WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO ? Ex-world champion Mark Shinn takes on a new challenge; his first in a series of Kiteworld columns. This issue, it's the hot topic of the future of kites.
OK, I'll admit it, I'm lucky. Well maybe fortunate would be a better word. I turned pro in 2000 at the beginning of the sport when everyone was on a level playing field. No one had more than a couple of years' experience, and even though Flash Austin was without doubt achieving a completely different skill level to the rest of us, finding a sponsor was comparatively easy as there were nearly as many kite brands as there were pro riders!
In 2002, I won 11 of the 15 professional kiteboarding events that I entered, placing outside the podium positions in only one event. For this I will always count myself eternally lucky, not because I didn't work hard to achieve all the wins, but any athlete will tell you that no matter how good you may be, you'll never win unless you have at least some good fortune (or maybe it's more an absence of bad fortune, but I'll leave that to others to discuss!).
My good fortune doesn't end there; after joining forces with Nobile Kiteboarding last year, I found myself in an unusual position for a professional kiteboarder: not having, or looking for, a kite sponsor. Instead, I ride whichever brand or model catches my attention... and to be honest, since then it has been an eye-opener.
Last year I was one of the first to try the Cabrinha Crossbow. Living in windy Tenerife, I was immediately impressed with the possibilities this new style of kite had to offer in terms of depower, gust handling, safety and also pure fun on the water. What surprised me at the time was the aggression with which some anonymous forum scribes attacked the concept. To me it seemed like a great kite for many riders, and although clearly not the answer for the more modern freestyler, its possibilities seemed clear.
Since the introduction of the bow concept we've seen a plethora of other offerings from every brand, each one promising to solve all the negative points from the previous designs. Kites like the North Vegas 06 tried to add the impressive depower found in bow kites into a traditionally shaped kite, whilst companies like Flexifoil, with their Ion kite, tried to create something in the middle; a hybrid offering the best of both worlds. Commentary on the net has been both plentiful and opinionated as to which type of kite will dominate.
My own thoughts were clear. Not being attached to any brand in particular and having no personal axe to grind, I rode bows in the smaller sizes (7 and 9) and C kites in the larger sizes (12 and 15), and couldn't see how things could improve. As far as I could figure out, this was how the sport would progress: more sportive freestyle riders using C kites and the more recreational riders and wave heads sticking to bows.
However, things shifted again recently when I tested the Ozone Instinct and the North Rebel. These are flat style kites that rig on a more or less stock 5 line bar, and feel to all intents and purposes like a C kite in the air; with low bar pressure, great range, superior kite feeling through the bar and good depower (even approaching 90 to 95%). 'Great!' you might think, 'Surely that's the remedy to all the issues with the bow?' Until testing I probably would've agreed with you... but a strange thing happened. Instead of ditching the bows, I found myself questioning the place of the C kites in my quiver - the opposite of what I expected.
The point is that if you have a kite that offers massive depower, still handles like a C shape and works great for freestyle, why would you go for a C shape? And instead of ditching the bows, I found myself appreciating not just the 100% depower on offer more and more, but also the way the kite turns. The bridle and shape of a bow cause the kite to literally spin around its centre point, not around its wing tip like a C kite, which generates power as it does so.
So what, you ask? Well, it's a pretty fundamental difference. In the case of the C shape, the kite climbs in the window as it turns (or descends if you happen to be looping it), which is great for big open kite loops and predictable kite handling. In the case of the bow the kite, which neither descends or climbs, it simply turns on the spot.
Let's also consider that effect whilst wave riding. Unless you're a very good rider and constantly pulling the C shape down, it will get higher and higher in the window with each turn until it's stuck above your head. The bow on the other hand will turn all day at the same height in the window and give you a completely different level of riding control.
In direct contradiction to my initial thoughts on the rosy future of both C and bow kites, I now can't help but question where exactly the C shape is going to fit in. I suspect that we could be looking at a future of flat kites with the main difference being the bar and bridle set ups dictated by the way we want our kites to fly.
I don't think any kite is going to do everything for every rider, not now and not in the foreseeable future. What is clear though, is that no matter what your riding style or preferences are, there has never been a better time to buy a new kite - or a better time to wait and see what's around the corner for that matter. The next big thing really might be the biggest thing yet.
If I had a crystal ball I'd have used it many times in the past seven years to predict the radical developments this sport has undergone... and I'd be sat in my beach front mansion in front of a kite nirvana, counting my cash with a shovel.
The reality? Well, I'm sat in my modest home in Tenerife, 50 metres away from a great spot. It's 25 knots, 28 degrees and the waves are overhead. Well, I did tell you I was lucky didn't I? All that's missing is the fortune!
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue #23.Read this whole issue online for free, now click here
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