Feeling is Believing
From filmmaker and Slingshot team rider Ky Zamarti comes an endearing video piece. “Sound of Water” tells the story of 24-year-old Baja local, Robby Stewart, who doesn’t let his lack of hearing stand in the way of enjoying time on the water.
Feel what he believes in this film’s journey.
The following profile was featured in our Winter 2020 issue, Vol. 17, No. 3
Language takes many different forms and nowhere is that more evident than in the quiet but enigmatic kiteboarding abilities of Baja’s Robby Stewart. Highly skilled in all kite disciplines, Robby is a force of nature; often surrounded by close friends, Robby’s interactions with the world thrive without the use of his auditory senses. His experience is in many aspects exceptional—growing up in a small southern Baja mountain town, he never learned the basics of reading or writing, or more importantly for someone without the ability to hear, no awareness of a universal sign language. Instead, he invented his own home language to communicate with friends and family.
Having been born deaf in Whiterock, Canada, at a very young age, Robby moved with his father to San Bartolo, Baja, a small mountain pueblo perched upon the road between La Ventana and Los Barriles. His dad was a blacksmith by trade, and Robby grew up playing in the dusty streets, working on cars and riding dirtbikes until he discovered kiteboarding in 2014. Robby began learning the basics of kiteboarding from childhood friend and Los Barriles kite instructor, Ernesto Lucero, in part through the basic hand language they had used to communicate as kids. According to Ernesto, “Language has never been a barrier for us. Robby is very smart in that way.” Looking back with a laugh, to teach the safety side of kiting, sometimes Ernesto would have to put himself at risk in order to demonstrate what not to do. The following year, Robby, along with three friends, moved into a single person tent in an arroyo in La Ventana. He ran ‘beach patrol’ chasing lost kiters, picking up people on his 4-wheeler, and swept local shaper Ando Flores’ shaping bay all while “having a lot of fun and trying to survive,” as Ernesto puts it.
Delaney Overstreet, the owner of La Ventana Beach Resort in South Beach, recalls meeting Robby and immediately sizing him up as a smart kid with some very useful skills. From bartending to baking pizza, helping with spearfishing tours and wrenching on cars, Robby excelled at just about any task that was handed to him.
With a mastery of twin tip riding, megaloops, strapless freestyle on surfboards, and now his most recent passion, foilboarding, Robby became infamous for his hard-charging style on the water that impressed friends like professional kite foiler Fred Hope and has led to equipment deals and support from Slingshot and Ride Engine. “Robby rides hard and breaks a lot of stuff because he really throws himself at the sport,” says Fred. To compensate for the lack of auditory information, Robby’s head is on a swivel, constantly looking around. “If you’re in trouble, he’s the one that will see you a mile away and come help.” When asked how he excelled in kiteboarding, Robby pulls up a shot of Matchu Lopez on Instagram; as an incredibly visual learner, he attributes his success in kiting to watching others as well as countless videos and Instagram clips.
Having created his own intuitive language in which he uses to communicate, Robby is credited with being very skilled at connecting with his friends beyond spoken and written words. According to Robby, being deaf doesn’t hold him back on the water, but his biggest challenge is communicating with people on the beach and in social settings. If you manage to get his attention on the beach, Robby often flashes a big smile and a shaka, but communicating in situations outside his work and peer group can go awry. Sometimes strangers ask for a launch, but without making eye contact, many times, people impatiently assume they are being snubbed. However, about three years ago, Robby met La Ventana resident Bev Brits, a retired sign-language instructor, and together, they’ve been working to teach Robby as well as his friends American Sign Language.
While sign language awareness is steadily growing among Robby’s circle, kiteboarding’s common bonds have become a language for him to relate to a larger community. These days you will find Robby skillfully carving around on a foilboard or catching waves with a wingsurfer, making good on his immediate goal of progressing in windsports and pursuing a lifestyle that provides him as much time on the water as possible.