Head in the clouds

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 March, 2009, 12:00am

Jesse Richman is no ordinary teenager. He doesn't physically go to school, and spends most of the year travelling the world on his own. He has won tens of thousands of Euros for doing cool sports, and hung out with actor Orlando Bloom.

Jesse is the current Kiteboard Pro World Tour (KPWT) world champion, and holds the world record for the longest kiteboard hang time, or time spent in the air. A time of 22 short seconds distinguishes him from the rest of the surfing pack.

The tanned Hawaii native was in town last week for a wetsuit sponsorship deal with Hong Kong-based water sports group Neil Pryde. Never one to miss out on a chance to try the waves, he headed to the south of Lantau for a demonstration of his craft, which is also called kitesurfing, or simply kiting.

Jesse's dream lifestyle is all due to his parents.

'My parents moved to Maui, Hawaii, to windsurf and be in the water,' says the 16-year-old, 'They helped me to start surfing when I was nine. They understand what I'm doing and are super supportive of me.'

Having possibly the coolest parents ever, Jesse and his older brother Shawn - also a professional kitesurfer - spent most of their time on the beach. Even during school, their minds were often focused on the beach, wind and wave conditions.

If the wind was good, they would rush to the beach to practise the same trick over and over until they had mastered it.

'It takes so many sessions and a lot of falling to get the tricks right. It's frustrating sometimes. But when I finally get it, it's totally worth it,' Jesse says.

The brothers entered their first local contest in 2003. At the young age of 11, Jesse came fifth. Since then, he has been competing in bigger and better known competitions in all three categories of the sport: freestyle, course racing and wave, which challenges riders to hang in the air for as long as possible. Few riders practise all three categories, and it is very rare for anyone to excel in them all like Jesse does.

'When I know what I want to do, I set my mind to it. I think: 'to do this, I have to do that', and step by step, I will improve,' he says.

Once Jesse turned professional last year, he started touring for months at a time through France, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Portugal, Brazil and Morocco. Everywhere he went, he impressed other riders.

'At the first stop, I had no idea what to expect and then I won. It was a surprise for everyone, including myself,' Jesse says.

Despite it being his first appearance at the KPWT, he was announced the champion two stops before the tournament even ended - there was no way other contenders could catch up before the tour ended.

While he may officially be the best in the world, the young rider doesn't bother coming up with signature moves, unlike his skateboarding counterparts.

'I can't even think of any new moves to do,' Jesse says. 'So many people are doing so much new stuff. I'm trying to keep up with them, to push not only the tricks and make them look cool, but also add my style to them'

During a wave contest on a gusty day San Francisco day in 2007, Jesse went for an incredible jump and stayed up in the air for 22 seconds, setting a new world record for hang time.

And just like that record-breaking jump, it seems as if Jesse has no intention of coming down any time soon.