Interview with Matthew Sexton on Kiteboarding in Key West

I was dying to get out and learn how to kiteboard, as I’ve watched the sport skyrocket in popularity over the last couple years as a meager bystander, but the expense and intimidation factor of heading down to Mexico to take a lesson wasn’t my first choice. So when I was working my way from Key West up the Overseas Highway to Miami last summer, and stumbled upon this super laid back, warm-water, cutting-edge kiteboarding location in Islamorada and Grassy Key, I dropped everything and jumped in.

Otherside Boardsports is run by industry pros and has some special features that make it a must-do for anyone looking to get into the sport. Plus, the Keys got crushed by a hurricane recently and they could really use your tourism dollars. They’ve recently re-opened with a new solar-powered, air-conditioned retail outlet and an island marketplace specializing in locally made skateboards, artwork and foodstuffs.

We took a lesson from site manager and lead instructor Matthew Sexton last year and were hooked immediately. Here are his tips for getting started:

The Clymb: What makes your spot here in the Keys so special? What was it before you turned it into the park?

Matthew Sexton: For starters, the Keys in general are just a special place on their own. Island hopping via highway 1 for  120 miles between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean is about as unique as it gets. I can remember doing it for my first time at five years old and seeing the timeless haunts that are still almost exactly the same today. In between the classic tourist traps were the little gems that I loved, and from one year to the next they often were completely different. Some places fell victim to uncontrollable mishaps like hurricanes or the economy and some just changed because that’s the kind of gypsy vagabond business folk that the keys attract. Oftentimes locals would talk about certain properties being cursed because of the number of times it turned over businesses and oddly enough we now occupy two of those “cursed” locations in Islamorada and Grassy Key.

Our facility in Grassy Key started as a quarry and has since reincarnated as a lobster farm, snapper farm, research facility, petting zoo for pelagic fish, and most recently before us, a vagrant campground. We stumbled upon it in the petting zoo days as my partner Mike searched for a venue to host a wakeboarding contest. We teamed up to pull off the event and as riders fell they were greeted by giant tame Cobia that would suck on your skin looking for food. The place was a trip but was beyond dilapidated and had a series of negligent owners who didn’t care about much aside from what they thought it was worth. We were determined to break this “curse” and let the property reach its potential as an “Action Sports Eco Park.”

The Clymb: Your cable system is so awesome: Why is it unique?

MS:Cable wakeboarding has been around for a while now but we wanted to redesign the park experience. There’s hundreds of parks worldwide but only a few dozen in the U.S. and a lot of them can be intimidating for your first experience. We wanted to craft an experience that would be equally enjoyable for the beginner as well as the advanced rider. We also wanted to use the cable systems to help us teach our other favorite sport in the keys: Kiteboarding!

The Clymb: Tell us about your progression system and why it’s so good for beginners…

MS: Every rider that comes to Keys Cable gets a one-on-one experience and we strive to get every rider doing something they didn’t expect. All our coaches are not just talented riders but go through extensive training to make sure they can teach our customers everything they may want to know. Whether it’s standard getting up and riding or hitting ramps, throwing flips, or doing specialized kiteboard training, we have established and proven methods to get you stoked!

The Clymb: What’s your background as an athlete?

MS: I started as a college athlete who helped produce kiteboarding and wakeboarding events for other college students around the country. I also ran my own kiteboarding school and began doing R&D and side jobs for a top industry brand called Slingshot Sports. After graduating I took a job full time with Slingshot as a rep and International Team Rider traveling the world to film, compete, and promote the brand and the sport. I landed some contracts with a few other brands and began working with different tourism development organizations around the state of Florida. After seven years of living out of a suitcase I decided to settle down and partner up with Mike and Shana with Otherside Boardsports to open Keys Cable!

The Clymb: What else do people visiting the Keys to come kiteboarding with you need to know?

MS: Wetsuits in the winter months are highly recommended. Nothing gets in the way of fun like being cold. The wetsuit months are really just December through early March. Booties are something you will need for the first couple lessons to protect your feet but those are available for purchase at oTHErsideBoardsports, but other than that, we provide all the goods! A cable kiteboarding course is highly recommended unless you have lots of wind and board sports experience beforehand.

The Clymb: What’s the best way for people to get in and out?

MS: Flying into Miami and renting a car is definitely the most common way that people make it to the Keys. Flying into Key West can be much easier if that’s where you’re staying, but either way, don’t miss out on all the fun of the overseas highway road trip which is a must see!