Saturday, June 22, 2024
From The MagPro RidersThe Eric Rienstra Interview

The Eric Rienstra Interview

Interview by John Bryja

California’s Eric Rienstra has been a force on the U.S. pro kiteboarding scene since the sport’s early pro pool days at Maui’s Kite Beach. Kitesurfing Magazine’s editor-in-chief caught up with Rienstra to explore his van life roots in Sherman Island and his evolution into one of the sport’s best park style riders with multiple Triple-S podium finishes.

Kitesurfing Magazine: We’ve never done anything super in-depth. So let’s maybe back up. Your parents were into windsurfing, is that how you were first exposed to kiting? 

Eric Rienstra: Yeah, actually it was my mom that got my dad into windsurfing. My dad was a big skier and they met on the ski patrol. I basically learned how to windsurf and ski when I was about four-years-old in preschool. I grew up in Tahoe. Sherman Island was the closest windsurfing spot, so we would drive down, it’s like three-and-a-half hours on the weekends and we had a campervan. Every weekend in the summer we went camping, basically windsurfing the whole time.

KM: How old were you when you were first exposed to kiting and then took lessons?

ER: I started seeing kiting in 2000, right when it was first showing up. It was then that you had Corey Rosler’s kite with the big fishing reel on it. Right at that time freestyle windsurfing was starting to become a thing. I was 15 at the time, so I was just starting to kind of get good at windsurfing. Starting some of the freestyle: the Vulcans, the loops and stuff.

The kiters just looked like they couldn’t do much and I wasn’t seeing any jumping or anything, so I was still focused on windsurfing. I was pretty sure I was going to end up sponsored. But then as soon as they got the bar smaller and guys started jumping over me I was like, “Yeah!” Especially because I started snowboarding. It was like, “okay, that’s starting to look a lot better now.” 

Back in the day it was kind of sketchy to learn and I was a little kid, so my parents were nervous. They ended up just getting me a trainer kite for like a year. I would fly the trainer kite even when it was windy enoough to windsurf. My first lesson was at the end of 2003. Yeah, 2003 like September, around the end of the season.

KM: Sherman Island is one of the hardest spots to learn. Did the school use jet skis there?

ER: Oh, yeah. You have to be jet skiing up and taking a lesson. There’s no beach to kind of fool around on. I took my lesson with Kitetopia, Doni and Sandy.

That year on spring break in Maui I took another lesson which was basically just a rental with a guide. Because he handed me the kite, and I immediately could ride to the right and almost go with wind. That turned into the circuit training lap type thing. Then I went back to Sherman Island at the beginning of the season in 2004. My dad bought me a kite and I just went out and stayed upwind, and threw a Front Roll the first day. As soon as I could stay up wind it was like, “okay, I want to send it.” So I sent it. And when you send the kite without pulling it back to 12, it forced me to do a Front Roll. Since I could already do Backside 360s on the snowboard, I just kind of tucked it in and I came around and landed it but then the kite fell out of the air. Everyone on the beach was like, “you got to bring it back, bring it back.” And I was like, “oh, okay.” I went out and yeah, it took me a while to actually not do a Front Roll. So then I basically just started copying everyone’s tricks, and later that year I got picked up by a Slingshot.

KM: And you on as a regional rider right out of the gate.

ER: I basically had a choice between Slingshot and Caution which were both making me regional offers by the end of 2004. I went with Slingshot because obviously their kite team was bad ass. I wanted to go on trips with those guys. 

KM: Were you still in high school at that point or is that just when you were starting university?

ER: Yeah. That was when I was 15.

KM: And then you went to school in Maui?

ER: Once I graduated high school, I moved to Maui. I did a little bit of college, and I got a degree in surfing and kiting basically.

KM: Was the whole Kite Beach pro scene on Maui still happening then?

ER: Yeah. Everyday Mauricio Abreau, Andre Phillip and Lou Wainman were at the beach. I was riding with them every day, Jesse and Shawn Richman too. 

In 2005 I did my first contest in San Francisco. I was in the amateurs and I ended up getting third, but it was Mark Doyle versus Jesse Richmond in the final for the pro, and Jesse won. I was third. That was crazy. And that summer too, me and Mark Doyle were living in Sherman Island in trailers, next door to each other. So I spent the whole summer as basically Mark Doyle’s little apprentice.

     That’s kind of where the dangling ended because he would give me heck all the time for dangling. That’s when the whole wakestyle scene started. I started sticking Handlepasses and I started getting swayed into that style of riding.

KM: It seems like the van lifestyle almost disappeared. Have you noticed there’s been less people living out of vans kiting than back in the day?

ER: Sherman Island, they call it Moho Row. We went through this  huge evolution of people in converted cars. Our converted van was like the Ritz Carlton of its time. And then people went from vans straight to trailers. And then all of a sudden we kept our van and it was like, “man, all these people have these balling trailers, and we’re still in this little converted van.” Sherman Island is still just mostly big motor homes and RVs. You see a lot of them, the same people go down to La Ventana. Hood River not so much, there’s not really anywhere to do van life like that anymore.

I think that’s kind of the biggest restriction on van life. The goal to sleep in a van and not pay rent. If you’re paying for camping, you’re almost paying what it costs to rent a place.

KM: They almost need to bring back a WindRanch type of  place for some super cheap accommodations for young people.

ER: It’s definitely getting harder and harder. And especially in places like Cape Hatteras and Hood River. Every time we’re throwing events there’s always this huge scramble to finding houses, and find people to fill the houses. Gentrification is just making it go up and up and up. So that’s where van life could make a comeback, but again, you need a place to park the vans still, so, I haven’t really seen a resurgence of van life.  If you don’t have a permanent address,  the system totally screws you.

KM: So after totally getting into the scene, you got that nice pimped-out white van, how long did it take you to start exploring the Northwest like Hood River, and places like Nitnat, stuff like that?

ER: We were going to Hood River every year in the summer for windsurfing my whole life. It was after high school when my parents gave me the van.  The van was mine, I was driving it. I was living in Hood River all summer, going back to Hawaii for the winter. Those were the days! Living in the van, just drive wherever I wanted and doing whatever I wanted, basically.

KM: Where did you stay when you were on Maui? Because that can be a pretty expensive place.

ER: I had an apartment near the college. I moved there with my friend that I grew up windsurfing with. By the time we moved to Hawaii, he got sponsored windsurfing, and I was sponsored kiting. We were both going to college there, and we both had our apartment. And yeah, those were good times.

KM: Where was the apartment, Wailuku?

ER: It was, I guess, technically Wailuku. The college is basically right in between Wailuku and Kahalui.

We were just on the other side of the college which I think, yes, technically our address was Wailuku.

KM: Were you closer to the college or to Kite Beach?

ER: The college was in between Kite Beach and our place. So we were on the other side of the college from Kite Beach. Right at the foothills of Wailuku, basically overlooking everything.  We were up on a hill, third floor, just panoramic. We could see Kihei and could see Kite Beach. It was a sick spot. And it was only $1400 a month. Not that expensive compared to what housing seems to be everywhere now.

KM: That’s not bad when you’re splitting it two ways.

ER: Yeah. $700 for a room basically. That’s like damn, Hawaii.

KM: What are your biggest memories as far as the on water scene in Maui at that time?

ER: I mostly just liked the people I was riding with. I liked just being around Andre Phillip, Jesse Richman and Lou Wainman. Lou actually recruited me to be a team rider for Wainman when they first started. I actually lived with Lou for a few months. So yeah, it was mainly just being at Pro Point and having that crew of people around all the time. It gets pretty gnarly windy there to the point where you get overpowered on a seven metre every day. Like that’s how I was doing freestyle,and just how everything was; I was on a seven metre, and it was like, “oh my God, I’m overpowered, but still going out.”

And when those kinds of sessions would happen. Dre, Mauricio and Moe would just kind of hang out to watch because they were at the stage where they were more picky about their sessions. I would be out there and be like, “yeah, the wind sucks.” But these guys are sitting there watching me and I was like, “they’re so good that I can’t impress them with any tricks. So I’ll impress them with how hard I crash.” 

So I would just come in, balls to the wall and just pop as hard as I could, and huck as hard as I could, and just crash as hard as I could.

And it turns out when you go into tricks with that mentality, no holding back, you end up actually landing it most of the time. So it ended up turning into this insanely, powerful style. That’s when Wainman was like, “oh dude, you need to be my team rider.”

KM: From the Maui scene, how did you get into park style riding?

ER: Park. That was Hood River. Hood River was park from day one. My first kiteboard, I went into the shop in Sherman Island, Delta Windsurfing. I was shopping for boards and I ended up picking a Slingshot board. I picked it because it had a sticker on it that said, dura base or dura grind, slider base. Basically, you can grind anything. I was a snowboarder already so I’m like, “that’s the board I want!” And immediately, I was grinding on logs and stuff out at Sherman Island the first chance I could get. Once I started going to Hood River I stayed in Hood River because they’ve had a park there forever.

KM: Were most of the features in the park then being built by Joby Cook already?

ER: It was kind of a mix of Joby, Ian and Dylan. I actually can’t really say for sure because most of them were built by Joby, but it wasn’t like an official park. It was more that there was just a feature here, a feature there and obviously the Inept crew was just setting up whatever they could. 

KM: Kiting had a real community feel to it.

ER: Yeah. I was at Kite Beach doing all this wakestyle with straps. I started getting a bunch of crap online because my content started getting shared on the forum Kite Scoop, and people were just like, “what’s he doing in straps? Like that’s an insult, blah, blah, blah.” I was just like, “man, at least my kite is low.” Dre gave me one of his old boards and Jason Stone gave me his old boots. That was my first park setup. 

KM: Those were some pretty solid hand-me-downs.

ER: Those were good. The boots were Union boots, so those kind of melted away pretty quickly, but then I hit up Corky Cullen from Liquid Force. I’m like, “dude, I’m sponsored, but they don’t make boots man help me out.” When I got on some Liquid Force Escalades that was sick. I remember switching from the Unions to those, and I was like, “oh yeah, I’ve never taking these off.” Because with the Unions, your feet would be blown after like 30 minutes. When I got into these lace up boots it was like, “oh man, now I’m hooked. I don’t think I can go back to straps now.”

KM: How did first get involved with the Real guys? Did you go to a Triple-S, or did you work there?

ER: That was around 2008 when I was in Hawaii. I had already dropped out of college and was working for Lou Wainman. I was living in Hawaii and things with Wainman just weren’t really moving forward financially. I was starting to realize I need to start making my own money, so that I can achieve my goals no matter what. 

     I noticed that Real was probably one of the only schools in the country that I could work for that didn’t require a certification from IKO. And they did their own training. To get certified with IKO or PASA you have to like fly somewhere, take the course, pay for the course and pay for your hotel. And the cost of actually getting certified is insane.

So it was like, I can’t afford that. But Real, it was like, “oh, I go to work. They train me. I’m good.” And I’m working at Real, just the best one to work at anyways. So I ended up going out on a trip there with Billy and some friends of his that were making a like kite clothing brand called Transcend. 

       They kind of sponsored me. And we went out on a team trip there to do a photo shoot in Hatteras, and that’s when I took the opportunity to check out Real. And then just applied and was working there three months later.

KM: What’s the scene like being an instructor there? Did they have staff accommodations? Did you rent a house with a whole bunch of different coaches?

ER: There’s an employee housing building which is within a short walk, but I would skateboard. I’ve actually never had a car when I’ve lived in Hatteras. I’ve always lived there and transported myself by skateboard.

       All the gear’s at Real, so it’s not like I’m skating full of gear. Deli down the street, and that’s about it. That’s my three stops; house, Real, deli.

KM: Who were some of the other coaches at the time? 

ER: I kind of got there right before a big transition. The people that had been working there had been working there for a solid chunk of time. So even though I was sponsored and obviously qualified to be a coach, I had to sign up for a nine-month contract and be like the rookie. Because everyone else there was like five, six years in type thing. It was Brandon Scheid, Chris Stuckey, Nick Veins, Brian Smith. Bryan Elkis was in the media shop. Ryan Evans was in sales already by the time I got there. And I was a rookie and roommates with Rich Sabo and Darren Howerton. 

KM: Tell us about the Triple-S contest and the evolution.

ER: In the first years it was still kind of the jam format where we would just ride. A huge group of people riding. And at the end of the week, the riders would vote for who we think was best. Then a week later the video would come out and I’d be like, “oh my God, all my voting was wrong.” Like, if I had seen all these tricks, I would have voted totally different. 

Once they got the prize money, that’s when riders were kind of like, “it’s not really fair to give out prize money when this voting is just a toss up. There’s no way that everyone can watch everything and it’s just not fair.” So, that’s when they started shifting it to being judged. And that was kind of when I started podiuming. 

KM: Triple-S was surf, slicks and sliders before it evolved into 100 per cent sliders. What was that transition like?

ER: The years that I got third place were because there was still a surf dicipline. I was able to podium because I’m really good in the surf as well. Once they got rid of the surf, I haven’t podiumed since. As the event grew they were hustling to get the three contests done each year. It turned into this stressful thing. And not only that, in the overall you would have, because there was surf, you basically had like two lists of riders. You had guys that only wanted to surf and didn’t even boot up for the sliders. And then you had pretty much everyone that booted up, that also went out in the surf. But you basically just had this eight-to-ten surf guys that just didn’t even own wakeboots. And, they were the ones that were obviously smoking us in the surf. So that’s when they were kind of like, “it’s not really fair to give an overall when half the field isn’t competing overall.” 

That’s when they decided to make the Wave Classic in the fall and take the surf out of Triple-S. For a while they changed it to wakestyle in the surf. The first year they decided to run wakestyle on the waves, it was like a head-and-a-half high. Just death barrels.

KM: I don’t think it was quite the double upssize waves that Trip Forman was thinking of.

ER: Yeah, it was gnarly. I think we did that for two years and then it was like, “no, we don’t want to be switching locations. We want to keep everything at Real so that it’s just easier logistically with the event organization.” So yeah, basically as the event kept growing, it started to get really hard to manage. So, most of the steps they took were for the sake of making it easier on the organizers to get the event done.

Each year the event was getting bigger. Bigger sponsors and bigger prize money and bigger and bigger concerts. And every year was just bigger! And they were like, “yeah, it’s got to end sometime. We’re going to go out on top and it can’t grow forever. So enjoy it while it lasts kind of thing.” 

KM: It was pretty epic the last couple of years with that huge stage in the backyard.

ER: They are some of my best memories during those shows for sure.

KM: What was your favourite park feature for the Triple-S? 

ER: I lived out there so I was riding those every day. Probably the big kicker and the John Wayne. With sliders, the bigger the better kind of thing. I can’t really say the new Duotone because we didn’t actually get to use it in a Triple-S. But that is definitely the sickest feature ever. The fun box! It’s unfortunate that it arrived a day late for Triple-S but it’s still there. 

KM: That’d be fun to ride that for sure. For the John Wayne, did that ever get ridden very much with the middle section taken out or is it just way too sketchy?

ER: We had one session with it, but that’s one of the things where the tricks you’re doing with that gap, you can still do it with the thing there. So it wasn’t like it actually changed what you could do. It just forced you to do things and it forced you to have more risk. But I’ve found that especially in kiting, no matter how much skill you have, the wind can screw you.

     And if you add too much risk to it and the wind screws you, you get screwed. So I used to do a lot of land gap sliders. I would set up sliders over the land and be able to do it fine. And then one year, I really pushed the level of that and really tried to get the most insane land gap slider setup ever. And I ended up just getting totally worked because of the wind and pretty much almost blew both my knees out and ever since then it was like the risk is cool, but the wind just screws me.

     It’s kind of like with Megaloops; no matter how good you are at Megaloops, the wind is going to drop you sometimes and you’re going to get slammed. There’s no getting so good at Megaloops that you never get slammed. 

With sliders, the bigger the slider, the wind has to be perfect. And it’s like, if you’re trying to do it with wind, like no matter how perfect the wind gets, it’s never that perfect to where you can guarantee you’re not going to come off early now and then. So having a gap was just unreasonable. And I learned my lesson.

KM: What do you think about natural features in comparison to man made park features?

ER: Natural features are kind of like every horror writer’s dream. They kind of comes from skateboarding and urban environments where you’re skating to school and everything you see just becomes a natural park. You’re able to just let your creativity run wild and see what you can do on everything that is presented to you. So in kiting on the man made feature we’re limited in building size because we’re on the water. So to build anything with any kind of size is a big endeavour and a massive thing to manage with moving it.

So aside from the features at Real and some of the features in Hood River it’s really hard to build any kind of big feature for yourself. So natural features definitely give us that ability to have access to something a lot bigger to slide on, especially walls and stuff. My favourite thing to do is wall rides and there’s really no way to build a massive wall that you can reach the potential of. Because that’s where I see kiting having more potential than other sports is the ability to do bigger features.

We’re not limited by being connected to a boat. We can basically get way more lift going vertical, so we can get higher up. I go around looking for these massive concrete walls and I’m able to do wall rides on them. I’ve never really seen another sport being able to do a wall ride that large. So, it’s definitely where I see a lot of progression as far as my riding in the future. And it’s also kind of just a challenge because for the most part when you find a feature, it’s not necessarily lined up perfect.

Whereas when you’re building your own features you can always line them up perfect. That makes it so you don’t get bored on a park feature. You have to do a new stunner or 360, rewind 180 and go to blind something like that. When you find an actual feature that isn’t necessarily lined up perfect, the challenge is just being able to hit it. Just being able to 50/50 across the whole thing clean, just being able to survive it. Because a lot of them can get pretty sketchy. They’re usually in the gnarliest wind shadow. But for the most part we’re doing transition jumps which typically you’re not able to go very high. But if you’re trying to do a 20-foot handrail or something you still need to come in with quite a bit of speed and power. And when you add the variable wind to the solid object you can easily come in with too much speed and swing in and slam into it. Or you spend the whole time just not even being able to touch it because you’re scared.

So, you can spend a whole session just trying to get one clean hit. When you pull it off, it’s the best feeling ever.

Alex Lewis Hughes photo

KM: What have been your favorite spots to do a wall ride?

ER: So far my favourite one was in China. That was pretty much the most perfect wall I could ever set up. It had this little concrete thing on the top to act as kind of a coping challenge. It also kind of wrapped around the bay. That thing was actually like huge. So almost any wind direction I could find a section of it that was lined up nice. And yeah, that was just the perfect setup ever. The wind was pretty clean. And because of the size of it, I could just slide for as long as I could try to slide as opposed to just bonking it.

When you’re able to actually slide on a wall ride for a long period of time, it’s really cool. You use G-forces to kind of pin you horizontal to a wall. It’s like going on a banked turn in a car, like on a Hot Wheels course. When you feel that G-force like a rollercoaster that’s exhilarating.

KM: So how on earth did you end up in China at that wall?

ER: I was judging for the IKA back then. So I was a judge for the World Tour and we had the event in China. That wall was literally just downwind at the beach, at the events site. I was just staring at it like, as soon as this events over, I’m there. Luckily the event was over and there was still wind and we were able to get a solid half-an-hour shooting photos on it. 

KM: Do you think we’ll ever see a contest format where natural features are incorporated into a contest format?

ER: I’ve definitely been thinking about. I think one of the issues with doing that though, is any kind of permitting in those kinds of areas. Because it’s not like things are just sitting in public land. 

KM: Are there any features that that you haven’t hit that you want to?

ER: The answer to that question is the ones that I’m not allowed to hit. There’s a lot of docks and stuff in Hatteras. There’s a lot of stuff everywhere that is sick, it looks sick and I want to do it but it’s on private property. You’re not allowed to do it. So that’s kind of the restriction you have there.

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