When the wind picks up mid-morning and chops up the waves, surfers tend to paddle back to shore to wrap up the day. But kitesurfer Reo Stevens is just getting ready for the ride of his life. He’s strapped on, hooked in and ready to power into sets at 25 knots. Because while the wind may be a bummer for standard surfers, it’s a requirement for kitesurfers and a little added chop just makes the ride that much more exhilarating.
Stevens got into wind sports as a way to pass the summers growing up on the North Shore of Oahu where the surf is notoriously flat in the offseason. Originally kitesurfing was all about speed, aerial height and acrobatics, but as the sport has evolved, riders like Stevens have used the kite as a means of getting back into the wave. Stevens found his sweet spot eight years ago along the coast of Indonesia: A perfect break where the wind doesn’t mess with the consistency of the waves and enables him to get into a barrel with the kite leading the way. He’s been on an annual pilgrimage since, chasing bigger swells, more barrels and perfect conditions.
THE RED BULLETIN: What are the right conditions for getting into a wave with a kitesurf (aka barreled)?
REO STEVENS: It’s a bit harder than normal surfing because when it gets windy enough to go kitesurfing it tends to make the waves crumbly and it’s not ideal conditions for a barrel to happen. But at certain places around the world you can get a good wave that stays good when it gets windy. Ideally you’ll have a side-to-side offshore wind angle.
How deep into the tube can you get with the kite?
You can get pretty deep in smaller waves where the lip [top edge of a wave] isn’t as thick. When the lip is thicker or the wave is bigger, the lines will start dragging and slow you down.
Key differences between kitesurfing and regular surfing?
It’s all about getting out there in conditions that you probably wouldn’t get out to surf. Having the kite with you makes your wave count goes up exponentially. It turns mediocre waves into a lot of fun.
Things to look out for?
Back when I started there were no safety systems so many things could go wrong. You were scared every time you held the kite. Nowadays it’s really a great time to learn because there are so many quick releases to get away from the kite. That being said, it’s as safe as the person connected to the kite makes it. I compare it to driving a car – you can have the safest car in the world, but if you have an idiot behind the wheel it doesn’t really work and is dangerous. The lines [of the kite] can be a big danger factor.
On the North Shore, I fell and had the bar ripped out of my hands with no idea if the kite was in the air or not. I smacked my head on the reef and was stuck in an underwater cave having to find my way out of it to swim back to the surface.
Will the kite replace the tow-in to advance big wave surfing?
I’ve tried to get into some bigger waves and the issue is you can get onto them but once you’re in, you already have speed and energy from the wave and there is wind coming up the face of the wave. You’re kind of just holding on for your life. It gets you into the wave, but the kite is really just in the way after that. As far as a realistic option to replace the jet ski, I’d say not really.
Why this break in Indonesia?
It’s one of the most consistent places to go. You wake up in the morning and it’s dead glassy with ideal surf conditions. Then at about 11 a.m. when the wind comes up, the rest of the surfers start writing the day off and I just go back out with the kite.