film crew having already arrived ready to start shooting the episode.  We were starting to sweat.

Craig scrapped the original plan and shifted to plan B. We were now focusing on just two features; a kicker and a unique up-flat-up tube that Craig envisioned as an easy build off of an existing structure being kept at the local kite school. Like all things involving sliders, it had quickly turned into a much more difficult project than we expected, it was looking as though we would get the features in the water with only two full days of shooting.  Two days of shooting wasn’t what we had hoped for but it would have to be good enough.

The group was now nine people, having added riders Reno Romeu and Stefan Speissberger as well as our team manager, photographer and two videographers. We sat down to a late dinner to discuss the details of successfully pulling a two-day shoot off for this portion of the trip. It was conceivably possible if we started early, the wind cooperated and everyone rallied hard all day to get it done.

As we walked back to our rooms from dinner, we couldn’t help but feel the pressure building for the day to come.  We needed the very best from each team member to pull this off.  But as the evening turned to night, Craig started to question his dinner choice.  Food poisoning had been on the back of our minds with the frequent power outages and Reno having already succumbed to an unknown foodborne illness he came down with only hours after arriving. But so far everyone else had been okay so it wasn’t given much thought.  First it was Craig then shortly behind followed our photographer Toby Bromwich.

Now with half our group severely ill, our task was even more daunting.  First thing in the morning, we recruited a few extra hands to help carry everything to the water and pressed on. Craig and Reno managed to drag themselves out of bed and Toby pushed through unmentionable discomfort to keep his camera firing.  Despite everyone’s best efforts, after eight days of construction delays and endless frustration we had managed to launch two features into the water, yet nothing was working quite right.

We needed additional anchors for the kicker because of unexpected hectic weekend boat traffic spinning it out of place.  The flatbar need more floatation because it was tilting to one side and we needed to figure out a method for digging deeper into the sand to secure the up tube. We were loosing crucial filming time while not one single feature worked like it was supposed to.  In hindsight, we should have anticipated this; building features always takes more time, energy, and money than ever expected. This is one of the reasons why it’s so special to score a good park session and also why there are so few slider parks in the world. The countless hours of building and troubleshooting that go into building any feature for kiteboarding takes determination and tenacity.  And we were attempting to pull this off in Venezuela, a beautiful country for kiting yet one that at the time was making this mission next to impossible.

It was all we could do that last day in Coche to pull something off.  With a little ingenuity from a sickly Craig and our local guide, Christiano, we had a floating flatbar. We jammed the pole out the end and jerry rigged a fitting using extra kite leashes to keep it in place. The kicker was working as well. We had our park and although it wasn’t what we had initially dreamed of, with the unforeseen challenges that loomed we were incredibly relieved and excited.

We rode until the sun sank to the horizon, transforming the sky into a gorgeous palette of deep orange and pink hues before slipping into darkness. We were exhausted, sunburnt and some of us still very much sick. We had ridden our park but it wasn’t time to claim victory yet. We had merely just begun our trip and were headed first thing the next morning for the remote archipelago of Los Roques National Park.

We all needed the change; our group had struggled to maintain the enthusiasm required to accomplish a project of this magnitude. While it may seem like the team shoots produced by the big kiteboarding brands are a vacation for everyone involved, and yes they certainly are incredible, but they also take hard work and motivation. So when we repacked our 20 or so board bags to continue our shooting at the next location, we were excited to get a fresh start for a new segment in our adventure.

Rejuvenated by the prospect of greener pastures, we eagerly loaded up the excessive amount of gear into two wooden boats that would take us back across the channel to Isla de Margarita from which we jump on a small plane to our next stop:

Los Roques National Park. Despite the relatively short distance between the two islands, we endured a second round of customs interrogations. The rapid fire questioning about camera equipment, drones and what seemed to them like a completely unreasonable amount of “stuff” was staved off with a simple airport act commonly referred to as “the stupid tourist.” Lucky for us, this time the performance worked and we were eventually waved off with a mere headshake of annoyance.

We weren’t out of the woods yet.  As we checked-in for our small-chartered plane we found that it couldn’t safely carry us as well as all of our oversized gear. Without our carry-ons we had over 1700 pounds of equipment. Luckily, our smooth talking Brazilian teammate, Reno Romeu, negotiated a deal to pack our equipment on a second plane that would arrive the next day. It wasn’t an ideal situation but it would have to do. So far the shooting had been trudging on despite the frequent setbacks. We had claimed a few gems along the way, but we still had so much work to do and we couldn’t afford to keep going at such a slow rate.

The flight to Los Roques was incredible. It was a comfortable 14-person plane and only shortly after takeoff we slipped over the most beautiful chain of islands I’ve ever seen. The contrast in colors was spectacular. Tiny white irregular shaped dots outlined by brilliant turquoise rings with layers of deep ocean blue speckled the Caribbean Sea below.  Hardly a palm tree, hill or building were in sight. It looked like we had just discovered kiteboarding heaven.

It was a flatwater utopia for as far as the eye could see; Island after island with hardly anyone or anything in sight. We couldn’t wait for the next day to arrive and hopefully with it, the consistent trade winds known to frequent the area.  We stepped off the plane and waited for our airborne baggage mule before settling into our 43 foot luxury catamaran.  Setting sail from Gran Roque, the second largest island in Los Roques National Park and the only populated island.  We were loaded with everything we needed for our 10 days aboard in the event we decided not to return to port for the entirety of the trip.  A likely option since there were endless islands to explore.

Our first stop offered the perfect glassy waters we were after, yet a meager breeze left us unsatisfied with the conditions. Local knowledge told us it would be windy somewhere around the islands everyday, so we sailed on. The next spot providing yet again the picture perfect waters we desired but the wind was merely a tease, luring us to the water only to feel it’s power lacking that last extra few knots to give it what we needed. What quickly ensued seemed to be a game of cat and mouse. We sailed around the islands in a steady 12kt breeze. The perfect amount of wind for a leisurely and quite speedy sail but just below that coveted amount of wind for the hardcore freestyle action we craved.

Day after day, we sailed, forecasted and chased our best-guessed predictions. We covered countless miles of pristine marine territory, constantly in awe of its raw and unaltered beauty. Despite the uncooperative wind conditions, we couldn’t help but feel fortunate for the opportunity to simply experience a place so serene. And we did get on the water here and there. The name of the game was ‘be ready’. At all times, our gear would be rigged ready to go at the slightest bump in wind speeds. Glued to the anemometer, any spike over 15kts meant all riders and cameras were out making the most of every minute.

In a way, it made the time spent kiting even more special because you never knew how long it would last. There wasn’t time to hold anything back so each session was full on with 100% commitment into every trick. You could see the energy in each athletes riding and as a result, I think we saw the best come out in everyone.

Although it felt as though the universe had been working against us at almost every step of the way, finishing off our two-week trip, we had hard drives full of footage to use for North’s campaigns over the next year.  We had ventured out to a place lesser known in the kiteboarding world despite the warnings and were returning having experienced kindness and generosity from the locals, success with creating new features under challenging conditions, as well as a rare opportunity to live amongst the remote islands of Los Roques.

Text as published in The Kiteboarder Magazine May 2017

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KiteSoul Column: "Wanderlusting"

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KiteSoul Column: "Wanderlusting"

My Column in Italian magazine KiteSoul #11

It can be easy to find a favorite kite spot and make that ‘your go-to travel spot’.  Each time you can sneak away for a little vacation your fingers slip into autopilot, checking ticket prices for the airport nearest that one favorite kite spot.  Visiting time and time again, year after year.  Not to say there is anything wrong with that.  Kiteboarding is a fickle sport.  I get it.  Why venture to the unknown when the known is so good?

Even as a professional kiteboarder one can get sucked into this trap of knowing what you’re in for.  Personally, I’ve been going to the same small town in brazil for the past five years, in total spending almost 10 months in the quaint fishing village.  But then again there are reasons for this.  When booking a kiteboarding holiday to a relatively unknown destination you are always taking a risk.  Will it be windy?  Will the water conditions be to my liking?  What about the food, locals, and non-kiting activities? Will I be safe exploring the beaches and nearby towns?   All my friends are in this other location; maybe I should just go to the same place as them….

With most investments, they say that with bigger risk comes healthier rewards and just recently while globe trotting from Seattle to Asia to Africa, Craig Cunningham and I cashed out big.  While the rest of the kiteboarding world headed to Cape Town, South Africa, easily one of our favorite kite cities, we opted for the path lesser travelled and hopped a flight to Kenya.  Destination: Watamu. 

Watamu is a small fishing village located only an hour flight from Mombasa, planted on the central coast of Kenya.  Boasting one of the best beaches in Kenya as well as consistent winds for two peak seasons a year, loads of offshore sandbars, wildlife, fresh cheap eats, and loads of non-kite activities, Craig and I almost couldn’t believe it to be true.  It sounds like every new spot that promises the ultimate kite vacation glory in their ad on facebook.  But in this case it was even better than promised. 

And as I sat at 4am on the last days of this recent trip to Kenya overlooking the most breathtaking view of a waterhole remarkably similar to the final scene in the Lion King, I was blatantly reminded that stepping outside the comfort of visiting established destinations can be so much more rewarding.  So I challenge you, you who books the same condo on the same stretch of beach year after year, ask around, do a few google searches, find a place you’ve always wanted to see and go for it.  You might just have the trip of a lifetime!

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Event Report: Blue Palawan Kite Open

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Event Report: Blue Palawan Kite Open

With each new year comes new challenges, destinations, events, gear, teammates and more.  The kiteboarding industry is ever evolving and as a professional athlete, you can never be certain of what might be in store next and this year we were in for a treat right off the bat.  Just after ringing in 2016, 24 athletes from all over the globe came together on Palawan Island in the Philippines to compete in the first annual Blue Palawan Kiteboard Open and to check out the brand new world class Kite Park that would be inaugurated as Asia’s very first.  The year was off to an exciting start.

I was traveling to the event with teammate Craig Cunningham after spending a week at a cable park on a nearby island brushing up on our rail riding for the upcoming competition.  Both of us were eager to get a first look at the new park we had been hearing so much about from our good friend and event organizer, Paula Rosales.  Along the way we linked up with teammate and event videographer, Tom Court as well as his girlfriend and right hand video gal, Sophie Matthews.  The four of us would be the first ones to arrive and check out the new park. 

After an easy flight from the nation’s capitol, Manila to Puerto Princessa, hopping just a short distance from one island to the next, we were enthusiastically welcomed by one of the Blue Palawan staff.  Offering cold towels, chilled water and a comfy ride to the resort, immediately we could tell that this would be a different kind of kiteboarding event than we were accustomed to.

Arriving to the resort just as the sun was beginning to make it’s final decent, a warm glow was cast upon the shoreline where we stood taking in our first impressions of the spot.  The water was mirror flat, reflecting in a way that you only rarely see, the sea grass smoothing out the surface even despite the light breeze.  A large mangrove forest emerging to the North giving a sense that no one else was around for miles, that this playground was all for us.   And it was.   As sessions ensued in the coming days, we learned that this stretch of beach was kept for our sole use and that of the brand new kite park that we would set afloat the next day.

Manufactured in Hood River, Oregon by the best in the business, Joby Cook of Jibstruction, packed up and sent to the other side of the world, we were more than excited to crack open the shipping containers housing the brand new features.  Custom designed and built specifically for the Blue Kiteboarding Park, we would have a kicker, a rooftop and also a very unique feature, a completely new design from jibstruction, a funbox with ledge.  The combination of these three perfect features with the potentially epic conditions of the spot at Blue Palawan was already telling us that this would be an event to be remembered.

By the next day, some of the other riders had already begun to trickle in.  We were soon joined by Canada’s Sam Medysky, USA’s Brandon Scheid, Sensi Graves and Eric Reinstra, Spain’s Noe Font, Russia’s Victoria Soloveykina, the UK’s James Boulding and Sam Light, Switzerland’s Manuela Jungo and Norway’s Malin Amle who would all enjoy the next week kiting at Blue Palawan and exploring Puerto Princessa before the start of the event.   Over that next week we surfed, sup’d, paddled traditional outriggers, explored nearby islands, enjoyed a variety of local cuisine, had pool parties, set the brand new kite park afloat and of course sessioned.  It was a full on week, one packed with activity and the event hadn’t even started yet. Our hosts at Blue Palawan and main event organizer, Paula Rosales were set on showing us a good time.   But they didn’t just do that, they swung for the fences and definitely didn’t miss.

 The first week was a great introduction to the spot and the town of Puerto Princessa in general.  The locals were welcoming in a way that despite language barriers and cultural differences, made you feel right at home.  The town wanted us there and was proud to host international athletes and the upcoming Blue Palawan Kite Open.  The mayor even stopped by to introduce himself.

 As with most things, when you’re having a good time, moments pass by quickly and before any of us realized it, the week had already come to an end and it was time to get down to business.  Many of the other competitors had already arrived, also excited to check out the new park and spot, almost everyone having arrived at least a few days before the start of the event.  So we had a complete roster standing at 24 competitors representing 12 different countries.  We had world champions, park legends and the hungry up-and-comers alike.  It was time to get down to business and everyone couldn’t hardly wait.

Only a couple days before the start of the event, we had had several days of freeriding in the park.  Starting out on big kites ranging from 15m-17m and by sundown most women were on 11m with guys powered on 13m.  The wind was hair drier smooth and the water about as flat as can be.  One of the fabulous peculiarities of the spot at Blue Palawan is that even despite it being windy and having no visible sandbar to protect the chop, it stays flat.  There is a seagrass that grows here, not so dense that it pulls on your lines after a crash yet just strong enough to keep the ripples at bay.  So it is safe to say that the kiting conditions were prime and the competitors having had a taste of what was to come were eager to get things started.

After registration day and the welcoming party, the forecast looked promising.  Showing lighter days in the start of the week with stronger breezes picking up just about the time we expected to be heading into the finals.  It looked too good to be true.  And unfortunately it was. 

Early in the week we managed a partial result having a surprise spike in winds one afternoon getting competitors on the water to complete the preliminary heats on big kites and set the lineup for the finals to come later in the week.  The 13 men and 11 women, would have 3 attempts on the North Fun Box feature and the Philippine Airlines Kicker on each tack to post their single best score on each feature for both port and starboard tack culminating in their 4 highest scores to take them into the next rounds.  The winds were light for these first rounds but held steady and granted a first round result to see who would make it into the final heats for the coming days.  On the women’s side it was Julia Castro, Sensi Graves, Victoria Soloveykina, Karolina Winkowska, Therese Taabbel, Malin Amle, Manuela Jungo and Me who would continue on.  For the men we would see Brandon Scheid, Sam Medysky, Noe Font, Axel Tack, Tobias Holter, Eric Reinstra, Sam Light, Tom Court and Craig Cunningham move forward.

Yet after our lucky start, day after day our forecast fell apart.  The evening’s predicted readings showing good signs for a following day of contestable winds yet in actuality stayed calm at best.  After the first few days, it caused no real stress.  We already had the first round complete and we had plenty of activities to keep everyone stoked and entertained.  We visited jungle zip lines, local farms, the nearby surf breaks, even just lounging around Blue Palawan and the beach front pool with the crew was solid entertainment.  Despite the lack of wind there was hardly a complaint to be had.  And with the new format we had decided to run with designed by park guru, Eric Reinstra, we could run the competition over the course of just 1 full day or 3-5 depending on available wind.  Ideally we’d have 3 days to run the event, giving competitors more attempts on each feature but as it sat having the initial rounds finished, we would be able to complete the event with just one more solid afternoon.

As the week continued, we began to get more anxious.  The common theme being a good forecast for the next days only to dissipate and push further into the week and with the end of the holding period fast approaching everyone was starting to wonder if the competition would have the chance to finish.  It was the typical scenario, plan a kiteboarding event and the weather is going to crap out on you.  January is historically the best month for wind in the Philippines bringing the consistent ‘Amihan’ winds and typically blowing to kiteable conditions over 20 days per month.  But so far between Jan 13th and 19th, we were almost striking out.

It was already the end of the week and we had just one last day to finish the event.  Competitors awoke and rigged kites in the non-existent wind just for the chance that the wind came up.   The skippers meeting sticking to its usual tune, advising to rig big and be ready and the competitors were ready.  It was the very last day of the holding period and the beach was packed with kites waiting to take flight.  Competitors already in sun protection and jerseys lined the shores.  And then it happened.  The wind arrived.

It wasn’t much but we would take it.  15-17m kites were launched and riders started working their way upwind to where the park sat idly waiting.  We started with the freshly arrived Liquid Force Rooftop on port tack first the Men’s final heat then the Women’s.  After the Rooftop we moved on to the North Kiteboarding FunBox on Starboard tack and then immediately ran heats on the kicker setting it up first Starboard then Port.  Lulls in the wind came through forcing female competitors onto the 17m kites of their teammates and periodic holds in the men’s lineup to try to give each competitor enough power to give their best attempts.

            It was light wind kiteboarding at it’s finest.  Despite the barely kiteable winds it’s amazing the tricks and hits that are still possible in the park, we saw impressive hits on the features conveying technique, style, and risk as well as some of the most difficult kicker hits in the business.  For both the men and women, everyone stepped up their game and the victors were crowned; Men’s Features awarded 1st Sam Light, 2nd Craig Cunningham, 3rdSam Medysky.  Women’s Features: 1st Karolina Winkowska, 2nd Sensi Graves, 3rd Colleen Carroll.  Men’s Kicker: 1st Sam Light, 2nd Eric Reinstra, 3rd Brandon Scheid and Women’s Kicker: 1st Karolina Winkowska, 2nd Sensi Graves, 3rd Colleen Carroll.

Text written by Colleen Carroll as published in Vision Kite Mag Issue #2

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Freedom Kite Mag Interview; Travel Tips and Stories

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Freedom Kite Mag Interview; Travel Tips and Stories

What are your tips/stories on travelling with kite gear and excess baggage etc? 

Travelling with kite gear can be a huge pain, especially if you’re not familiar with the airlines baggage policy.  When booking your flight it is extra important to check out the checked baggage policy before hitting purchase.  Often it can be worth it to pay a slightly higher ticket price in exchange for a more reasonable checked weight allowance.  Then at the airport know exactly how much weight you have and what it should cost you.  If you can, prebook the extra weight you’ll need and have proof of it. 

How do you deal with angry or ‘less than helpful' check in agent? 

Smile, smile, and keep on smiling.   And then if they really screwed up your travel itinerary, write a complaint to the airline afterwards giving details about the trouble you experienced. Often you’ll get miles or a credit.

What have you had to discard in order to keep your bags underweight?

Hair products mostly.  As scary as that is, it is often the easiest ‘heavy’ thing that can be replaced.  Although most times I’ll just cram my carry on’s full or make enough of an inconvenience in reorganizing my bags that the check in person lets it slide.

What do you take on every trip? (What can you not do without)

Macbook, Kindle, Yoga mat, a variety of Sensi Bikinis, Raw sunscreen, Naked Nutrition protein.

Funniest/Worst travelling experience?

I’ve definitely had things go wrong while traveling but it’s often just the usual song and dance.  You know, missing bags, delayed or cancelled flights, having to turn back around due to engine failure.  Nothing that seems too remarkable to me now.

Travelling can be painful but what makes it all worth it for you?

You never know what’s to expect once you arrive.  I absolutely love seeing new places, meeting new people, finding new kite spots, etc.  Getting from point A to point B can for sure be a hassle but once your rigging up at that new (or favorite foreign destination) any of the travel woes are quickly forgotten.

Have you ever thought you were going to die on a plane/boat/ferry? Tell us about it.

Two summers ago I spent some time travelling around Northern Germany.  I was with Manuela Jungo, Marit Nore and Malin Amle and we were invited to take a catamaran trip up to Copenhagen, Denmark for a week.  After the first 24hours the swells were 9ft with wind gusting to 40kts.  We broke some rigging and couldn’t walk on deck without being clipped in for fear of being thrown overboard.  I’m not sure I thought we were going to die but there were times where we definitely felt less than 100% that we would make it back to shore in one piece.

Worst/Best Food experience?

I think anyone who has done any sort of traveling to foreign countries has the usual food poisoning stories….I’ll spare you the details.

Best place you have travelled to and why?

Hood River, Oregon, Union Island, Grenadines, Los Roques Venezuela, Perth, Australia all top my charts but recently I did a trip with Craig Cunningham to Watamu, Kenya and we had a blast.  On the water and off, we had a truly epic trip!

Worst place you have travelled to and why?

Probably the catamaran trip to Denmark for reasons described above.

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Tips & Tricks:  Intro to kiting in the Park

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Tips & Tricks: Intro to kiting in the Park

A recent article I wrote for Kite Sista Magazine, here are my 'Tips for First Hitting Features with a Kite'...

"There is no avoiding it, wakestyle is in at the moment and it seems like everyone is getting into sliders and kickers. As it can be a bit daunting we thought you might like to know what the queen of sliders has to say about hitting features for the first time with a kite." - Kite Sista

Location: Hood River, Oregon Photo: Arlin Ladue

Location: Hood River, Oregon Photo: Arlin Ladue

STAY WITHIN YOUR LIMITS.

Have an honest conversation with yourself and ask…am I comfortable being unhooked while staying in control?

Can I consistently complete basic unhooked tricks? Do I feel good riding without fins and in bindings?

Location: Blue Palawan, Puerto Princessa, Philippines

Location: Blue Palawan, Puerto Princessa, Philippines

RIDE AT THE CABLE PARK.

It may not be possible for everyone but if you can, go take some laps at a cable park. Most parks will have a variety of beginner to advanced features and give you the chance to focus only on what your doing with your board, taking the kite out of the equation.

Not to mention the ability to consistently hit the same features repeatedly, you’ll be rewarded with rapid progression from day 1.

Location: Camsur Watersports Complex

Location: Camsur Watersports Complex

BE PICKY ABOUT THE CONDITIONS.

Try to go for a day when you’re comfortably powered on your mid or large sized kite and the wind is steady. On a bigger kite, the pull will be more consistent when trying to line up the feature making it easier to successfully get on and across the feature.

Rider: Sensi Graves Photo: Toby Bromwich

Rider: Sensi Graves Photo: Toby Bromwich

FIND OR BUILD AN EASY FEATURE.

Ideally you can first try with a smaller feature that is only a short distance off the water, is at least as wide as the width of your board and has an easy entrance onto it. Don’t have this dream box at your local spot? Gather a crew and get to building! Just make sure that there are no jagged edges or exposed nails to potentially encounter.

Photo: Toby Bromwich Event: Hood River Slider Jam

Photo: Toby Bromwich Event: Hood River Slider Jam

CHECK YOUR ANGLES.

Most features are setup about 45degrees off the wind give or take a little depending on personal preference. If you’re riding with a group of experienced riders and most people aren’t consistently completing the full length of the feature, take the time to adjust the angle to make it easy for complete hits. The more you ride features the easier it will be to find the best angle from the start and to know when you need to adjust it. If you’re not sure, start with a basic 45 degrees and tweak it from there.

Location: Blue Palawan, Puerto Princessa Event: Blue Palawan Kite Open

Location: Blue Palawan, Puerto Princessa Event: Blue Palawan Kite Open

SPEED IS YOUR FRIEND IN MANY WAYS.

While its critical to stay in control, maintain a moderate speed. You’ll need this in order to slack the tension of your lines and keep your kite pulling you across the feature at the same time. Having good speed also means that if you fall, often it will be over and off of the feature instead of onto it. It is also much easier to balance if you have steady momentum. It is a common mistake for people to first approach sliders with as little speed as possible.

AS WITH ANYTHING, GO ALL IN OR GO HOME.

Commitment will be one of the keys to your success. If you need to cruise by the feature just to scope it out before your first attempt, that’s cool but once your making your approach commit to it 100%.

RIder: Therese Taabbel Photo: Toby Bromwich

RIder: Therese Taabbel Photo: Toby Bromwich

WATCH OTHER RIDERS OR VIDEOS.

This is advice for the newbie or park pro alike. Whether your just trying to line up the feature for a complete hit across it or trying to get tech, watching other riders can aid in your own progression tenfold. For your first times pay particular attention to how fast the other riders approach the feature, where they unhook and the edge they take into the feature. See if you can follow behind someone who’s out there getting good hits and try to mimic their line.

WE ALL LIKE TO LOOK GOOD SO WHY STOP HERE.

Do your best to stay composed, keep the bar low and close to your body and if you’re feeling extra fancy try getting into a basic press. Even simple hits done with style can be instant crowd pleasers.

Location: Real Slider Park, Hatteras, North Carolina Photo: Toby Bromwich

Location: Real Slider Park, Hatteras, North Carolina Photo: Toby Bromwich

WEAR A HELMET.

Hook to your flag out line in the beginning and have fun!

 

 

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2016 Gear Intros: NKB Rebel & Dice

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2016 Gear Intros: NKB Rebel & Dice

I was really excited when North decided to send me and my teammate, Craig Cunningham, to this year's Mac Kiteboarding Test Fest in Grand Haven, Michigan.  I've met members of the Mac Kite crew at various kiteboarding related functions around the country and not only were they always a cool crew to hang with but with every encounter would come an invitation to their biggest event of the year - The Test Fest.  What was once a competition for top level riders is now an event held for amateurs and pros alike to get together, talk shop, ride, and in general have a really good time.  

While this was the first year that there wasn't very good wind, we did have plenty of time to talk gear.  Watch the videos attached below as I briefly introduce to you what's new for 2016 on the North Kiteboarding Rebel & Dice!

(and please don't mind the facial expressions in the cover photos....uncanny, right?)

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Where the Wind Blows is back for Season 2 and better than ever!

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Where the Wind Blows is back for Season 2 and better than ever!

I am really excited to share that Season 2 of our web series, Where the Wind Blows, is now live!  Starting off with my 'Select' episode (the first episode of five!) you'll see a brief recap of my last season of travels and see just a small glimpse of why I love coming back 'home' to Hood River, Oregon year after year.

In addition to wanting to share the video, I'd like to share with you just a short bit of background about how I came to be a professional kiteboarder chasing wind across all corners of the globe....

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Travel Guide: Union Island

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Travel Guide: Union Island

I recently wrote a travel guide for The Kiteboarder Magazine's best flat water destination Travel Guide for one of my most favorite places I've ever been, Union Island.  Union is a very special place and one that in my opinion offers everything you need to have the most amazing vacation.   Because I loved this place so much I want to share with you just how to plan your next kiteboarding holiday to Union Island.

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AWSI 2015 Female Kiteboarder of the Year

I'm happy to start this new blog off on a high note by sharing the news that I was voted the Association of Wind and Watersports Industries (AWSI) 2015 Female Kiteboarder of the Year.  There were five ladies nominated for the award, each having made notable strides in the North American kiteboarding industry over the last year and ultimately being decided by a panel of judges made up of magazine editors and other industry leaders.  I'm so honored to have been chosen out of an amazing pool of women who are continuously making strides on and off the water, each proving to be stand out ambassadors for out sport.

Below I've posted my nomination video where you'll see a few highlights over my past season.  I was lucky enough to travel to Brazil, The Philippines, Australia, South Africa, The Grenadines, Norway, Venezuela and also had some time in a few of my favorite places at home in the US.  It was an amazing year packed with some of the best kiteboarding conditions I've ever experienced as well as some incredible memories with friends new and old.

I also have to give a huge thank you to my sponsors North Kiteboarding, Ion and Sensi Graves Bikinis.  You guys are the best!

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