“I hear my name shouted from somewhere upwind. As I turn to see the source of the cry, a soggy tennis ball comes soaring straight for my face. It was Reno Romeu, my North Kiteboarding teammate from Brazil with the strong arm.”
Story by Colleen Carroll | Photos by Toby Bromwich
I hear my name shouted from somewhere upwind. As I turn to see the source of the cry, a soggy tennis ball comes soaring straight for my face. It was Reno Romeu, my North Kiteboarding teammate from Brazil with the strong arm. He and the cheeky Brit, Tom Court, had instigated a game of catch while kiting under the Golden Gate Bridge with fellow teammates Craig Cunningham and Aaron Hadlow during one of the last days of our 2015 North Kiteboarding Vegas team shoot this summer.
Whether it was the intended message or not, it came through loud and clear. It was time to stop and smell the roses. We had been intensely planning for the two-week shoot for months. All the details that go into pulling a trip of this magnitude together takes copious Google searches, hours of brainstorming on the phone and negotiating complicated travel logistics. No matter how much planning you do beforehand, inevitably unforeseen challenges arise and the troubleshooting begins well before anyone has boarded a flight.
We encountered uncooperative weather, vehicle breakins, traffic closures leading to missed sessions, locked keys in cars and the biggest challenge of all: Exhaustion. Going hard sunrise to sunset takes it’s toll. Especially when you are burning the candle on both ends for weeks. This comes with the territory and if asked, I’m sure that any of the members of our team would do it all again in a heartbeat, because these photo trips always end up being memorable adventures as well.
When five-time World Champion Aaron Hadlow announced his decision to leave long-standing sponsor Flexifoil, everyone wondered what would be his next move. Rumors flew, was he branching out on his own? Or would he join one of the existing brands? If he chose the latter, which brand could offer the support that such a high caliber athlete required?
The announcement, timed impeccably with his wins in both surf and slicks at the Triple-S Invitational, seemed a likely choice. He had signed with one of the biggest brands in the industry, North Kiteboarding.
Of course, we had been in the loop all along. Craig, Tom and I had already given a warm welcome to our new teammate and longtime friend, knowing he would meet us in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina to start our first shoot as a team. North had sent photographer Toby Bromwich to photograph us during the second half of the Triple-S and to continue shooting for the following week to get the first historic shots of Aaron as a North International Athlete.
As far as photo shoots go, Cape Hatteras is a dream location. The kite spots are close, the features are perfect, and more often than not you’ll be woken up with a steady 18-22 knot breeze. We worked hard following the Triple-S: We sessioned daily, discussed future projects and enjoyed the collaboration of working together as a new team. It would have been easy for Aaron to come to the shoot on his own agenda with his personal goals placed well ahead of those of the group. But on the contrary, Aaron’s laid-back attitude and expertise was a pleasure to have onboard and made us even more excited to rendezvous at our next destination for good ol’ fashioned kiting fun in the Pacific Northwest.
The North Kiteboarding roots reach deep into Hood River. The North Sail loft was located there when designer Ken Winner and team rider Jaime Herraiz crafted their first kites. The Gorge’s consistent summer winds were ideal for testing prototypes and developing gear and as a result North quickly became a fixture in the scene, as the sport gained a foothold in North America. In choosing a location for the team trip, this piece of North history combined with Hood River’s undeniable status as a mecca for wakestyle kiteboarding was enough to tip the scales in favor of the Gorge. So while most photoshoot locations are chosen for white sandy beaches and jello-y waters, the 2015 freestyle shoot was brought back to the place where it all started and where the team could truly put the Vegas to the test.
As Murphy’s Law would predict: Any time you plan a contest or book a photoshoot, or basically invest time and money on a set of narrow dates for any reason, it’s virtually guaranteed you will have trouble with the weather. July in the Columbia Gorge is as good as it gets, but we all know there is no such thing as a “sure thing” in kiteboarding.
As luck would have it, during our time in Hood River we frequently woke up to light winds or worse, dark clouds threatening to shower. Given our limited time frame, we didn’t have the luxury of losing a single day. We would start early and finish late just as the sun ducked behind the last hill on the horizon, finding minimal time to do much else besides kite and chase the weather. During the shoot we experienced every possible condition and kited every size in our quivers, from our 7m to 14m.
After all our efforts, we had scored enough sessions where everything seemed to come together. The promise of clean wind and calm water lured us to explore lesser known places for some epic freestyle rides and we enjoyed riding in the slider park to catch sessions that, albeit challenging, were motivating. One person’s hit would inspire the next, all the while, the cameras encouraging bigger moves and newer more progressive tricks. We all worked hard to earn that feeling of success at the end of the day.
Looking out from the downtown streets of Hood River, you’ll see the only public slider park on this half of the globe. Made possible by sponsoring brands and the Slider Project, the park is open for all. Positioned in the shallow juncture of the Hood and Columbia Rivers, the hand-built features are located in one of the few flat water spots of the entire Gorge and as a result, the park has evolved into one of the most consistent breeding grounds for slider talent in the world.
In the planning stages of this year’s Vegas shoot, Craig Cunningham wanted to build a new slider that would be a unique element for the North team, as well as a fun and challenging fixture in the park for years to come. Once the budget was secured, a lot of details needed to come together to make the rooftop happen. Joby Cook started the construction process well in advance, but in the week leading up to our shoot we had to hustle to get a high-end graphic wrap designed while dialing in the small things like anchors and permits before we could launch. Joby’s company, Jibconstruction, built the rooftop completely out of HDPE plastic 4×8 sheets that were welded together using an oversized high-tech glue gun. It was a clean design: No screws, no wood, no metal frame.
Through an awesome collaborative effort, the brand new North rooftop slider was ready for it’s maiden session shortly after the team arrived. The feature itself was massive, measuring in at 74 feet long and 18 inches wide. The rail was so big that it had to be constructed and transported in three separate pieces. The first day it was in the water the whole community rallied to help move it into position and instead of the NKB team monopolizing the first hits, we invited all the locals and pros in town to break in its first session. That day we rode until the very last breathe of wind and it was sheer satisfaction to see this project come to life.
After 10 days in Hood River, it was time to show our out-of-town teammates something beyond our beloved little kite town. The plan was to expose the guys to something they’d never seen before, so we loaded up a massive recreational vehicle and headed south, cruising along the Pacific’s rocky coastline and towering old growth forests. Our final destination? One of the largest West Coast cities, a hot bed for tech startups, cable cars, free love and a premier kite destination to boot. We were road trippin’ to San Francisco.
The trek is not particularly arduous, especially when you’re traveling the good old American way: A 32-foot house on wheels equipped with every imaginable amenity. We wound our way down Highway 101 stopping at any sign of wind, drive-through-trees, or the best in seafood buffets. We were yet again unlucky with wind as we checked the usual coastal spots, so we kept our train moving and headed straight for the Golden Gate Bridge.
As we arrived in San Francisco, coming to the top of the last hill before the bridge, everyone in the RV jammed to the front eager to get the first glimpse. If you’ve never seen it before, it really is a remarkable structure, huge in stature with beautiful lines coloring the sky. Larger than life. As we drove across the bridge during the late rush hour traffic, we noticed whitecaps still lingering below. It seemed our jinx had been lifted; we were going to score a session.
We drove straight to the launch at Crissy Field and quickly unpacked kites, feeling extra eager after traveling for so many hours. We kited until there was no more light, sticking close to shore because of the strong currents and dropping winds. But the following day we would come back for more and get our chance to do what we came for; kiting under the Golden Gate Bridge. It may sound like a simple goal but until you’ve done it, you can’t fully understand its weight. Feeling the currents rip beneath you with the enormous ceiling above, carrying the load of the daily commute, is a heady experience.
For the five of us, it was the perfect way to end the trip: A lighthearted session of catch, while reveling in the sheer act of kiteboarding underneath an iconic landmark so much bigger and permanent than ourselves.
This story first appeared in our Volume 11, No. 3 (Fall 2014) Issue, now available online for free.