Jay Crawford is one of the lucky ones: He found a way to unleash his inner Jimmy Buffet and make a living doing it.
As owner of Outer Banks Kiting — which he founded with his wife Karen in 2006 — Crawford is living the dream.
“I originally vacationed and came to Hatteras Island on the weekends from Virginia Beach. I fell in love with the island lifestyle, the wind, the sand, and the ocean,” Crawford says. “After managing many retail watersports centers and running their kite schools, I thought, in 2006, it was time to start my own.”
The couple joined hands and jumped into the deep waters of owning a business.
“We offer foilboarding, wakeboarding, rafting, tubing, stand up paddling, and also sunset cruises daily. We typically have three or four part-time employees — as well as full-time coaches — to help with the day-to-day operations. I am personally involved with each and every lesson that goes out,” he says, adding they can also arrange sailing charters, if desired.
The school — which is certified, fully insured, and CPR/First Aid trained — provides the latest in technology from Core Kiteboards. The German-based company offers premium grade kites and kiteboards that are safe, easy to re-launch, and handle great.
“The sport is not as 'extreme'as it once was and is becoming popular all over the states that have access to water and wind," he says. "Safety has come a long way, as well.”
Kitboarding, also called kitesurfing, was first introduced in early-'80s in France and Hawaii. The watersport, which was inspired by sailing, uses a large steerable kite and the force of the wind to move the board and its rider across — and sometimes above — the waves.
The kite is controlled through the bar and lines that connect to a harness, which is worn around the rider’s midsection. It’s a common misconception that one must have upper body strength to properly manage the kite: The harness takes most of the brunt of the force, while the arms are free to steer the kite, power up, and de-power the kite. When you pull the bar towards you it adds power, when you push the bar away you decrease power.
"We welcome all ages. The youngest we had in the school was 7 years old, with the oldest being over 70,” Crawford says. “She still kites daily with her family and grandchildren."
Crawford says what sets Outer Banks Kiting apart from other outfits is the student-coach ratio.
“We cater to private coaching, with low ratios and nice learning curves,” he says.
The kite school is open April through November each year. In the off-season, the staff works for Heavenly Ski Resort in California to further enhance teaching skills.
The beaches of the Outer Banks are picture perfect, but if you don’t venture out into the Atlantic, he says, you’re missing the point.
“The minute I launch a kite each day off the beach, or off the OBK vessel, a smile appears on my face,” he says. “Wind, sun, salt water, and a kite flying above the water puts the staff and myself in a different state. It's an amazing feeling, actually, one that I have not gotten tired of since 2006.”
It’s because of the way the sport makes him feel that Crawford started Outer Banks Kiteboarding: He wants others to experience that rush. No experience is necessary; only a willingness to grab life by the horns. Life should be like an ocean: The calm seas are nice, and swells rise and fall, but every once in awhile, you need to ride a wave to remind you that life is not a spectator sport.
Yep. Crawford is living the dream, and he knows it. He also knows he couldn’t do it without his wife.
“If you can make this happen, year after year, then you know you have the right partner,” he says of his wife and business partner, who hails from The Sunshine State. “There are many ups and downs when dealing with a small business, and compromise, compassion, and patience are required. Karen fully supported — mentally, physically, and financially — a lot of the day-to-day operations. She was also one of the first female coaches at Outer Banks Kiting,” he says. “She came to the island from Florida and never left, chasing waves, wind, beaches, and sunshine.”