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Jesse Richman’s permanent base on Maui meant his North photoshoot potential was unscuppered by the pandemic. He still managed to deliver the eye candy, as well as these mighty fine words reflecting on home, family, life, good vibes, surf gear and the importance of waveriding to him.

Photos: Dayanidhi Das, Fish Bowl Diaries and Frankiebees

This year tested us all in so many new ways; what a crazy time to be alive. Maybe, in the end, it will be good for the planet or perhaps it will be the end of it. I personally believe that life will go on because, as terrible as humans can be at times, we’re pretty freaking resilient, and we have an impressive capacity to adapt and evolve. Amid the great pandemic, most things on my schedule vanished entirely; one event that held firm was the 2021 North surf shoot. The shoot was scheduled to occur on Maui with the North kitesurfing team, but like everything this year, the original vision got blasted out of the stratosphere and into oblivion. When the world went into a never-before-seen state of lockdown, it became clear that Jalou Langeree and Camille Delannoy were not going to make it to Maui. So, we did what we do best and adapted to the conditions. The North design team sent out all the new 2021 surf equipment to Jalou, Camille, and me to test and shoot it from our respective corners of the globe.

Hawaii is like no other place on earth, it emanates an indescribable feeling. If you’ve been to Maui, you will know what I’m talking about – there’s something special in the air here.  I know I have a strong bias being from these islands, but everyone who comes here feels it too; there’s just… something! As soon as you land on Maui, you can smell it, you can feel it, the energy flows throughout your soul, and the chill Hawaiian vibes permeate every fiber of your being. I’m fortunate enough to call Maui home and have had the pleasure of growing up here. I got given a kite at a young age and was immediately hooked. Learning to kite in the early 2000’s was totally out of control. It was a mess of dangerously rudimentary gear coupled with insane conditions and not a safety measure or concern in sight. I got to watch kiting evolve at the core of its origin, seeing as many of its visionaries pioneered the sport, right here at Kitebeach. When you head down to the beach from Haiku, the town where I live, there’s a turn where the ocean comes into clear view – if upon rounding that turn, I see roaring surf and nuking wind, I can’t help but yelp with excitement. Testing wave gear here and on the rest of the island is a dream come true.

The shoot was meant to take place in April, and although it’s around the end of the Hawaiian wave season, it usually has some killer kitesurfing days. Unfortunately, the Covid delays hit the kite factory hard; April came and went and nothing got shipped until mid-May. I was pretty nervous about what we might end up getting, condition-wise, as we are hard-pressed to find incredible kitesurfing waves on Maui between May and October. But as soon as I got my hands on the kites in Hawaii, mother nature looked kindly upon us and sent the island conditions that were as good as it gets. We had a series of swells come in that produced mind-blowing waves, peaking around 18-foot faces, paired with perfect 25-knot winds. I assembled an incredible team, Franck Berthuot (@FrankieBees) on stills and Quincy Dein on video. With these guys, I had the utmost confidence that we would crush it. 

The scene here in May is usually pretty cool; the weather tends to be perfect for mellow kiting with sun, wind, and small waves. Over the years, I’ve met many great people who come to Maui to kite, and tons of them choose May as their month to come here, but this year was different. With our borders closed and tons of people not able to work, the beach was packed! All the beach car parks here were closed, so to get to Kitebeach, we had to park way down the street and hike in with our gear. It ended up creating the most badass vibe at the beach. All the local kiters that made an effort to come down brought with them an excess of stoke. But, when shooting new gear we try to avoid crowds, so we had to set our eyes elsewhere. We went all over the island, searching for the best conditions that we could find. Anytime you explore Maui, it reminds you how much beauty there is here and how incredible it is to drive through the luscious jungle to find a pumping surf break. This year, it’s been rather magical to have Maui without many tourists. To show up and see extraordinary conditions with just a few friends, brought back distant memories of growing up on the island when there were way fewer people around. It felt nice to be isolated in the middle of the ocean with no one really coming or going.  Life simplified and slowed down in a relaxed way. Not to say that I don’t love tourism here; one of the beauties of kiting is that we are pretty good at sharing the ocean, and I find there are usually friendly vibes amongst kiters worldwide. If people are respectful and cordial to their fellow riders, all are welcome in my book.

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Overall, the shoot was an incredible experience, mainly because the 2021 North surf gear is the best performing gear I’ve ever tried. It all felt very intuitive and, in that way, gave me more freedom. The kites were always there with support at the exact moment when I needed it, but they also never held me back; they afforded me the liberty and fluidity to focus entirely on the waves with confidence. The gear felt clean, crisp, and refined. My favorite surf sessions tend to be pumping down-the-line surf with the North Charge and the Carve. I have always been into the 5’7 Charge strapless, but this year I got the bug to go bigger, so I went smaller – I put straps on the new 5’5 Charge, and wow, this board felt so fast, precise, and explosive. It inspired me to take my strapped kitesurfing game to the next level. There is a time and place for both strapped and strapless kitesurfing, and I’m so amped to have this new 5’5 pocket-rocket of a board with straps in my quiver, especially after so many years of reserving strapped kitesurfing for only big waves like Jaws.

My vision in the next few years is to evolve strapped kitesurfing by injecting more amplitude. I know that we are nowhere near the limits of the sport and that there is so much more we can do on waves; we have really only just scratched the surface. I joined North Kiteboarding because I wanted to be part of a team that pushes our sport’s limits and creates the equipment of the future, today. Every year we see the limits pushed and the boundaries broken. I don’t define kiting’s equipment progression with specific demarcations or landmarks but more of a consistent evolution at an exponential rate. Every year kiting makes considerable gains in terms of riding level and equipment; I’m just so excited to be a part of the sport at a time like this where there is such exceptional equipment for every type of wave you can find. I’m sure kitesurfing will go in so many different directions, with none being lesser than the rest. Riding waves and all of it is purely for fun and enjoyment, so whatever makes people the happiest is what I want to see. As they say, the best rider on the water is the one having the most fun.

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Although waveriding provides me with hours of fun, I’m also into other disciplines and what I do each day depends on the conditions and my mood. Some days I feel a freestyle or Big Air monster inside that is chomping at the bit to go huge. But when the surf is on I am driven straight to the ocean swells. I don’t keep track of the specific percentage of time that I spend on a particular style or even a sport, for that matter. I choose to do what I do based on the conditions at hand, whatever is best suited for the day. The sports that I love are all condition-dependent so deciding the day’s activity is up in the air until the last second. If there’s strong wind I’ll go for Big Air, while wind and waves means waveriding, or if there’s no wind I’ll surf. If the waves are only small I might wing or foil surf, and light wind of course means kite foiling. If there is no wind or waves I sometimes do mountain biking or even paragliding or freediving. I wake up each morning and think how lucky I am to be healthy, in a safe environment, and have loved ones around me, and I remember how amazingly fortunate I am to be alive. And while I’ll think about what fun activity I can do for the day, I also think about what I can do to further progress the projects that I’m working on and to help people around me.

It’s not just Covid that has changed my life recently – I now have a daughter. Becoming a father has been a fantastic journey. Never have I felt love like this and cared for anything so much. I find myself extremely motivated to always be the absolute best version of myself. I want my daughter to look to me and see the man that I want to be and know I can be. I have always tried to do that, but now the stakes are higher than ever before. Loving my family and enjoying each day with them is the greatest; I feel so lucky to have my amazing fiancée Juliette and our adorable daughter Lou and taking care of them and enjoying each moment together will always be the most essential aspect of my life. That said, I want to inspire the world to be the best that they can be, and my vessel with which to do that is a kite and a smile. The balance between kiting and family is something that’s going to continue to evolve and, with Juliette and Lou by my side, the world is our oyster. (And if Lou chooses to pick up a kite one day and jump on a surfboard, who am I to stop her…)

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This feature originally appeared in TheKiteMag #40. To subscribe, head here.

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