Like the tallest redwood in Muir Woods, 23-year-old Johnny Heineken of Larkspur has had the ideal Marin County conditions to find himself at the top of his game. Last summer he clinched the World Champion title in kitesurfing — a sport he took up just six years ago — and this year he was North American champ, too. His parents, both doctors, are avid sailors; his father, Paul, directed St. Francis Yacht Club’s junior sailing program and instilled in both Johnny and his sister, Erika, a passion for the water. So it’s no surprise that when we met him, Johnny had recently returned home as winner (as did Erika) of the Canadian National Championships in kitesurfing.
1 Did you play other sports growing up? I played basketball and baseball just like most kids, but when I was old enough my dad took me windsurfing with him at Larkspur Landing. After that I knew I loved being on the water more than anything else.
2 Did you get your board at Big 5? Nope, it was made by Mike Zajicek of Mikes Lab in El Sobrante, a local windsurfing guru I met through a friend, Chip Wasson, who had convinced Mike to start building kiteboards. I bought a board in 2009 and ever since have worked closely with Mike on design. On the 2011 Worlds podium, first, second and third (place winners) were all riding his boards — we definitely couldn’t be sailing this fast without Mike!
3 At what point did sailing become a priority? I started racing 29ers (skiffs) after middle school — the adrenaline of high-speed sailing was totally addictive. By my sophomore year at Marin Academy, I’d dropped off the basketball team and started traveling all over the West Coast and even internationally to compete. I was hooked.
4 Scariest fall? There were some big ones in Germany at the WC — head-high chop, it was nuts!
5 How do you train? I spent the summer with Adam Koch (world champ in 2010) and Bryan Lake, at Sherman Island, the best training spot in California — maybe even in the world. It’s no coincidence that we swept the podium at the Worlds in Germany. We pushed each other and improved as a team.
6 Favorite drink? Lagunitas at the Silver Peso; I can skate there and walk home.
7 Planning to use your degree in mechanical engineering? I’d love to work in the area of alternative power — wind energy. While I was training last spring I had an internship at Makani Power in Alameda — loved it!
8 Best pizza in Marin? Definitely Stefano’s chicken pesto.
9 Where should people learn? Sandy and Donny with Kitopia on Sherman Island; they’ll take you out on Jet Skis and really make it easy to learn.
10 How do you pay for this? Sponsors give us gear, like Ozone kites. And Mikes Lab helps us with boards, but we are looking for corporate sponsorships.