This summer, I took a trip up the mountain -- to meet THE MAN -- Jimmy Lewis.
I drove from my favorite Maui town - Paia - up the volcano to find Jimmy's pad. Well into the "up country", hidden by lots of vegetation is Jimmy's awesome world. He owns a huge playground of sorts, including a lot large enough to race small, remote controlled gas powered 4 wheel drive vehicles or to have fun with a pretty mean session of paintball - complete with bunkers made of 55 gallon drums.At the top of the hill is his workshop -- the place where the world's best kiteboards are born.
I was introduced to Jimmy and his gear by Roni DuPreez, a petite south african who has been a fixture at Kite Beach in Maui for as long as Ive been kiting. On one of those wild windy days where its impossible to stay 'down' -Roni saw me and said "i'm surprised you can even hold that kite down -- you either need a smaller kite, or a smaller board". Moments later I was riding a custom, leopard painted Jimmy built for Roni - all 100 lbs of her!
Here's THE MAN ....
His shop is what you'd expect - the first thing you notice is the sweet smell of curing glass. As you look around the shop, your eyes are drawn to splotches of brightly colored paint on the floor and the walls. Jimmy uses ppg car paints - allowing riders to choose from a wide range of wild colors that can be applied with an extremely durable finish. Leaning against the wall are 1/2 a dozen wild and interesting prototypes - a small 'strap in' surfboard with an extended base and hydrofoil (the kind Laird Hamilton rides on JAWS), a really short (25 inch long or so) kiteboard named "the myth" without straps, and other forms of water sport gear you can only imagine yourself when you see them.
While he was constructing my new green board (125 cm - Model III, "Dominatrix" concave bottom) and touching up my screaming yellow zonker board, I had an opportunity to talk to him about his new production gear showing up in shops around the world. He's been building a supply chain and outsourcing capability in Vietnam. They are well down the learning curve and it sounds like his production boards are identical in construction to his custom product - no shortcuts. Same molds, same material, same detailing, and possibly a more durable finish due to more layers of paint (as his crew learns to paint efficently).
Jimmy is a pioneer in the 'glass board' business (fiberglass surfboards, windsurfers, & other water sport gear). Fiberglass is an awesome ride for large and small boards alike - compared to epoxy, fiberglass is smoother and has better 'glide'. For larger pieces of equipment however, fiberglass may not be as durable as epoxy -- (it cracks instead of 'denting' like epoxy) and is not as easy to repair as epoxy based equipment.
When the big board(including windsurf gear) industry went 'volume' in the 80's only high end specialists stayed with glass. Recently, kiteboarding has grown massively in popularity -- and as a result, smaller boards with low swing weight stand out.
In my humble opinion, Jimmy's special skills in design and shaping with glass have made his kiteboarding equipment THE BEST. Among his innovations is the 'concave bottom' -- Jimmy is widely credited with popularizing the "dominatrix" which gives his glass boards a very special balance of speed, flexibility, and superior edging in all conditions.
In my opinion, despite a great set of production boards, nothing beats Jimmy's custom boards (model 3, bitch witch, myth) . Even though the production boards are a great buy, I ride his custom gear. Somehow, knowing that a legend actually worked on my board makes me ride better!!!