From the window of his dilapidated second story barn, looking out over the subtle pulses of south swell unloading on Davenport’s reefs, Jeff Trauba explains the importance of a good indicator. He doesn’t need an iKitesurf account; he just looks out his office window for texture beyond the north point and at the size of the whitewater erupting off the south reef. Leaning against the wall is a spear gun, miscellaneous boxes stenciled with large Slingshot logos and a rickety homegrown standup desk from which he makes his morning calls. Jeff has long been one of Santa Cruz’s most talented goofyfooted kitesurfers and has recently completed his first year in the kite industry as a rep for Slingshot, a new suit that fits quite well.We climb into his dark blue Tacoma. It’s a late model Toyota with a rusted hood and extensive roof racks bolted to the camper shell; a seemingly appropriate set of wheels for a well-traveled salesman. On our way up the coast, Jeff tells me that although the path has been anything but linear, Waddell is the place where the current and most significant chapter of his life began.
Jeff started life as a West Coaster on Harstine Island on Washington’s Puget Sound. However, an early parental split sidetracked his formative years to a rural Pennsylvania town under the normal hospices of an all-American childhood filled with basketball, soccer and marching bands. Summers spent on the island in Washington spawned adventure and exploration, but it wasn’t until he earned a partial scholarship to the University of Utah that he finally moved back west.If universities are temples of higher education churning out soldiers of industry and prosperity, then the dark underbelly of these otherwise prestigious institutions would be the outdoor programs that breed the action sports counterculture. Jeff reminisces about the $1 bus ride from campus to the Alta ski area, which inevitably became a gateway drug to backcountry skiing in the big Cottonwood Canyon. He laughs about the two-credit university course he took on river kayaking; the final exam consisted of a one-week expedition with his classmates down the Green River. Jeff did it all: mountain climbing and backcountry skiing, but river kayaking was the one that won over. Summer employment and ultimately his ‘postgraduate’ work blossomed into an itinerant existence of whitewater guiding while craftily blending in a career of outside sales for action sports equipment manufacturers.
Having represented brands like Reef, Kuhl Clothing, Keen Shoes and Astral Designs, his most influential gig was for a company owned by Patagonia called Lotus Designs. Armed with an expense account, crew cab F-350 and a camper trailer, Jeff toured the western kayak world as a Lotus ambassador in the days before Facebook. When the F-350 eventually rolled into the lot at Waddell around 2001, Jeff saw kitesurfing for the first time and the attraction was instantaneous. He bought equipment the following week and spent the next year struggling through an unassisted learning curve with his friends at Reno’s Washoe Lake, Mexico’s La Ventana and finally pulling the elusive pieces together in California at Waddell Creek.I like to see if I can get Jeff riled up, so I try to push his buttons by suggesting the rep profession is a shallow game of hawking overseas goods smothered in the glitzy patina of action sports hype, but he is quick to paint his job in a different light. To Jeff, it’s not about moving units; it’s about facilitating a lifestyle and plying the tools of this trade with the aim of helping others reach their highest watersports aspirations. Jeff reminds me that Slingshot’s kiteboards are made just down the river from their corporate headquarters in Hood River and that the Wave SST has been the single most important technological advancement in his personal wave riding experience. I know Jeff ’s tell; a smirk that accompanies his bullshit. But this time he’s straight-faced as ever, so I buy it when he tells me the key to his rep career has been authenticity.
When the wind is blowing, Jeff is one of Waddell’s finest, with a mean backside off-the-lip snap and a backside aerial that’s second to none. While Jeff ’s presence in the lineup stands out, the bigger anomaly is that he maintains this impeccable style with the use of footstraps. I give him a hard time for this, a little hassle between friends is nothing new, but he insists, “Without straps I couldn’t do what I want to do.” And it’s true — there’s an intensity and control that comes with being glued to your board that’s hard to knock, because in all honesty, this salesman can be just as fun to watch as the pro-caliber riders that his company sponsors. The derision that strapless riders reserve for those who use straps is oftentimes brutal and unrelenting, but there are the few that elevate strapped riding to a level that is untouchable, and Jeff belongs to that exclusive club.
Jeff’s profile first appeared in Tkb’s summer 2016 issue. Want more profiles like this? Subscribe today.