WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO ? Ex-world champion, Mark Shinn, rifles through his back catalogue of forgotten moves and finds he's still got it
I have to admit that I'm not the passionate practitioner of freestyle kiteboarding I once was. There was a time when freestyle occupied my every kiteboarding thought and waves were something to be played with only on the occasions when it was simply too windy or the odd Sunday afternoon.
But life moves on and once I stopped actively taking part in freestyle competitions my practice sessions on it declined to an almost non-existent level. It might be an interesting thing for a psychologist to ponder on how something that occupied your whole life, something that was so important that you invested all of your time, money and energy into, could be put aside so easily and quickly?
Fortunately I'm not a shrink, so I don't have to bother myself with the whys and wherefores, but I can recognise that after a short time your skills need a little longer to warm up on the rare occasions you do dust them off, and tricks that formed a basic part of your repertoire a short while before become the sole focus of a session.
This in turn leads to no small amounts of frustration (if you KNOW you can do something, being temporarily unable to do it is not a relaxing place to be and diminishes your motivation to waste another session trying again. Slowly but surely freestyle becomes/became a part of your/my kiteboarding history.
In fact it doesn't matter if we are talking about freestyle, it could be any aspect of kiteboarding, it's the principle that counts. If this reads like an excuse for why I stopped to do freestyle, that's because it is! It's an excuse, not a reason and here's why: I've just returned from two weeks in Egypt. Egypt is a flat water paradise with warm and consistent winds. As I was there with the Nobile team riders, who are all freestyle aficionados, I thought I should at least dust off my once trusty freestyle repertoire (and bearing in mind my wake-style progression topped out after about ten tricks, this didn't seem to be an insurmountable challenge!) and demonstrate to the 'kids' that by not continuing to train at freestyle, I hadn't admitted defeat, but rather consciously decided to focus my kiteboarding efforts in other areas. Of course, they took great pleasure in seeing me get dragged around the Red Sea, hanging onto the bar with one arm in a futile attempt to save face. After my bruised and battered ego had recovered enough for rational thought, two things became surprisingly clear to me:
1)How quickly moves I have not tried for years came back to me, and;
2)How much I enjoyed it.
In fact after a week of freestyle practice I guess I wasn't too much worse at it than I was a couple of years ago (at least as far as skill set goes, style-wise I think there are some issues!) and in all honesty I was looking forward to each new session in a way I haven't for some time. That's not to say I prefer a flat water handle-pass fest to six foot of cross-offshore peeling perfection, but it's a fact that I enjoyed each session immensely. It's a popular idiom that says 'use it or lose it' but I think a better analogy would be 'a change is as good as a rest'. In fact, if we're going to go down that path, I would even say that 'variety is the spice of life!'.
Your riding skills and enjoyment level can only improve from experiencing all the aspects kiteboarding has to offer, even if there are certain aspects of the sport that you're never going to indulge in frequently. Next time you head to the water why not wind back the clock and try something you haven't done for a while? I'm only using freestyle as an example of my own personal wake up call, for you it might be big air, transitions, directional riding, whatever, it really doesn't matter. At worst you'll have an amusing hour on the water and laugh about it over a post riding beer, but who knows; you might rediscover something that enthralled you about kiteboarding in times gone past and open new doors in your current learning experience. I have a feeling my freestyle resurgence is strictly limited to flat, warm water and moderate winds (I might have a renewed passion for it, but I'm not completely mad!) but I'm sure that it won't be another three years before I try it again. And while I'm at it, in the same week I think I'll try a skimboard trick or two, an old school big air huck session and of course a wave ride, should the conditions allow...
Kiteboarding is one of the most diverse activities I've ever come across but it's far too easy to place your own riding into a narrow category and either ignore or shun the rest of the sport. You might be destined to unseat Hadlow from his freestyle throne or show Felix Pivec a clean set of heels in the surf (or at least challenge for king of the local beach crown!). Don't just go out and blindly do the things you do every session, buck the trend. You don't even have to try something new, try something old and see how your enjoyment and ability levels soar. I enjoy my kiteboarding as much as I ever did and I intend to do whatever I have to, to ensure it stays that way. For the time being it's clear to me that the past has a lot to contribute to the future. I guess there was a reason I tried it all in the past; it was fun!
I was going to write this issue's column on technique. Next issue I promise to write something useful and noteworthy in terms of practical skills and direct ways to improve your riding. It'll be very interesting and informative but for now try what I suggest here. It's worth it, honest!
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue #35. Read this whole issue online for free, click here now
Mark My Words 13 - issue #35
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Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland