Last weekend’s second annual Maui Kite Fest sported a good turnout, great wind and some very cool action in the air and water. There were many competitors, but two young men were conspicuous. They were the Richman brothers—Jesse, 12 and Shawn, 16.
Each performed a few impressive handlepasses, kiteloops and jumps. Despite their ages, they competed in the Men’s Pro Division. They fought all the way to the finals with Jesse beating his brother at first, though in the end Shawn won.
“I always look out for him,” says Shawn. “Sometimes I guess I worry too much,”
As for Jesse, he sees more practical advantages to kiteboarding with his brother.
“Shawn is now 16 and he can drive the car,” he says. “That’s so awesome. Every day we would wait for my dad to get to the beach and home, but now since he has his license it’s ‘Goodbye.’”
The two ride together, do tricks together and push each other like all brothers do.
“We fight on the beach, we fight at home,” says Shawn. “That’s normal, but we always get on. We’re brothers.”
While Jesse names world champions Aaron Hadlow and Robby Naish as his idols, Shawn only has one. “Jesse is my hero,” he says. “He can do anything. He beat me in the Maui Kite Fest when I thought I was gonna beat him. He rises to any great occasion. He can get pretty crazy out there. When he eats it I am like, ‘Oh my god, that hurts’ and I swing by and check out if he’s okay. We talk a lot out there on the water.”
At first I thought the elder Shawn first took interest in kiteboarding and got his younger brother to tag along, but in fact it was the other way around. When he was nine, Jesse got a small trainer kite from his dad’s friend and started to fly it. He really enjoyed it, but at the time Shawn didn’t think much of it, preferring to play video games.
“I thought it was stupid,” Shawn says now with a smile. “But one day I broke my arm during scouts. [After I healed] I tried it out and loved it. I got hooked. It was so cool. I had never felt anything like it. And of course Jesse was better than me so I had to get better than him!”
They flew that trainer kite for about half a year, then finally went down to the beach to start learning with a real kite and board. Mike Collin, a kiteboarding teacher and family friend, coached them.
“At first, we weren’t sure about it,” says Shawn. “For six to eight months we came down to the beach just once a week. Then summer came around and we tried every day. Within three months we were staying up wind, but really we were jumping before we could stay upwind.
At the time the boards were bigger than us. We were so small it was funny.”
Quite a few people who watched them at the beach told them that they should wait a few years, but the brothers ignored them. In fact, Jesse still remembers his first jump.
“I even have a picture of that,” he says. “I just remember sending the kite and thinking, ‘oh my god, I’m in the air.’ I didn’t look at the kite and ate it. I tried again and it went the same, but after a couple of weeks I managed to do the smooth landing.”
Today their dad rides with them as well, and they want to teach their mother as well. Even their little sister Eva, who’s just 48 inches tall, wants to get started.
“She is eight now and she can fly the trainer kite pretty good,” says Shawn. “We want to get her into the water in a few months. She is pretty small but she really wants to do it. She came and watched us in the contest and now she’s hooked.”