World famous windsurfing legend visits Virgin indoor windsurfing championships
Sailpower.com’s Hannah Emanuel grabbed a few minutes with the very much in demand Robby Naish at the ExCel centre London, to talk about his new kitesurfing speed world record, team riders and the Naish brand, ‘eating shit at Jaws’, and the future of windsurfing.
I catch sight of Robby enveloped in a throng of autograph hunters, now without his trademark beach blond curls his presence is still great, everybody knows who he is, helped by his typical pose for the countless photos being taken, with thumb and little finger outstretched from his fist, the atmosphere surrounding the Naish stand at ExCel is electric. World champion from 1983-1991, winning his first title competition at the age of 13, Robby has dominated the windsurfing scene for the last 25 years and has more recently turned his hand to kitesurfing where he is proving world class too.
So where does he go from the top? Having broken the world speed record on a kite this summer, Robby is still not satisfied. His goals for the coming year are very clear:
“To try and make that record a little faster and to try and get my windsurfing speed up a little higher as well and, of course, I will continue to support my team riders who are also going after the outright world sailing speed record which is just right there.” Finian Maynard, a rider from the Naish team recorded a windsurfing speed just 16/100 second off the outright speed sailing record earlier this year, Robby is just as keen to pursue world records for his team as for himself. “This spring we’ve got a three-month window in France to try and raise that record so we’ll see what happens there.”
Arguably the most famous man in windsurfing and resident of Hawaii since the age of four, I can’t resist asking Robby what he thinks of the indoor arena at the show.
“It’s great. It’s a lot bigger than I thought it was gonna be. I guess the wind is pretty bad, it’s always bad. I guess some stadiums and some halls are better than others. The lower the roof, the more turbulent the wind is circulating around in there and because of the size of that building I’m sure it’s pretty bad in there. You’ve got to make the best of it. I guess you’ve got to look at it as an exhibition and a challenge, not as the real thing brought indoors because it really isn’t. It’s very difficult to sail. I haven’t actually seen the guys sail yet but it must be pretty tough in there.”
The Naish windsurfing brand is synonymous with expert equipment, a niche brand in the upper end of the market. Robby explains how they are working to change this to make their high quality gear more accessible to more people: “We’re trying to broaden our base with much better entry level equipment and more all round equipment not just targeted to the top end professional but really to the every day average rider. Our new range is much more versatile than what we’ve had in the past.”
Naish kitesurfing equipment, Robby tells me, is already “the number one brand” so the focus for them here is to stay at the top in this relatively new sport, “we’re investing a lot and pushing to develop new products all the time.”
Nobody could argue that windsurfing has changed a lot in the last few years, but where will it go? Will the exhibition at the ExCel centre help give the sport the boost it so rightly deserves to bring it back into the spotlight as it was in the 80s?
“The equipment has really improved, access to the sport is a lot easier than it used to be lighter equipment and much better beginner equipment and then of course the advanced gear is a lot better than it used to be as well, much lighter, more user friendly, more all round. You can buy a lot less equipment that does a lot more now. I’m just hoping that it becomes more popular again. All sports are cyclical and windsurfing has done a big cycle and were now seeing it start to grow again finally. That would be nice, to see it come back to a level that it was in the mid 80s during its heyday.”
Having spent 30 years of his life windsurfing in Hawaii, you can’t spend that long in the Hawaian surf without feeling in danger at some point. “I’ve had many, many scary moments. Eating shit at Jaws (a famous Hawaian break) and getting pitched over the falls with my gear on was pretty bad, it was on about a 15-18 foot wave and I got bounced off the bottom. That was quite scary.” Of course what I had hoped to hear about were shark attacks and scary sea creatures…, so….. “Oh yeah, I see sharks at home all the time, but they don’t normally bother you, they’re normally really scared and swim off. You know they’re always there and you normally don’t see them.”
So who does my most respected windsurfer most respect? “A lot of people. One of the biggest talents that I really enjoy riding with and watching ride has always been Jason Polakow but there is a ton of guys, all really good but I’ve always really respected Jason’s natural talent and I really enjoy riding with him.”
As for the Naish team riders, they are not all hand picked by Robby as I had imagined. He is still in it for the riding and not for the management position his brand affords him. “I have a hand in everything still but I have team managers, they have the final say. If there was a guy I really didn’t want on the team he wouldn’t be there and if there was someone I really did want, he’d be there but I try not to play those games. I’d rather be a fellow rider than the guy that’s making the final decision on their contracts. I don’t wanna be in that position with other sailors. I’ll give budgets and whatnot, but that’s all. I still consider myself to be a sailor, not a boss. I’m not ready to wear that hat yet.”
Relieved that Robby is still a rider at heart, despite his success, the money and the brand, I leave with my signed poster buzzing that I have just spent 20 minutes with a legend I now feel is my mate, and this is work!