Anywhere the Wind Blows
Martin Vari, the world- champion kiteboarder, lives and trains on Oahu.
Ah, to be 22 and single, bronzed and fit. To travel the world half the year, making a living at your favorite hobby. To set your office hours by the wind. Such is the life of world-champion kiteboarder Martin Vari, who trains on Oahu when he’s not on the international kiteboarding circuit.
Can he show up at an appointed time for an interview? “It depends on the wind,” he says. Will he be around tomorrow? Maybe. But not if the waves and wind are good at Pipeline, where he might stay overnight. “If the wind is on, then I have to work.”
Work in this case involves hooking a giant kite to a harness around his waist and hanging onto a flailing bar that pulls him across the ocean on a small, two-finned board. As a sport, kiteboarding began about 10 years ago, with some makeshift equipment and a few stunts. When the former windsurfer from Argentina first saw someone kiteboarding, “I went crazy and said, I gotta learn that.’”
Strapping the meter-long board to his feet and hanging onto an inflatable kite up to 20 meters in size, Vari disobeys gravity. When he says, “You should come watch me some time,” it doesn’t sound boastful. It’s merely fact: What you see will leave you awestruck.
He rides waves just like a surfer, but, with the turn of his hand and a change in body position, he can manipulate the kite to launch him 40 feet in the air. He flips, twists and contorts his body, touches the side of a cliff and even temporarily removes his board from his feet—all while deftly controlling a piece of material powerful enough to fling a man through the air like a rag doll, and break his legs on landing. It’s a sport that combines the skill and athleticism of surfing, the science of sailing and the childhood art of kite flying.
Born in Buenos Aires, Vari came to Oahu to study marketing at Hawaii Pacific University—but found himself focusing more on kiteboarding. Oahu is still his home base. Kailua Bay is probably the best place to learn the sport. However, one of Vari’s favorite locations is Mokuleia. “It’s like a playground,” he says of the possibilities for skimboarding along the sand, aerobatics and smooth riding beyond the surf break.
Besides the creative freedom of interacting with nature while escaping the real world, being a leader of a new activity is liberating in other ways. “I don’t need to look up to anybody,” he says of his ability to invent new moves. “Where I want to take the sport is up to me.”
It’s all about fulfilling dreams. “People are trapped in a way of life that society puts them in,” he says. “If you’re passionate about something, you can really make a life of it. I think that can apply to anybody and anything.”
Clothing and gear sponsors keep him stocked with equipment worth thousands of dollars. His Web site (www.martinvari.com) showcases his latest moves. And one would imagine, after hearing the soft-spoken South American accent highlighted with a movie-star smile, that he has a girl in every seaside town where the wind blows.
Job security may be lacking. But he doesn’t seem to mind. Would you?