Apr 15, 2009
Author: John Bryja, photos by Lance Koudele
Sky Solbach is one of America’s most influential riders. He’s one of the best in the world in both the surf and on the race course. He finished fifth overall at the first wave world cup event in Chili and most recently finished second in course racing and boarder cross at the very competitive PKRA world tour event in Germany this past summer. His influence doesn’t end on the contest scene, he’s one of North Kiteboarding’s main kite testers; his feedback has resulted in the very successful North Vegas and Rebel kites.
Date of birth: March 26, 1983
Place of birth: Auburn, California
Weight: 205 lbs
Sponsors: North, Ion
Kiteboarding came to me in the way most great ideas come to me: boredom. I was hanging out on the beach with my dad one day in Bonaire and a friend of ours was struggling with his new two-line 8.5 m2 Wipika classic. We had seen Lou Wainman and Elliot Leboe kiting in the Gorge the previous summer so we were already interested in learning, and when our friend finally got fed up with trying, he handed the kite over to us. We got it dialed pretty quickly and a week later we bought our own kites and converted some old surfboards into kiteboards. That was the beginning.
I had been traveling and competing on the PKRA tour for a few years and had become good friends with Jaime Herraiz. He and Ken Winner were doing all their (North) kite testing in the Gorge and Hawaii and so our paths were always crossing. At the end of 2004, Jaime and North contacted me out of the blue and asked if I would be interested in joining the team. Needless to say, I was really stoked to get the opportunity. Initially I was just riding and competing but then we went on a few testing trips here and there and I began testing with Ken and Jaime on a regular basis. Eventually I saw the development side of things as an opportunity to be involved in something more than just being a regular team rider. These days I am working with Ken on the kites all the time as well as developing our range of surfboards with Martin Littlewood and traveling and competing in between. My boss is really cool and all the people who work at North are really cool and smart so it’s a fun environment to be involved in.
Being a Pro
I don’t think I ever really set any expectations on being a pro kiteboarder. I grew up doing all kinds of other sports in the ocean with my older brother Josh, and we watched all the surf vids and read the mags and thought it was cool. But I guess I never really expected anything to come from what we were doing other than something fun to pass the time. I realize now that I have been super fortunate to travel all over the world and see a lot of amazing places and meet heaps of cool people. But I think even if I hadn’t become a pro kitesurfer, I would still be in the water almost every day, like my brother, and basically living a similar lifestyle to what I live now. I think if you are focused enough on something it just sort of becomes your life. To steal a quote from a book I’m reading right now: “If you chase something long enough, it starts chasing you.”
First of all, ride for yourself and your own enjoyment and don’t listen when someone tells you that you have to ride a certain way. It’s the ones who are different and carve their own path whom everyone eventually looks up to. Be professional and humble because no one likes a punk, and be nice to photographers! Pick a company you like and stick with them.
I don’t think any wipeout stories are ever good stories. I’ve had lots of them on flat water and in the surf and hurt myself badly on a few occasions. The funny thing about kiteboarding is that you don’t need a huge wave or even extreme conditions to get flogged. You can do it in steady wind and flat water if you really choose to take it to that level.
Leaving His Mark
Umm, well I guess I hope that I can improve people’s perception of kiteboarding through good media exposure, photos, video and just legit riding. I also hope that through my work in product development I will have helped make the sport safer and more fun. The result of having better gear is that kiteboarding is easier to learn at the entry level but also way more fun at the expert level. If we can continue to make better kites and boards the sport will just be that much more fun for everyone involved.
I think that my approach to competition for the most part now is just about having fun. But then again I think competing is only fun when you know you’re at the level to prove something and actually feel like you have a chance to do well. If I didn’t think I could do well, I wouldn’t compete. Just being able to go out and explore my boundaries in my riding without the pressure of having to compete or ride a certain way has sort of revived my competitive spirit. In the past two years I have been competing in some wave events and some course races and it just feels fun—the way it used to feel when I first started competing in 2003. I have so much fun in the surf, and course racing is also a good adrenaline rush.
The Gorge and Australia
Well, it’s nice to be in perpetual summer. When I’m in the Gorge I really miss seeing the ocean every day but it’s still just about the most beautiful place in the world and has great riding. The Oregon Coast can be magical on the right day, too. Australia on the other hand is just an absolute paradise of wind and waves. Everyone is all about riding waves down where I live, and it’s a pretty small crew and everyone knows everyone. Basically the Gorge and Australia are my two favourite places in the world.