Reo Stevens was only 8 years old when he became tired of surfing with the hordes at Hawaii's legendary (and crowded) North Shore -- plagued by what the New York Times called the "second boom" of surfing in the late 1980s and early '90s. He wanted something different. 

Advertisement

That's when Stevens discovered the world of wind sports. Stevens began experimenting with windsurfing -- a mixture of sailing and surfing -- but according to his website biography began kitesurfing when he was 13 years old. Kitesurfing involves using a parachute-like "kite" to propel a surfer on and above the water. Utilizing the wind allowed Stevens to get away from the bustling North Shore and take advantage of less-crowded portions of the Hawaii coast.

Stevens wrote that he was impressed with kitesurfing when he first saw a surfer get lifted into the air for the first time.

"I was swimming for my gear after I fell on a wave when a kitesurfer jumped 20ft over my head," Stevens explained on his website. "I was amazed; I had to do it."

Being lifted into the air is obviously exhilarating, but there was a practical reason for surfers to pick up kitesurfing. Generally, wind blowing toward the shore is bad for traditional surfing but it's good for kitesurfing. This makes sense intuitively -- surfers wouldn't want to get blown away from the shore if they were using a kite. For Stevens, this meant the weather didn't keep him from getting into the water.

"Conditions for one are only ideal when they are not for the other," Stevens said in a Patagonia video, referring to surfing and kitesurfing respectively. On his website, he added "I found something that can ... keep me riding waves no matter what the conditions are." 

Now that Stevens has grown up, he's become one of the most recognizable faces in the kitesurfing world. Only three years after he first picked up the sport, Stevens found himself on the cover of Kiteworld Magazine and has since been on the cover of 20 kitesurfing magazines. In 2012, SBC Kiteboarding called Stevens an "American icon." Despite his credentials, Stevens remains humble.

"Not sure I deserve that title," Stevens wrote on his website. "But thank you!!"

It's been 21 years since Stevens first grew tired of the crowded North Shore beaches, but the 29-year-old surfer continues to make waves. He's currently sponsored by Patagonia as well as the kite company Cabrinha -- founded by big-wave surfer Pete Cabrinha. You can follow Stevens' worldwide adventures on his Facebook and Instagram accounts.