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The Committed: Fadi Issa

Fadi Issa was one of the original pioneers of kiting on Maui back in the day. Now living on the windy island of Fuerteventura, he is a respected judge for the GKA and GWA, as well as being a super talented rider himself. He has also become creative with his love of the ocean, embracing the Japanese art of Gyotaku…


Your family fled civil war in Liberia and moved to California. How important was the ocean to you for helping repair any childhood trauma?

I was born and raised in Liberia to Lebanese parents. I had grown up seeing a lot violence in Liberia but luckily had a big group of cousins around so we always took care of each other. As kids and newcomers to central California, my siblings, cousins and I took on the challenges of being immigrants together, so I suppose being around my family was mostly what helped all of us with the trauma. It wasn’t until high school that me and my cousin started windsurfing at the local lake which eventually led me back to the ocean. Once I turned 16 I remember many long drives to the coast searching for waves, and my hunger for surf grew by the day. After one year at the local landlocked city college I had the opportunity to move to Maui, so I dropped out to follow my dream of living by the beach again.

There you were part of the original kiting scene. What were those pioneering days like?

In my first years on Maui I was into surfing and windsurfing, working at Hi-Tech and then for Simmer Style as a sailmaker and tester. Then Bruno Legaignoux came to Maui with the first Wipika 5m kites and that changed everything. I got one right away, sawed off my windsurf boom to make my bar, and drilled footsteps into my surfboard, and the adventure began! My favorite memories include the daily excitement of trying something new with all my friends and learning together with no expectations. All of us spent countless hours at night making and developing ideas to try out the next day. I remember spending many nights after work at the sail loft with my buddy Chris (Gilbert) inventing and developing anything that our imagination brought. The vibe at Kite Beach was electric, it was an exciting time for all of us. And with that the opportunity of teaching and coaching came to be – I’ve always loved sharing my knowledge with keen kiters looking to improve their game.

What brands did you use in those early days, and what do you use now?

In the early days I was riding for the Wipika international team, and I made my own bars. My wakeboards were made by my friend Keith Teboul. Over the years I have ridden for Cabrinha, Flexifoil and Wainman Hawaii. Currently I have great support from RedShark Fuerteventura with Duotone kites and boards, and Ride Engine Spain supports me with wetsuits and harnesses.

Competition is the usual route to sponsorship. Did you go down that path?

I started competing in the first world tour in 2000 called BMC which became the PKRA. It was a great experience to travel the world and meet good people. But soon after I realized competition wasn’t for me. I was into pure wake style and couldn’t impress the judges as they were rewarding more for hang time and board-offs at the time. It was a frustrating time for competition as the sport was just developing, and the sport went into a different direction. So during the second year of the tour I decided to stop competing. It always seemed to stress me out anyway so I decided to concentrate on freeriding and taking trips.

You then discovered Fuerteventura and moved there. What drew you to the island?

I came to Fuerteventura during the first PKRA Kite World Cup in Sotavento in 2001. It was my first time here and I discovered the great surf and wind conditions that Fuerteventura had to offer. Fuerteventura with its desert climate is an extreme contrast from the tropical island of Maui and somehow it appealed to me. I met my future wife here, and also back then the lack of crowds made the decision easy to stay.

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“The vibe at Kite Beach was electric, it was an exciting time for all of us.”

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ll us about life there. It sounds like you’re a busy guy with a family to balance with your own personal time for getting on the water!

When I arrived here I focused most of my energy on building a house, creating an off-the-grid surf camp and starting a family. Most of my work involved running the camp, coaching, judging events, and building and handyman jobs. Two years ago me and my wife separated and my life took a drastic turn. I was left with the challenges of starting over with nothing, being homeless and dealing with depression. It’s been a rough ride but being in the ocean and having my kids around has really helped me to deal with it and get better. We co-parent so I spend a lot of time with my kids and on the flip side I find myself free on a lot of days to work and get in the water when I can.

The healing power of the ocean is awesome! Are your kids also getting involved in kiting?

I know that pushing kids too hard can backfire, so we’ve always taught them to follow their hearts and passions. They both have had the experience of kiting in between my legs and can fly a kite so I’m sure they’ll start kiting one day. At the moment they’re both into skateboarding and surfing along with other kid stuff, so they’re building a good foundation to start kiting one day.

Another thing that keeps you busy is that you’re a judge for the GKA and GWA. What do you enjoy about judging?

I’ve always followed the development of windsurfing, kiting and winging, and I find it really interesting in that we are all doing the same thing: using the wind for power. Although I’m not competitive at all, I like watching other people compete and push the limits of these sports, and I have a very critical view of performance and innovation. I suppose as I’ve been around since the beginning and seen the progress of each of these sports, I can really appreciate what everyone is doing.

I really enjoy traveling and working with the GKA/GWA crew, most of whom are good friends of mine from past and present. Working for the GKA and GWA gives me a great opportunity to meet and connect with a range of athletes from around the world as well, and this inspires me to keep pushing my limits. And every once in a while a magic after-work surf or kite session in an exotic location puts the icing on the cake!

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“A magic after-work surf or kite session in an exotic location puts the icing on the cake!”

The talent out there just keeps exploding. Have any particular riders really stood out to you over the years in terms of talent and innovation?

During all of my years kiting and judging I’ve witnessed incredible things… Surfing legends being made like Lou Wainman to Ian Alldredge, to Mitu, Keahi, and Moona… The rise of strapless and Big Air/freestyle innovation from Airton… The relentless hunger and power surfing/strapless Big Air/freestyle game from James Carew… The style and surf flow from Sebastian, Matchu, and Pedro… The big wave killers like Patri and Jesse – these kids from Maui looked up to me back in the day at Kite Beach, now I look up to them, respect! And all the young ones coming up in all disciplines of wind sports are really impressive, too many to name!

What keeps you motivated to carry on kiting as you get older?

It’s something that’s engrained in me. Ever since high school in California, as soon as the trees started to move or I heard there was a swell on the coast I would get anxious to hit the road to go windsurf. I would ditch school, call in sick to work, whatever it took to get on the water. I’m still the same, can’t explain it. I guess I just love it, and what it does to my mental and physical health is priceless. My kids also motivate me – I see a lot of me in them, they really keep me on my toes. I have to stay young because if I don’t, I’ll get old!

True dat! Have you also embraced wingfoiling?

Yes I learned wingfoiling a few years ago but can’t say that I’ve embraced it fully. It’s fun and I like it, but I still prefer to be connected to the water with surfing and kite surfing. I really like to bash lips which is not really the same with a foil (yet!).

Other than water sports you’re also involved in the ocean through art. Tell us about that.

Spear fishing was one of my hobbies when I lived in Maui, and I played around with fish printing a few times but nothing serious. The art of Gyotaku is well known in Hawaii, with its strong Japanese influence, where many locals still use the method to record their catches. It was not until during the pandemic and after my split up, with lots of time on my hands, that I started to feel creative once again. So I surrendered to the artistic itch and started Issa Gyotaku. I became really immersed in it. The process of Gyotaku is meditation in a way, it brings me focus and calm, and I feel that being creative is very important in my life to keep me sane and mentally well. Living here in a small fishing village gives me a great opportunity to connect with local fishermen and friends who have an endless supply of great local fish to print and preserve on paper. And when I catch a fish it always goes on paper before it gets to the table. Also it’s a great opportunity to introduce the art here and throughout Europe where it’s not well known. I’ve been selling my art throughout Europe as well as Hawaii and mainland USA. I’m really happy that I’m getting a great response from people. I’m fully motivated, big things to come! Check out my website www.issagyotaku.com or my Instagram to find out more.

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