Robert Staunton Naish, better known as Robby Naish, can look back on a total of 24 world championship titles. But these days the 54-year-old isn’t just successful as a windsurfer. For years, he and his company Naish have been in on the game at the top levels of the international surfing business.
It all started with the boards that his father Rick developed and built himself at home in Hawaii. Soon, Robby and his brother Randy an enthusiastic surfer, joined in on the garage production. Because Robby won his first title on his handmade boards, other surfers and established manufacturers quickly took notice of the material.
After father Rick was hired as a freelance designer at Mistral Windsurfing in 1978, the Naish family quickly began developing one business idea after the next. While Robby continued to regularly bring home the world champion titles, production moved out of the garage in 1979 into a workshop hall to meet the growing demand, operating under the name Naish Hawaii Ltd. Meanwhile, mother Carol began international marketing of “Windsurfari” trips to Hawaii.
Due to the high level of interest in Naish products, the Naish retail shop in Kailua, Oahu followed in 1982, where in addition to their own boards and T-shirts, windsurfing products imported from Europe were also sold. In the meantime, Robby became more and more successful and dominated the sport like no other, which made him a valuable posterchild for Mistral, the company for which his father Rick designed boards.
At Mistral, Robby met Andy Church, the Director of Sports Promotion, in 1994. Based on their good relationship, Robby offered for Andy to move to Maui in 1998 to support the international team of his company Naish Sails, newly founded with Don Montague, Pete Cabrinha, and Dan Keseler.
Robby Naish was always an enthusiastic surfer, but since year one his passion has also been for the perfect equipment. When kiteboarding was still in its infancy in the 1990s, Robby Naish was one of the first pros to trade the sail for the screen.
He found the sport fascinating, as it opened up new possibilities on the water for him: windsurfing with elements of wakeboarding, skating, snowboarding, and paragliding. Consequently, his young company also dedicated itself to the new trend. In 1998, Robby Naish and his then-development head Don Montague secured a license from the French brothers Dominique and Bruno Legaignoux, who had invented the inflatable front tube and produced it together with Neil Pryde. In return, the Legaignouxs received design software from Montague to make development faster.
In 1999, the same year Andy Church joined Naish Sails, Naish had already sold the first inflatable Naish kites – the birth of the brand of the same name.
In 2000, ISPO called the first meeting of the start-up competition ISPO Brandnew in Munich, and Naish Kites was the first company chosen at the summer trade fair as the Overall Winner. Even back then, it was clear: ISPO Brandnew attracts the interest of the media and of retail. Naish initially saw the young entrepreneur competition as a door opener for the important German market, but was quickly confronted with inquiries from all over Europe.
In retrospect, he concedes that he had neither anticipated this, nor done much for it: “Our preparations for ISPO were pretty sparse. We just showed up to Munich with a couple of kites in our luggage. These days, we’re significantly more professional.” The kites they brought along had just passed the prototype phase, but their performance was already highly praised in the small scene.
Through ISPO Brandnew, a broader target group learned about the new sport. With the name Robby Naish at the top and the media-attractive and spectacular sport of kitesurfing as the crowd puller, Naish Kites wasn’t the only one to benefit from the award win. ISPO Brandnew also became an overnight coveted forum for numerous start-ups in the sports industry, as rarely before had a single prominent trade fair appearance been enough to establish a new trend sport. Thanks to high-quality products and the Overall Award in the bag, Naish Kites were at the very forefront.
“Participating in ISPO Brandnew was crucial for us, especially in the early days,” says Naish. This is because the unexpected success compelled Naish to completely rethink the internal structures of his barely one-year-old company. “Thanks to ISPO Brandnew, we were able to get a priceless advantage over the competition,” he explains.
It took a good year until Naish Kites was reorganized. A huge effort that was set to pay off: Starting in 2002, business went through the roof and sales increased steadily over the next four years. At the same time, kiteboarding was changing. Riding the waves again with the help of the wind, after windsurfing had nearly disappeared from the scene, while practicing acrobatics that the world knew from skateboarding or snowboarding, changed kiteboarding from a trend into an established sport in just a few years.
Incidentally, ISPO Brandnew will be taking place for its 30th year in 2018. On the occasion of this anniversary, Robby Naish, the first Overall Winner, will be among the ISPO Brandnew jury for the conferral of the anniversary award, as revealed by Markus Hefter, Head of ISPO Brandnew, in an interview on the story of the 30th ISPO Brandnew.
It took a good year after the success of Naish Kites as Overall Winner until the company was reorganized. A huge effort that was set to pay off: Starting in 2002, business went through the roof and sales increased steadily over the next four years. At the same time, kiteboarding was changing. Riding the waves again with the help of the wind, after windsurfing had nearly disappeared from the scene, while practicing acrobatics that the world knew from skateboarding or snowboarding, changed kiteboarding from a trend into an established sport in just a few years.At the time of the conferral of the first ISPO Brandnew, Robby Naish had already won three world championship titles in kiting. His career as a professional wind and kite surfer ended in 2001, in order to dedicate more time to his business and his family. However, the father of two daughters can still regularly be found on the water - either to work with the new generation or to keep tracking down new trends and niches in surfing. He’s also considered one of the pioneers of stand-up paddling.
In contrast to kitesurfing, SUP is about calm, enjoyment, and serenity. The people of Hawaii are said to have traveled the water standing on boards hundreds of years ago. Robby Naish’s interest was awakened in the early 2000s by Hawaiian surfing teachers who stood on their long, broad boards to better keep their eyes on their students in between waves.
When Robby went paddle boarding through the Port of Hamburg before many fans’ very eyes in 2010, the triumph of stand-up paddling finally could no longer be contained in Germany. In addition to Naish Sails and Naish Kites, Naish SUP Boards can now also make the cash tills ring. But Robby Naish wouldn’t be Robby Naish if he didn’t always have new ideas and didn’t keep expanding his surfing empire, which now makes over 30 million dollars in revenue per year.
For one year, foil boarding has been the latest hype in the scene. Better stability, higher speeds, less stress on rider and material: a concept already successfully implemented in sailing. Boards outfitted with hydrofoils, extended airfoil beneath the board, are now being offered for windsurfers, kiters, and stand-up paddlers – by Naish Foils too, of course. Robby Naish is and will remain a full-blooded surfer, pioneer, and innovator – and without a doubt, a worthy first Overall Winner of ISPO Brandnew.