Apr 29, 2010
Author: as told to John Bryja photo by Richard Hallman
Nick Name: CG
Date of Birth: 10/26/66
Place of Birth: Memphis, Tenn.
Favourite Saying: Fish On!
Sponsors: Dakine, Naish, Zeal
Chris Gilbert is one of kiteboarding’s original pioneers. He has been actively involved in the industry since its inception in 1997 and along the way has had a positive influence. Following a successful pro career, Chris settled down in Hood River with women’s world champion Julie Prochaska Gilbert. They are happily married with two children, but that’s if you don’t count kiteboarding as their first.
Birth of Kiteboarding
I started kiting in early 1997. I was living in a house at the beach in Paia on Maui. I started seeing Manu Bertin come down the coast almost every evening. Seeing the kite “S” turning through the sky as he surfed down the coastline effortlessly was very cool. I just knew I had to try this kite/surfing thing. After asking around I was directed to see Joe Cool, the godfather of the early Maui kite scene. He gave me the bad news—Manu had one of the only inflatable kites in existence—a Wipika prototype. “Don’t worry,” Joe said. Kites would be coming soon. A few long months later Joe came into Hi Tech, where I worked as a buyer, and said Wipika kites where on the way, and he asked if HiTech wanted to be a dealer. Before Joe could even finish saying kites, I said yes we would… And I’ll take that red kite! With that, Hi Tech became the first Maui store to carry kiteboarding gear, and at the same time I became a kiteboarder.
It was fun and unpredictable. Everyone who had a kite was really just along for the ride. When you launched your kite you had no idea what was going to happen. The only thing for sure was that you were going downwind so you’d better have a plan. For the first few months we had no concept of how to go upwind, nor did we really care in the beginning. I had a good four months of downwind coast runs before I could stay upwind and that was normal.
When the first Wipikas showed up, no control bars were included—only two flying lines, a little pump and a prayer. Out of necessity I started making my own bars. Almost everyone did this. It was like a rite of passage. If you couldn’t make the gear you needed, you couldn’t go kiting. When Naish opened a couple years later I worked in the R and D department to help develop their first bar and safety system. Other than Robby and Don, I think I was the first Naish Kiteboarding employee, and then Flash and I became the first on the Naish International Team.
Dakine was one of my first sponsors. From early on the designer Kevin would send products for me to test, and pick my brain for product ideas. There was quite a bit of development needed in those days.
I am now the Product Line Manager for the Kiteboarding Division. My responsibilities include product design, testing, factory logistics etc. Basically I wear many hats during the day. We have a full R and D facility here in Hood River. The majority of my day is spent designing and building actual prototypes that can be worked with, tested and developed further toward a final product.
I am most excited about the Warlock System footstraps and deck pads. The Warlock strap is a wide full-coverage strap with the X-Lace tightening system. They are by far the most secure feeling and easiest to adjust footstraps ever made. We have been successfully using the X-Lace technology for years but it has been hidden under the footstrap cover. Now the system is in the open so you can see how it works, making it much easier to operate. Dakine lead the way by introducing lace footstraps with the X-Lace, and now the Warlocks are raising the bar once again.
Leaving His Mark
I would be happy to know I helped people enjoy the sport. If it was a design of mine that made kiting more fun, some trick or wave ride I did to inspire someone, or maybe I gave a riding tip on the beach… just to know I helped a little is enough of a mark for me.
Thanks to everybody. The list is long of the people that believed in me and have given me the opportunity to make kiting my life and livelihood. Hopefully you know who you are.