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!