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Flying High

Joe Ruscito's kiteboarding adventures



One Monday morning, Joe Ruscito carefully packed the trunk of his sticker-covered Jeep with several folded-up colorful kites and a kitesurfing board. The rest of the gear was sprawled across the driveway and the hood of his car—enough wetsuits and board shorts to clothe several surfers. The life of a professional kiteboarder is all about living in the moment, waiting for the perfect breeze, and that day the perfect wind was blowing—in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

After receiving a call from a friend the night before, Ruscito had to move fast. By late afternoon, he and a buddy were on a plane whizzing south, ready to join the action kicking up along a rugged spit of coastline. “I’m always paying attention to the wind,” says Ruscito of a lifestyle that gives new meaning to “going where the wind blows.”

Kiteboarding is the latest in extreme sports and has taken over the water-recreation areas of some of the most popular beaches. People are intrigued by the hybrid activity of kiting and surfing, a sport in which the power of both wind and ocean are harnessed. Kiteboarders ride a board similar to a wakeboard—a short, symmetrical surfboard with straps—but what gives them the ability to surf the waters is the kite. Kites come in a multitude of bright, eye-catching colors and intricate designs that often incorporate a brand logo. Looking like large parachutes in the sky, these kites are inflated to maintain their shape.

Although the majority of riders are former windsurfers, this newer sport is drawing in a younger crowd with a desire to jump 40 feet in the air and surf the sea at speeds reaching 25 miles per hour.

Southport’s Joe Ruscito is among these young thrill-seekers with the drive to learn this latest craze. The 21-year-old has always gravitated toward adrenaline-pumping extreme sports, and what started as a hobby has launched Ruscito into the professional world of kitesurfing.

This desire to ride fast and fly high began in August 2004. Bored from the usual summer activities, Ruscito found himself sitting in the living room of friend Lucas Gubinski with nothing to do. A friend of Gubinski’s father walked in with a broken board and Ruscito was instantly enthralled. He went out and bought his own kite and board that day. “I was super stoked,” he says, “and became addicted once I started.” He rode all winter, wearing two wetsuits when needed.

When it came time to begin the college search, Ruscito’s passion for kiteboarding influenced his decision. He looked only at schools in Florida, no more than five miles from the beach, leading him to Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, where he majors in mechanical engineering. School has not prevented Ruscito from pursuing his kiteboarding dreams. He manages to be a full-time student as well as a rider.

Ruscito’s move to Florida propelled him in a promising direction and after simply showing up at a bus owned by the Best Kiteboarding Company, which travels to the hottest kiteboarding conclaves, Ruscito landed himself a spot on the team. “I’m a natural showoff and I guess they liked what they saw that day,” said Ruscito of his efforts to become a sponsored rider. Normally, sponsorship occurs after winning competitions. “I did it backwards, I guess,” he said. “I was a nobody who had full sponsorship.”

As this “nobody,” Ruscito and the Best team had to get his name out there. “Anything I can get to, I do,” said Ruscito, who competes in all local competitions. Riders pay an entry fee at events, where five riders go out on the water in a series of seven-minute heats while a panel of three judges scores riders on the power, speed, style, and uniqueness of their tricks. As riders win their heat, they work their way to the semifinals and then a ten-minute final heat. In competition, “you go out and show off,” says Ruscito.

Being involved in a sport with a small community requires Ruscito to compete against a lot of friends. However, he has not let this stop him. His competing has nabbed him first-place laurels at the Bridge of Gods in Stevenson, Washington, and at the Best of the Best CKA Tour Stop in Delray Beach, Florida. It was tricks such as handle passes and kite loops that edged out the competition. Ruscito, however, is modest about his accomplishments: “I don’t consider myself pro. I’m always learning something.” He lives by the ideology that if you are not crashing, you are not learning. With that in mind, younger kiteboarders like Ruscito are beginning to push the limits of the sport. They are performing riskier tricks that have a greater wow-factor and win competitions, earning kiteboarding the respect due an athletic sport.

As a professional kiteboarder, Ruscito has had the opportunity to travel the world and kite in some of the most incredible places, from the beaches of Belize and the clear waters of the Caribbean to the coast of Texas. Additionally, Ruscito was one of the first to kiteboard in front of the Statue of Liberty. With the Coast Guard on patrol, and gusty winds, Ruscito claims it was a very difficult photo shoot, but in two days, they were able to get all the footage they needed. “It was huge! No one had ever kited there before,” said Ruscito. The challenging shoot landed Ruscito in his first magazine spread, in Kiteboarding. Even after years of doing this, Ruscito still finds himself in awe of it all. “It’s incredible. I do not deserve it,” he says. It is this positive and modest attitude that should carry Ruscito to great places and greater heights.

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