Sensi Graves and Brandon Scheid in La Ventana, Mexico. Photo by Eric Duran
Sensi Graves and Brandon Scheid are kiteboarding’s quintessential power couple. Kitesurfing Magazine’s John Bryja caught up with Sensi and Brandon for the inside scoop on how they met and how they find and maintain the perfect work/life balance.
Kitesurfing Magazine: How did the two of you first meet?
Sensi: Brandon and I met when we were both coaching at Real Watersports inNorth Carolina. I moved out there for the summer and we developed a relationship during those summer months. We dated long distance while I completed my senior year in college and then once I movedback to North Carolina we’ve prettymuch inseparable.
Kitesurfing Magazine: First Impressions?
Sensi: My first impression of Brandonwas that he was a chatty Cathy! We went hot tubbing together as a sort of first date and he was telling me story after story. I really couldn’t get a good read on himat that point.
Brandon: Sensi always seemed to be at the centre of the fun, so at first she seemed a little intimidating. It was always interesting to see how the new coaches would alter the socal dynamic at Real each season. Sensi seemed to bring a ton of positive energy and fun vibes to the group. I was pretty intrigued right off the bat and I found reasons to insert myself into the fun. By the end of the summer we were spending a fair amount of time each day together and the rest is history.
Kitesurfing Magazine: You have both created very separate career paths. What’s the secret to maintaining your individual identities when you are one of kiteboarding’s top “power couples?”
Sensi: We each have activities that we do independently from one another. Brandon is definitely the adventure camp captain in our family and is constantly getting us outside doing something whether that be on the water or in the mountains. We rely on one another for strength and support but I think we’ve been able to maintain our individuality due to simply being ourselves. We’re each driven in our own ways; Brandon more so in competitions and myself in business. By staying authentic to who we are and what our individual goals are, we’ve been able to thrive in our careers.
It’s funny though, when I was looking for a new sponsorship after LF went out of business last year, Brandon had already started doing some work for Slingshot. At first I thought I wanted a different sponsor than him, simply to show I was an independent woman. But it makes so much sense for us to be on the same team. We can travel together, shoot photos together and share a quiver. I’m thankful that in the end, Slingshot offered me a deal!
Kitesurfing Magazine: What do you each think about the current state of pro kiting? Are you optimistic as it rebuilds after COVID?
Sensi: I think the role of a pro kiteboarder has definitely morphed over the last few years. COVID reduced budgets across the board and brands started evaluating spending on pro athletes. I think this re-evaluation has really made brands think about the character of the athlete they have representing them and not just their ability on the water. Today, athletes are expected to not only perform on the water but also be awesome ambassadors, be great communicators and generate their own media.
I’m optimistic that pro kiteboarders will continue to have jobs after COVID. I believe that it’s important to inspire and encourage upcoming athletes and I also believe that brands need athletes for media collateral. It’s a two-way street and a mutually beneficial relationship.
Brandon: Over my long career in kiteboarding I have seen the role of the team rider shift quite drastically. From the early days of big contracts off the heels of the windsurfing boom, to the shift to rider personalities, to now the rapid growth of vloggers, influencers, beach stars and stuntmen. It sure has undergone a massive change, as have all action sports and their participating media/athletes. Luckily, there will always be a need for the team rider as brands will need reliable athletes to endorse, validate, test, and help market these expensive toys. You may not buy a kite because it’s the one five-time world champ Aaron Hadlow rides. However, thanks to his involvement at his brand and his working relationship with the designer they are able to rapidly test, tweak and improve new kites. This is an arduous and meticulous process and without this rider/designer feedback the gear improvements would quickly stagnate. So it will be essential for a brand to have this validator as well as a way to shoot the marketing collateral needed to release these products each cycle.
Kitesurfing Magazine: During most events the men and women often compete separately, do you act as each other’s pit crew? Give each other support or keep out of the way?
Sensi: That’s a great question because stress levels are high during competitions. It can be a fine line between offering support and feeling like you’re a punching bag. We most certainly act as each other’s kite caddies. One time, during the men’s final for the Triple-S Invitational I rode a 17 meter kite downwind to Brandon just in case. He ended up not wanting it and therefore I had to edge as hard as I could, completely depowered, just to make it back upwind to land. My back was killing me!
We’ve learned how to be more patient and not take things as personally over the years and I’m thankful to always have Brandon there launching and landing for me.
Brandon: It is definitely hard to straddle the line of boyfriend, coach, caddy. I will say it is not always flowers and hearts, but Sensi and I have had a lot of practice over the years. I feel now we know when to intervene, when to offer support and when to just shut up and pump up the 12 meter.
Kitesurfing Magazine: Tell us a little about wing foiling and how it fits into your action sportsworld right now.
Sensi: We’re obsessed with wing foiling! We both learned last year and it’s super rewarding to learn a new sport. Wing foiling is challenging enough that when you finally get it you feel super proud of yourself (and also super exhausted!). We love chasing down the rolling swell that flows along the Columbia River. I prefer to go wing when it’s super windy as opposed to kiteboarding. Or if you don’t feel like riding a surfboard, wing foiling is a great option for a fun wave riding session
Brandon: I agree with Sensi on this one, we have been winging a ton the past year. Hood River is such a perfect place to get your wing on. We have tons of wind, deep water, rolling river swell and abundant easy launches. I usually only go winging when its 25 plus, for me it’s just easier to get up on faster foils and smaller boards. It’s also way more fun to ride a 3 meter wing than struggle on a 6 meter wing.
Kitesurfing Magazine: Did you build a couples wing foil quiver? Has it changed as you both progress?
Brandon: Because we are vastly different weights we are never on the same sized wings. I am usually one size up from Sensi, so we can split a quiver. As we usually only wing on the stronger days our current quiver is 2.5, 3.5, 4.5. We each have our own boards and foils so we can both get on the water and enjoy the pump.
Kitesurfing Magazine: Do you travel a lot together?
Sensi: Thankfully, we do! At least we try to. Often I’ll plan a trip with Colleen and then Brandon will want to hop on board. Or he’s got Slingshot work to do and I’ll finagle my
Kitesurfing Magazine: What’s the biggest excess baggage experience?
Brandon: When we traveled to South East Asia we brought a ton of gear and one connection in particular had me running full speed with all four bags in tow. Sensi took the lead to get to the counter and try to get on the plane and I lumbered behind. I sweat through my full shirt, I think we just threw it away, but we made it by literally one minute.
Kitesurfing Magazine: Do you two share a lot of gear when traveling?
Sensi: Being team riders for Liquid Force and now Slingshot, we’re thankful that we can share gear. However, we’ve also learned that it’s important to have our own stuff. I like to be organized and know right where my gear is. If we’re sharing too much then one of us is bound to get frustrated. Boundaries people.
Kitesurfing Magazine: Any packing tips?
Sensi: Remove your shoulder straps from your surfboard or big gear bags. The airlines will break those off.
Brandon: Luckily, some airlines these days have gotten a lot better with board bags, so do some research. Even though the fare may be $100 more, if you get dinged for oversized it’s usually $100 per bag. We found Alaska Airlines to be the best for traveling with equipment. Make sure your stuff is dry that can save a few pounds. Also attitude goes a long way with the airline staff; walk up to the counter smiling, ask about their day, make jokes. Anything to distract them from the huge bags you’re trying to get on the plane.
Kitesurfing Magazine: What is the best undiscovered place you have traveled to?
Sensi: Patagonia, Argentina. We drove 20 hours across Argentina and kited some pretty amazing lakes and lagoons. The scenery was breath taking, the water uber-blue and the people incredibly nice.
Brandon: I did an amazing road trip up the east coast of Oz from Melbourne to Brisbane. We went to a ton of nooks and crannies and found some amazing locations I will not soon forget. The very north of the island of Palawan was also pretty breath taking. Sensi and I scootered for an hour through the jungle to a pristine beach with swimming pool water; certainly still some untouched beauty in our fragile world.
Kitesurfing Magazine: As we are allowed to travel more, what is on your bucket lists?
Sensi: I always have a top five list running in my mind. Currently it’s Japan, Iceland, Cuba, Greece and Indo.
Brandon: South Pacific, Japan, New Zealand, Alps; there are so many I would like to get to.
Kitesurfing Magazine: R&D for kite brands and Sensi Swim? Lots of fun, hard work, funny stories?
Sensi: Running your own brand is always a lot of work. This past year, I’ve launched an additional business doing 1-to-1 consulting and group workshops around business start-ups, mindset and building up confidence. All areas in which I’ve grown immensely.
Kitesurfing Magazine: Who’s the better cook? Best dishes?
Sensi: I’m better at cooking with what’s on hand and also one-pot dishes. I grew up 20-minutes out a dirt road and often we couldn’t just run to the store. Therefore, I’m really good with working with what’s on hand. I’m also the planner in the family and tend to cook for us more. Finally, I’m the family’s saucier and make us tons of great sauces.
Brandon is better at bigger, more complex dishes. He tends to take his time and make really next level dishes. He’s also the breakfast king and makes the best eggs.
Kitesurfing Magazine: What do your current, completesports quivers look like?
Brandon: Oh my gosh we have so much gear. I will just list all the sports and you can assume we have two of each thing if not more. More toys equals more fun right? Snowboards, split boards, paragliding equipmint, kites, foils, wings, bikes, surfboards, wakeboards, fishing equipment, tennis racquets, yoga supplies.
Kitesurfing Magazine: Is your storage space like a gear museum or are you good at moving used gear?
Sensi: I am great at selling things on the internet. Swimsuits, kite lessons and gear! I hate having extra things and too much stuff stresses me out. Therefore I’m constantly trying to sell stuff. Because Brandon works in R&D he often has gear that can’t be sold, which I hate.
Brandon: I’m sentimental and I tend to hold onto old stuff for longer than I should. I alway feel the value of the equipment is higher than the couple hundred bucks we would get for old gear. I like to be able to help people out and get them into the sports without a huge barrier to entry. So, having a good used gear quiver is important. Sensi is the opposite so she often helps me clear out the absolutely unnecessary gear.
Kitesurfing Magazine: What does your off-water time look like? Design work, home renovations,side projects, GKA writing?
Sensi: I typically get up, do my morning routine which typically includes hot water with lemon, journaling and maybe a workout. Then I’m at my desk at 9 a.m. to work on my swimwear business, or Strut Kiteboarding or my speaking and educator practice or my GKA writing. I’m the content editor for the GKA and GWA. I wear a lot of hats! But by keeping organized and having clear outcomes in my work, I’m able to dive into things and be efficient with my time.
This past year, I’ve spent a lot less time on the water, partly due to a lack of competitions, partly due to COVID and partly due to a broken wrist incurred while winging. It allowed me to have more fun with my own water time, less pressure allowed for more creativity and I found myself riding a surfboard, foiling or learning to wing instead of spending all my days riding the Hood River Slider Park. I definitely miss park riding but am stoked to be rounding out my kiteboarding in all sorts of directions.