WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO ? In his third column, two-time world champion Mark Shinn looks to an elevated future
I'll be honest, it takes a lot to impress me in kiteboarding these days. It's not that the moves littered throughout magazines, movies and the web aren't stunning and incredibly hard to do, but after a lot of exposure to so many radical images, a kind of dull haze of insensitivity drifts over me and something has to be really, really special to grab my attention.
Some weeks ago a friend mailed me a video clip that, after watching, left my jaw on the floor. The move was a 'simple' hooked-in kite loop. The rider: Ruben Lenten.
On paper it seems like a pretty basic trick by pro levels and I'm sure many of us can do it. But the height, and, for want of a better word, sheer 'ballsiness' of the move was breath-taking. It's one of those clips that you run 20 times and each time you look at it, it just gets better. I have never seen a move that carried so much risk and every viewing took me closer to the edge of my seat.
At about the same time I received a press release announcing that Aaron Hadlow was PKRA world champion for the third time. I was in Egypt with Aaron last summer and he also managed to make my jaw drop, landing a mobe 7 right in front of me. A mobe 7 involves a back roll with two handle-passes, and as far as I know, Aaron was the first to land this trick that has to rate as one of the most difficult in the book. Not only the technical difficulty, but the seeming ease with which he managed it, especially the landing which must have been brutal, was very, very impressive... but in a completely different way from Ruben's kite loop. I may not have the courage to go for the 12 metre-high kite loop but I do have the skills required. However, I'm pretty sure that I will never make a mobe 7.
Two very cool tricks, so what? Well, if you take a look at kiteboarding history you can see that in the first four years the sport changed radically every year, with different styles coming and going. But for the past three years the front line of competition riding has seen more of a progression towards harder and harder tricks, rather than continuing the style revolutions that we've seen in the past. Looking at those two tricks and the two riders again makes me think that another change might be on the way.
From the beginning, the main attraction of kiting to many people was the flying aspect. In the early years riders were judged far more on their style than the difficulty of the tricks they performed. In a natural progression the riders pushed the sport towards harder and harder tricks and have now reached a point where only the most experienced can comprehend what's happening - and the uneducated viewer is left utterly confused.
I can't help but feel that we've been missing out on one of the most unique aspects of kiteboarding - height.
Due to injury and other factors, Ruben Lenten was not a regular fixture at the PKRA events last year. But he's been far from inactive and has been busy spearheading his own style of riding, combining the technical difficulty of wake-style with a higher altitude, higher risk category. You may not understand exactly what's happening while he's up there, but no one can fail to be impressed with the end result. Huge kite loops, massive double handle-passes... it's certainly exciting to watch and I think it's the current leading contender in kiteboarding's eternal search for the next big thing.
Wake-style kiting has come a long way but surely even the name suggests emulation of another sport. If competition kiting continues along its current course will we ever have an identity of our own? I would love to look at a new sport in 15 years and have its riders talking about trying to acheive 'kite-style' riding. Kiteboarding is such a fantastic sport it deserves to be credited with bringing something entirely new to the extreme sports field, and stand in its own right, not in the shadow of others.
But let's not take anything away from Aaron and his achievements. What many people have forgotten about is just how versatile a kiteboarder Aaron is. He might have become known for his mastery of wake-style riding, but in 2002 Aaron was performing some of the biggest and most spectacular board-offs we'd seen. In 2003 he, like everyone else, was caught on the back foot by the Space Monkey crew's handle-pass revolution. But he recovered and adapted to the new style quickly enough to finish the year in sixth place. In 2004, of course, he made it his own and took his first world title with comparative ease.
From there on the rest of the fleet have been struggling to keep any sort of grip on his relentless pace of improvement. For the past two years Aaron has not only been the most successful competition rider in the PKRA, but also the most innovative. In Egypt again last year he reinforced in my mind just how talented he is by grabbing a skimboard for the first time and busting out tricks within just a couple of days - ones that had taken me months to learn.
So, I'd like to make a prediction (something I normally try to avoid!). I think that the PKRA freestyle scene will evolve once again in 2007. What started out as the 'Lenten' style is rapidly going to become the norm, and I reckon that we're in for one of the most spectacular PKRA seasons ever. Let's be honest, if we could combine Aaron's technical difficulty and Ruben's extrovert riding style into one huge package, we might truly have a riding style to call our own.
Having been among the group of riders that started the PKRA I would love to see it break free of its minority extreme sports niche and really break into the awareness of the wider sports viewing public. I am truly excited about the 2007 season and hope it shapes up to be the precursor of great things to come!
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue #25. Read this whole issue online for free, now click here
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