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.