WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO ? Mark Shinn reflects on the goals of fun and the unification of kiteboarding
It seems my comments on the C kite last month stirred up a little hornet's nest, especially with my good friends on the kite forums. It's maybe not the biggest surprise ever as I was slightly more opinionated in my thoughts than normal and, for sure, my opinion is not fashionable right now, but I'll have to hold my hands up and say it wasn't entirely accidental that I came down on the radical side of the discussion. But what's the point in my writing for the print media (where no one can answer back) and not saying controversial things? Some interesting points were raised, however; one in particular from an industry insider talking about the one kite quiver, which made me stop and think.
Back at the beginning of the 21st century I remember travelling to compete with a minimum of nine or ten kites. The choice was overwhelming (not to mention the effort involved in blowing them all up!), but at the time a change in wind strength of three or four knots meant another size was needed. These days I think you can cover 95% of your sailing days with two, or if not, a maximum of three kites. Personally I travel with a seven, nine and a 12m most of the time, only varying this if I'm going somewhere with very, very predictable and stable conditions (which in my experience is like looking for Never-never land, so I always end up travelling with seven, nine and 12!).
Over recent years there's been loads of talk about the possibility of creating the one kite quiver and, of course, each year every brand claims their latest offering has more low end and more de-power ability, so surely it must be possible? Well, I guess it is, but personally the idea doesn't fill me with excitement at all. It's perfectly possible to kite 99% of the days with wind with one board, but increasingly these days, riders have a couple of boards: a twin-tip for freestyle, a surfboard for waves, a skimboard for light winds, or whatever. It seems there's a general desire for variation, so why would it change with kites?
For every set of conditions there's a perfect choice of gear and riding style most applicable. You could to generalise, for instance there's a fairly good chance that in strong winds most spots have waves (and I say 'most' deliberately, as we all know there are some special spots that don't follow this rule) and it follows that most spots in light winds are more or less flat. There you have two sets of conditions that would ideally require totally different kite characteristics. Running a one kite quiver you're going to have to make a firm choice about the way you want to ride and, more to the point, there are going to be a large number of days that, although you CAN kite, you'll almost certainly be compromising your enjoyment by being outside of the reasonable range of performance the kite has to offer. Obviously lowering the cost of kiting would be a good thing, but surely not at the cost of enjoyment, which is what it still should be all about, isn't it?
A couple of weeks ago I went to Dusseldorf in Germany for something that is a real first in kiteboarding. The IKA is a new international organisation that aims to unify kiteboarding ? this has been tried before, but not on this scale and I have to say the IKA has already met with some considerable success that I wouldn't have believed possible in only a few months. With very little notice the IKA has ratified kiteboarding as an ISAF sailing class, meaning a kitesurfer can be recognised as the official sailing world speed record holder and could potentially become an Olympic racing class one day. The team also managed to gather together most of kiteboarding's National Associations and representatives from most of the industry and engage them in meetings to discuss the future of the sport. Most sports have a good governing body that oversees the development of the sport, in all aspects, taking advice from representatives in the industry, participants, event organisers and promoters and all other interested parties. They then create a balanced view-point and guide the sport forward based on those opinions.
Kiteboarding has lacked this, until now, and this development could be a huge step forward in transforming what we do into an official sport, transporting it out of the realm of 'pastime' that is has found itself in up to now. Least of all an independent governing body might be able to accumulate some realistic figures relating to kiteboarding in terms of the active number of participants, quantity of lessons given (and of those a percentage that actually take up the sport) and volume and types of equipment sold. Most of these figures at present are based on speculation and incomplete information. In addition, the formation of standardised guidelines for equipment safety systems, regulated teaching practises and standards the world over and as a professional, dedicated body would be able to intervene in issues of water and beach access, which can only be a positive step forward for all of us.
It's too early to tell right now if the IKA is able to handle this mandate, but should it be able to do so, the future looks bright indeed. Hopefully they will keep the bigger picture in mind and not focus entirely on the other issues they would like to solve, such as uniting the two world tours and creating an Olympic discipline of kiteboarding. These might be enviable goals, but would have little effect on the way our sport develops for the people that actually support it, and by that I mean you (even if you do ride a C kite!).
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue #38
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