WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO ? Mark on the ins and out, ups and downs of life in the production industry.
Every year it's the same...the winter drags on and on with summer seeming to be always just around the corner. Then suddenly before you know it, it's the end of June already, the longest day has come and gone and winter seems to be coming on fast again! In most of Europe this season has been very very slow indeed due to the lack of winds from any useable direction or strength. It never ceases to amaze me that an industry the size of kiteboarding can be influenced by something as simple as a lack of wind. Hopefully the slow start to the year will pass and we will have a summer of warm south westers now.
For most of the kiteboarding industry spring and early summer is a busy time. In Europe the most equipment is sold in the spring period so there is normally a full programme of demos and dealer visits to be made whilst at the same time the final parts of the 2009 development have to be completed. When I tell people that, they always look surprised as they don't expect to see new equipment until September or later, but if you think about it, to test equipment properly before it hits the shops and your hands it needs to be in constant, heavy use for some months to ensure no unexpected problems. Then you have to add into that factory lead times of three or four months and four to six weeks shipping time and you will quickly figure out that the next kite of your dreams is quite possibly already designed and in manufacture even though you won't see hide nor hair of it for another six months! In fact, R&D in kiteboarding is a 365 day a year job. Choosing a kite or board for production is not about achieving certain goals but more working towards the perfect kite and, on the day when production has to start, choosing the best models you have at that moment.
The development teams don't have a break after production starts either, they continue to design and test in an effort to make as much progress as possible before the following year's production deadlines! I've been involved in kiteboard R&D since 2000 and it still amazes me how difficult it is to do well and how far in advance brands have to think and work. For every new concept that makes it to the market place there are another ten that are tested, developed and then dropped for any one of a number of reasons. I'm not exactly sure how I got to writing about R&D as it was not the plan for this issue, but anyhow, I've written it now and I'm not about to delete it!
In the last month I ticked the box of a famous kiteboarding location that I had yet to visit - The Gorge, Hood River. The Gorge is another spot famous for windsurfing before it was known to kiteboarding but now the numbers of riders in town is split evenly between both sports. Any town that is home to Da Kine and Slingshot International, hosts the North kiteboarding R&D team through the summer months and has more North American pro riders in residence than pretty much anywhere else in the world, has to be offering something special! I don't think I've ever ridden on a river before and it's a unique experience. The first thing that you notice is that there are no beaches, many of the launches in the Gorge are on sand bars or grassy areas and a select few require you to walk out into the water whilst someone holds your kite on the banks of the river. The second thing I noticed was the temperature differences in the water. In fact kiting in the Gorge is not done on the Hood River as many think (Hood River is both the name of the town at the centre of all wind activities in the Gorge AND the name of the river that carries the melt water away from Mount Hood) but is practised on the Columbia River.
The Hood River enters the Columbia River just downwind of the infamous sand bar, the closest launch spot to town itself, and being glacial melt water is cold enough to take your breath away, even on days when you are riding elsewhere in board shorts! If you happen to fall in in this area, you will regret it! There are no waves per se in the river but due to the way the wind blows against the current of the river you do get standing 'lumps' that could be described as waves and are certainly a lot of fun to play in. The current does more than create these lumps though, on a good day you can end up kiting downwind your entire session as the current is continuously taking you upwind...imagine doing a one hour downwinder and arriving back in the same spot and you'll have an idea of what it's like. If you haven't been and would like to travel somewhere different then I strongly recommend a visit. Flight prices are at an all time low and with the dollar being so weak it could be cheaper than staying in Europe.
Well, that's about it for this month. For a change I am writing this from the luxury of my office at home in Tenerife and the wind is being kind. As soon as I finish writing this I'll be off for a nice seven metre session in head high waves. I've been travelling the last two months and though I had some incredible kiting and saw some fantastic spots, nothing beats being at home and riding in front of your house!
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue#34
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