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ROBBY SWIFT: SWIFT BUSINESS!

17/10/2021
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Asides from being one of the world’s best windsurfers, Britain’s Robby Swift has a few other ventures up his talented sleeve. He tells us more about his businesses, ambitions and life on Maui. 

WORDS – ROBBY SWIFT  // PHOTOS – JOHN CARTER, FISH BOWL DIARIES 


I grew up sailing on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent and never dreamed I would end up in Maui living the life of a pro windsurfer. Now from my balcony I can see the famous Kuau store, the closest food shop to Ho’okipa! When I first started coming with Ross Williams over 20 years ago, we used to sit on the bench in front of the store after surfing at Lanes and dream about having a house in Kuau one day. I love this area. That was always my dream.

Back then pros were making loads of money windsurfing, so it wasn’t that unrealistic. I also dreamed I would have a Spanish wife and two blond little kids and that is pretty much how it has turned out. Ross even married my wife’s sister so we have both lived out our dreams. Now I am renting cars as well as starting to build houses over here. My family have always been involved in property so I have started doing that a little bit. That side of things is very interesting in Hawaii and has possibilities too. These are all things I like doing, and if you like what you are doing it makes working hard easier.

Business

The rental car business, www.northshoremauirentacar.com, is myself, Brawzinho and one other partner, Fernando Canuso. Fernando had a few cars he was renting by himself, but did not want to risk expanding on his own. I had the technical knowledge to make a website, but did not want too much extra work because I was already busy with my wife’s business and our children. Website, customer service and reservations I could cope with, so Brawzinho and Fernando agreed to deal with all the cars, deliveries and drop-offs. It works pretty well. I just make sure everything is working on the website and running smooth. In normal times it is a business that is always in need in Maui and we are popular with most windsurfers that visit. It is nice to be in business with Brawzinho. He is the most motivated person I know and a great training partner. Windsurfing unfortunately is more and more difficult to make a living from, but it is still my number one priority and I still think it is awesome. I am lucky to be able to have had this lifestyle for so many years. I wanted to set something else up for when my time in windsurfing comes to an end. Brawzinho and I’s goal was to take the stress off our windsurfing careers and make that part more fun. I actually appreciate my windsurfing more now I am doing the other work as well.

Versatile

I also studied computers a while back so I can repair my own MacBook and also make websites. I made the Neil Pryde website, which is also something that is helping me stay on with the brand. Now I also do the social media for Neil Pryde and JP and help out with many other aspects of their marketing which helps me stay useful for the brands while we have less events at the moment due to Covid and will hopefully increase the longevity of my windsurfing career. Windsurfing is still my absolute number one passion in life and the longer I can keep doing that, the better!

A lot of sailors these days are amazing windsurfers, which is good, but today’s sponsors are looking for more than that. Some years you do well in the contests and some years you don’t. It is not for the lack of training, but it just happens. If you can apply yourself to other roles for the brands, which they would need to pay somebody for anyway, for sure it makes you a more valuable member of the team. I have always been one of those guys. When I met Heidy eleven years ago, I went to Martin Brandner, the then manager at JP, with an idea of getting her to come with me to the events. We came up with a plan that she would film and they would pay for the tickets and expenses. I have always been like that and tried to find a way to make things work. In the end that was a little niche that they needed. They had exclusive videos of the events. They don’t need it so much anymore because of the live streaming, but now the social media side is important. I always try and find ways of making myself useful. Heidy always complains that I don’t ever sit around and relax, but I get kind of bored doing nothing, so I am always working on ideas and plans to help out my sponsors.

Clhei

My wife Heidy has a business CLHEI (pronounced ‘clay’) that we started ten years ago. She made a few handbags in Argentina and brought them back here. People in Maui really liked them, the leather in Argentina is very high quality as well having very skilled leather workers. That business has also grown and grown and takes up a lot of time. There are around 30 shops in the US that sell them. We sell online too, which means another website that I take care of. We do all the photography and every single tiny detail. Heidy does all the bag designs and that is another pretty full on job, all day every day. I help her with the things she can’t do, the website and the accounting etc. It has turned out a lot bigger than we dreamed. On Maui when we go to school fairs, the parents all run straight to our stall because they know we might be selling cheaper samples. It’s cool to have built something on Maui together with her and, more recently, partner up with my brother and his wife to make something that has built up a name and reputation in a completely different dimension to the world of windsurfing.

Family

As if I am not busy enough, we also have two kids, Rocco and Felix. In the beginning, it was difficult with the sleeping and whatever, but I have so much fun with them it kind of makes everything more complete. We have had to find ways to structure our weeks a little bit so we are not just trying to work with the kids around. That is too difficult. It has just made our timings different. We work more during the week while they are at school and at the weekends we try and take the time off. We live in Maui so it is no problem to go to the beach with them and cruise with them. Entertaining the boys and having a good life with them here on Maui is super easy and I think it is a great place to bring up kids. They love the beach, skating and surfing. Rocco comes windsurfing with me and he is obsessed with it. I don’t know if they will be pro windsurfers, but they are definitely into all that kind of stuff.
We will be able to do family trips to surf locations I hope, so the future looks exciting. That has always been my other dream. Teaching the boys to windsurf and surf has to be the most fun that I have at the moment. Seeing them actually enjoy it and ask me to go is just incredible.
I get so much pleasure out of it. I try not to be pushy and let them just catch a couple of waves if that’s all they want to do, or just do a couple of runs, but it keeps it lighthearted and we all have such a great time together.
I can’t wait till they are out surfing and windsurfing with me in the conditions that I love, and I’m sure it won’t be long before they are ‘out-paddling’ me in surfing and laughing at me falling in, but I’m going to cherish all the sweet little moments with them on the way.

Clinics 

The clinics are something I really enjoy. The first year was a bit stressful as I was on my own. My first one was ten days and you want your clients to have a great time so that was a lot of pressure. You can put as much effort in as you want or not. I put in 100 percent and I was destroyed after it had finished. Prior to Covid I had been running the clinics for two years and I had done them both on Maui, with ten out of ten days of sailing for each. It is a deluxe package. That is what people want when they come to Maui. We have full pro video every day and then in the night I import all the clips and sort them all out for the individual riders. In the morning, I edit the highlights of the day before, so we can go over what every rider is doing right or wrong. It is a huge undertaking to do on your own. I might even have to get someone to help me in the future with the video side. I enjoy it because they really progress and so far, all the guys are coming back and want to bring friends. It is a cool little group. The first time we had four people and the next year we had eight, which is the maximum that I want. It is a fantastic group holiday for them, but I also enjoy it too. We all get something out of it.

Improving

I don’t think you get any worse as a sailor until you stop practising. My wave riding feels like it is still improving, as well as all my other jumps. If you are sailing with the aim of progressing and you are being filmed, then you naturally push yourself. I sail with Brawzinho every day, so I feel I can’t get worse. I am happy with where my sailing is at. I have also been working on the new sails and boards from Neil Pryde and JP and am loving my new gear. I feel like that also excites me to train more when my gear is progressing. I am just trying to keep my body fit and healthy so I can carry on competing at the highest level. Unless you slow down you are always going to improve. Training
I train with Sarah Hauser 3 times a week along with Brawzinho, Ricardo Campello and Morgan Noireaux. We generally train ourselves pushing light weights through full range of motion and making sure we are strong when doing something physically and mentally challenging – jumping onto and off Bosu balls with weights and landing 180 degrees from take-off etc. etc. It really makes me feel good when I get into those super crouched down positions doing 360s or goiters etc. and have to save the moves. I think preparing yourself for the full range of motion is the most important thing to do. For big wave training, I just try to make sure I’m comfortable underwater for a long time. At least 2 minutes makes me feel comfortable, although my all-time best was 3:45. I think if you can hold your breath for over 2 minutes and well over a minute when stressed then you feel pretty prepared.
Covid
One of the most fortunate things in my life on Maui was the fact that I was ‘stuck’ here during Covid. It was really a wonderful place to be ‘stuck’. Even the slight undertone of hostility against ‘tourists’ was very much subdued during this time – that’s right, I’m still a tourist after living here for 20 plus years! But it was such a friendly time on Maui. We were pretty isolated from the rest of the world, tourism disappeared completely, down from around 40,000 arrivals a day to less than 10, so the only people who were on the island pretty much all lived here. Nobody was working, everyone was at the beach. People were respecting social distancing, but it was like an endless summer of stress free living. There was government financial help, which took the sting out of everybody losing their jobs and it was just kind of a 9 month long bubble of spending time with family and friends (at a distance of course) and the beach was the perfect ‘safe’ place to hang out. I had some of the most amazing sessions of my life at Ho’okipa with just a handful of friends out. We had a monumental year of big swells combined with wind for windsurfing Jaws, so it was really a blessing to be here over anywhere else. Don’t get me wrong, it was a stressful time financially, especially in the beginning when everyone cancelled all their reservations and house bookings etc. and all the self-employed people were left wondering what would become of their lives, but in the end the government aid helped most people in Hawaii to survive and most businesses seem to be coming back stronger than before with the new influx of tourism.Aloha Classic
The last time I competed was in the Aloha Classic in November 2019. It was almost a little bit too big then, as well as very light winds. It was annoying that it was not perfect Ho’okipa but I guess you never get perfect conditions in contests, do you? The two days before were the best two days of the year. It was not bad conditions, but the wind was borderline. You probably would not have even gone sailing on those days but we were forced to go out. It was kind of fun and we sailed, but we could not show what we could do. We were trying to do our best on 5.3 sails and 93 litre boards and get into some of the massive choppy waves. I made it to the semi-final, which was fine. I lost to Camille Juban and Bernd Roediger, who are both much lighter than me and were on 4.5m sails, which just look so different to the big stuff I was using. I also chose the wrong waves in the semi-final and tried to do a goiter at the end, which I made, but there was no wind so I could not pull the sail up.

The rocks

I didn’t mind the situation with the rocks at Ho’okipa because I have done it so many times before. It was precarious in the Aloha Classic and in the end, I did go on the rocks. Someone grabbed my gear off the rocks and the jet ski picked me up so it was nicer than normal. On any other day, you are out there on your own. The rocks made the whole event more dramatic and more exciting, but it would have been more fun with a bit more wind. Then it would have been epic. Ho’okipa is actually quite safe when you know about the currents and what is going to happen. As long as you get past the big end rock, nothing really happens to you. You just have to wait for the channel to open up. It looks scary, but the currents kind of help you and it is not too bad. It was frustrating as we had twenty-two minutes in the heat and if you messed up a wave that would be at least six minutes gone whatever happens. In my first heats I picked off some nice glassy waves, but in the semi-final, I did not even see a wave without head high chop on it. You can’t really go for it when it is like that. It was a bit of a lottery in that respect. Bernd and Camille both managed to dig some nice ones out, while I only had two waves and they were not great.
Float and ride
I like float and ride, the tactical side of waiting for the right wave is fun. In the Aloha there were just not many perfect waves, even in a twenty-two-minute heat. It sounds long, but there were only about three decent waves in that time for four of us competing. Brawzinho was in the same heat as me and lost out on a world title by not making it through that heat. Normally you go out on a day like that for an hour and a half and pick off three good waves. You can’t expect to score the same percentage strike rate in a twenty-two-minute heat. I don’t like it when the percentages are so low like that, but that is competition!

Ambitions

I would still like to be world champion one day. I still don’t feel like it is out of the question. I have not been doing so well the last couple of years at the events but a lot of that has been tiny margins, a 0.5 point here and there. Sometimes things go your way, but the last few years I have been on the wrong side of the luck. My goal is still to be PWA world wave champion and I am still training towards that. Then I would like to be financially stable, which is tough here in Maui. I really love the windsurfing side of my career and I want to keep that going as long as possible. Even if I eventually just go into development. I really like competing, some guys get bored of it, but it keeps the passion there for me. We only have a few events normally, and if we could get some more locations like Cape Verde happening again then that would work in my favour. At the moment, I have a lot of stress because the cost of living in Maui is very high, so I have to work a lot, but it is on my time schedule, and I am able to do what I love most with the people I care most about almost every day, so you won’t find me complaining!

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