Kiteboarder Susi Mai is Our Muse

Article by Mish Barber-Way

But it was earlier, in 2006, when she met venture capitalist Bill Tai, a former computer-chip designer. Kiteboarding had just taken off with Silicon Valley types, including Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Tai had kiteboarding friends coming to Hawaii and needed a teacher. 

“There’s a lot of common ground between someone who can start their own company and someone who can kiteboard,” Mai explains. “You have to be able to do ten things at once and take risks. Also, kiteboarding is inherently geeky, when you get down to the aerodynamics of it. Brainy people love it.”

Legend has it that Tai emailed her saying, “Hey Susi, together our names spell MaiTai. We need to do something on it!” The two got together and formed a Hawaii-based event, MaiTai, that gathered kiteboard-loving executives at Twitter, Facebook, Google, and other tech firms for hands-on instruction from pros like Mai and her friends. 

The exclusive event also featured top athletes, investors, and innovators who shared an addiction to high-risk thrills. When not in the water, these people cooked up new deals and raised funds for ventures like the big-data company Treasure Data, and the app Voxer. They also organized ocean-conservation initiatives such as shark-tagging. 

“There was a great synergy between these two groups of people that made a lot of sense,” Mai remembers. Soon, other money-men who loved kiteboarding were knocking on Mai’s door, including Virgin Group founder Richard Branson. 

“I basically became the informal kite caddy for the Branson family,” Mai jokes, adding that the whole clan is filled with risk-takers who love the challenge and adrenaline rush of kiteboarding. “It was my job to make sure they all stayed alive.”

After a ten-year run, MaiTai is giving way to new ventures and collaborations. Mai’s latest endeavor, The Ocean Summit, organized with marine conservationist Jeremy McKane, gathers a diverse group of scientists, policymakers, tech investors, athletes, and artists who share a passion for ocean conservation and environmental activism. The location is Branson’s Necker Island, where they all brainstorm on how to help protect the ocean. 

As kiteboarding continues to grow in popularity, Mai hopes her crossover work with tech titans and ocean conservationists will make a difference in the world while enhancing the sport she adores. Laughing, she says, “For the first five or six years of my career, I was just explaining to people what kiteboarding actually was. They thought I filled my kite with helium. Maybe we didn’t quite become the next golf, but our community has made a difference.”

Susi Mai Kiteboard and Sun