Chasing Dreams on Maui – Hope LeVin

A couple years ago if someone told me I’d be a professional kiteboarder travelling the world, I would have laughed and said it couldn’t happen to me. The idea seemed so far off; me traveling around for a sport I did just because I loved it? Unlikely. I wasn’t about to become a beach bum either.

But today it’s been two years since I decided to truly pursue being a ‘pro,’ and I’m on Maui for Naish Kiteboarding’s mid-season photo shoot.

How did this happen? After traveling to ten countries, spending over 160 hours on planes, 11 days on a 45-foot wooden boat, and being away from home for the better part of the year, I’m starting to have a pretty good idea. Let me tell you about the journey that 2014 took me on.

I never knew what being a pro actually involved. Yeah, kiting all the time, traveling to beautiful beaches and meeting cool people sounded awesome. But what makes this happen? Can you just go to a kite company and ask to be on their team? Sometimes. That’s what I did.

Busting out a classic Air Raley. Dein photo

I’d been riding Naish for several years after being offered a shop-level sponsorship through Blue Surf Shop in the Turks & Caicos, the local Naish dealer. Then I went away to school and began filling my head with education and dollar signs. But something was missing. While at school I always longed for the ocean and kiting. When I finished school and returned home I felt happy again. I decided I didn’t want to look back five or ten years down the line with regrets and wonder, “what if?” At the time, my friend said something that has always stuck with me: it’s not about having opportunities, it’s about recognising them when they are there. I then saw an opportunity few people get and I knew I didn’t want it to slip away. What did I have to lose? Only my pride if the answer was no.

During my time being a shop-level rider for Blue Surf Shop, Philip Shearer the owner, was always schooling me on being ‘sponsored.’ “Do this, don’t do that. Look at these athletes and how they’re doing it.” Early on I became conscious of what I did and how I presented myself. I wanted to be a rider that was a good role model for the next generation, and an excellent ambassador. A lot of decisions along this path were easy. As a morning person and an introvert I don’t like going out, so I’m not getting smashed every night. I love the beach and ocean so being environmentally conscious is second nature. And so I began to build myself to present the image I believe in and ultimately become a pro rider. A long slow process but one which reaps supreme rewards. But rewards which are different for each rider and relative to how much you put in and what you’ll have the opportunity to take out.

Hope carves a smooth toe-side turn around a swimming Whitesell.

For me, it’s been the chance to meet an abundance of people with different views, and develop widened perspectives on all aspects of life. Growing up on a small island, lots of different people come through, but when traveling, especially alone, you’re forced to interact. I always ask others’ opinions. Obviously you can’t hang on to their every word, but so may times I’ve had great ideas and perspective thrown at me just because I reached out.

I learned early on that face-to-face is key. I knew I needed to meet Naish personally, so I flew to Maui with a dream, knowing that after a few weeks on the island I was either going to be a professional kiteboarder or leave knowing I tried. I never told anyone, but if Naish hadn’t been interested, I wouldn’t have pursued another brand.

Whitesell photo

I did some research online, found a sublet in Paia, and was on my way. When I landed on Maui my friend Teddy Lyons picked me up at the airport and quickly dropped me off at my house. Standing alone as I looked around the neighbourhood I had a moment of doubt, wondering how I always got myself in these situations. Before me was the most rundown house on the street, and the only one boasting two cloth curtains, blowing in the wind, as a front door. Inside (well outside really) was a full kitchen with a stove, a fridge and a table. All with a thick layer of Maui mud on them. My doubt passed and I knew it was going to be an adventure. Luckily the inside had another door with a locking doorknob so I felt a little safer. That is, until I had an unexpected guest on my second night.

It was Halloween night and the day had been super windy. In fact too windy for me to go kiting and I was sitting on the beach at Kanaha when emergency ATVs began to speed past on the beach. A kiter had been bitten by a tiger shark near Boneyards. That was it, I definitely wasn’t going to push it and try to ride that day. I got home around dusk and the neighbourhood was alive with the sound of kids running around trick or treating. I was upstairs and locked inside for the night when I heard a car park outside. Assuming they were there to visit the neighbours I quickly forgot about them. Several minutes later I was typing away at the presentation I was working on to show Naish, when I saw someone in the corner of my eye. There was a guy standing in the living room, in the dark, inside my ‘locked’ house. I jumped to my feet, and being a previous crime victim I had a kitchen knife nearby. I grabbed it and we made eye contact. ‘Excuse me, who are you?’ I inquired in my most polite manner. ‘Umm, umm. You’re not supposed to be here. Ummm, where’s Luis?’ The intruder replied. ‘Who are you’? I demanded again. He began mumbling something about being there to build a box, motioning with his hands and then began walking backwards before running down the stairs and out to the car. I stood for a moment mystified with shock. I heard the car pull away and went down and outside to the kitchen. Here I found everything rearranged, my pasta on the floor, and a weird looking syringe thing on the counter. “Great, I’m about to be drugged and kidnapped,” I thought. I heard a noise and spun around to face the intruder again. “I forgot my electronic cigarette,” he said and he grabbed the weird looking syringe thing. He quickly started walking out again. “Wait,” I said, and again asked him who he was. Still walking away he mumbled something about how I wasn’t supposed to be there.

I immediately called up the guy I sublet from asking who just broke into the house. Initially he feigned shock until I reminded him that this guy obviously had a key. He insisted I have the only key, until finally admitting he hid an extra key in a box of pasta in case I lost mine. That explained my pasta on the ground. I had him on that. He must know who this guy was, because how would the intruder have known to look in a box of pasta for the key? Finally he admitted he had someone do work on the house and this guy must have come back to try and rob it. I changed the locks, slept with two knives and bought a fog horn. I spoke to my old Hawaiian neighbour and he told me to yell if they ever came back and he’ll come over and kill them. I felt safe again.

Robby Naish and Hope LeVin.

The next day I met Des Walsh, the Naish Team Manager on the beach. He came up and asked if I was the girl from the Caribbean. Philip had emailed him to let them know I was coming. First impressions are everything and I knew if I got the opportunity, working with Des was going to be fun. The next morning I went to the Naish Loft to meet everyone and borrow some gear. A few days later I saw Robby Naish himself at Ho’okipa and worked up the courage to introduce myself. (He later emailed Philip, commenting on my accent!). As my final days on Maui began to slip away I still didn’t have the answer I needed. The morning I was supposed to leave Des told me they wanted me on the team, but he didn’t have details yet. That was all I needed to know: my dream of being a pro rider wasn’t about to die as my plane took off. I left Maui with a smile on my face knowing I’d be back. I had fallen in love with the island.

Back in the Turks & Caicos I checked my emails constantly while expecting news from Naish. During this time I set clear goals for what I wanted to achieve in 2014. Among these, I wanted to become an international rider for Naish, podium half the events I went to (I made podium in all the competitions), write a certain amount of articles, and be on the cover of Discover Turks & Caicos Magazine for 2015. Now at the end of this year, I have surprised myself
and ticked them all off through hard work and the grace of God.

Through this process I’ve learned a lot; less is more, always. Traveling with a lot of gear, you quickly realise how little you actually need to be comfortable and happy and not tote rubbish around the globe. It’s the same at home. Since I began travelling, I’ve had four garage sales, all in the process of making life simpler. Quality over quantity. Tissues are expensive toilet paper, and everyone is not your friend. Always be positive. I’ve learned how much I love good coffee, and I’ve finally come to the conclusion I love terrible jokes. I just can’t help it. Try not to have huge expectations. Ninety percent of the time things are hyped up and there’s no point being disappointed because of other people’s exaggerations.

Finally, always be humble. There is so much to learn, and so many riders better than yourself. I feel incredibly lucky to have been welcomed with open arms by the whole Naish ‘ohana and for the continued kindness I receive from each of them. This is now my third visit to the island. Each time I leave knowing I have unfinished business and need to come back. But having essentially been the birthplace of my dream, through the start of kiteboarding and Naish as a company, I don’t think I’ll ever be ‘done’ with Maui. Maui nō ka oi.