WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO: In Mark Shinn's fourth column, the two-time world champion tells you it's all OK, well, most of it
FOR SURE APPRECIATE AND TAKE INSPIRATION FROM WHAT YOUR HEROES ARE DOING IN INDONESIA AND HAWAII. BUT IN TERMS OF YOUR OWN WEAPONS, CHOOSE THE RIGHT TOOLS FOR THE CONDITIONS YOU'RE GOING TO BE RIDING IN.
No regular reader of this fine tome (hey editor can I have a pay rise?) can have failed to notice the huge increase in wave riding action shots and articles over the past couple of years. At the risk of using the old cliché, kiteSURFING really has arrived, again. And in true kiteboarding style there is already a mountain of hot discussion surrounding the subject, ranging from a friendly chat over a post-session beer to the usual suspects engaging in pistols at dawn word-slinging duels on the forums about what's cool, and what's not.
I won't try to deny it, I'm partial to more than a bit of the old wave-action myself and can't help but chuckle at many of the discussions I come across. But there does seem to be an underlying uncertainty regarding where we're all supposed to be going in the wave arena.
A couple of years back all the discussion centered on trying to make kiteboarding a legitimate wave-riding option. Now that the sport has matured, and even reached the point where there are waves being ridden that, dare I say it, can only be ridden with a kite (remember the suicidal shots taken during the last two winter seasons of Wilson and Tobias riding the Zoo in Western Australia?), the overwhelming sense of the race to the biggest face appears to have slowed and kiters around the world seem to be looking for inspiration to settle on the exact direction and style they should be following.
A good friend of mine, and an absolute charger in waves, was quoted in the last issue of Kiteworld as basically saying:
'The future of wave riding at the top level is strapped and unhooked.'
I thought about that and whether it's actually where we should be going. For a couple of days I would probably have agreed. However, after one particularly windy session at home in Tenerife, it occurred to me that I'd just had a really great session without straps and without ever unhooking, and I would have had significantly less fun had I ridden strapped and unhooked. In 20 years time this discussion will be irrelevant as every possible combination will have been pushed to its limit and one clear route will emerge, but right now, there are pros and cons to each style.
If the true goal of kitesurfing is to imitate our surfing brethren then there's no doubt that we should be going unstrapped. Don't make the mistake of thinking that this is purely an issue of style, it's an issue of function. Surfers are constantly adjusting their weight distribution and foot positioning on the board to trim their speed and judge their attack on the wave. Placing your back foot into a strap immobilizes it and stops you from either moving it forward to accelerate through flatter sections and from moving it right to the tail of the board when you want to make extremely tight or vertical off-the-lips.
On the other hand, straps allow you to ride a smaller board (if you choose) that can carry more speed and has more control. A strapped rider can always ride a little deeper in the section, take the drops easier and later and hold more power. And of course it brings the aerial aspect of the sport into reach for most riders, whereas strapless aerial control will always be the reserve of the most advanced.
On the kite front there's no doubt that riding unhooked allows the maximum amount of body freedom, and a huge range of movement is possible. The centre-point of the power delivery is in your arm, meaning it can be moved at will. Riding hooked-in means the power is always being delivered through your harness hook halfway up your body, which is not the optimum place and can lead to a pretty ugly stance if you're not careful. It also seriously limits the range of movement and freedom available to the rider.
There is, of course, another side to this argument. The recent movement to develop full depower kites allows the rider to get into parts of the wave that were previously unreachable, and to make their turns using solely the power of the wave - only powering up the kite to ride around closed-out sections or to get out of trouble. This is especially true in cross-offshore riding conditions where the faster you ride the more power the kite generates and the more likely it is to pull you out the back of the wave. The only good way to ride a C shape in these conditions is to ride a much bigger board and take the smallest kite possible, making the run upwind hard work but reducing the amount of power the kite provides whilst riding the waves. It's really very specialised. In onshore conditions a full depower kite also lets you approach the lip much more vertically. To get vertical essentially requires you to travel straight upwind, so you need a huge range in depower to allow for any directional changes like that.
So where does all this leave us? I would suggest that rather than try to predict the future of kiteboarding in waves, we should instead focus on developing each style as far as it can go and let natural selection dictate the future.
For sure appreciate and take inspiration from what your heroes are doing in Indonesia and Hawaii. But in terms of your own weapons, choose the right tools for the conditions you're going to be riding in.
Twin-tips are never a good option for true wave riding as they're too small and too compromised. However the latest generation of wave, asymmetrical twins (as featured in the last issue) are a great choice for those that don't want to spend their precious time and effort learning to gybe (although with a bit of determination and focus it's really not as big an issue as you think). These boards handle speed very well and are easy to get along with. To ride the bigger shapes at the highest performance end of the spectrum you'll need to put in the hours learning how to get the best out of them in all conditions.
As far as the kite options go, bow, hybrid or C shape all work. In cross-shore conditions there is nothing that beats a C shape on short lines riding unhooked. In offshore winds I would advise using a bow with the largest depower range possible. If you want a kite that can do it all (ie. depower enough for offshore and still be OK ridden unhooked) then I would think about one of the newest generation of hybrid kites with maybe a couple of different sets of line lengths.
However you choose to ride, don't be influenced by what others tell you you should be doing. Surfing is about expressing yourself, and of course having fun. Just bear in mind that while any kind of gear is acceptable and can be made to work, bad style is still bad style, so don't stick your arse out. And riding the wave 20 metres away from the peak will NEVER be cool!
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue #26. Read this whole issue online for free, now click here.