As long as you aren’t referring to kiteboarding pro Laurel Eastman, the two terms ‘wild child’ and ‘teacher’ immediately conjure up the image of two sworn enemies. However in her case, these two arch-rivals are combined into one human being in a seamless manner. A diehard sportswoman, human ecologist and a businesswoman with fingers in many different pies, Eastman is genuine living proof that brains and brawn can both come in one package.
Kenwood Travel’s Steve Dobson got the chance to get up close and personal with Miss Eastman – 4,300 miles away and over the internet – for a chat about growing up with surfer dad and artist/activist mum, human ecology, travelling the world, kiteboarding professionally and much, much more.
Laurel: Hello there!
Steve: Hiya, isn’t it a bit early your end to be awake?
Laurel: Yes, the start of my day! But I’ve got a packed schedule this morning so I have to get going early!!
Steve: So what can you tell me about what your childhood and teen years were like? I read that your father was a surfer and your mother an activist/artist; how do you think their personalities/outlooks on life affected how you regard the world?
Laurel: I think having parents who grew up in California in the 1960’s, during all the excitement that happened during that era, was a huge influence. It taught me to be really open-minded, to have a strong passion for social justice and a very deep love of nature.
Steve: The only insight into that era that I have is the account of George Jung’s life growing up there in ‘blow,’ and that makes it look pretty cool. I won’t lie.
Laurel: Growing up in California during my parents time would have been amazing. They were really in the right place in the right time!!
Steve: So was your upbringing related to why you ended up studying Human Ecology? Or was it more of a personal thing?
Laurel: From the start of my college education I had a passion for Social Sciences. I started studying in Ventura, CA and then the shift to Environmental Studies happened when our family moved to Montana.
Steve: It looks pretty interesting from what I’ve read: did you have any specific aims with studying it? Or was it just a degree that you knew you would love?
Laurel: I vividly remember having one massive “a-ha” moment when I was standing out on our piece of land, a cherry orchard overlooking Flathead Lake. It was so beautiful, so wild. All I wanted to do was find a way to protect places like that. I finished my AS in MT then found the school with the best Environmental Studies program inside a liberal arts setting; I had been introduced to Prescott College when I was in elementary school, by my Mom during a trip to Arizona, and it had been on my radar ever since. It’s totally student driven, in terms of the courses that make up your degree, you can really put together the program that is exactly focused on your interests. My 3 main topics inside Human Ecology were: Environmental/Outdoor Education, Community Organising, and Cosmology (the study of the universe)
Steve: Even though you were a rebellious teenager you still knew exactly what you wanted to do! It sounds really interesting.
Laurel: I’ve always been kind of intensely focused and driven. I graduated when I was 20 and figured no one would take me seriously in my field, so when my Mom gave me a trip to Europe as a graduation gift I decided to just stay there for a while!
Steve: What was your route around here like? Did you come on your own?
Laurel: My Mom joined me in England but the rest I was on my own for. Wow, that was a busy one… southern England, Holland, northern Spain then
I stopped in the Algarve for a bit: then from the Algarve to Africa then back to Europe.
Steve: What did you think of it all?
Laurel: I LOVED IT, I am missing Europe a lot these days: it’s been so long since I was over there. It’s really fun, special and very beautiful. I love the cultures. That was kind of my plan, in Human Ecology we study how people interact with their environment and world – so Europe is a great place for that: so many cultures jammed in there!
Steve: And it was whilst in Europe for this second stint that you discovered kiteboarding? Or was it later?
Laurel: It was later. In Europe I discovered Kiwis and New Zealand and they told me: “Laurel you love sports and nature, you have to go to NZ” and they were right! I found kiting after spending about a year and a half in NZ. It’s amazing.
Steve: So did you head onto Hawaii from there?
Laurel: Yes, I wanted to become a professional kiter and Hawaii was pretty much the only/easiest place to do that.
Steve: Especially with a mentor like Jeff Tobias, I imagine. Was he well known at the time you first met him?
Laurel: Yes, it was all the top riders of that time right there with me. Martin Vari, Will James, Jaime Herraiz, Abel Lago, as for Jeff, he was still undiscovered. I was there when Slingshot Kites called him with his first sponsorship gig; it was a very new and very exciting at that time of kitesurfing… except the gear was so dangerous. But we were young and crazy, so we overcame that! And thankfully the gear is so safe now
Steve: So how did you come about becoming so well known? Which is the earliest event you can recall being involved in?
Laurel: Well I started to compete on the PKRA tour, on my own dime. I had a knack for communicating with media, and it went from there. My first event was a Red Bull event in Tarifa, Spain. It was amazing.
Steve: Can you remember what year it was in? I’m just trying to figure out the timescale between then and the 2002 world tour that took you further around the world…
Laurel: That was 2002… the start of the tour. I left Hawaii, stopped in Oregon looking for sponsors (got none) and kept going.
Steve: So what was it about Cabarete that grabbed your attention?
Laurel: Cabarete is amazing! It grabbed me! I was in Brazil, training for the 2003 tour when I got a sponsorship deal with a Cabarete Hotel. I came here to train, live in the hotel, and promote the hotel to the kiteboarding market. During that winter they were developing a beach club and needed a kite school. They recruited me to open it for them.
Steve: Do you still live there now?
Laurel: Yes, since 2003. I only spend six months here. It’s my only “home,” but the other six months I still travel.
Steve: Sounds like the perfect lifestyle, I’m jealous as hell.
Laurel: It is very fun, but like everything it has its good and bad…
Steve: Such as?
Laurel: When I am here it’s always high season and BUSY, so I work really long hours and I try to jam 12 months worth of projects into the six months that I actually am here; in a third world country where things tend to move at a snails pace.
Steve: What sort of projects?
Laurel: Improvements to my company, operations systems, general optimisation… parties etc. All the normal small business stuff I guess.
Steve: All necessities, so do you have any big plans for the future?
Laurel: I have this relentless desire to improve my business; I’ve never been big on long term planning. I think about 3-6 months out is about the most I can plan. I need to keep flexibility to take advantage of opportunities. For my kite school here I just plan to keep making it more awesome.
Steve: Sounds like the right direction!
Laurel: We had a 5-star resort open all around us. We are inside of the Millennium Resort, and so we have to be really awesome. I also launched an instructional DVD this year, so I hope to build that part of the business and I have my social business, Kiters 4 Communities: we are hoping to grow that, increase impact by providing more jobs, increasing sales of our recycled kite bags and invest more money into the local community here.
Steve: Wow, a lot going on then. With the six months travelling you say you do, is it generally due to tours or is it your own personal trips?
Laurel: A combo, I do a lot of events.
Steve: Cool, in what sort of places?
Laurel: I am on the board of directors of KB4girls, a non profit organisation promoting women in kiting, so I go to some of those, which is in The Hamptons (New York.) I work with Susi Mai, a pro kiter, and Bill Tai, a technology VC from Silicon Valley, on their kite event in Maui and in Park City Utah (snowkiting.) Then I also work with the KSP (Kite Surf Pro) Tour, kite wave riding in Peru and other places like that, and I’m on the BVI Kite Jam team, an event founded by Richard Branson and his crew from Necker Island.
Steve: I was going to ask about your picture with him.
Laurel: He is really, really into kitesurfing! He loves it!
Steve: It sounds like a pretty perfect existence to be honest; you’ve left a certain 20-year old stuck in rainy London very jealous. So finally, do you have any wise words you’d like to part with?
Laurel: Follow your passions – they will lead you right to the perfect life for YOU!
Steve: awesome, thank you so much for your time.
If you’re planning on travelling to the Dominican Republic anytime soon and you think that kitesurfing is for you, you should definitely check out Laurel’s school, or at least her new video, before you head out there.