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The Delicate Balance of Jesse Richman’s Kiteboarding

As kiteboarder Jesse Richman introduces daring new tricks to his repertoire, he uses preventive training to stay in top shape.

By

Jen Murphy

Jesse Richman at Baby Beach in Sprecklesville, Hawaii, on the island of Maui.Photo: Amanda Emmes for The Wall Street Journal

Growing up in Maui, Jesse Richman learned to fly a kite in the ocean. At age 9 he was harnessing the wind to pull him across waves while strapped to a board. He won his first world kiteboarding title at 16. Now 24, Mr. Richman is pushing the boundaries of his sport. “My focus is bigger waves and bigger air,” he says.

Mr. Richman performs wakeboard-like tricks 50 feet in the air and uses his kite to ride a surfboard on Pe’ahi, or Jaws, a wave on Maui renowned for its 30-plus-foot faces. His daring stunts earned him first place at the Red Bull King of the Air competition in Cape Town in 2013. The next year at the same contest, he broke a leg and tore some knee ligaments, which took eight months to heal. A concussion sustained while tow surfing—a sport when the surfer is pulled by a watercraft—sidelined Mr. Richman from the most recent King of the Air contest, in January.

Photos: Jesse Richman’s Kiteboarding Regimen

Wild balance exercises and mental drills help keep him focused when he takes to the waves and air off Maui

Jesse Richman practices a kite handle pass while balancing on a SurfBall at Deep Relief Peak Performance Athletic Training Center in Haiku, Hawaii on Maui.Amanda Emmes for The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Richman balances on a stability ball while playing catch with a trainer.Amanda Emmes for The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Richman works his brain and body at the gym. His trainer, Samantha Campbell, has him solve crossword puzzles and math equations while balancing on an Indo Board.Amanda Emmes for The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Richman's trainer will tire him out with a cardio circuit, then make him balance on an Indo Board and play videogames to improve his focus and concentration when fatigued.Amanda Emmes for The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Richman works his core on the rings.Amanda Emmes for The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Richman works out with other Maui athletes, including big wave surfer Paige Alms, at Baby Beach.Amanda Emmes for The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Richman sprints uphill at Baby Beach as part of his training. He is known for kitesurfing Maui's famous big wave, Pe'ahi, or Jaws.Amanda Emmes for The Wall Street Journal

Injuries, however, may be what keep Mr. Richman at the top of his game. “I never went to the gym until I had to do physical therapy,” he says. “I liked that I could track my improvement and realized getting hurt comes with the territory, so I might as well do preventive training.”

In 2015, Mr. Richman started training full time with his physical therapist Samantha Campbell. “I’m training to figure out how to ride better, not just stay fit,” he says. “You start by thinking how radical can I get and reach a consequence level where you need to also be thinking, how do I survive in a situation. I’m toying with paragliding and skydiving scenarios with my kite and you can’t be scared of injury.”

Video: Jesse Richman flies on his kiteboard 790 feet in the air on Oregon’s Columbia River.

The Workout

In Maui, Mr. Richman works out six days a week for 60 to 90 minutes either at the beach or at Deep Relief Peak Performance Athletic Training Center. He starts with muscle activation and stretching, then does a one-hour workout, stretches, and has a protein shake and an ice bath.

The body absorbs a lot of force through the back, hips and ankles when landing big air maneuvers. Mr. Richman does lateral box jumps to prepare his body for the impact. “I go out in strong winds and the kite pulls you one way and your body is going another, so you need to be able to land awkwardly.”

Explosive workouts, like jumping onto boxes and a BOSU ball, prepare Jesse Richman for the impact of landing kite maneuvers on water. Photo: Amanda Emmes for The Wall Street Journal

He does drills to improve his sense of his body’s position in space. This might include catching balls of different colors and sizes while balancing on one leg on an unstable surface, like a Dyna Disc or SurfBall, a surfboard-like base that balances atop a BOSU ball.

Ms. Campbell puts Mr. Richman through a circuit to tire him out, then makes him complete mental tasks. For example, he might do an intense 500-meter row, then climb a rope only using his upper body, then balance on a stability ball while Ms. Campbell calls out math problems for him to solve. “If he makes a mistake, he learns to let go and completely focus on the next task,” she says.

The Diet

Mr. Richman embraces a high-protein, low-carb diet and eats five small meals a day. He starts the morning with eggs and coffee. Two hours later he eats granola and yogurt. Lunch is often a wrap or a burrito followed by a late-afternoon smoothie. Dinner is lean protein and vegetables. His New Year’s resolution was to stop eating processed meats.

When he travels, he adjusts his diet to the local culture. “I don’t want to impose my routine on people,” he says. “In Argentina, they eat dinner at 11 p.m., so I’ll have a snack at 9 p.m.” Almonds, oat bars and kale chips are his go-to plane snacks.

Mr. Richman is seen here attacking the big wave off Maui known as Jaws in February 2016. Photo: Pierre Bouras

The Cost & Gear

Mr. Richman estimates that he owns 70 boards and 50 kites. “I form relationships with my gear,” he says. “Different kites have different attitudes. I have a board for every condition.” Mr. Richman is sponsored by Naish and Ride Engine and tests new gear for the board-sports companies. He uses his TriggerPoint Grid X foam roller, which retails for $50, twice a day for 15 minutes, even on the road.

The Playlist

“I enjoy getting lost to a two-hour-long deep house track. The weird flowering beats and layers of the music pull me through a workout.”

Jesse Richman’s Flights of Fancy

Most kiteboarders use a kite to harness the wind to pull them on a board across water. Some do wakeboard-like tricks and get a bit of air. But Maui-based kiteboarder Jesse Richman has dreamed up new maneuvers and stunts that have pushed the boundaries of the sport. Here are his most impressive feats to date:

  • July 2013: Gets towed behind a boat on Oregon’s Columbia River, allowing his kite to reach 790 feet before he releases the rope and kites back down safely.
  • August 2015: Sets the team long-distance record with six others, kiting 736 miles in eight days along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
  • December 2015: Becomes the first kitesurfer to get barreled at Maui’s infamous big wave, Pe’ahi, also known as Jaws.
  • March 2016: Soars his kite an estimated 195 feet over a rock point in Cuesta Del Viento Reservoir, near San Juan, Argentina.
  • April 2016: Snowkites off a Norwegian mountain, descending over 1,000 feet in five minutes for a documentary that follows extreme athletes around the world.

Jesse Richman estimates he has 50 kites at home and 70 boards. He often tests equipment for his sponsors, Naish and Ride Engine. Photo: Amanda Emmes for The Wall Street Journal

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