I sat watching this year’s King of the Air competition on Youtube, barely comprehending how these athletes attached to kite above and board below, were flying so high in the air, flipping around doing insane maneuvers and dropping back on to the water. It was fascinating, and terrifying at the same time. Maui’s own homegrown kite surfer Jesse Richman took the first place at King of the Air, for the second time. MauiTime tracked Richman down to ask him about spending life connecting sky and ocean, his recent win, baby and what the future holds for him on Maui.
MauiTime: Its been a while! Catch me up on what you have been up to since we last spoke about your feature film debut in 2016.
Jesse Richman Living on Maui prepares me for any conditions I might find in the farthest reaches of the world. I’ve continued to follow my dream to lead an exciting life as a professional kitesurfer, with a strong focus on the extreme side of the sport that one finds in big waves and big air. As always, my home is on Maui, and I spend as much time as I can enjoying this beautiful island.
Life is better than ever and keeps going up. Maui is the ultimate training ground; here I can kite all the time with world-class conditions, surf whenever it’s not windy, I get to work with a world-renowned trainer and go out to charge Pe’ahi when it’s pumping.
Every June, a group of us host the Maui Kite Festival. This year it’s being held from June 11-14. It’s an event that was created to give Maui’s kiteboarding scene and the local youth a platform to grow. It’s a very fun family event. At the onset of 2019, I signed with two new sponsors – North Kiteboarding and Mystic Boarding. But by far and wide, the most fantastic thing to happen to me thus far is that my fiance and I welcomed our daughter this past July.
So, life has been wild!
MT: How many times have you been to King of the Air to compete?
JR: The King of the Air originated on Maui at Hookipa beach park in 1999. It ran annually on the island until 2005. There was a long hiatus that took place for several years until the event was resurrected in 2013, where it resumed its legacy in Cape Town, South Africa. Since then, it regained its reputation as the most significant event in kiteboarding. I’ve competed in this event a total of seven times and have placed in the top five each year; this is my second win at the event.
MT: What were the conditions like in Cape Town this year?
JR: This year, we had an absolutely beautiful day with near-perfect conditions. For the event to run, the wind needs to be averaging over 30 Mph, and during the event this year, the wind was 30-40mph with even stronger gusts that came through. The consistent wind, paired with beautiful 1-2ft waves that acted as little ramps, gave us the ideal combination to run the 2020 King of the Air. Throughout the event, competitors hit heights of 70+ feet.
MT: Is there anything like that in Maui?
JR: Maui has some of the best kiteboarding conditions in the world. Very few kiteboarding locations can offer the variety that you find here. In a single Maui day, you can kite awesome waves, jump in clean flat water, foil a pristine coastline and do it all with an incredible group of friends. The advantage that Cape Town has is the relentless wind; with the colder air wind becomes denser and this results in providing one of the best stages for big air kiteboarding.
MT: What made this win so significant for you?
JR: Every year and every day is special but this year was far different from any other for me. In July of 2019, my amazing fiance did the most incredible thing I’ve ever been a part of and gave birth to our beautiful baby girl. The adventure of traveling with both my girls and having them here to support me has been magical and gave this whole experience a new meaning. Winning isn’t usually the main goal for me; it’s riding my best. So long as I do my best, if someone else performs superiorly, I’m happy for them. Losing only hurts when I know I can attribute the loss to silly and avoidable mistakes. I’ve come so close to winning this event since I last won in 2013. In the past, I always ended up choking in the finals. At the last minute, due to nerves, I would stray from the plan that I had been conceiving for almost a full year, and I would go wild with insane tricks that derailed me from my previously fine-tuned approach. This year I had a more relaxed mindset because I knew that no matter what happened, I would get to come to my family and friends, and the day would be beautiful regardless of the outcome of the competition. With that relaxed mindset, I was able to keep my cool and pull off the performance that I have wanted to deliver for years.
MT: How does this compare to the last time you took first place at King of Air?
JR: My last win was in 2013, the year that the event was first held in Cape Town, South Africa. I felt pretty relaxed that year as I didn’t have any expectations and was just stoked to be there. After that win, I felt a lot of pressure to repeat the victory and didn’t find the success I was looking for, so it’s funny to see that this year when I went into the event with a bit less stress and no expectations, things worked out quite well.
MT: I know there have been a lot of waves on Maui this winter. How does that affect you as a kiter?
JR: I grew up watching all the pros surf and windsurf Ho’okipa, and the big wave crew go out to Pe’ahi. It was always my dream to ride Pe’ahi. Since my first session kiting out there in 2011, I’ve been hooked. Big air is fun, but my heart is set on riding waves. This winter was pretty incredible for waves, and I had a few memorable sessions out at Pe’ahi, which was awesome for me but left me less time than I had in previous years to train for the King of the Air.
MT: Do you travel a lot for competition?
JR: I competed on the Kiteboarding World Tour for years, but nowadays, the King of the Air is the only event in the world that spikes my interest. All the other events focus on technical riding styles, which I find less interesting. The King of the Air is all about riders soaring up and performing radical maneuvers at great heights. I still travel a lot to find epic conditions, host events, and create content to showcase my sponsors, but less for competition.
MT: What would you say is missing from the sport of Kiting, and what would you like to see done about that?
JR: Two things: One – More awesome people to ride with, the sport is such a fantastic way to stay health and have fun in the ocean, and our community is so incredibly welcoming. I think we are all very excited for this sport to grow. I would like to welcome everyone reading this to check out kiting. We have some of the best schools and instructors in the world teaching down at Ka’a point by Kanaha.
Two – A big wave competition. We have big air competitions, but as of yet, it’s been too much of a challenge to orchestrate a successful annual big wave event. I hope that one day together, key members of this sport will assemble to create an event that showcases the ridiculous things kiters can do in big waves.
MT: Is it all about the adrenaline rush if it is an extreme sport?
JR: Just because one is partaking in an extreme sport does not mean that they will be experiencing an adrenaline rush. The addicting aspect of these sports is not the danger or adrenaline rush; it’s the fun and exciting process of progressing and being so immersed in the sport that nothing else in the world matters. Sometimes yes, we absolutely experience an adrenaline rush but not always. With the right instructions, these sports can be very friendly and the experience you get ends up being up to you. If you desire an extreme adrenaline rush, it’s there, if you want to ride back and forth and cruise, that’s there too.
MT: Congratulations on your baby girl! How has having a daughter changed how you see the sport?
JR: Thank you! My daughter’s name is Lou Valentine Richman, and she has absolutely changed my perspective on life and the world as a whole. She has given me so much more understanding of what it takes to be a parent and how incredible of a process it is. I have such a deep appreciation of how strong people are and the unquestionable lengths they will go for their little ones. Women are so bad ass! But, having a child hasn’t changed the way I kite or what I’m willing to do to push the boundaries of my sport. I approach risk as a science and always take every precaution possible. If the odds aren’t in my favor, I won’t do it. I only hope to impart the same values to Lou, whatever she chooses to do because this is an approach to life that applies to any undertaking. Weighing risk, reward, and throwing in a lot of fun.
MT: I bet parenting could be considered an extreme sport. What is next on the horizon for you?
JR: Next, I want to focus on ways that I can give back. Give back to this island, this sport, and this world. I feel blessed to be surrounded by so much love and aloha; all I want to do is share and spread that.
Right now, one way I have found that I can help spread the stoke and create a stage for up and coming kiteboards is by hosting the Maui Kite Festival. I’m a part of an awesome team that is putting together the 3rd annual event held June 11 – 14th, 2020, at Kite Beach on Maui. With several disciplines included in the event, there is a spot for all to ride, shred, race, and compete, no matter what your preference. The winner of the big air discipline gets a wildcard entry into the Red Bull King of the Air in Cape Town with a roundtrip ticket to Cape Town. So be sure to check that out.