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Jimmy Lewis Interview

Feb 25, 2011

Author: John Bryja

Custom Corner Jimmy Lewis
as told to John Bryja, SBC Kiteboard
photo Tracy Kraft

Shaper/Designer: Jimmy Lewis
Location: Maui, Hawaii
Years Shaping: 42
Waiting list length (time): Less than two weeks (I work)
Price Range: $800 and up

Jimmy Lewis is the best known kiteboard designer of all time. In the early days of the sport, almost every top pro rider owned one of his boards. His boards are still a favourite of the SBC Kiteboard Test Team. For this 10th anniversary issue we asked Jimmy to reflect back on the early days of the sport and how the custom business has changed.

Who did you build your first custom kiteboard for?

Jimmy Lewis: The first custom kiteboard I ever made was actually for Laird Hamilton but I don’t really count that as the beginning of my kiteboard building career. That started when Lou Wainman came to my shop and we made his first board. He had a board that Tony Logosz had made him and I looked at it just to see what a kiteboard looked like and then Lou and I went from there. That first board was 5’ long and 18” or 19” wide (Lou might remember better than I do about the width). We resined the heads of bolts into the deck with the threaded part sticking up to attach his bindings on with wingnuts and we put little fin boxes in each end. That was it. I think as soon as he tightened his bindings down the bolts ripped out of the board. We learned quick, how to make them after that first one.

You quickly became the No. 1 designer in the world. What do you owe that too?

I was in the right place at the right time with the right guys for the kiteboarding boom. There’s no question that I can design and shape as good or better than anyone else but I say now as I’ve always said that the other big factor that helped propel my to the world stage quickly was my association and work with Lou (and Elliot Leboe). I used to call Lou the “Laird Hamilton” of kiteboarding. Like Laird, Lou is always doing things a year or two before the rest of the world. Lou was riding a wakeboard doing things that no one else could do or even think of while the rest of the world were riding these “directional” boards. Lou’s influence is why kiteboarding grew so big in those first few years. I helped his development by making him boards that didn’t hold back any of his abilities.

If you had to do it over again would the Pickle Fork exist?

The Pickle Fork was a great design. The function of that design was the split tail, not all the fancy curves and bumps inside the split. It was Lou’s idea to do the split tail and he came up with the shape inside the split that because the original Pickle Fork. Tony Finn of Liquid Force gave it the name. Back when Lou and I first were making those boards, there were only two-line kites. The chicken loop hadn’t been invented yet. That split tail design made edging the board much easier, which made it easier to go upwind because you weren’t getting pulled off your edge so easily. As soon as chicken loops came out and the kite could be depowered, then the ends of the boards were filled in again to allow more “pop” for non-whip wakeboard type tricks.

What were your biggest achievements and breakthroughs in board design?
When I made the single concave/rounded edge combination design. It wasn’t even MY idea either. This guy suggested that I make my twin-tips like a slalom waterski, which has a single concave going from end-to-end and a rounded edge going from front to back. He explained the hydrodynamic principals (not OPINION) on how it worked. At the time all I was making (as well as anyone else making twin-tips) were flat-bottom boards with sharp edges. The first board made it very clear that this design was better in every aspect. I still use it today and it won’t change. The reason it won’t change is because physics doesn’t change as time goes on. I guess if the kiteboarding public insisted on having a board that pounded the water and didn’t hold an edge as well, I guess I’d start doing hard edges again, like every other manufacturer is doing today.

How has being a custom board builder changed over that past 10 years?

I’ve been making custom boards for 42 years but I’ve been doing custom kiteboards for about 10. What’s changed for me is that I don’t DO them much anymore. I WON’T do a custom twin-tip (my production twin-tips are BETTER than my custom boards) but I do the occasional custom kitesurf. Production boards have killed the custom market because they can be gotten by more people.

What do you see in kiteboarding’s future?

It seems that kiting is leveling off a little. Meaning it’s not growing at the same rate as it was several years ago. Designs in boards aren’t going to change at all. They’ll evolve a little bit but there won’t be any evolutionary changes that will blow everything else away. The kites are always improving though, which is good. The kite designers are going into territory that hasn’t been traveled before. But there’s only so much that can be done with a twin-tip design and as John Amundson said once, “You’re not going to make any great improvements on the existing surfboard shapes.”


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