Jun 11, 2007
Author: by Steve Gunn
Sitting on the beach downwind of the Canoe Club on Maui and taking a break from an exhausting session in the waves, Santa Cruz kiter Doug Erickson joins a crowd of locals and vacationers in the peanut gallery.
“Holy smokes! What kind of move did Jesse just throw? That was really cool, whatever it was,” says Erickson.
Jesse Richman’s older brother, Shawn, sends an enormous knee-busting Fishing Pole near shore so he can hear the crowd of new and old friends cheering him on. Shawn lands his kite and grabs a chair to take a break.
“Dude, that was a crazy move you did off the wave. What do you call that?” asks Erickson.
Shawn walks him through it and encourages 52-year-old Erickson to try the manoeuvre. Erickson shakes his head and looks to the water to see what new tricks Jesse is trying.
“Oh, ouch! He’s down,” says Erickson, watching Jesse get thrown through the rinse cycle of overhead waves.
With Jesse’s kite being tossed around in the impact zone, Shawn says, “Hey, Doug, give me a launch so I can check on Jesse.”
As brothers, 17-year-old Shawn and 14-year-old Jesse Richman compete against each other, support and encourage each other, look after each other and, together, continuously build excitement for kiteboarding.
Why Everybody Loves the Richmans
I first met Shawn and Jesse at the 2004 King of the Bay competition in San Francisco, California, when Shawn was 15, Jesse was 12, and they were riding for Naish. Before the competition, local kiters like myself got to ride with them.
When I asked Jesse to give me a launch, he looked at me with a devious smile and said, “Dude, can’t. It’s a breach of my contract to launch a kite of that brand.”
I laughed, and like everyone else who meets them, we became good friends from that moment forward. That says something, since in less than a year I’ll be eligible to receive my first social security cheque. I’m two generations removed—they understand rap lyrics, and I understand the term 8-track. Yet I consider these young chargers to be close friends because, like other kiters who have befriended the Richmans, kiting and friendship is our common bond, and the energy of these mature and fun kids is infectious.
Let’s face it: there is no shortage of young pro kiters. Sometimes it feels like once you’ve met one, you’ve met them all, but the Richman brothers are different from the rest of the crowd.
“Their motivation and enthusiasm for kiting is off the charts,” says John Gomes, one of the organizers of the Cabrinha Race Series in San Francisco, who met the boys in the summer of ’06 when they competed at PKRA Canada’s world course championships (Shawn placed first).
“They’re so jazzed all the time for all disciplines of kiting, from freestyle to racing. It’s their great attitude toward kiting, other people, and their family that really sets them apart. They’re just great ambassadors for the sport,” says Gomes.
Not to mention their impressive skills. While the Richman family was at California’s Sherman Island in 2005 performing huge Double Kite Loops and technical stuff most can’t name, the Bob Smith family, who are regulars there, had the chance to meet them.
According to Bob, “Shawn and Jesse are unassuming, approachable and willing to share their stoke.”
Bob has two young rippers: Alex, 13, and Brian, 11.
“He’s met a few kid kiters that were full of themselves and not fun to hang with, but Jesse is not one of them,” Alex says. “He’s a great kid and an incredible kiter. I hope to see him out on the water again.”
Bob sums it up: “Cabrinha is doing well to have the Richmans as team riders.”
“About five years ago I remember seeing Jesse learning how to kite while we were in Maui on vacation,” says former King of the Bay amateur freestyle champ John Morrissey. “He was this tiny Tic Tac–sized kid with a puffy PFD that came up to his ears, and it was kind of shocking for us to see his dad sending him out on a kite at Kite Beach. I thought that kid was going to get totally tooled. And he did, over and over again. But luckily, tenacity runs in the family. “
The boys’ father, Joel Richman, was a competitive windsurfer, placing in the top 15 in the One Design worlds and top 10 in the North American championships back in the late ’70s. Like many before and since, he ventured out to Maui to find out how good a windsurfer he could be. In ’85, realizing he couldn’t support himself windsurfing, he took the Hawaiian bar and focused on contract law.
“I didn’t want to be stuck in a courtroom when there were wind and waves,” Joel explains.
Then comes along Joe Cool from San Francisco, a longtime friend of Joel’s who mentions that Jesse needs to learn to kite.
“Joe Cool was the reason we got into kiting,” says Shawn. “He was one of the main guys behind the Maui Red Bull King of the Air and had been into power kites since the mid-’80s. The guy is a legend.”
According to Joe, “I had to convince Joel that kiting was reasonably safe, and because of Jesse’s athleticism and attitude, that if he started early enough, he had a chance to make it big, to be a champion.”
According to Joel, Shawn joined Jesse in the learning process because “if Jesse was going to do it, so was I.”
Shawn was so determined to learn, he didn’t let a broken arm hold him back from flying the 1.5 and 2.5 m2 inflatable trainers that Joe provided the kids. Back in those days, learning how to kite was a lengthy and sometimes painful experience. But the Richman brothers were stoked every step of the way.
“The freedom when body-dragging and then trying to ride was unlike anything I experienced with team sports,” Shawn remembers.
Jesse remembers the beatings on the water the most, but surprisingly he kind of liked it. “When the kite picked me up a few feet and threw me, I thought that was really cool,” he says with a smile.
The kids’ resolve to learn kiting, coupled with Joel’s willingness to drive them and the instructor to the beach and then haul their butts and equipment up and down the beach multiple times each day, provided the support they needed. Jesse was the first to stay upwind. It happened one week while Shawn was away at Boy Scouts camp. And according to Joel, Shawn was not happy about the situation. Even though the two help each other and those around them on the water, Shawn and Jesse are competitive.
Jesse recently threw out a challenge: “I’ll land a Blind Judge to Blind before you land a Blind Judge.”
The winner gets spotted 50 dies. This is another generational thing I don’t understand, but I learn that dies have something to do with video-game results. Their favourite game at the moment is Battlefield 2142.
According to Jesse, “Shawn currently has the upperhand, but I’m closing the gap fast.”
The first summer after learning to fly kites, the Richman brothers entered the 2003 Maui Kite Fest and took first and fifth in the amateurs. Shawn did a Kite Loop, which only the pros were doing. Then came the King of the Air, also in 2003, and both kids won in the first round, Jesse taking out Corky Cullen.
“Corky was on the kite calendar hanging on my bedroom wall. It was pretty cool that I beat him in that first round,” says Jesse.
Greg Drexler of Naish was impressed with the kids, and so they quickly found themselves team riders for Robby Naish’s company. Shortly thereafter, in the summer of 2004, the kids flew out to San Francisco for their first King of the Bay, which is where I first met them.
As Serge Nadon, a longtime 3rd Avenue kiter, remarks, “Their enthusiasm and vigor are contagious. When I watch them, it motivates me to kite better. It’s so clear that they’re having fun on the water and that they’re just… real, you know? I think that’s why everyone loves them so much—and we all do.”
They did well at the King of the Bay considering they were competing against Aaron Hadlow (who placed first) and Damien LeRoy (second). Inspired and star-struck from the experience, they returned to their water lab on Maui to train.
Whatever they did worked. At the 2005 Maui Kite Fest, Shawn came in first and Jesse took second, this time in the pro division. This impressed Team Cabrinha, which signed them on in August 2005.
After another impressive show at King of the Bay in 2005, the boys again wowed the crowds with a combination of big-air power and technical manoeuvres, competing against the world’s elite, including Ruben Lenten, Mark Doyle and Clinton Bolton. They thought Shawn and Jesse might be ready for the PKRA.
“You guys need to come. It would be sick. It’s good experience and great exposure,” Lenten told them.
A follow-up conversation with LeRoy confirmed they should “give it a go.” He counseled them to “enjoy the experience, learn from the other riders and be true to themselves.”
They went to the PKRA Canada and tied for 13th. Not bad for first-timers. Most notably, the kids won the Crowd Favourite Award, but since the awards ceremony was late at night in a bar, Shawn had to accept for both of them because Jesse was in bed back at the hotel.
What Sets Them Apart
Competitively, 2006 has been a good year for the brothers. Highlights include Shawn finishing first at the PKRA Canada course racing, first at the Maui Speed Series, which also included world-renown windsurfers, and first at the Velocity Games kitercross. Jesse’s résumé includes a first at the King of the Bay kitercross, first at King of the Bay best trick, and second at the Velocity Games kitercross.
“Although I’m very proud of what they’ve accomplished kiting, I’m more proud of the way they are maturing,” says their father. “I’m proud that they are good people.”
In addition to their obvious skills on the water and the affection and respect they generate from others, their work ethic translates to the classroom. While both have maintained a GPA of 3.7 in public school, the boys are now taking classes at a private school via the Internet in order to accommodate a heavy travel schedule.
As competitive and impressive as the Richman brothers are, the best is yet to come. There is another Richman who is learning to fly a kite and is determined to destroy her brothers on the water. Sister Eva is 10 years old, and while she looks up to her brothers, she also “puts them in their place when required,” which, according to Eva, is often. The bar is high, but if anyone can jump over it, it’s Eva.
Whether the Richman kids will make their living as professional kiters has yet to be seen. Joel is not yet convinced.
“I try to interject some reality to counter the dreams of riches and fame, which, as we know, isn’t likely to happen in this industry,” Joel says. “I always ask them, ‘In the long run, is it better to be a professional kiter or a professional who kites?’ I remind them that if I didn’t become an attorney, we wouldn’t have the money to live the life they so enjoy.”
Apparently, not only is kiting and school important in the Richman home, so is having your feet on the ground—except when kiting.