Words by Jack Clayton
Who is Robby Naish? Considering the relative stature of his chosen-field compared to, say, football, there’s a fair chance you might not have heard of him; this despite the fact Naish is one of the most successful sportsmen of all time. Born on the 23rd of April 1963, in San Diego, his kitesurfing and windsurfing CV reads like an absolute dream for anyone with even a passing interest in action sports and the ocean at large.
...Naish redefined the concept of a ‘child prodigy’ when, at the age of of just 13, he won his first windsurfing World Championship.
In 1976 Naish redefined the concept of a ‘child prodigy’ when, at the age of of just 13, he won his first windsurfing World Championship. To prove that he wasn’t some one-hit wonder, he went onto win consecutive world titles between the years 1977 and 1979. Most sportsmen would of course be satisfied with four world titles before the legal drinking age, but not Naish. He went onto win the world title, annually, between the years 1983 and 1987. On top of this this, he also won the PWA World Champion title in 1988, 1989, and 1991.
In the nineties, Naish branched out into the emerging sport of kitesurfing. In 1998, he cemented his status in this field by winning the kiteboarding slalom world title. He followed that up in 1999 with world title wins in both slalom and jumping. Not a bad effort, we think you’ll agree. In a bid to separate Robby Naish, the man, from Robby Naish, legend, we managed to catch up with him during his promotional duties for the soon-to-be-released action sports documentary The Search For Freedom.
It (the ocean) is my playground, and my office, and the centre of my life around which everything revolves.
On the subject of his remarkable triumph as a teenager, Naish is modest and unassuming: “It was pretty cool. It was my first really big event and first time out of the country, and I was traveling alone without my parents. Winning made it all the more special, but just going to the event in itself was amazing.”
But surely, Mpora asks, while looking back on such a success-riddled career there’s an achievement that Naish treasures above all others: “I guess what I am most proud of is that I have been able to stay active and relevant in my sports for as long as I have. There’s not really a single event win or title that stands out more than any others. I’m happy to have left a positive mark on sport and inspire a few people here and there to follow their dreams.”
I’m happy to have left a positive mark on sport and inspire a few people here and there to follow their dreams.
So far, so chilled. But then, honestly, what did you expect from a professional windsurfer/kitesurfer who lives in Hawaii? Unsurprisingly, when Mpora pushes him for an opinion on the ocean and what it means to him Naish is rather forthcoming: “It (the ocean) is my playground, and my office, and the centre of my life around which everything revolves.”
What separates successful action sports people from us mere mortals is that they’re capable of living in the moment, of separating themselves from distracting thoughts of consequence and worst-case-scenarios. And while this idea is more fully explored in the film itself, it’s interesting to note that Naish fits this mindset like a glove when Mpora asks what’s going through his head when he’s riding big waves: “The next three seconds or so…”
Most sportsmen would of course be satisfied with four world titles before the legal drinking age, but not Naish.
When we delve down into this a bit more and ask him what he thinks the key ingredients of action sports are, his answer is quite revealing: “Freedom, adrenaline, risk, the constant shift in challenge and reward.” And it’s here, as if he’s momentarily forgot to chuck in the oregano, that he adds the words “…fun.”
When we ask him for his opinions on what separates the good athletes from the great, he opens up like a disappointed karate master reminiscing about failed apprentices: “It can be a number of things, or in some cases just one single element that may be missing. Opportunity, luck, raw talent and natural ability, hard work, the ability to focus and avoid distractions. The biggest difference is often that the most talented athletes lack the drive, and focus, and work ethic to succeed consistently over time.”
The guys that raise things to new heights are the ones that have the natural ability but also the focus, the drive, and the willpower to work wholeheartedly to be the best they can be.
Flipping his line of thought to the other group of people, he goes on to say: “…there are guys who don’t have the raw ability but they have the work ethic and commitment to do whatever it takes to succeed…often beyond their natural abilities.” However, it’s clear that Naish thinks the key to the door marked ‘legendary’ lies somewhere in between those two sides of the same coin: “The guys that raise things to new heights are the ones that have the natural ability but also the focus, the drive, and the willpower to work wholeheartedly to be the best they can be.”
With boundaries in action sports getting pushed back all the time, Mpora wanted to know how Naish, a man no stranger to making the impossible-possible, viewed the idea of limits. Just what can be achieved in our lifetime? Is there a ceiling to our ambitions, or is it just an endless sky with people going continuing to go bigger, better, and radder? Naish answers honestly, and with a sense of realism threaded through his words, “For sure there are limits. But those limits are being pushed constantly.”
Injury is the enemy.
In something straight out of the rulebook for standard interview questions, we ask Naish if he’s got any tips for young people who aspire to live their life on the ocean. His response hits the nail on the head to such an extent that we’re thinking of getting it printed on a t-shirt: “Go for it. Work hard, but play even harder. Take calculated risks and always think about what it is that you are doing, or trying to accomplish. Reckless abandon makes a great ten second video, but it is not a long term strategy. Injury is the enemy.”
Predictably, Naish lives his life like he rides waves – with no longterm planning whatsoever: “I don’t have any (plans). I hope to continue to be happy, and healthy. I work, and play, and hope, and dream every day to make the chances that come from that the best they can be. But no plans really.”
...Naish has revealed a kind of spiritual connection between himself and the great expanses of blue that cover our world.
Robby Naish is a man who’s lived his life out on the water, so it comes as no surprise that he’s a person who lives on an ‘ocean-esque’ moment-by-moment basis. Without wanting to sound too much like the folk who knock on your door seconds before the intro of another riveting Coronation Street episode, interviewing Naish has revealed a kind of spiritual connection between himself and the great expanses of blue that cover our world.