Robby Naish is the ‘King’ of windsurfing, from multiple world championships to big wave riding to icon of our sport, there is nobody better suited to quiz for our January / February issue 400 in our ‘Mark of a champion’ series. Read on as we find out what makes Robby so successful.
Photos: Lukas Pilz/Red Bull Content Pool //Fish Bowl Diaries //John Carter/Red Bull Content Pool //Reinhard Mueller / Red Bull Content Pool //Erik Aeder/Red Bull Content Pool
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I would be hard pressed to say that I have ever considered myself to have ever been “the best” at anything. I have certainly tried my damnedest to be “one of the best” in the things that are important to me though. I am not really one of those people that enjoy things, especially sport, just for the sake of doing it. If there is a measure of ability or talent or speed or whatever, I want to be good at it, or at least see the potential of getting good at it, or I do not really enjoy it. With all due respect to how other people may view the world, I have never been happy to get a ‘participation award’.
I avoid doing things that I know I’m not good at. And I focus and practice and work hard at the things that I really enjoy doing in order to maintain a respectable level and a level that is high enough that it remains fun for me. That is going to be a continuing challenge as I get older…. but for the most part, so far so good.
Excellence depends on the context. But at least in our world it usually means checking all the boxes… that you have worked really hard, you have stayed focussed, avoided distraction, and have done everything possible to set yourself up for good luck and to be ready and prepared in every way (physically, mentally, and technically) to deliver in whatever it is you are doing, and then give as close to 100% to it as possible while in the process. Some people have to work harder than others to achieve this. Some people never do. And to others excellence is never really the target. It’s all good though. I set pretty high standards for myself, but I try not to judge other people.
Defining moments? Everything. Every day. Every little thing growing up, and the big things as well. And I like to think that I am still evolving and growing as a person to this day. But without a doubt it was all about luck, and being in the right place at the right time many many times over while having an open mind. Having my parents decide to move to Hawaii when I was a little kid and moving to Kailua rather than many of the other places that they could have ended up was fortunate. Being lucky enough to have a sporty mom and dad that loved the ocean too. And the big one… having the chance to try windsurfing one day when I was 11. From a ‘career’ standpoint, that was a big one. But the luck continued as I got older. Graduating from high school right as windsurfing turned pro was lucky. Having a father that made awesome boards was lucky. Being of the size and physical build and personality that I was self-centred and self-driven was lucky. Not being afraid to work my ass off and to try new things, and to avoid distractions all played a part. The people I have met along the way have also shaped who I am. And on and on. I do not really have a big “I got struck by lightning” moment, just a whole lot of little ones.
I didn’t really have any sporting heroes when I was younger. I was focussed and self-centred and really did not follow any other sports too closely. I was not interested and did not have time. But as I have grown older my mind has opened up. I still won’t watch a football game and will usually only check out highlights of most sports (other than F1), but I have a lot of respect for many other athletes in a wide range of sports now.
“Life’s what you make it.” and “Treat everyone you meet the way you would want them to treat you.” And probably the best one that my dad taught me a long time ago is, “Don’t piss into the wind.”
I think that life balance is likely a little different for me than it is for most people, but it is super important to me. In order to do what I have done for as long as I have done it at the level that I have wanted to do it at has required a fairly “selfish” lifestyle. I have spent a big portion of my life on the water, for the most part doing things on my own. I have also spent a large portion of my life on the road. Much of that time also spent alone. I have friends, but likely not the close ones that most people have. I don’t really ‘hang out with the boys’. And I almost never ‘have people over’ or ‘go out with friends’. But I do have friends, and I have them all over the world. I am close to my family, and to my girlfriend, more so now than ever because I am not traveling as much as I used to. I have a nice balance between work and play. Luckily much of my work is actually play… and my time on the water has always been a priority above all else. Sometimes the business could surely benefit from me parking myself behind the computer for more hours… but that is not how I want my life to be. I love what I do, and I have been blessed to be able to keep this balance of business, family, friends, independence, and sporting ability for as long as I have.
What motivates me to go on the water each day is ‘fun’. Plain and simple. I also know full well how lucky I am to be able to do this. I get paid to do what other people dream about doing…. and do in their limited free time and on their holidays. I know that most people have it a lot harder than I ever have had. I appreciate that. And I am incredibly thankful for it. No motivation necessary.
I have been having more and more of a difficult time with stress in recent years. Mostly the stress of responsibility and business. Competition nerves were also always there… even in my later years of competing. I would always get nervous. I hated losing, and that fear was always there… even when competing ‘for fun’ in things like the Aloha Classic or indoor events. But to me, getting nervous means that I still care about it. It lets me know that I still give a shit, it still means something, even after all the years of doing it. I think that’s a good thing.
I am a bit more mellow than I was a few years ago, but I still enjoy getting pumped up. When I was competing at the top level of windsurfing I loved the pressure. I loved that I was good at something. I loved that it was constantly changing and challenging me in different ways. I thrived on riding and competing in different conditions…. side-shore, onshore, windy, crappy, cold, rainy, hot and sunny, big waves, small waves etc. etc. Anyone can sail Ho’okipa every day and get good. But being good at Ho’okipa and Omaezaki and Sylt and Scheveningen, on a wave board, a slalom board or a course board… that was something else. I loved the challenge of staying fit and focussed and competitive and competing against new crops of young talented guys every few years. It never got (gets) boring.
I think that I am pretty driven. I am also very loyal and dedicated most of the time. I am also quite stubborn and I hate losing. I hate losing much more than I enjoy winning. Luckily I have some natural talent in the kinds of things that I like to do… like board riding. I have always had pretty good natural coordination athletically too, which has not hurt for sure. I would learn things methodically rather than with reckless abandon… both as an athlete and as a person. In the end that has worked out pretty well for me.
I kept my distance from pretty much everyone most of the time. I was not unfriendly by any means. I was just not very social. If I was at an event, I was there for one reason. At home I would be more interactive with friends and rivals than when I was at World Cup events.
I respected and enjoyed competing against everyone, from the days competing against Ken Winner, Jürgen Hönscheid etc., to Stephan van den Berg, Pete Cabrinha, Alex Aguera, Nevin Sayre, and then Nik and Ant Baker, Bjorn Dunkerbeck, Anders Bringdal, Jason Polakow, the Angulos, Kauli Seadi, Francisco Goya and Antoine Albeau,
There were only a handful of guys over the years that I was worried about losing to… and that list slowly grew over time. Now that competition is not really in the picture anymore, I still enjoy it just as much today. Just being out there mixing it up with the new crew out at Ho’okipa is rewarding. It is different. And I am not able to push as hard as I once could. But it is still fun and I have total respect for guys like Levi, Brawzinho, Ricardo, Swifty, Jake and Morgan and many more that are taking the sport into the future. There are several others I admire too. Anyone who loves the sport, rips hard and doesn’t have a big head gets my thumbs up.
I escape from being a pro windsurfer by cooking, spending time with the ones I love, watching Netflix sometimes, watching Formula One, working on cars and thinking about working on cars.
WINNING OR MONEY?
It depends on the circumstances. For the first several years competing, there was no money. Winning was winning and a trophy. And that was more than enough to keep me motivated. Money came into play in 1981 when the sport turned professional. For the first few years it was winning and money… traveling all over the world to various independent events. It was not until 1983 with the formation of the WSMA (World Sailboard Manufacturers Association) which later became the WBA and later the PBA and later the PWA… that a professional world tour with a world ranking for each discipline was formed. That kind of changed things and made it a bit more serious. Winning was always important. But as a professional your measure of success is also in money… since this now becomes your job and your means to make a living. There was also the ever looming realization that this amazing career might last another six months, or maybe a year…. and I worked my ass off to try my best to make it last. But there were no guarantees… and no path laid down for a future by past professional windsurfers to see. Knowing that it could all come to a screeching halt at any time via injury, a change in the economy or change in trends or whatever, made the money side of it even more important. I had no other skills or talents. I turned pro rather than going to university. So I took the dollar side of things pretty seriously. And winning meant more money. Fortunately things lasted another year, and then another, and another… and I am still riding that wave hoping that I do a good enough job and remain lucky enough that it keeps going. I’m now 57. So luck has been on my side for quite some time.
You don’t want to know what I eat. Really. I eat like a teenager. I eat well, but do not have a training regime. I drink lots of Red Bull, eat lots of Mexican and Italian food, take a B-Vitamin every day, don’t drink protein shakes, still enjoy junk food, and I don’t drink any alcohol, smoke or do any drugs.
TALENT OR WORK
I guess that I would say that much of my ‘talent’ is natural. My ‘success’ and being able to capitalize on and perpetuate that talent took a lot of hard work though. But I would still say that even with talent and hard work….it’s been at least 50% luck.
I don’t run at all. I used to jog the beach once in a while when I lived right on the sand in Kailua… but I will not just go run. I also very seldom go to the gym. I lift weights, use the gut wheel and use my TRX at home pretty frequently between sailing etc. just to balance things out. But 90% of my training is on the water. Between windsurfing, kiting (which I am doing a bit less of these days after two pretty big injuries back to back), surfing, SUP, foiling and wing surfing, I get a pretty good balance of workouts and more than my share of time on the water. Riding for fun aside, there is almost always something that needs testing or shooting as well. With no travel away from Hawaii due to Covid-19 since early spring, my water time has gone up quite a bit this year… getting out nearly every day in one way or another for at least a couple of hours. But there is no routine. If conditions suck, I may not get in the water for several days sometimes.
In all honesty, I have not really had many rocky moments. And sitting here thinking about it, nothing really comes to mind… at least in terms of on water activities. I could give you a few examples in business or personally… and maybe reflect on the broken pelvis or foot injuries that took me out for a while.. (both of those sucked big time…), but I’ve bounced back pretty well from everything that life has thrown at me so far. And like I said earlier, I am pretty sure that most people’s lives are a lot more difficult and challenging than mine has ever been. I am not a ‘woe is me’ kind of person. Nobody wants to hear me complain or talk about my ‘hard times’. You fall down, and you get back up, brush yourself off and try again. That’s the good thing about windsurfing. You can fall down an awful lot and just keep getting up and trying again. Water is more forgiving than most things in life.