Robby Naish: the ultimate windsurfer and water sports icon

September 13, 2021 | Windsurfing
Robby Naish: probably the greatest windsurfer of all time | Photo: Naish Archive

Robby Naish is probably the greatest windsurfer in the history of the sport. His career stats are absolutely impressive.

But the legendary waterman is also someone who pioneered kiteboarding and modern stand-up paddleboarding (SUP).

Naish was always ahead of his time, and the nearly obsessive search for perfection only added layers of success to his longtime competitive career.

If you're a passionate windsurfer, then Robby Naish is one of those athletes you should know more about.

Robert Staunton Naish was born on April 23, 1963, in La Jolla, San Diego, California.

He has three siblings - his brothers Randy and Rolly and his sister Christine.

Rick, Carol, and their children with a Hobie Cat 14: before windsurfing, the family was into surfing and sailing | Photo: Naish Archive

The Early Days

When he was five, his father Rick and his mother Carol moved to Hawaii.

Rick was a teacher at Honolulu High School, an accomplished surfer, and a catamaran regatta competitor and organizer.

He won several Hobie 14 and 16 titles and trophies.

The family lived just two blocks away from Kailua Beach, in Oahu, so the sands were a second home to everyone in the house.

The first windsurf boards and sails arrived in Hawaii circa 1971 and, when Randy and Robby saw them through a shop window in Honolulu, they were immediately excited and wanted to try it.

Although Naish started surfing and sailing from a very early age, he only picked up windsurfing when he was 11.

"There were half-a-dozen windsurfers or so in Hawaii at the time," recalls Naish.

"Ken Kleid, Mike Horgan, Larry Stanley, Dennis Davidson, and a few other hippy guys that discovered the sport. I just luckily met them one day at the beach."

Initially, Robby couldn't even get the sail out in the water - he wasn't tall and strong enough. So, Horgan took him tandem.

Naish was immediately blown away with the feeling.

"It was like surfing with the wind," stressed the waterman.

Robby Naish: he started windsurfing in Hawaii aged 11 | Photo: Naish Archive

Robby Naish, 1976: celebrating his first world title in the Bahamas, aged 13 | Photo: Naish Archive

Rising to Stardom

In 1976, at only 13, the Californian won his first world title in Nassau, Bahamas, in a contest with 400 competitors from all over the planet.

It was the time of the Professional Boardsailors Association (PBA), one of the entities that preceded the Professional Windsurfers Association (PWA).

Naish traveled by himself to the Caribbean nation because his parents couldn't afford to go with him.

In the end, it paid off. Robby became the youngest world title‐holder in the sport's history.

One year later, Naish not only defended his trophy in Sardinia, Italy but went on to win two additional and consecutive world titles in Cancun, Mexico (1978) and Florida (1979).

In 1979, he founded Naish, one of the first global water sports companies.

Although initially focused on windsurfing equipment and gear, Naish would grow and expand the business by developing innovative and technical surfing, kiteboarding, SUP, foiling, and wing surfing products.

In the 1980s, Robby Naish toured the world as a professional windsurfer, competing in more than 20 countries each year.

In his 20s, the Hawaiian-raised, multi-sport waterman was already an all-around sailboarder with proven skills and multiple trophies in slalom, course, and waves. His sail number? US-1111.

Windsurfing had become a very popular sport, especially in Europe.

Each event attracted thousands of spectators to the beach or to indoor windsurfing arenas.

Robby Naish and windsurfer friends: getting ready for the 1983 Rip Curl Quiksilver Wave Classic, a multi-discipline windsurfing event held in Torquay, Australia | Photo: Darrell Wong/Naish Archive

Robby Naish: the Californian dominated professional windsurfing in the 1980s | Photo: Naish Archive

Naish: The Birth of a Water Sports Family Brand

Robby was already riding windsurf boards shaped by his father, and their performance drew the attention of other multinational companies.

Rick was offered a contract to develop several new board designs for the iconic brand Mistral.

As a result, the surfer-shaper gave up his school teacher job and started working full-time on building windsurfing equipment.

His wife Carol began offering windsurfing vacation packages to European travel agencies, and Kailua Beach quickly became a wind sports Mecca.

There were cottages, private homes, and other guest accommodations, and a rental service featuring ten Kailua boards, Rick's first model.

As the business grew, the family opened a retail store at Hamakua Drive, and the shop-and-factory space became Naish's legendary headquarter for years.

Throughout his long professional windsurfing career, Robby won over 150 events and conquered 24 world championship titles.

In the 1990s, Robby shifted most of his time and focus to his business ventures, for instance, with the launch of Naish Sails Hawaii in 1995.

In that same year, he sailed Jaws for the first time.

But let's not forget that Naish had already been one of the first surfers to get barreled at the infamous Maui surf break.

He knew Peahi as only a few did.

At the end of the 20th century, Naish participated in the creation and development of a revolution that would change water sports forever - kiteboarding.

Robby was one of the kitesurfing pioneers. And he also excelled in the new sport by adding slalom and jumping world titles to his trophy room.

The brand with his name also turned the attention to the ever-growing market that kiteboarding opened.

Naish became a global water sports company with a broad range of products for all sorts of ocean enthusiasts.

Robby invested in R&D and technology and beat his business opponents.

Robby Naish: one of the few big wave windsurfers to ride Jaws/Peahi, in Maui, Hawaii | Photo: Red Bull

Robby Naish: he pioneered the sport of kiteboarding and became a prolific rider | Photo: Naish Archive

An Outstanding Waterman

With the turn of the millennium and the resurgence of paddleboarding and SUP, Robby and his team were again influential in the growth of the discipline.

SUP equipment by Naish quickly reached the five continents.

Robby broke several Guinness World Records and is one of the few windsurfers and kiteboarders to enjoy a long career as a professional sportsman.

"He's a freak of Nature," says Jason Polakow.

"He's a superhero," adds Kai Lenny.

"He's a cut above the best," underlines Gerry Lopez.

"He's one of the all-time athletes you need to know," notes Laird Hamilton.

In 2016, Robby decided to take his stand-up paddleboard and travel the globe in search of the world's longest waves - from beginning to wherever they end.

He and his team visited Skeleton Bay (Namibia), Chicama (Peru), and Pavones (Costa Rica) and documented the journey.

In 2021, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Joe Berlinger produced "The Longest Wave," a 103-minute documentary that captures obstacles outside the legendary Californian athlete's professional life, from business and mentorship to fatherhood.

"In my head, I'm a professional boardrider," states Robby Naish.

After retiring from the competitive circus, the greatest windsurfer of all time kept learning and getting inspired by younger riders, including Bjorn Dunkerbeck and Jason Polakow.

Robby Naish: the waterman won slalom, course, and wave windsurfing world titles and event trophies | Photo: Naish Archive

Robby Naish: stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is one of his favorite water sports | Photo: Naish Archive

Personal Details

Robby Naish is 5'10" (1.77 meters) and weighs around 175 pounds (79 kilograms).

He was married to Bitsy Kelley from 1981 to 1987. On the day his first daughter Nani was born, Robby won two windsurfing races.

From 1991 to 2019, Robby was married to Kathryn Lipp. The couple had a daughter named Christina.

Kathryn and Robby lived for a long time in a stunning house that took two years to build. It's located on a peninsula that goes out in the ocean, offering a breathtaking view over the Pacific.

When Naish divorced Katie, he moved to a surf bungalow.

Naish was inducted into the PWA Windsurfing Hall of Fame (2002) and the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame (2004).

He is also a member of the Laureus World Sports Academy.

One of his favorite windsurfing spots is Sylt, the windy North Sea island located in Germany, and that is probably why Robby Naish is so fluent in German.

Robby Naish won't stop chasing wind and waves.

He plans to adapt his aging process to the challenges and projects he still has to tick from the list.

But one thing is certain: "Mr. Windsurfing" will never be out of the water.

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