High flier

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Photos by mike peffers

Ask anyone who knows Matt Taggart to sum him up it two words, and it’s probably going to be one of two answers; ‘adrenaline junkie’ or ‘top bloke’.

And when it comes to sport, particularly adventure sports, there isn’t much Matt hasn’t tried. He has an impressive collection of gear; for everything from paragliding and extreme mountain biking to hang gliding, wakeboarding, snowboarding and of course, kitesurfing.

Basically, if there’s airtime involved, he’s into it. And his passion for sport extends to his business and family life. Wife Rebecca is now an accomplished kite surfer, his two daughters are dab hands on surfboards, wakeboards and skateboards, and he’s even got his farmer father-in-law hooked on kitesurfing.

He’s also a bit of a poster boy for the healthy outdoor lifestyle; his involvement takes him and his family around the world to spots like Hawaii, Greece and Mexico, some of their favourite kitesurfing spots. However, he’s quick to add that New Zealand really is home to some of the most epic experiences he’s enjoyed.

One standout session saw him kitesurfing near Raglan harbour while a giant Orca whale swam alongside.

Home base Raglan
Despite travelling regularly for work and competition, Matt loves nothing more than being at home. Having moved from his European base about 10 years ago, after marrying his Kiwi wife Rebecca, Matt and his family are well settled in Raglan, where he and a highly creative team contribute to running the global Ozone business.

high-flier-action-shot“It’s pretty amazing that we’ve gathered this team of people all equally passionate about the business and sport, and we’re able to work from Raglan – basically as far away from our former city office as imaginable.”
With a work ethic just as driven as his competitive streak, it is fitting that his personal highlights include being one of the founders of Ozone Kites, now a global industry leading brand, specialising in kiteboarding.

On the competitive front, Matt has won a swag of international titles for his sports, including world rankings for kiting and being selected for the British Paragliding team (2000). His involvement has taken him to some of the most remote and spectacular locations imaginable, and despite the glamour sometimes associated, it is once again a memory closer to home which remains top of his list.

“Snowkiting in New Zealand, towing my eight and nine-year-old daughters behind me – that was just an amazing moment. They’re on skis, holding onto a ski rope, being towed uphill by me. And they just loved it.”
It’s as close to idyllic as a highly busy life can get – but whenever there’s a spare moment, Matt grabs his gear and hits the waves – or air.

“We built our home on a hill overlooking Raglan and I can pretty much step outside, strap my gear on, run straight off the edge of the hill and paraglide down to the water. It really doesn’t get too much better than that.”

Champion of the world
2016 has been a challenging year for Matt, thanks to a broken collarbone at the Ozone Christmas party, when he ‘hit the deck mountain biking in the Redwoods’.

That put a halt to many of his competitive plans and resulted in almost eight months’ recovery, finally resulting in an operation to fix it.

“Just ask my wife; I was pretty painful to live with,” he laughs. “The bones just wouldn’t knit together so it took a lot longer to heal than it should have. Doctors refused to pin it after it happened and I knew there was no way it was going to heal; I’m very active and at 45 years old bones don’t heal so well. When they finally agreed to operate, I had missed eight months of work and competing. It was annoying and mentally wasteful to lose that much time.”

Despite the setback, Matt still managed to impress at those competitions he did make it to – even with a dicey shoulder. And he recently became Grand Master World Champion and World Champion Master at the 2016 IKA Formula Kite World Championships in China.

“It was a fun event, but pretty challenging due to a tropical storm which hit during the event,” he says, “It made racing harder for all of the competitors and there was a fair amount of carnage with 30 knot winds and huge seas.”

Finishing up with both titles is testament to his determination and skill, although he admits to mixed feelings at being old enough now to be part of the Grand Masters (45+) category.

Fitness Journal finds out more …

How did you first get involved in the sport?
In 1998 I was in Maui, Hawaii on a windsurfing holiday with my good friend Tom Bowers. It was the first time we’d seen what was to become a global sport called kitesurfing or kiteboarding (the French called it Flysurfing). Having come from a paragliding and hang-gliding background, the whole sport made sense to me, combining a water sport with a wing. I remember wondering why it had taken so long for it to have been thought up!

high-flier-profileWe thought it was the craziest, coolest thing we’d ever seen so had to do it. We managed to get hold of one of the first production kites available – except they didn’t supply the control system, just gave us the info on how to build it with parts from a hardware store. The pump for the kite was the same you could buy from any supermarket for blowing up kids’ balloons.

Off we went, no manual, no instructions and just went for it. We took it in turns to learn this new sport. It was quite full on, no safety system, crazy power and you just had to figure out what to do on your own.

What appealed to you about it?
The power and connection to the air and the water, plus the beautiful feeling that we were early pioneers in a whole new extreme sport.

What gives you the biggest buzz about the sport? I think it has always been the energy kiting seems to give off. The people drawn to kiting are fun, open-minded and very social.

Your career and what it involves?
Ozone Kites has been an all-consuming ride since 2001. Starting from very humble beginnings, we have grown into a major player in what is now a sizeable global industry. Our kite designs and associated products are sold in more than 70 countries. It’s rewarding, yet intense to keep a global brand growing and evolving. All of us at Ozone have passion and love for what we do, so that’s the best part of this business, that it doesn’t feel like a “business.”

What are your short-term goals?
To kite alongside my daughters. Our girls can fly a kite well on the beach and if they want to, will soon be ready to kitesurf. They already love surfing and wakeboarding so it’s the next step. That will be a magic feeling whenever it happens.

Long term goals?
To keep growing Ozone globally and here in New Zealand, especially now kiteboarding has been selected for the Youth Olympic Games in 2018. I’d like to see more youth getting into the sport and a Kiwi on the podium.

Open every door you are presented with. You can always open, look inside and decide to step through, or close the door behind you. If you don’t open doors the opportunities will stop being presented to you.

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