Keahi de Aboitiz might be one of the most well-rounded surfers on the planet. He’s a four-time kitesurfing world champion, a world-class surfer, an avid foiler, and a beast on an SUP.
Between kiting events, he’s spent the past few years chasing perfect swells and serving as the resident surf/kite pro at an exclusive camp in the Marshall Islands. And when he’s not on trips, he bases himself on the North Shore of Oahu with his girlfriend, who is also a world-class kiter and surfer. In other words, he has his program dialled. And oh, remember that vid from last year of Keahi towing SA big wave legend Matt Bromley into a Namibian freight train?
Forecast: Skeleton Bay
As you can imagine, a guy like Keahi isn’t easy to nail down. Fortunately, we seem to be on a similar program, chasing the same waves and often ending up in the same far-flung destinations. During a rest day during a recent trip, I finally cornered Keahi and got him to sit down to answer a handful of questions. If you aren’t yet familiar with Keahi, dive in and get to know surfing’s ultimate renaissance man.
You seem to be involved in just about every type of surfing available. You are a multi-time world champ of kitesurfing, you recently did a foil contest, there are clips floating around of you packing mental barrels at Cloudbreak on a SUP, and every time I chase a swell you seem to show up with a couple of step-ups and dominate. How did you come to embrace such a wide array of surf craft? And is there anything you don't do?
[laughs] I guess it just comes from growing up in a place that’s not too consistent for good waves. Growing up in Noosa, we get really good waves from time to time, but being so far up the east coast of Australia, there are a lot of down days. I always wanted to spend as much time on the water as possible, and that meant being able to do different things to maximise the conditions. It’s a great way to keep up the fitness and keep the stoke alive without getting too burned out on one thing.
It seems like a lot of guys pick up kiting so that they always have something to do in the water, even when the wind is howling and the waves aren't the best for surfing. But you are chasing swells all the time, so wave quality probably isn't a bit issue for you. How do you balance all of the different water sports you do, and decide what you are going to ride on any given day?
A lot of the time it comes down to what I’ll have the most fun on. My favourite thing to do is surf in pumping waves, but having the kite really does allow me to make the most of a lot more days.
It’s obviously great for those smaller, blown-out times, but in places like Hawaii where a lot of the main surf waves are busy, its also a great way to escape the crowds and make the most of some windier, hard-to-surf spots.
It’s also a great way to surf some of the trickier waves. A good example is Cloudbreak at the wash-through size, where, if you’re surfing, its really hard work to be in the right spot, and you’re gonna have to pay to play. Having a kite on those days is like driving you’re own ski. You can catch the double-ups that sneak inside without having to cop the wash-throughs.
At the end of the day, its all about riding waves and getting barrelled, and for me it really doesn’t matter how I do it. Kiting is a great challenge, and I love to show people what’s actually possible.
You must travel with a lot of gear, to accommodate all of your different sports?
It definitely gets a little tricky at times, but I usually try limit it to two sports (well, I guess sometimes three, now that I’m foiling a lot). Thankfully, kite gear doesn’t add too much more space, as they pack down pretty small and fit nicely in a duffel.
The foil definitely adds a bit, but I just can’t bring myself to travel without it, as it really is a session saver. I don’t think there’s anything else right now where you can turn such an average wave into so much fun. That’s probably part of the reason so many people are getting addicted to foiling these days.
So you are Australian, but you have roots in Hawaii, right? Where are you based when you aren't traveling?
Yeah, it’s a little complicated. My mum is originally from Hawaii, and my dad grew up there, hence the Hawaiian name. But they moved to Australia in the 1980s, so I actually grew up in Australia.
I also still have a lot of family in Hawaii, and my girlfriend lives there too, so these days I base myself on the North Shore for the Hawaiian winter, then try get back to Australia once the surf slows down in Hawaii.
Spending the last six or so winters in Hawaii has really helped my surfing and gotten me psyched on some of the bigger, heavier stuff.
Your girlfriend is also a pretty accomplished water person, packing barrels on surfboards and winning international kitesurfing contests. How did the two of you end up together?
Yeah, I’m super lucky to be with someone who’s also very accomplished and talented in the same sports I do. Her dad is actually a former professional windsurfer, so he got her into kiting pretty early, and that’s how we met (at one of the local kite spots here).
I remember being super impressed with her riding, especially at the time, when there weren’t many girls pushing it on the wave riding side of the sport. Being able to share the same passions and travel together is perfect. It’s cool that she’ll actually come out and charge with me.
You had a pretty amazing year in 2019, didn’t you?
It’s been a really epic year. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been focusing a lot on the kite competitions, so it’s been really nice to have a much more relaxed schedule and chase a few more swells to places I’ve had on my bucket list for awhile.
Cyclone Oma was insane. Growing up on the east coast of Australia, I’d say that was the best swell I’ve ever seen there. Four days straight of pumping waves with some of the best sand I’ve seen on all the points down the whole coast.
Cyclone Oma was insane. Growing up on the east coast of Australia, I’d say that was the best swell I’ve ever seen there
With the swell being a lot more north in the beginning (which is pretty rare for us), I stayed home for the first part of the swell and ended up scoring so hard. It was busy, but it was the best Noosa I’ve seen in my life, with seemingly endless drainers running down the point.
Once the swell turned a bit more south I decided to mission it down the coast to the Gold Coast, and ended up scoring some crazy waves down there, both kiting and surfing.
I couldn’t believe how well everywhere held the size, and to score a proper kite session at Currumbin was really special. It ended up being a little chaotic with about 25 skis in the water, but I was stoked to get a few crazy slabs on the kite amongst the chaos.
And before that you were based in the Marshall Islands for awhile, right in the middle of that epic run of swells last winter. What were you doing out there?
Yeah, that was pretty insane to sync up with that run of Pacific swells earlier in the year in the Marshalls.
I’ve been pretty lucky to get involved as a coach/guide with some kite adventure weeks that my friend Reo Stevens puts on down there every year.
As a kiter and surfer it truly is paradise. Its really the perfect place to be a kiter, because you can make the most of some of the windy days down there. I’m really looking forward to heading back over again this month.
It sounds like you had a pretty good northern hemi winter. What did you end up getting up to during the southern hemisphere season?
I ended up sneaking over to Fiji for a couple fun swells, but a big one for me was finally ticking off Skeleton Bay this year.
That’s somewhere I’ve been wanting to go for years, but it never quite lined up with a lot of the contests I was doing. I’ve always wondered about the kiting potential over there, and it didn’t disappoint.
I was stoked to sneak a few crazy ones between the gaps of guys paddling, and also got to whip Matt Bromley into a nugget. Kiting sure is a nice way to save some energy from the long trudge back up the point, too.
You mentioned you were focusing a little less on competitions these days? Why the change of pace?
It sort of started with doing a few strike mission trips between events with a handful of surfers.
I still enjoy the kite events when we have good conditions, but the biggest problem is that it’s generally a long, expensive mission to do a lot of the events in Europe for potentially sub-par conditions.
I’ve already had success and won four world titles in kiting, so winning one more wouldn’t really mean that much to me. It’s been nice to be able to put some of my budget and energy towards passion projects I’ve had in mind for awhile now. I’ve been banking up some epic footage from a few trips this year for a full-length film I’m working on, so I’m really looking forward to showing that to people early this year.
That sounds amazing—hopefully we will see it soon! Thanks for stopping by to chat!