But that’s not all this Florida-based professional athlete has done.
Let’s face it: When you think of extreme athletes, you think of cocky, Peter Pan the-boy-who-never-grew-up thrill-seekers. But after talking to Damien LeRoy, we were delighted to discover that catching big air doesn’t also require cultivating a big ego. This world champion, speed-record-setting, Kiteboarder of the Year is as down-to-earth as they come. On Thursday, Southwest Florida residents can catch Damien LeRoy speaking as part of the Wellfit Institute’s Adventure Speaker Series. But we got a preview of some of the things he plans to talk about (and some he doesn’t). Here, he opens up about the greatest lessons he’s learned from sports, tells us what’s real—and what’s not—on his reality TV stint, and explains why he’s looking for love locally.
Okay, we have to ask: is it true you were on a reality show with Hulk Hogan’s daughter?
I’m always keeping everything open as far as opportunities. I was approached by producers, looking for someone who would play a good role with Brooke [Hogan, Hulk Hogan’s daughter]. They were looking for a professional kiteboarder that might be around Brooke’s age, and some people recommended me. Then I did a casting.
What is it like to interview for a reality TV show?
You go and they ask you questions like: “do you know anything about Hulk Hogan, and do you follow him?” Honestly I didn’t follow him when I was younger. They’re looking at your personality; they’re analyzing you to see if you’re good for the show. And I happened to be.
Did you meet Brooke before you “met” her on-screen?
They kind of introduced us—reality television isn’t super-reality. It’s definitely you; you say what you want to say but they guide you with some directions. Whatever you see is not really what it is. It’s definitely guided in a direction they guide it to go. They’ll come to you and say: “this is what we’re trying to do—you’re this extreme athlete and we’re going to try to do this extreme stuff like wrestling alligators.” They were trying to make it like I was too extreme and that she would move on from me. That’s what they were going for. As they film, they look for something that will grab the attention of the viewers. I’m an extreme athlete, but I think about things. They saw that she kind of fell for me, and then they steered it in that direction. At the end they made it look like I got the girl, I gave her a kiss and it was a big deal. It was just one. But then they got another guy who was an extreme, crazy guy. That’s what I was supposed to be. It’s hard with reality TV—they want something that draws viewers. Crazy is good. But I made it a point to be who I was. So the script kind of changed it; [it] became a script that she fell for the kiteboarder. The good news is that kiteboarding looked good, not stupid.
Would you say you went on the show to promote the sport?
Obviously kiteboarding was on the show, so that was good. I don’t think I came across as someone psycho and crazy. I came across as a good person, and she kind of fell for me on the show, so it didn’t come across as bad for the industry. I could’ve come across as crazy and then people could have judged the sport because of that visual.
Speaking of promoting the sport, how did you even get started in kiteboarding?
I used to be a ski racer in Colorado. I tore my meniscus and the cartilage in one of my knees; then I crashed in training in Vail and tore my ACL, so I had to have surgery on everything. It was all a mess. In 1998, I flew to Florida—I didn’t want to see the snow anymore because I was injured and couldn’t ski. Then I met this kid—Eric Foht—on the beach flying a kite. He had seen kiteboarding in Hawaii, purchased a kite and didn’t know what to do with it. We became best friends and within a few years I was a professional. I’ve been at it now for 14 years.
What are the biggest setbacks you’ve had in your career? I’ve broken my ankle, tore my ACL numerous times, injured my knees—stuff like that. Injuries slow you down for a while but they’re also the best things that can happen because they help you realize you’re not indestructible. They’ve actually helped my career.
How does getting injured help your career? What advice do you have for our readers who are trying to overcome injuries or other setbacks?
If you can look at [being injured] and say: I’ve been super healthy for a long time and I’ve been pushing my limits, an injury is going to happen at some point. Maybe you focus on other aspects of your life for a while, at new challenges that maybe aren’t athletic. It just takes looking at things in a different way. But you can’t look at it and say: “my career is over.” Your body is pretty amazing. No matter what the injury is, you can come back from it within reason. It takes time and you have to know your limits, and you have to take it slow and slowly build your way back. Be optimistic, because sometimes you’ll feel like you’re never going to heal.
You ski, do motocross, cliff jump and fly planes in your spare time. What draws you to extreme sports?
Honestly I would say its not extreme sports. I like to challenge myself. If everything in life went perfectly—work, relationships—it wouldn’t be exciting anymore and you wouldn’t want it. Life is experiences, adventures, setbacks. That’s the biggest thing I learned in my career: Winning isn’t everything. When you’re young you want to win. Then you win, and you say: “What next?” So I think the truth behind it is to enjoy the challenge. The winning is just the cherry on top. The whole experience of getting hurt, breaking boards, and experiencing setbacks is what makes winning amazing.
Tell us what the lifestyle of a professional kiteboarder is like.
You get to travel the world and see the most warm, beautiful places. It’s a unique sport. Everyone looks at my job and says: “You have the best life!” Yes, it’s a wonderful life, but just like anything else, it becomes a job. You travel so much that you’d give anything to sit on your couch and just watch a movie instead of being in airports, traveling. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to enjoy travel more. I stop and look at the flowers. When I was young, I’d go to places like Israel and I would be thinking: I want to win! Now I look at everything, do things in Israel, and then leave.
Describe your all-time best kiteboarding day.
It was a day with a bunch of friends in my hometown of Jupiter, Florida. It was perfect wind, and you’re just riding around with your best friends and you’re not worried about winning or putting on a show. I was just enjoying my time with the ocean and wind. The best experiences are with your friends, sharing it.
In the off-season, how do you cross train?
There’s really no off-season, because you can compete anywhere. Wind is everywhere, and there’s always a place to go. But to cross-train, I do a lot of paddle boarding, a ton of yoga and go to the gym a little. Honestly, I try to avoid the gym as much as I can and [instead] try new sports. That way I build new muscle memory doing different things so I work different muscles. If you bench every day, you might have a good push up, but you’ll tear a muscle trying to do a pull up. That’s why I’m never doing the same thing; I’m always mixing it up.
What’s your favorite non-kiting workout?
I would always say paddle boarding; it’s a full-body workout. It does your legs, arms, core, everything. I’ve been pretty much doing it since the beginning.
What’s next for you? Will we see you on the US Olympic team in Rio?
It’s not going to be a medaled sport in Rio. They’re going to have an exhibition team, that’s it.
What happened? I heard that the 2016 Olympics would be the first time for kiteboarding to have a medaled competition.
It’s a political nightmare. We got in, and we should be in. The IOC [International Olympic Committee] wants us to be in, but we need to go through ISAF [international sailing federation], and it’s complicated. That’s the hard part. I can guarantee it will be in the next Olympics, but not Rio. Potentially I’ll go down to be in the exhibition team in Rio.
So dating Hulk Hogan’s daughter was a bust. Inquiring minds want to know—are you dating anyone?
I’m single at the moment. I got out of a big relationship recently; we’re still best friends but we’re not right for each other. So I’m dating. I’ve met all these wonderful women traveling in Spain or Brazil. But I have a joke that I have to meet someone locally, within a 100-mile vicinity. You want to be the best friend of someone. But if you don’t see the person a lot and you travel, it’s definitely hard.