TITLE-ERIC-RIENSTRABy: Eric Rienstra

This story first appeared in The Kiteboarder Magazine’s Spring 2014 Issue: Volume 11, No. 1

This gypsy life I lead started the moment I stepped on stage to receive my high school diploma…

Aside from not tripping, all I could think about was my family’s camper van in the parking lot. The thing was sick, the roof was bubbled out so you could stand up, it had a huge water tank for showers, a small but functional kitchen, pull out queen beds, and a heater. Imagine all that jammed into the footprint of a regular parking spot. It was dad’s ingenious design and now it was mine. All my kite gear was packed and I had my board shorts on underneath my dorky graduation robe. In just hours I would drive off into the wind, not that I hadn’t been following it all my life. Being the son of two windsurfers, my family was no stranger to chasing wind. We had already followed it to places like the Gorge, Baja, Hawaii, and all over California. Only now it was just me. My path would be my own and I would travel it alone.

According to Eric, “The van seemed a lot bigger back then.” Photo: Rienstra Family Archives

According to Eric, “The van seemed a lot bigger back then.” Photo: Rienstra Family Archives

Since that day I have never looked back. It has been a trend of mine to always travel forward. By that I mean never returning to the place I was immediately before. My life has been a series of one-way tickets, a steady migration, chasing the dream of endless summer. Everything I possess fits in my travel bags. On some level, my kite bags are a ball and chain. Yet I am as free from the bonds of material possession as anyone can be and therefore I can pick up and go wherever I want at any time, and that is exactly what I do. I rent short term apartments, crash on friend’s couches, live in vans, get hotel rooms, camp, and sometimes sleep on my board bag at the airport. My concept of home is more than just a place; it’s a state of motion, a constant blur of riding, exploring and connecting with people from all walks of life. In that spirit, I’m going to share with you some of my experiences from this last year starting with Hatteras in the month of June.

I tossed a peace sign to the cheering crowd as I stood on the podium next to my Slingshot teammates Sam Light and Alex Fox. We had just swept the 2013 Real Triple-S Invitational Slider and Overall Divisions. Some might call the win bittersweet, as I had crushed my leg riding a few hours earlier. Hobbling onto the podium in the midst of a raging awards ceremony kept my mind in the present, running interference on the disappointment of having to bow out on the video shoot I had planned with Nate Appel the week after the event. Injuries, as much as they suck, couldn’t get me down in that moment. In this line of work, we push our bodies to the limit. Torn muscles, broken bones, and superficial lacerations happen in extreme sports and if they don’t then you have to ask, hopefully before your fans and sponsors do, whether you are pushing your envelope. Sure, in hindsight this one could have been avoided, but that requires looking back. I only move forward. Right then I was on top of the world with my friends all around me. I’d have plenty of time to worry about my leg later.

Photo: Josh Pietras

Photo: Josh Pietras

Just because you are injured doesn’t mean you are useless to your team; you can still help out behind the lens. After a month of playing camera man on California’s Central Coast for Slingshot’s surf ripper Patrick Rebstock, my leg was feeling better and I was ready to get on a board again. So I hopped in the camper van and headed up to the Columbia River Gorge. The scenery and plethora of activities available to kiteboarders make it one of my favorite places to visit, particularly in my van. Waking up on beachfront realty with the trees rustling and the Slider Project Kite Park just out my door, empty, just waiting for me, makes it my personal heaven. Most people have to drive to the beach, franticly clearing their desks and dropping off the kids in a race to beat the crowd and catch the wind before it dies, all the while wondering if they grabbed everything they need. Not me. I’m already at the beach, every earthly possession within arm’s reach and ready to score the best that these summer Gorge days have to offer. Sure van living can get a little claustrophobic at times but I don’t actually live in the van, I just sleep in it. When I’m not at the beach I spend all my time at restaurants, bars, coffee shops, friends’ couches and the Slingshot HQ office. It’s mostly about the people, but these just happen to be great places to poach internet and bathrooms as well.

My days are spent at the Kite Park or crashing one of the Gorge’s ample events like the Huckfest, Bridge of the Gods, KB4C, or the Blowout. As a Slingshot team rider, hanging in their backyard makes the job easy. When the team comes to town for product R&D and next year’s marketing, I’m already there sans jet lag and ready to go. In July, I spent a couple weeks filming Slingshot’s web video “The Gorge,” along with Alex and Sam. All around cinematic bad ass Patrick Weiland had just been hired as Slingshot’s staff camera man and it was my first time getting to shoot with him. In the end, the retro style clip was one of the best videos I have ever been a part of. The boys stomped all four 720 variations and I landed one of the best Pete Rose 540s I have ever done despite my leg not being fully recovered!

After wrapping up the shoot, I was supposed to head over to Russia for the Rail Masters event. However, my leg was still bothering me when it came time to book the flight, so I decided to save my money and hang around the Hood building new features and taking it relatively easy.

ERIC-RIENSTRA-Paul-Lang-4525

Photo: Paul Lang

As the season started to wind down in the Gorge, Real Watersports invited me back to Hatteras to host a few freestyle/park camps during the month of October. So I hopped on a plane to North Carolina. I crossed the bridge onto Hatteras Island in the dead of night where the air was conspicuously empty. Between the two villages of Nags Head and Waves there are almost no buildings, no towns, no lights; only wilderness, only darkness. From the top of the bridge the moonlight could be seen glimmering off the smooth glass of the slicks to the west, as well as the lines of swell breaking to the east. Moments of beauty and solitude while on the road are awesome, but too much tranquility defeats the purpose of my travel. That’s why I was disappointed to pull up to the A-frame apartments and not be greeted by one of the usual frat like parties that Real’s employee housing is known for. It was now fall season and everyone was back in school, a placid contradiction to the craziness I had left behind at the Triple-S Invitational. This late in the season the perfect southwest winds that light up the Real Slick are rare, giving way to more northerly breezes. Although riding in the slick is my passion, Hatteras is a diverse place and the ocean side of the island goes off in the fall. If I am really desperate to lace up my boots, I can still set up the park and ride flat water on the backside of the Real Slick.

Places like Hatteras are essential to my lifestyle. Coaching for Real allows me to ride in an amazing location while making a few extra bucks passing on the skills I have learned over the years. Inspiring and teaching others is a great feeling, especially when they are young kids that will become the future of our sport. I would shred with the campers all day, stopping only for a burrito from Waves Deli. After all the lessons and camps were done and the offices closed for the day, the whole Hatteras crew would take to the water, dancing in the slick under the fiery sunsets Hatteras is renowned for. Then, as the last sliver of sun disappeared over the horizon, the other slider park rangers and I would tow the park features back to Real’s boat basin and head to Waterman’s Bar and Grill to grab a drink and revel in the adventures of the day.

Normally I would stay put for at least a month, but after two weeks in Hatteras, Slingshot decided to send the team to Ecuador for 10 days to shoot some of the 2014 product line. The team met up in Miami and we all got on a plane. John Pereira, Slingshot’s ambassador for South America, arranged for us to stay with Davo Hildago, the local Slingshot distributor and owner of Ocean Freaks Kite School in the city of Manta. After a 3-hour drive from the airport we arrived at Davo’s house and broke open the rum we had bought at duty free. Liquor is a lot more expensive in Ecuador so we made sure to stock up. The Slingshot team has always been notorious for being a little wild when they get together and the crew was ready to live up to our reputation.

Eric with Slingshot crew Sam, Alex, and Victor, getting ready to shoot with Patrick Weiland in Manta, Ecuador. Photo: Christian Black

We awoke the next day a little rough around the edges but ready to shred. After checking out Davo’s school and meeting some of the local crew we pumped up and hit the water. It was warm, the wind was smooth, and there were some nice kickers rolling in. We had Weiland shooting video and Christian Black in the water shooting photos. Riding with your whole team in a photo/video shoot is a one of a kind experience. Everyone feeds off each other and we get amped every time someone stomps a sick trick for the camera. At the end of the day you feel a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie far greater than anything you might get from riding alone. There’s a good feeling about being a piece of a much greater puzzle, especially when that puzzle is a top kiteboarding brand like Slingshot.

During team photo shoots our days are committed to a rigorous schedule, but the nights offered plenty of time to hit the town and show the Ecuadorians how the Slingshot team throws down off the water. After getting kicked out of a few clubs and narrowly escaping brawls with the bouncers, we limped back home and rested up for the days of shooting that lay ahead. On one of our last nights, Davo set up a music stage and bar at his school and threw a huge beach party for all the local riders called Fly Fest. We performed a little riding exhibition for the partiers and raged well into the night. Sorry I can’t share many of the details; what happens on a Slingshot trip stays on a Slingshot trip.

Photo shoots are important for exposure, but the real progression in my riding comes from riff sessions with friends off the record. For this purpose, I headed to Brazil after Ecuador. I had been there last year and was frothing to shred the perfect lagoons once again. The NA Blend Captains, Brandon Scheid, Sam Medysky, Craig Cunningham and I, rented out a few rooms in an apartment building just upwind of Taiba Lagoon. It was perfect. From the top floor you could see the kites in the lagoon and we had a fortress wall around us; some sketchy stuff happens in Brazil, just ask Craig. Having the crew together in such an amazing spot was the perfect recipe for progression. Every session basically turned into a big game of “Monkey-See-Monkey-Do” or “One-Up.” Every time one of us would come up with a new variation or add another 180 the rest of us would get amped and go for it as well.

Photo: Vincent Bergeron

Photo: Vincent Bergeron

The only wrinkle this year was that the boys brought girlfriends, effectively killing the late night energy. WwuuuChhhhh, whipped! Wild animals being tamed by domesticity is hard to watch, but in all honesty I’m happy they have someone. When you’re always on the road it is hard to make room for much else, let alone long-term commitment. I’ve had my share of long distance relationships, but it amounts to a whole lot of talking to a computer screen and just doesn’t feel right. The opportunity to travel is both unique and fleeting. My job is to explore the people as well as the riding, and talking to the glow of a screen for hours each night is no replacement for real personal connections and experiences in the present. I could die tomorrow, so I live every day like it’s my last and hold nothing back. Sure there is no guarantee that I will find connections far better than a familiar face on Skype everywhere I go, but when I do connect with someone, it is truly an out of this world experience. There’s no substitute for pushing the boundaries of the fleeting present, the meaning of life becomes clear as the past and future melt away for the most intense appreciation of the moment. Just as mortality makes life precious, the mortality of my connections makes them far more precious to me.

After a couple weeks of messing around in the flat water of the lagoon, our photographer Vincent Bergeron arrived and we started building some pipe rails. The local Brazilians steal anything left unattended so we designed portable rails that allowed us to set up lots of different combinations, but more importantly, we could transport our rails back to our compound. We set up in the shallows downwind of the lagoon so that we could have some privacy. Yes, it’s a little sketchy riding in such shallow water but crowd control is vital to photo shoots. By the end of the trip, Craig had a broken finger, Brandon had a broken hand, and my knee was tweaked again. You have to pay to play and injuries are a part of the game. But hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The saying is a cliché, but so true.

Making the rail portable meant keeping the legs relatively short. Short legs require shallow water and crashing on this setup meant you had to be ready to tuck and roll. Photo: Vincent Bergeron

Making the rail portable meant keeping the legs relatively short. Short legs require shallow water and crashing on this setup meant you had to be ready to tuck and roll. Photo: Vincent Bergeron

The life of the traveling pro is a careful balance of minimizing expenses, staying a hair short of wearing out welcomes, and finding ways to keep it fresh. Panama has become a huge piece of that puzzle for me, although the place always tests my limits. Just driving through the city is a death defying gauntlet that you as a passenger have absolutely no control over. Their local driving saying is “voy por que voy” or “I go because I go,” which to me sounds a lot like Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan. You need to switch lanes? Just Do It! Need to stop in the middle of the road to talk to someone? Just Do It! Need to pass when there is no passing lane? Just Do It! It felt like my driver got us out of the city by the skin of our teeth, but for me the trouble had only just begun as we pulled through the gate of Nitro City Action Sports Resort. Nitro is the first resort of its kind. You can kite, wakeboard, skate, dirt bike, four-wheel, jet-ski, and shoot people with paintball guns all in one location. The trouble with all those possibilities is that I couldn’t pace myself. After the first 4 days I was so sore I could barely get out of bed. There are no rules at Nitro, so you can get away with any kind of risky stunts that come to mind. When Travis Pastrana stops by with his crew we have a weeklong Nitro-style drinking marathon, aptly named Nitrothon. After countless zany challenges, the kite/wake team, Brian Grubb, Susi Mai, Batman, and I, took the title for the second year in a row! Then, after Pastrana’s Nitro Crew cleared out, Craig showed up with his new Phantom drone and we used it to film some wacky stunts like kiting in the pool, climbing the wall of the restaurant with a kite, jumping off the roof, and chugging a beer while doing doughnuts on an ATV (smart kids shouldn’t do this at home, do it at Nitro City where you can get away with it). Reckless stunts aside, it’s nice to take a break from the usual routine of learning new tricks and pushing your body to the limits. Instead, we just have fun chilling out and goofing around with friends. It is kind of like a reboot, and afterwards I’m always more amped than ever to get back on the water and push myself.

No speed limit at Nitro City. Photo: Josh Pietras

No speed limit at Nitro City. Photo: Josh Pietras

As my professional kiteboarding career has evolved, the one thing that I enjoy more and more is the last minute opportunities that present themselves. After a few months in Panama, I flew to the Cayman Islands to attend my first event of 2014, The Rock International Open. This is the Rock’s first year and regional events like this rarely offer enough prize money to cover the expenses of the trip. This places everyone under a lot of stress to perform well. But I’m not there just to win, that is not why I go to events. I’m there to make new friends and have a great time. If I had to worry about winning the event to keep from going broke it would be no fun at all. So in order to cover my expenses I arrived a few days early to host a freestyle clinic for the local riders. Unfortunately there was no wind, so there was neither clinic nor prize money. You can’t sweat these things though, just reframe it and find the silver lining. What better time to be stuck on a tropical beach than when it is full of people dedicated to having a good time?

The NA Blend Crew trading off as operator of the Nitro City Cable Park in Punta Chame, Panama. Photo: Josh Pietras

Amongst all the Cayman dinners and parties throughout the week, they premiered the feature length documentary With a Kite that I had been working on with Adam Boozer and Tim Tewell over the last year. I had not seen it yet myself and was tripping at the thought of being on a big screen. Walking out of the theater afterwards was surreal; I totally felt like a movie star signing autographs and posing for photos. Seeing all the younger riders inspired by something I was a part of made all the hard work and injuries worth it and made me proud of myself and all the boys who helped make the project possible.

The movie was the highlight of the week until the wind filled in all of a sudden on the last day. With a sliver of a window for the competition, they had all the riders go out at once in an hour long jam format heat. Everyone was throwing down hard and stomping tricks left and right as the crowd cheered us on from the beach. Everyone was in a frenzy trying to one up the rider in front of them and everyone’s commitment was evident by some of the big and nasty crashes. In the end I was stoked to land a couple tricks I never have before and share the podium with my good friends Chris Bobyrk and Billy Parker. I didn’t make any money from the trip or ride a ton for that matter, but the experience was worth its weight in gold.

I don’t weigh the value of these experiences in prize money or podiums and I’m lucky because I don’t have to. My roots are in the freedom to think, to choose and to wander. These years of travel have been a mild rebellion against society’s oppressive conventions. Vagabond, gypsy, nomad, it doesn’t matter what I call myself, it’s the essence of living for the moment and the freedom to choose the immediate future that puts me at rest. This is an exciting time of the year for me. The Triple-S is just around the corner and the cycle will start all over again. If you’re wondering whether I get exhausted from all this travel, if I crave some fraction of normalcy, a house, possessions greater than my kites and a computer – I don’t. My sense of home is abstract; it’s shattered and spread all over the globe. Each of my friends and family hold a piece of my home in their hearts. So if home is where the heart is, my heart is in the wind.

This story first appeared in The Kiteboarder Magazine’s SPRING 2014 issue. Want more? Subscribe now.

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