Rising Star

Name: Susi Mai Age: 19 Gig: kiteboarding Hometown: Cabarete, Dominican Republic Height: 5'4" weight: 100

MAKING WAVES Mai is the nascent queen of kiteboarding, a shiny new sport that's riding a swell of popularity five years after its pioneers first flew over gape-jawed windsurfers on Maui's north shore. In October 2003, Mai won the women's division at the high-profile Red Bull "King of the Air" contest, at Maui's Ho'okipa Beach. She finished fifth in the 2003 Professional Kiteboard Riders Association (PKRA) tour rankings.

Dispatch: Rising Star Susi Mai

Prepare for blastoff: Mai heading out for another session off Cabarete

SEEN NEXT In late March, when the 2004 PKRA season is slated to kick off in Thailand, look for Mai to try an unhooked aerial handle pass, a dangerous new big-air trick that involves unclipping from the kite harness, passing the handle behind your back while spinning, and clipping back in. No woman has pulled one off in competition.

BOARD AND RAISED Mai's German parents taught windsurfing in Europe, but in 1990 the family moved to Cabarete, a windsurfing mecca in the Dominican Republic. So how come Mai's a kiteboarder? "Windsurfing looked boring," she says.

GROWING PAINS Mai built her reputation with bold, sky-high moves, but she's since traded some altitude for style, using smaller kites that facilitate complex maneuvers. The evolution has paid off in victories, but there's a downside: "Bigger kites can work like parachutes," she says. "With smaller kites, I take a real beating."

SWEET TALK Mai speaks fluent German, Spanish, and English, and some French, making life on the nine-month international tour much easier. She relishes the adventure but is always drawn back to sleepy Cabarete. "When I was a kid, you couldn't even get chocolate here," she says. "The best day of my life was when a local grocery store started carrying M&M's."

SECOND OPINION "Susi rides with raw emotion and has natural grace," says PKRA president and tour veteran Mauricio Poscano. "With a little more experience, she's going to be incredible."

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