League of legends
INTERVIEW SERIES VOL. 5 - KEN WINNER
The only constant in life is change. In our fast turning world, new trends, challenges and changes come up every day. We talk to windsurfers, who saw the sport growing from the beginning, competing during different decades and wearing time-adequate wetsuit colours...
Their stories and experiences depict the evolution of professional windsurfing, sail and board building companies and travelling at different times. Some of you guys still remember those days, so you might ask yourself "Where are they sailing today?"
In Volume 5 we meet Ken Winner a former windsurfing legend who also works on the dark side ;-) - as product designer for Duotone Kiteboarding and the Duotone Foil wing.
I grew up mostly near Annapolis Maryland, USA, though I spent three of my teen years in Germany and UK.
In March of 1975 I bought a second hand Windsurfer. I took it out and sailed around in light wind for a couple of hours, but I wasn’t hooked until I sailed it in stronger winds. After that it was pretty much the only thing I wanted to do.
WHAT DOES WINDSURFING MEAN TO YOU?
Windsurfing is the original lifestyle windsport. The best version of what sailing classes like Sunfish and Hobie Cat wanted to be. It’s the mother sport that kitesurfing and wing foiling grew out of.
WHO HAD BEEN YOUR WINDSURFING IDOLS IN THE OLD DAYS?
I learned to windsurf when I was 20 years old, and I soon discovered that the world champ at the time, Matt Schweitzer, was only 15. I was astonished. I respected a lot of the early riders: Larry Stanley, Mike Horgan, Mike Waltze. And of course, there were guys like Robby who started a when he was about 9 years old. I never expected to be in the same league as those guys.
WHAT ARE YOUR ALL-TIME-TOP-3 REVOLUTIONARY WINDSURFING GEAR INNOVATIONS?
I designed a 9’ board with a rounded tail in 1979 (other custom boards at the time had square tails) and using this board I invented the carving jibe in Kailua in the winter of 1979-1980. I had the first adjustable booms. I designed and built the first foot-adjustable mast track. I was on 8’6 x 22” sinker wave boards at Ho’okipa in 1981. No one had wave boards that small before me. I had the first “pointer” fins and the first Tuttle boxes. I started the trend toward wide boards in about 1995. Related to that, I equipped my wide boards with tail flaps. The advent of tail flaps lead to John Parton inventing the cutaway tail, which turned out to be a better solution to the problem of tuning a board for best trim at speed.
WHEN AND WHY THE HELL DID YOU CHANGE TO KITEBOARDING?
I was doing product testing for Windsurfing magazine in 1998 on Maui. I was on the water windsurfing when Don Montague was also on the water kitesurfing. I called out to him to let me try it, so I jumped off my board -- 100 yards from the beach -- he leashed his board onto my ankle, handed me the kite bar, gave me the 30-second kitesurfing lesson and turned me loose. I rode back and forth for awhile, eventually ending up a mile downwind, but thoroughly stoked. After 25 years of windsurfing, I was ready for a new challenge.
YOU ARE THE FATHER OF THE DUOTONE FOIL WING. HOW DID THAT IDEA COME UP?
Back in spring of 2018 I was trying to SUP foil downwind with my neighbor (HST owner, Alan Cadiz) but had a sore shoulder and couldn’t risk doing much paddling. I saw a video of Flash Austin SUP foiling at Kanaha while being powered with a homemade fiberglass-tube-and-ripstop wing, and I thought I could make something like that with inflatable construction. In 2010 I had made a couple of hand-held wings for SUP boards, so it wasn’t a stretch for me to do something similar and a bit better for a SUP foil board.
Surprisingly, the first 2.5-meter prototype worked from the first moment I used it. I just stepped onto my board, sheeted in, pumped a little, quickly popped up on the foil and foiled out to the reef a few hundred yards away. I fell on the jibe, but by then I knew that this wing was all I would need to be able to downwind SUP foil. Of course, modern wings are capable of much, much more, but back then downwinding was all I had in mind.
Over the next months I had more prototypes built and did dozens of downwinders. Sky Solbach helped test new models. He and I tried to get people interested in them, but for quite a few months no one seemed to be paying attention. I talked to Tony Logosz (competing designer) about it in the Gorge, but he was completely dismissive, saying it was a “novelty” with no potential.
Finally, after months and months we convinced the company to put it into production. Within six months after that there were probably 10 different wing brands on the market. Now, a year later there are probably 30.
BACK IN 1980 YOU WROTE A BOOK “WIND IS FREE”.
That book was my personal take on what I thought was the best sport in the world. It had some basic how-to-windsurf info, some freestyle tips, some lifestyle musings. I haven’t tried those tricks in a long time.
WHERE DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE OF WATERSPORTS?
There are so many great wind sports now, it’s hard to choose. They’re special and demanding sports that require athleticism and a bit of money, so they’ll never be big sports. But for people who have the balls and a taste for adventure, they’re the best sports in the world.
They’ll all just get better and better. Better designs. Better materials.
WHAT IS YOUR SUPER POWER?
I try hard and fail a lot and sometimes don’t fail.
WHO MADE YOU WHO YOU ARE TODAY?
My parents showed me how to work and play hard.
WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING A LOCAL ON MAUI?
I live in a great neighborhood with some great neighbors.
WHAT ARE YOUR ALL-TIME-TOP-3 FAVOURITE SONGS?
Impossible to choose just three, so I’ll mention the first three that come to mind:
- “Du Bist Die Ruhe” Schubert
- “Sul’aria,” (of course) from “Le Nozze di Figaro,” Mozart
- "Der Tod und das Mädchen" (I’m going to cheat here and group both the song and the string quartet under the one title) Schubert
ANYTHING YOU WANT TO TELL THE WINDSURFING WORLD OUT THERE?
Windsurfing is a hard-core athletic sport and windsurfers are badasses for being able to do it.