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Jun 30, 2015 10:49 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Skilbred Rides Wave Of Success On The Water

Eric Skilbred of Sag Harbor was crowned
Jun 30, 2015 11:04 AM

Windsurfing has been a gift for Eric Skilbred.

For the past 20 years, the Sag Harbor native has been immersed in the sport, and it has paid dividends in multiple ways—providing thrills, accolades, employment, and even a chance to see the world.

This summer, the 31-year-old will share his love for the water with others through his new company, Sea Escapes Sag Harbor, a charter boat venture offering powerboat or sailboat excursions, complete with local food and access to watersports like windsurfing and paddleboarding.

When Skilbred isn’t busy building up his new business, he can, of course, be found on the water, which is where he was early in June for the East Coast Windsurfing Festival at Heckscher State Park on Long Island. At that event, Skilbred was crowned “King of the East” after squaring off against 30 fellow competitors, garnering the highest combined scores from judges, finishing second in the freestyle discipline and fourth in racing.

Taking home the top prize in the festival was a nice achievement for Skilbred, but his passion for windsurfing runs deeper than just a love of competition.

Skilbred first set foot on a board at the age of 11, when his parents signed him up for lessons through the Town of Southampton’s windsurfing program. Jace Panebianco of Hampton Watersports was Skilbred’s first instructor. The two developed a close relationship—Skilbred describes Panebianco as a “big brother”—and, two years later, Skilbred had his first job as an assistant instructor with Hampton Watersports.

For the last seven years, Skilbred has been the program director and head instructor for Hampton Watersports, and in the winter months he travels with ABK Boardsports, a group of professional windsurfers who give clinics all over the country, from the East Coast all the way to the island of Bonaire in the Caribbean.

Whether he’s competing, traveling, or teaching, Skilbred says that any day on the water is a good one.

“I fell in love with the sport because I was raised as a sailor by my father, and I taught myself how to surf,” Skilbred said. “As a surfer and sailor, windsurfing appealed to me as a marriage of my two favorite sports. It’s taught me a lot about myself and the world. And working at Hampton Watersports and ABK Boardsports, I’ve learned a lot about people through teaching thousands of them how to windsurf.”

Starting Sea Escapes, Skilbred says, has always been his ultimate goal, one he realized, he says, with the help of his family, girlfriend Kristen Casse, local boat captain Ken Deeg, and the East Hampton Yacht Company, which became a business partner.

“It’s always been my dream to start my own boat charter company in Sag Harbor,” he said. “I earned my U.S. Coast Guard license, took a business program through Hofstra University, and wrote a business plan.”

Panebianco says that people looking for fun out on the water this summer can’t go wrong with Skilbred, and not just because of his windsurfing and water knowledge.

“Eric has always had an adventurous spirit, and it’s made him really fun to be around,” Panebianco said. “So I think that will really serve him well with Sea Escapes. He’s always interested in making people around him enjoy themselves and have fun. He’s always been great with the kids in our program and with everybody he meets. He’s just wonderfully friendly and always up for a good time.”

Panebianco said it’s been nice for him to see Skilbred succeed, not just in building a career around what he loves, but on the competition circuit as well.

“In terms of windsurfing, he’s put in the time to become really, really good at it, and I couldn’t be prouder that he won the King of the East title,” he said. “I’m immensely proud of him.”

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