By Rachael Graf, Community Engagement Coordinator

Trip Forman has gills. At least that’s what he tells people.

“I have to be in the water,” Forman said. “If I’m not in the water regularly, my gills start to dry up and stick to the side of my neck. And then I get really moody. If I can get wet every day, my gills stay healthy and there’s a big smile on my face. And anybody that knows me will tell you that.”

Forman is a co-founder of REAL Watersports, an internationally renowned kiteboarding, surfing and foiling business in Waves, North Carolina, that he established with his friend and fellow watersports enthusiast, Matt Nuzzo, in 2001. In 2009, Forman and Nuzzo were selected as two of the “Top Ten Most Influential People in the History of Kiteboarding” by Kiteboarding Magazine.

“The business actually started in my garage,” Forman said. “And then we grew out of that and we had a little store in Buxton, which is now the Hotline store. Then we added another store in Waves, which is that little light blue building out near the highway. And then in 2008 we basically combined both of those stores into the big shop we have now. We purchased that property and developed the buildings on it around what we needed for our business and how quickly everything was growing.”

Originally from Babylon, New York, a town situated on Long Island’s Great South Bay, Forman grew up racing sailboats, surfing and windsurfing. After becoming involved in competitive windsurfing, Forman worked as the East Coast Sales and Marketing Director for a windsurfing company, which had a connection to the Outer Banks.

“I came here Feb. 14, 1991,” Forman said. “We had an account down here that sold our windsurfing gear, and when I left New York, it was about 10 degrees with a foot-and-a-half of snow on the ground. And when I got here, it was 65 to 70 degrees and the wind was blowing southwest at 25 miles per hour and perfect head-high, a little bit over head-high waves.”

He fell in love.

Forman spent time enjoying the waves and weather for four days and then returned home, packed up everything he owned and moved to the Outer Banks.

Seven years later, in 1998, Forman and his friends, Ty Luckett and Joe Toner, became the first three people in North America to kiteboard in the Outer Banks.

“At that point, there were a few people doing it in Hawaii,” Forman said. “There was one guy doing it in the Gorge [Oregon] on a hard frame kite, not an inflatable kite, and that was about it. We got together and ordered three kites. They got shipped to us in a box and there were three kites, three bars, three spools of line and that was it. No user manual, no instructional video. No nothing. Figure it out on your own.”

For a year, the trio learned how to master downwind runs, going with the pull of the kite for four to 10 miles downwind. Six months later, they learned that they could kiteboard across the wind and upwind, an experience that Forman says is unique to the Outer Banks. The shallow water in the Pamlico Sound, the consistent winds, the bend in the island and the lack of tall buildings and trees create ideal conditions for kiteboarding in every wind direction.

“If you’re in Florida and it’s blowing west and you’re on the East coast, you’re screwed; you have to go to the West coast,” Forman said. “So there were a lot of different things that brought us here. It was just a better place to learn how to kiteboard and therefore it’s a better place to have the business be focused.”

At that point, REAL Watersports had opened 10 locations around the country.

“When we started REAL, we actually started building the business and opening up multiple locations,” Forman said. “And the more that we taught kiteboarding at those different locations, the more we realized that this was the best location with regards to the consistency of the wind, the shallow water…our ability to use jet skis without significant regulations…our ability to purchase a piece of property and then basically control our own destiny long term.”

Fast forward 23 years, and REAL Watersports has grown into a watersports complex that includes a 21,000 square foot space that houses a surf shop, a rental shop, Watermen’s Bar & Grill, administrative offices and a warehouse for shipping online orders around the world. Watermen’s Retreat offers waterfront and oceanside accommodations for all budgets, including suites, cottages and cabanas. Kiteboarding, surfing and foiling lessons are taught twice a day, seven days a week, year round, by 25 full-time coaches.

“They’re a very, very talented group of people. We’re really proud of the work that they do,” Forman said. “Our mission statement from day one has been, ‘We make new riders every day.’ And that’s our commitment to whether it be teaching beginners or overhauling intermediates that may have not gotten the best instruction in the beginning to getting somebody set up with a new board. We’re really committed to helping people learn the sport and enjoy the sport to the fullest extent.

It’s a very welcoming and inclusive environment. Yes, there is a lot of kiting and a lot of surfing and a lot of cool gear and stuff like that, but you don’t have to be in it and hardcore to the bone to to enjoy it. It could be anything from having lunch or dinner at Watermen’s Bar & Grill and watching all the action going down [on the Pamlico Sound] on the back lawn, to coming to a music show or enjoying the shopping or just enjoying the sunset on the back lawn.”

When Forman isn’t on the clock, he can be found exploring Cape Hatteras National Seashore, surfing, sailing on the Pamlico Sound, hydrofoiling and of course, kiteboarding – watersports he loves doing with his youngest daughter.

“Cape Hatteras National Seashore has so many things to offer that are adrenaline based or lifetime-experience based. You can do activities with your kids, which is way more fun than doing anything on your phone,” Forman said. “It literally takes your breath away how incredible it is. …You’re able to get out there with nature with the elements and either enjoy it or improve your skills or test yourself, whether it’s getting the biggest jump of your life in kiting or getting the biggest barrel of your life in surfing or a young child catching a giant citation speckled trout.”

Forman also serves as the President of the Board of Directors at Outer Banks Forever and is passionate about protecting our Outer Banks national parks.

“It’s so neat to be able to live here and be completely surrounded by a national park,” Forman said. “I’ve been living here for 30 years, and there’s not really one day that’s the same. Every day, there’s different elements or different atmospheric conditions or different waves or different wind. I mean, you’re living in a place that is so natural and so wild, amongst the elements with no filter. It’s unique.”

As a business owner, Forman is also passionate about supporting the place where he both works and plays. And he encourages others to do the same.

“The more support that people give to Outer Banks Forever, the better our park can be on a consistent basis,” Forman said. “At REAL, we make sure that what we roll out to our customers is better every year than the previous year. And that’s what I want to see with our park. Every time a family comes back, we want them to be like, ‘Wow, this wasn’t here two years ago when we were here. This is awesome.’ and Outer Banks Forever can make that happen.”

Forman wants everyone to experience all that Cape Hatteras National Seashore has to offer.

“I think as the world becomes more digitally based, it’s important to remember the analog slices of life,” Forman said. “A lot of times,  I’ll go fat tire biking down in Frisco and I’ll ride away from the sunset for the last hour or so of the day, and then turn around. I get to enjoy the whole sunset riding back. It’s crazy how beautiful that is and how immersed you are in the elements. Just like wow, are you kidding me?

If you want to see more, check out REAL’s series below highlighting the many ways you can experience Cape Hatteras National Seashore through water sports.

Photo and Video Credits: REAL Watersports