RIO BLUE IMPERATO AGE: 16 LIVES: Maui, Hawaii SPONSORS: Naish and Bluesmiths

How did you get into wingsurfing? My first encounter with wingsurfing was here on Maui in 2018. I noticed someone cruising on a surfboard that seemed to be hovering above the water, powered by some sort of sail. It was probably Kai Lenny and looked very futuristic! I started wingfoiling in early summer 2020 when school was shut due to the pandemic and hanging out with friends was off the table. My dad suggested we go to Kahului harbour to learn to wing! Right from the start I was smiling and laughing, even if I was mostly flopping around in the water.

Is it like anything you’ve tried before? No! I ran cross county competitively since first grade, which unfortunately ended in my freshman year when I wound up with an injury. On the water nobody can force you to do anything: you're completely free. Wingsurfing is fun and exciting, gives you free space to clear your head, enjoy peace and gives me even more opportunity to take advantage of living on Maui!

Rio's a rippin'

What's your favourite sensation in wingsurfing? Speed! I learned to wingsurf alongside my dad (Alf Imperato), who has continued to push me to keep up with him. After months of practice we both have a very similar skill set and love to race. Wingsurfing at high speeds allows me to push my comfort level.

What skill would you like to learn next? I want to ride waves. Tricks and stunts will come as I progress, but I'm really just out there having fun and making memories.

Who do you ride with most? Generally my dad, however this new winging community has brought so many people together that it feels like family wherever I choose to ride. I have made so many friends, from 11-year-olds like Kayden Prichard and nine-year-old Koa Fabio, to men and women in their 70s who are absolutely charging! Living on Maui, I have been fortunate enough to ride alongside legends such as Alan Kadiz, Ken Winner, Alex Aguera, Robby Naish, Kai and Ridge Lenny, Finn and Jeffery Spencer and Annie Star. These men and women are so inspiring and supportive! Riding with them makes me push myself to the best of my ability.

Tell us a bit about the gear you learned on and what you’re riding now. I learnt on a 3 metre Hot Wing, a GoFoil GL210 with an IWA tail stabilizer on a 75 centimetre mast. The gear was loaned to us by Jeff Henderson and Ken Winner. The board was huge and extremely difficult to break free from the water because it had no hard lines. It accelerated like a giant egg on the surface of the water. I am now riding a 20 litre Naish Hover board and also the 50 litre Naish Hover in lighter winds or in waves. I love riding the smaller board because it feels light underfoot and is fun to jump. When I'm in the air it feels like I'm flying, it's amazing! The only scary thing with riding a 'sinker' is if the wind dies and I have to paddle back to shore, whether I'm 100 yards or two miles out. I ride a 3.6 or 4.6 metre Naish Wing-Surfer LE wing, which means for most common conditions here I can always be fully powered. I have also upgraded to a Naish Kite Thrust foil 60 which is 600cm². This foil is fast and allows me to reach speeds around 22 miles per hour, if not more! When prone foiling in the surf I choose to ride a Naish HA 1040, which is a bit bigger and generates more lift for a fun cruise.

What are your ambitions as a 'water kid' and 'island girl' as you describe yourself in your Instagram bio? I have always been surrounded by a community of watermen and women where life basically revolves around the ocean and its conditions on a daily basis. I consider myself a water kid because the ocean is where I find happiness, accomplishment and peace. I want to be involved with innovative developments of the sport, while pushing my comfort zone and abilities as an athlete. For example I've been engineering my own foils with the goal of going faster.

Winging has also given me the opportunity to give back to the community. Maui’s unemployment rates have significantly increased during the pandemic which means more people are unable to buy and afford their own food.

I used foiling as an outlet to share experiences and ask for donations for the Maui Food Bank. I was able to collectively donate over 1200 meals worth of money and canned goods to the food bank.

Where do you see wingsurfing going? Wingsurfing currently seems to be the best recreational sport and its potential is limitless. I love how easy it is to transport the gear and rig up. Wingsurfing is also family oriented and this holds so much potential to expand far beyond kiting and windsurfing.

Who do you look up to? The water community on Maui is made up by some of the best athletes in the world and I feel lucky to have the opportunity to be a part of it. The women I look up to are: Andrea Moller, Paige Alms, Annie Star and countless more. Dedicated riders who all give back and care for others.

If you could teach anyone in the world to wingsurf, who would it be, and why? Lionel Ritchie! Ha, no, actually it would be my mom. When I was ten I had a semi-traumatic experience in the water with her when we went kayaking on the south side of the Island and forgot to check the swell. Out of nowhere a massive set rolled through (which was about four foot Hawaiian / eight foot faces). We rolled, tumbled and limped back to shore. Since that day I have not felt super comfortable out at sea with her. If I had the ability to teach her to wingsurf that would give way to deep water adventures!

Anyone you’d like to thank? There are so many people to thank for getting me into wingsurfing. I am grateful to my mom and dad for being so supportive. I would love to thank Jeff Henderson from Hot Sails Maui, Keith Baxter for the multiple channel crossings and first major downwinder experiences. I also want to say a huge thank you to John Smalley at Bluesmiths for sponsoring me with waterwear and protection against the sun. Lastly, of course, the Naish Team, especially Scott Trudon, Andy Church and Nils Rosenblad for inviting me into the amazing Naish Ohana.

'Island girl' making the most of Maui's rewarding outdoor lifestyle


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