Shannon Gowan’s introduction to kiteboarding started with one very long drive—2,328 miles from Bellingham, Washington to La Ventana, Mexico, with only two stops in between. Hooked from her first lesson, Shannon went in ‘halvsies’ on kite gear with her childhood best friend and new kite partner in crime. Not long after learning, Shannon’s friend chose true love over kiting, so Shannon inherited their shared quiver and resolved to explore the Pacific Northwest kiteboarding terrain on her own. With the flame of kiteboarding ignited, she explored the Jetty and Bellingham’s other kite spots before discovering Hood River’s consistent westerly winds and huge kiteboarding scene. A four-hour drive one way, Shannon’s early obsession kicked off solo day trip missions, even if that meant two hours of water time sandwiched between eight hours of driving.
When Shannon graduated with a nursing degree, she signed on for a lifestyle career as a travel nurse. Having spent most of her life within a 2.5-hour radius of where she grew up, Shannon latched onto the exciting mobility of moving from hospital to hospital as a way to explore the greater US. With three-month contracts, travel nurses experience a wide variety of hospital settings and workplace protocols, but when the three-month contract is up, you are expected to move on to the next destination. Shannon’s first travel gig landed her south of San Francisco at Stanford Medical Center. With no awareness of the Bay Area’s status as a world-class region for kiteboarding, and still stuck in the middle of the doeeyed obsessive stages, she was amazed by the coastal kitesurfing conditions at Ocean Beach and the large number of kite spots in the bay, all within close proximity. Fanatical in the hunt for wind, Shannon once drove two hours north to Bodega Bay, only to get skunked before turning around and driving four hours south to Waddell for an evening session.
Looking back at her first career choice, Shannon laughs, “I’m just about the worst travel nurse in the world,” noting how she immediately fell in love with the Bay Area. When her three-month stint was up, she hesitated to move on but was not quite ready to give up on travel just yet. Amidst Hurricane Harvey and the aftermath of the 2016 election, Shannon landed her next assignment in Houston and was pleasantly surprised when she began work in the oncology ward at a top cancer center during Texas’s windy season. Quickly falling in with a tight-knit kiteboarding community, she scored sessions at Houston’s levy spot, Corpus Christi and South Padre Island.
Shannon’s time in Houston exceeded her expectations, but after her next assignment dropped her in LA, she canceled her travel contract and secured a permanent staff position at Stanford, finally returning to the familiar Bay Area kiteboarding community. Pointing to the emotional challenges of her day job, “Healthcare doesn’t allow for much creative license,” she jokes, “With nursing, you’re working towards the goal of curing people, but every day you are starting at ground zero.” Having experienced sticker shock on some surf ponchos, Shannon and a friend began making them out of terrycloth in her friend’s mom’s living room. “It’s not an inventing the wheel story by any means,” quips Shannon, but she began making ponchos for friends and dubbed the cottage apparel adventure ‘Apres Way.’ It became a fun project that gives a cheeky nod to the after-session après culture in the ski and snowboard world and ties it to the kiteboarding way of life. Shannon brought on friend and fellow kiter Alex Fox to help with branding and began working with a textile manufacturing company in LA to build surf-inspired ponchos and hats. “Our hats ended up being very practical, and it’s cool to see big-name kiters like Fred Hope and Robby Stewart take it and run with it as an integral part of their session.” She jokes, “We try not to take ourselves too seriously, and nothing says that like a bucket hat.”
With plenty on her plate, most of Shannon’s time is split between Standford’s oncology ward and scoring kite sessions around the Bay Area. With no intention of turning her side hustle into a full-time gig, she’s excited to expand her Apres Way line in the years to come and share her products with the tight-knitted community of the Bay Area and the bigger windsports industry beyond.
This article was featured in our summer 2021 issue, Vol. 18, No. 2. To read more, click here.
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