Kitesurfing pioneers: the story of Don Montague
- 31 October 2017 | Kiteboarding
Don Montague is a Canadian watersports inventor and designer. He was at the heart of the kiteboarding revolution and, today, continues to innovate with his kiteboat experimentations.
Don Montague has always been passionate about the ocean. When he was young, he made sails for his skateboard and canoe.
He only discovered windsurfing at the age of 16, after watching Robby Naish in VHS videos. But he instantly knew, he wanted to ride the wind.
After finishing high school, the Canadian went on a one-way trip to California. He tried to attend University in Santa Barbara, but a few bureaucratic issues made him leave the institution and head to Maui.
Montague spent most of his time training and competing locally and soon he was on tour, traveling the world with all the windsurfing stars - Robby Naish, Pete Cabrinha, Mike Waltze, Ken Winner, etc.
Don rode for many brands, including Gaastra, Tiga, NeilPryde, and Simmer Style. In 1995, he joins Robby and Pete in Naish Sails Hawaii. But a new sport was about to hit the island, producing considerable impacts in the local industry.
The Year I Discovered Kitesurfing
Don Montague discovered kitesurfing in 1996, three years after Bill and Cory Roeseler started kite skiing in Oregon.
At the time, Laird Hamilton and Manu Bertin had already used ram air kites to propel themselves across the water, but the "new" sport was still too archaic and dangerous.
The Canadian continued his experimentations, first with kites made of inflatable mattresses sewn together, and later with the first power kites, kike the Skytiger by Flexifoil.
"One day, Manu Bertin, member of my windsurfing team, came to my laboratory, all excited: 'Don, you must see this!' 'This' was the kite that had been created by Dominique and Bruno Legaignoux. It was amazing! The fabrication, the design, the concept, and, the icing on the cake, it was an inflatable kite that was meant to take off again once it had hit the water," explains Montague.
The hardest part had been unveiled, and Bertin became obsessed with it, spending countless hours making improvements and adjustments to the French formula.
But Don wasn't convinced. He believed there was a lot to be done in terms of durability and design. Kites were exploding in the air, crashing on the beach, and degrading quickly.
The Canadian invited Bruno Legaignoux to Hawaii, and they both talk about the technical and business sides of kites. In the end, Naish Sails and the French inventor agreed on a patent license so that kites could get produced and sold.
Initially, Robby, Pete and former windsurfing world champion Ken Winner were not enthusiastic about the idea. However, after successfully riding a kite, the group understood the potential they had in their hands.
"Don Monster," or "Don, the Crazy Canadian" was right. Kiteboarding was the future of water sports. Kite allowed you to jump 15 meters in the air, and stay up there for more than five seconds.
Montague began producing four-line kites, added the trim loop, and quickly got a team working on a software for the design of Bruno's kite. As a result, he could design 300 prototypes per year, before manufacturing them in China.
In the second year of operations, Naish was already selling 20,000 kites in all corners of the globe; new brands entered the market and paid for licenses.
"The primary catalyst for the development of this sport was the fact that some famous and professional windsurfers began to take an interest in it and pursue the sport," adds Don Montague.
Marcus "Flash" Austin and Lou Wainman rode for Naish Sails and become the first ambassadors for the sport of kiteboarding. And then Pete Cabrinha and Robby Naish were the cherries on the top of the cake.
Don Montague won one of the first ever kitesurfing contests held in Ho'okipa.
According to Montague, and in a matter of months, "windsurfing basically died. Kitesurfing almost completely knocked out the windsurfing market," outselling by 9:1.
NeilPryde understood kitesurfing's growth and tried to hire Don, but he declined the offer - the crazy Canadian was too wild for a structured company. Instead, he recommended Pete Cabrinha.
But when Robby Naish disapproved Don's stand-up paddle prototype, the "rebel" knew it was time to move on, and do new things. The 20-year-old cycle had ended.
Goodbye Naish Sails, Hello Makani Power
Don Montague had recently met Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who got hooked to kiteboarding. In 2002, the Canadian started using kites on boats, canoes, and catamarans.
And when discussing energy with the IT entrepreneurs, they came across an innovative idea - to use kites to produce energy.
"I had worked with a Dutch astronaut, Wubbo Ockels, and his concept Laddermill (concept based on the idea of flying kites at different altitudes and having them all linked to a turbine on the ground to produce energy through the wind power)," reveals Don Montague.
"I thus explained to Larry and Sergey that I was going to produce electricity by sailing around the world on my kiteboat. And then they said to me: 'Don, do not go sailing around the world, save the world instead! Come work with us.'"
In 2006, after a few hesitations, Don decides to put together a team and create Makani Power, a company funded by Google. The start-up grew, and Montague left in 2013 when his passion for kiteboats spoke higher.
His first project was the Jetfoiler, a foil board powered by an engine.
The future? Energy and Kiteboats
Don Montague believes that companies like Makani Power are the future of energy.
Today, he focuses his resources on the Kiteboat Project, an 18-meter long trimaran foil, equipped with a kite. Don dreams of sailing around the Earth with his new toy, and remains involved in various oceanic projects, like placing kites 10,000 feet high to monitor the Sargasso Sea.
Years have passed since he witnessed the birth of a new sport, but the Canadian is still stoked and goes kitesurfing almost every day.
Today, I am not sure whether I will personally be able to make it, but it was my dream to sail around the Earth with a kiteboat on foils.
The story of Don Montague and his involvement in the birth of kiteboarding is featured in "Kitesurf: Du Rêve À La Réalité."