Matt is perched on one of the shop’s countertops, eating a foil-wrapped egg-and-ham bagel sandwich, swinging his bare feet justabove the floor. Two thick black lines are tattooed across the top arch of each foot, corresponding with matching tattoos on Keegan’s feet — a testament to the brothers’ closeness and a souvenir from the European vacation where they officially learned how to kiteboard. Growing up in Northern Michigan as avid snowboarders and wakeboarders, Matt and Keegan were immediately fascinated when they discovered kiteboarding and — because kiteboarding hadn’t yet caught on in the Midwest — bought a kite directly from a dealer and attempted to teach themselves. Trying to learn without instruction was a terrible idea, they now claim, and could have been absolute disaster. The session ended with Matt nearly crashing onshore; the kite was packed away, but it wasn’t forgotten.
In the spring of 2002, Matt and Keegan headed off to Europe for separate study abroad programs — and they brought the kite with them. Once official study sessions were over, they spent the summer beach hopping through France, Italy and Spain, where the coastlines were crawling with kiteboarders. Despite booming popularity among Europeans, kiteboarding was still considered a fairly new sport. The first inflatable kites showed up along Europe’s coast and on beaches in Maui as recently as the late 1990’s.
Getting in on kiteboarding so shortly after its inception was a rush for Keegan and Matt; their prior knowledge of board sports only added to the excitement. Much like wakeboarding, kiteboarding involves manuevering a board that is attached to one’s feet. But instead of being pulled across the water by a boat, the kiteboarder is pulled — and lifted — by the wind via a large, arc-shaped kite. This enables the kiteboarder to jump higher than 30 feet, pulling stunts not possible with other water sports.
The brothers’ mastery of kiteboarding came quickly, and along the way they discovered snowkiting, the winter-weather version of kiteboarding that pulls kiters across frozen lakes and through wide-open powdery fields. It seemed almost too perfect when, upon returning to the states, they realized that the geography of their native North allowed for the two elements crucial for superb kiteboarding: limitless water and potent wind. "We just kept discovering all these spots that blew our minds," Keegan says. "It was unreal."
They spent the last few weeks of summer vacation 2002 kiting around the area and giving lessons to curious beachgoers. When they graduated that following spring and moved back to their home on Neahtawanta Point, they made an official decision: They would attempt to build a kiteboarding business in Traverse City. Give it one year. And if the plan failed … well, they’d cross that bridge when they came to it.
So far, they haven’t come to that bridge. "It was one of those things where you just had to put your mind to it. You know, "If you build it, they will come, " Keegan says. They began slowly, selling kites and giving informal lessons everywhere they went. Their home base was the back of their van. Their customer base was anyone intrigued by those billowing, colorful kites. Their advertising? Mostly just being in the right place at the right time.