ROMANCING: Josh Stone

Maui’s Iconic Sunshine Man

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IMAGINE WAKING UP every morning to the sound of the trade winds blowing in and around your treehouse. The sun makes its way through the early morning rains familiar to the region of Maui called Haiku. The scent of ripening papayas and evaporating moisture drifts through your open windows and already you can spot the first white caps dancing along the jaded coastline. You anticipate the feel of the salt water on your tanned skin because by now you are accustomed to spending each day windsurfing along the Pacific’s reefs. And on days when the wind subsides, you venture to the other side of the island to surf the break on the volcanic washout. Sounds like every windsurfer’s dream. Dream it isn’t, for Josh Stone.

Josh Stone’s van has been stuck in the Haiku mud for three days. It sits at the end of a dead end road that passes in front of his treehouse, a name he has given to his home on Maui. Born in Kailua, Stone is the only true native Hawaiian on the professional windsurfing tour. Like the tires of his van, Josh’s feet are proverbially planted in Hawaiian soil.

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photo: Peter Sterling (enlarge)

With visions of Hawaii as a tropical paradise laden with surfers, sunworshippers, sex wax, and tanning oil, it seems highly unusual that there are no others Hawaii can claim. After all, the Hawaiians have notoriously mastered sea-oriented recreation for centuries; diving, outrigger canoe paddling, sailing and of course, surfing. As far back as 1778, Captain James Cook sighted surfers off the Hawaiian island chain, and today, Honolulu’s Bishop Museum displays some of the oldest wooden surfboards in the world.

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Just as Hawaii began its recreation with surfing, so too did Stone. Some of you may have heard of name Tom Stone (Josh’s dad), a competitor on the pro surfing tour from 1969-1975.

Tom Stone was an eighteen-year-old professional surfer when Josh was born. Josh’s mom was a California surf bunny. At that time, his dad had only surfing on his mind, so Josh Stone spent most of his childhood on the North Shore of Oahu, the “Mt. Everest” of surfing. Ever since he can remember, he was tossed in the water, with his dad’s voice echoing behind him, “Swim boy, swim!” Tom taught Josh everything he knew about the ocean; about currents, waves, and reefs.

When Stone was sixteen, he and his dad windsurfed across the southeastern end of the Hawaiian island chain. From the Big Island to Maui, Maui to Kahoolawe, Kahoolawe to Lanai, Lanai to Maui, Maui to Molokai, Molokai to Oahu, and Oahu to Kauai. Spending 14 hours a day in the water, they were able to link the chain in just a few days.

Their first attempt was unsuccessful, recalls Stone. “We left Maui, and were going to go around the north end of Molokai. We chased the wind line for about eight hours, thinking we might hit it. We turned around right at sunset to look back at the islands, little inch long things with light houses on all three of them. I thought we were dead for sure. My dad, typical of him, wanted to go all night, wanted to just keep going. This was the first time I ever really disagreed with him. Here I am, a sixteen-year-old kid, freaking out. Right as the sun’s setting, it’s about to drop, all you can see out there is orange. My dad’s sailing, I’m about thirty yards behind him, and I just see this huge fin go silently by. All I saw was black. Just this silhouette of my dad, and this big black thing. So, I said, ‘I’m turning around dad.’ My dad looked back and went, ‘I think we’ll turn around now.’ It was the first time I ever saw my dad look remotely afraid, just the idea of being out there, totally dehydrated, your mind’s messed up from eight hours of standing on a board, and to see that, just knowing there’s a creature that big in the water.”

At twenty-four, Josh Stone’s windsurfing accomplishments continue to grow, and he has become a big fish in the water, so to speak. He is ranked 8th on the PWA tour in waves. Last year, he placed 5th in Maui, 5th in Guincho, and 9th in Tenerife, Gran Canaria, and Sylt. He has been featured in a number of advertisements, from Oakley sunglasses to the European clothing manufacturer JetSet. He received over 150 pages of media coverage in 1995, a portfolio that along with the sound of his fax machine, reflects the hard work and enthusiasm Stone has put into his career as a windsurfer. Although he found the transition from college student to pro windsurfer wonderfully odd, it was not difficult for him; unlike the leap from surfing to windsurfing might be for most Hawaiians. Perhaps, that is why Stone is the only native on the tour.

According to Stone, the conflict is not as bad on Oahu between the windsurfers and surfers, the Haoles (How lays: foreigners, usually caucasians) and the Hawaiians. “Here, it seems a lot worse, mainly in the windsurfing areas, Haiku, and Paia because the Hawaiians feel pushed out. Windsurfing came around ten years ago here, and look at all the people who own land around Maui. They’re all windsurfers, and mainly all windsurfers are caucasians.” The expense of windsurfing, and growing peer pressure and feelings of group loyalty, may now be removing Hawaiians from the sport entirely.On Maui, a state ordinance prohibits windsurfers from sailing anywhere on the coast until 11 a.m. The morning hours are reserved solely for the surfers, divers, and fishermen. Most windsurfers aren’t bothered by this rule since it gives the wind a chance to build, and by midday, their sails begin to color the ocean’s surface. However, in the evening session, crowding at sites, like Hookipa, is enough to cause some friction between the two groups.Since surfing on Hawaii once had religious, gambling, and sexual connotations, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see locals still picnicking at the beach parks. At first glance, one might think they’re watching the windsurfers. But, most native Hawaiians surf. They don’t windsurf, and even tourists visiting the local windsurfing sites on Maui, are drawn to this disunity. “If you look at the water, there’s maybe one percent of the people who are ethnic Hawaiians windsurfing. No wonder they’re pissed off,” exclaims Stone. “They’re fully interested, but they’re bitter because we go out and snake their surf spot.”

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For Stone, itjosh stone beach portrait with dog was never a problem. By having a Haole mom and a Hawaiian dad, he learned to communicate both ways. “Everybody’s mixed up Poi dog,” explains Stone. “Everybody has got a piece of everything, a bit of every nationality.” Stone, who also grew up with the surfing crowd, would like to see this disharmony lessened. He believes that if more support were given to getting locals into the sport, it might not be looked upon so negatively.

Josh Stone hopes that other Hawaiian children get the exposure to both sports like he did. He wants to give back what was given to him. “If we get kids into it, there’s a future for the sport. Here on Maui, if we get the locals equipment they can afford, and set up programs where they can at least come down to spend a day learning how to windsurf…They would love it. I’m sure the locals would be killer at it too, with all their ocean knowledge. And, I think we could solve this problem just by thinking a little.”

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FOCUS AND COMMITMENT: Josh en route to the Judges stand to protest an unfair score in a heat at the Aloha Classic in 1994. (enlarge)

You see, this is exactly how Stone learned to windsurf when he was eleven years old, in Kailua Bay. As a marketing idea, Windsurfing Hawaii taught some young kids how to windsurf, and in return, these young kids would be their future sailors. “They grabbed a whole bunch of us in Kailua, taught us how to windsurf, and gave us the equipment to learn on, until we got into it.”

Got into it, he did. Stone windsurfed until he was 18. Then, he put it on hold while at school in San Diego, where he mainly surfed. After three years away from windsurfing, and on a school break, Stone decided to compete in the Hawaiian Breakout; a wave contest having nearly the largest purse ever for one event. Josh barely got into the contest, let alone made it through the first two rounds of the competition. In the third round, he was up against Robby Naish. “I remember all my friends packing up my gear, saying ‘we want to beat traffic home, so just get out there and lose, and let’s go…’” Despite his doubting friends, Stone sailed extremely well. Halfway through the heat, he realized he could be winning. When the announcement finally came that Josh Stone had won, it stirred up some excitement on the beach. Most of the spectators were locals and almost all of them knew Stone.

Sponsored Links

After the Hawaiian Breakout, Neil Pryde signed Stone on and sent him to some contests. His first sponsored event took place in Puerto Rico, where he broke his foot, and ended up sitting out the remainder of the contest. Steve Rosenberg, the new sports marketing rep for Oakley sunglasses, gave Stone a pair of sunglasses, when he saw that he was out of the competition. Remembers Josh: “‘Here’s a pair of Oakleys kid,’ Sshunk, puts ‘em on my face, says, ‘Hey, those look good on you.’ Takes a picture. Brings it back to Oakley, and a month later, calls me up wanting to use me for some ads.” Their ad turned out to be one of the more successful ads in their history. It was a black and white ad of Stone wearing a bandanna and Oakleys, kicking up sand on California’s Long Beach.

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HANGIN’ AT HOOKIPA wIth an international crowd is how most afternoons are spent when Josh is at home. Though much of his time is spent on the road, Josh always packs along his winning smile and Hawaiian spirit which have earned him respect among his peers and sponsors.

Once people started to see that ad, which went international, other companies began to sign Stone on. “Everything just kind of started rolling, and they all gave me the opportunity to make something of it; JetSet, F2, and Red Bull. Nobody just said, ‘Here’s money.’ You got to get out there, you have to do well in the events, prove yourself, and you have to get the exposure.” Stone continued to have a really good year competition-wise and the exposure has opened many new doors for him. Yet he’s not afraid to admit that his success is partly due to luck…and partly because he’s the only young native Hawaiian on the tour, which has proven a unique way to market himself.

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His sponsors saw that he could handle himself in front of people, cameras, and big crowds. “That’s where my university paid off,” states Stone. “I had an edge on everybody else because I understood the concept of marketing yourself. I understood that you had to treat yourself, not in a negative way, as a product. You’re what’s selling their product, so you’re selling yourself to them.” Stone’s approach to professional windsurfing is one in which he hopes to reach his physical and mental peak at the same time. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Stone is carving his own niche in the industry, while continuing to strive for the world wave title.

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All this work might seem to make Josh a dull boy. But dull, he’s not. Unlike other professional sports that have a prescribed method to success and specific styles of coaching, Stone’s approach to professional windsurfing (particularly wave sailing) is much freer. His training routine is more natural, without weights or coaching; just sailing, more sailing, stretching, equipment tuning, and some video work. “You reach a level where you have to become your own coach because the sport is so progressive; there’s nobody who’s been there before you.” Stone is a part of the first generation of professional windsurfers who were born around the same time that windsurfing was.

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Wave sailing is perhaps the most progressive of the three disciplines of competitive windsurfing. Now, at Hookipa, instead of seeing one or two people doing double loops or getting bigger air, it has become mainstream. “We’re on the cutting edge,” emphasizes Stone, “the equipment keeps getting better and better, and the moves get better and better.” The new style of “wave sailing” is more like pro surfing, fluent and faster. Your whole body, board, and sail are moving together, and it requires more energy. The angles are harder and the carved degrees more vertical.

When they do aerial maneuvers, they “tweak” them, or rather kick out their tails, and generate power into their next move. This “tweaked aerial” is Stone’s favorite move. “I love catching big, fat tweaked airs. Just coming down line, cranking a killer type vertical bottom turn and just nailing it. The lip’s peeling away, you come up, stick it straight through it and bam, you’re just airborne. Your board’s pointing straight down, and you’re almost looking back at the beach. You’re flying tail first, and it’s so nice. That’s the best for sure, by a mile.” To compete in wave sailing and perform such maneuvers, you have to have good judgement (or no judgement at all) and maintain your focus. It is in this area that Stone’s dad coaches him.

Stone has learned from his dad that the winner is the guy who stays focused on what he is doing. He wins the heat, then takes all that energy in and puts it into the next heat, making sure not to celebrate until the contest is won. “One of the biggest problems among young competitors,” claims Stone, “is that we get ahead of ourselves. We put ourselves in the final before we finish the first round.”

Being on the world tour, not only means spending a lot of time on the water, but it means traveling for at least eight months out of the year. It means even when you’re home, you’re not because you’re down at the beach training or doing photo shoots. It also means never seeing your fiancée, and straining most relationships.

In spite of this, Stone doesn’t see himself leaving Maui too soon. “I’ll never be able to live away from the ocean, because I need it. It’s where I get my power. Not in some hippy, guru type of way. It’s just where I feel best. That’s what I believe is power; when you’re feeling your best. So, I’m always going to be stuck by the ocean.”

Maybe it’s in the genes.

Josh finds himself in the same position his dad was in back then in his surfing days. “He made all the mistakes, the partying, the drugs, he blew it. And now, he’s so proud because I’ve made it. I’m doing it. I’m doing what he should’ve done, where he could’ve been with surfing. So, it makes him really stoked to see that. A little bit jealous too. I can tell; like he’s a little bit pissed off that he didn’t do it. [laughs] Besides, I’m glad he can still just slap me around, and say, [imitates his father’s voice], “Stay focused.”

by Rose Scarola

Rose Scarola crossed the country from Hood River to intern as an assistant editor at American Windsurfer

photos by Thorsten Indra, Peter Sterling, John Chao - illustration by Kevin Ross

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