WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO ? Shinn gives a little whistle and looks on the bright side.
Unless you're taking part in your favourite escapist activities, like kiteboarding or reading Kiteworld, it's hard to avoid the general air of pessimism regarding the world economy. Every day we're bombarded with bad news about exchange rates, spiralling production costs, banks going under, rising unemployment, house prices plummeting and so on. It all sounds pretty grim, but I'm not an economist so I can't comment on exactly how bad the situation is or how bad it could become. However, without doubt it's not good for any of us right now.
The kiteboarding industry is going to be affected pretty quickly as we operate in the expensive, luxury goods area of the market. When the consumer has less disposable income (or becomes scared that they may have less in the future) they alter their spending habits, choosing not to buy that new kite rather than defaulting on the mortgage. At the same time the manufacturers of kiteboarding equipment are feeling the pinch in another area with rapidly rising production and shipping costs. China (the country that produces the lion's share of new kites) is developing extremely quickly and is busy introducing new minimum wage and export laws. This, combined with the large increase in the cost of the raw materials needed to produce a kite, means retail prices are probably going to rise at a time when it would help if they were dropping. Finally, if you factor in the recovery of the value of the US dollar, then suddenly the cost of a new kite could be going up 30 to 40%. Clearly this can't be allowed to happen, and contrary to the opinion of some posters on various kite forums, companies are not making a killing in this sport - they simply don't have the margin to absorb this kind of price rise.
Most brands are currently evaluating their products and scrutinising each and every dollar that goes into producing them to figure out what really is needed and what's not. I suspect there will be a small rise in retail prices for 2009; however, in terms of value for money the customer is getting the best deal ever.
Also, if fewer people buy new kites each year then there will presumably be fewer second hand kites on the market, thus increasing the value of second hand equipment ? good news when you decide to upgrade, as your investment could be smaller. 'Investment' is a brave word as it implies a return on your outlay of at least equal, if not more than, the value of your initial stake. Few could ever claim that they bought kites cheaply enough that they increased in value during use.
Kiteboarding seems to have progressed through its first years at a fast and furious pace and there is no reason to suspect it won't weather this current storm successfully. Maybe the next time I write this we will all be talking about the great recession that never was, but for the time being don't be fooled into thinking that someone is getting greedy by raising the price of kites. The irony is that someone is actually getting poorer, while the equipment is the best it's ever been.
Onto less serious (or more serious depending on your point of view) matters: There seems to have been a resurgence in C shape kite discussions recently. Rumours of a comeback keep bubbling to the surface and I've been asked several times if I think it will happen. Well, I'm going to do something I almost never do and make a statement on the matter: I consider the chances of the C kite ever returning to the market and selling in anything more than niche quantities to be considerably smaller than the chances of the square wheel going into mass production.
Nostalgia seems to cloud people's memories. The bow concept and the emergence of the hybrid (whatever that means - for me hybrid seems to be the word companies use when they want to say that their product combines the best bits of their competitor's efforts, but obviously none of their flaws) has made it abundantly clear that the average kiteboarder is not demanding kites with limited depower, decreased safety, a tricky re-launch and inferior gust handling. There are plenty of hybrids on the market that turn like a C, fly like a C, feel like a C, unhook like a C but have few or none of the disadvantages. Yet a small percentage of the kiteboarding population are loyal to history and continue to want something outdated. However, I suspect that many of these riders are supported by the industry and aren't paying recommended retail price for their toys (not to mention having the luxury of switching to something more suitable when conditions dictate!).
The riders in question do seem to be some of the most active on the forums so I am fully expecting to be shot down in flames for daring to suggest such a thing, but still, many people loved and still do love steam-driven trains but I don't see too many of them being released onto the market these days either. I find it ironic that people can be passionate about a sport that progresses so fast yet at the same time hanker for something from the past. Kite design is at a good place right now with the latest generation of gear offering performance and usability. Looking for inspiration in the past is not the way forward. Even the icons of the C kite era, such as the Naish Torch, Slingshot Fuel and North Vegas, are mutating in character, so perhaps the discussion would be better served in clarifying what actually classes as a C these days?
However you look at it, the C kite is as old as kiteboarding itself and there is a glowering anomaly when the 'new school' riders are looking for a re-birth of the 'old school' equipment. If you feel the need then I suggest you should find a friend with an old kite and give it try - you might be surprised at how far things have come.
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue #37. Read this whole issue online for free, click here now