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If you imagine Robby Naish’s professional career as a dartboard, you’ll find a small bullseye ring at the center crowded with a hoard of darts laser-focused on nailing that number one spot. Yet, for the newer generations of kiteboarders, many of Robby’s freakishly heroic talents are locked in the history vaults of windsurfing, tow-surfing and early kiteboarding.  There are few athletes that get universal respect but ask any experienced windsurfer or waterman, and you will find that Robby’s competition record in the 80s and 90s is virtually untouchable. Having encountered rudimentary windsurfing in Kailua shortly after its inception, in 1976, Robby claimed his first windsurfing world championship at the age of 13 and followed that up with over 24 Windsurfing World Championships and 150 tournament victories. Amidst his competitive career, Robby’s contributions to wave sailing have framed the technical sport that remains a core pillar of big-wave surfing today.

Robby’s founding efforts on behalf of kiteboarding are two-fold: He invested heavily in early technology development that bolstered kiteboarding safety and accessibility, but equally important, Robby also lent his star power to legitimize the new sport. Having competed in the early Red Bull King of the Air competitions, he spent the first few years flying around the world as a kiteboarding ambassador, lending the new sport credibility and showing the windsurfing world that it was ok to cross the line. For those early efforts, the Naish brand became the gold standard of innovation and market domination.

In search of the longest wave, Robby stands tall in Pacasmayo, Peru. // Photo Juan de Heeckereen / Red Bull Content Pool

This year, the long-awaited documentary of Robby’s life was finally released. Filmed over a four-year period between 2015 and 2019, the Red Bull biopic dubbed The Longest Wave offers incredible insight into the history of windsports’ fiercest competitor. Wisely constructed as a collaboration between award-winning documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger and the surfing cinematography of Poor Boyz productions, The Longest Wave is a metaphor for the breadth of Robby’s career””the endless search for fulfillment and achievement in surfing and windsports. With the main question posed, ”˜what does a life-long competitor do when his formal contest days are in the past?’, the cameras reveal intimate parts of Robby’s life, follow him through a series of injuries and explore the logistical challenges of achieving a new goal: riding the longest wave. Sometimes documentaries focus too hard on building literal metaphors out of the art of surfing, but at the core of this hour and a half long film is incredible Robby Naish footage and a first-rate windsports history lesson that should be on every kiteboarder’s watchlist. Since we all have an internal Robby, pushing ourselves to our limits, the movie validates the challenges we face while trying to hit windsports’ moving target. 

This article was featured in our fall 2021 issue, Vol. 18, No. 3. To read more, click here.