Robby Naish is a 24-time World Champion wind surfer. He's the Michael Jordan of surfing with a sail. It's debatable if anyone, ever, will mimic the achievements Naish has made on the competitive circuit—which began when he was 12 years old. Yet, if it wasn't enough, Naish has built a business of wind, Stand-Up, kite and surf gear that is top-tier. It isn't uncommon to see Laird and Dave paddling Naish boards at Jaws. Or, at 46 years old, Naish blowing past them on a windsurf board. 'Nuff said.
Yet the Naish empire didn't happen overnight. Built over 30 years of competing, testing, training, tweaking and more testing, Naish gear is—at the very moment you read this sentence—gliding over crystal sea water in Egypt, over shimmering lakes in northern Germany and barreling through waves in Madagascar.
After watching some of Naish's death-defying moves on his recently launched Naish.TV web site, we sat down for a quick one-on-one with Maui-based (but on-the-road-living) Naish about the evolution of gear and its reach today. We also chatted with his Kailua store owner/manager/mother, Carol Naish.
B on Hawaii: What is the process for evolving gear, whether it's SUPs (Stand Up Paddleboards), windsurf, kite, etc.?
Robby Naish: Within each sport Naish has a full spectrum of equipment that targets the entry level (schools and beginners) intermediate, and advanced riders. On top of that we offer flat water recreational, racing, and wave equipment for each sport. If you look just at our boards, we presently have for the 2010 season 30 kiteboards, 38 windsurf boards, 25 SUP models, and 17 surfboard models. That's 110 boards alone, not counting kites, sails, masts, booms, spare parts, harnesses, accessories, etc. So the process of development is multi-faceted and pretty complex. In every case it is a team effort with input coming from our distributors around the world, test centers, our in-house R&D testers and team riders. On the upper end, of course it is a lot of "seat of the pants" testing. We make something and pretty much immediately begin to think of how it should be changed (if at all) for the next year. Unlike most of our competitors, our professional team riders are only on custom or prototype gear for development and testing. The rest of the time, including competition, they are an full blown production equipment. This pretty much guarantees their invlolvement in the testing and development cycle, as whatever we put into production is what they—and I—are going to ride. It works out well for everyone, especially the end customer.
B on Hawaii: Have you seen an evolution in the type of person getting involved in action water sports from the days when you first began windsurfing in Kailua Bay?
Robby Naish: For sure. As "action sports" have become more mainstream and popular, a lot more people in general have gotten involved. Surfing, windsurfing, kiteboarding, etc., are the same. The equipment has helped a lot too, though. As gear has become better and learning has become safer and easier, more and more people that might not really consider themselves "extreme athletes" are getting into it. The demographic is a bit less hard core than it used to be, though for sure the hard core element is still there and continues to push all boardsports (and extreme sports in general) to new heights.
B on Hawaii: Can you elaborate on a few places you've traveled to where the ocean sports scene caught you by surprise?
Robby Naish: A couple of examples that most people might not know include: Egypt has some of the best, most consistant, and these days most crowded kiteboarding spots in the world. I go there every year in the Fall for a hotel sponsor, and always have amazing wind, sun, and the clearest water you have ever seen.
The town of Tofino, Canada, way out on Vancouver Island in the middle of nowhere, where the water is in the mid fifties in SUMMER, is a full blown surf town with surfshops and surf schools, a cool vibe and pretty good waves.
Germany is one of the worlds biggest water sports countries. From windsurfing, to kitesurfing, to cable park wakeboarding (there are over fifty cable parks for wakeboarding in Germany), to surfing (yes surfing) the Germans are into it! The list goes on...
B on Hawaii: Is there anywhere you want to surf but haven't yet?
Robby Naish: Tons of spots. I have traveled the world pretty much non stop for over thirty years, but there are still a lot of places that I have not been that have great conditions. Some of those are South Africa, Reunion, Mauritius, Madagascar, Cabo Verde, Peru, Chile. I have not been to Baja, which is close and has great wind and waves.
B on Hawaii: We understand the current SUP trend is smaller in length, wider and lighter. Can you tell us what you're riding in the sport and why?
Robby Naish: There are different trends in different places. For sure in the high performance wave arena things are getting shorter, but you can kind of defeat the purpose if you go too short, and a lot depends on the kind of waves that you have. We have played with boards down to six foot, but my normal length is a Hokua 8'10 and 9'3" when the surf is small, but I also ride the new 8'4" and even a new 7'3" in some conditions. I still like riding an 11'4" too though, as that really brings out the dynamic of a standup, making even the smallest waves a blast. My favorite is getting out in bigger surf and riding a 9'8" or 10'8" gun, or even the 11'6 gun if it is huge. I have the benefit of riding whatever I want, so I can mix things up.
B on Hawaii: Can you talk a little bit about the global reach of Naish good and what that means for surfing?
Robby Naish: We presently have distributors in over fifty countries. Historically, kiteboarding has been our strongest market, as you can really do it just about anywhere. Naish Surfing, and the SUP range is really beginning to take off in a lot of places now as a great suppliment for a lot of those people to get on the water when there is not enough wind to kite or windsurf. It also extends your season, as with flat water sup especially you spend very little if any time actially IN the water. We see SUP becoming huge in the future. Fortunately we have been into it for several years already, so we have a great range, a solid reputation in the market place, and the distribution in place to get the sport out there.
B on Hawaii: We understand that you are cultivating a number of new talents on Team Naish. Any peeks at whom is on the roster, or will be coming up?
Carol Naish: Robby is working with a young boy named Kai Lenny, who is a youth champion and is extremely talented in all the water sports. He's definitely someone to watch.
B on Hawaii: Carol, how do you see the scope of the Naish reach?
Carol Naish: Today I was emailing with a mail order customer in Turkey. I speak regularly with someone in Greece. We have things going on in Russia, in the Ukraine. I've had huge shipments to Dubai. My son Randy operates a Naish shop in an Italian village near Lago di Garda, where there is a lot of kite and wind surfing. It's amazing.
B on Hawaii: Of all the gear, what have you seen evolve the most?
Carol Naish: Kites have really evolved rather quickly. When the sport started 5 years ago, you needed a quiver of kites for different days, locations, conditions. Now you only need 2; one for light and one for strong winds. We don't sell as many, because the technology has advanced to only need a few. But that sums up Naish nicely. If we can save people money on gear by making the best, and making it well, that's what we'll do.
B on Hawaii: Who shapes the boards for Naish?
Carol Naish: We've worked with Harold Ige for over 20 years. He's shaped nearly everything for us; he used to shape for Dewey Weber. And my husband, Rick, does the finishing work on the boards, like laminating, artwork, and so forth. Harold is amazing. He's 60 years old and he's still entering contests.
B on Hawaii: You mentioned, in true mom-of-an-all-star form, that the team members Robby is cultivating have to meet certain standards. Explain.
Carol Naish: If you go on to Naish.TV and look at the Naish House, you can get an idea of the types of kids he's promoting. Our kids do chores, study, and are on a strict training regimen. They have to behave properly to represent not just our team, but the sport.
B on Hawaii: Robby is fairly in to philanthropic work, no?
Carol Naish: He does a lot of work with kids worldwide, like with Laureus. It's also helped him make contacts around the world, and led to some really interesting partnerships. It's also made him very conscious of branding. It's been a win-win for everybody.
Worldwide you can visit www.Naish.com for information on where to buy Naish products. On O`ahu, the original Naish Hawaii store is located in Kailua, and offers an array of boards and gear, plus SUP, kite and windsurfing lessons.
We see SUP becoming huge in the future. Fortunately we have been into it for several years already, so we have a great range, a solid reputation in the market place, and the distribution in place to get the sport out there.