WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO ? Two years down-the-line and two-time world champion, Mark Shinn, is still scribbling reflections on a life in kiteboarding for us. This issue, we realise that even hardened pros suffer through a lack of wind and he also explains what we've all been doing wrong with the depower strap
I left the UK for good 12 years ago, having lived there all my life. As a competitive windsurfer I rode some of the best spots the UK has to offer, however, after two winter seasons spent training in the sun in Tenerife I decided that I preferred to ride all year in good conditions and warm temperatures. Even if it meant the loss of a career and friends. I packed my toys into the van, took a ferry and relocated to the Canary Islands. Since then I started kiteboarding and have extended my travel log to include a significant selection of the world's best kiteboarding locations. I've taken short trips to cooler climates for snow-based holidays and made a few brief excursions into the chill, but other than that I've not spent a significant amount of time in a European winter for 14 years... until this last one!
The headquarters of Nobile Kiteboarding are in Poland and this winter I spent the majority of my time up there in the mountains. It's not something I ever thought I would do, but speaking from the other side (it's sunny and warm again now!) it's something I'm happy to have experienced. If you told me before that 'spring is a luxury of the flat lands' I would've laughed, but it's true.
During March there were metres upon metres of snow falling in the mountains where I stay. The locals are calling it the 'best winter in living memory for winter sports'. At the beginning of April I left for a five day test trip and on return the winter had vanished, the temperature was 20°C, the snow remained only in the ski resorts and all the trees and plants were in full bloom. Amazing to see in such a short time! You might wonder what this has to do with kiteboarding and, I would have to admit, not a great deal at this point. But there is a point to my ramblings.
Having been training for one competitive sport or another for most of my life I've often been served the mantra that 'a change is as good as a break'. I've always assumed that meant a day or two of rest, or, at a push, maybe even a week. I now realise the importance that good time out can have. Over the years I spent travelling I kiteboarded on average five or six times a week.
This last winter, my only sessions have been on test or promo trips and I now have a hunger to kite that I haven't had in years and I regularly contemplate driving two hours to a lake in the mountains on a sketchy forecast for what will be, at best, 45 minutes of extremely light wind action. My visits to Windguru have taken on a frequency not rivalled in years (not to mention the emotional turmoil if what I find there is not to my liking!). By the way, if I ever meet the owner of Windguru I will demand copious amounts of free beer for the days and days of my life he has wasted with erroneous forecasts! Next time you're cursing your parents for bringing you up in a northern climate, keep this in mind: If you'd been able to do the sport every day, you may well have lost all passion for it by now. Perhaps.
In the past, all of my trips to the water were viewed as trainings sessions to learn something new or improve on tricks I'd already nailed. In the last couple of years most of my water time has turned into equipment test sessions. Even if I'm not specifically testing something new, my mind constantly ponders what could be improved upon for either ease-of-use, performance or simply, 'pimpness'. The thing that has upset me the most recently is the depower strap.
For a start the name is all wrong. The strap is there as a trim aid. To even call it a depower strap is misleading. Your kite (any kite) delivers an amount of power that is pre-determined by the designer/design. Profile, aspect-ratio, plan form and bridling all make a difference to the power your kite delivers. A small piece of webbing or string placed in between the kite lines and your harness can't.
Before you start wondering if I have gone mad, consider it a little. The trim strap (as now I insist on calling it) can do only two things: get longer and get shorter. All it does is adjust the length of the front lines in proportion to the rear lines. You can effectively do what the trim strap does by shortening the rear pre lines on your bar, or simply selecting a different attachment knot on the kite when attaching the flying lines to the pig tails. On most modern kites the length of the depower line is more than enough to fully experience the full range of the kite, so what is the trim strap there for at all? It's quite simple and, is why it should be called a 'trim strap', not a 'depower strap'.
Everyone has their own comfortable distance for the bar to be away from the body when riding (normally this is going to be with your elbows just a little bent) and this is seldom, if ever, when the bar is pulled fully down against the chicken-loop. Riding without trimming the kite to this sweet spot is a major cause for complaints about excessive bar pressure, poor steering response, stalling and lack of low end. It's also a major reason why most people experience difficulties when unhooking for the first time as pulling the bar all the way down causes you to over-sheet the kite and, at best, it stalls and, at worst, it flies backwards out of the window and into the water. When the wind is light you're looking to have the kite develop maximum power at this sweet spot. When unhooking you want the sweet spot to be with the bar against the chicken-loop so that the kite is perfectly trimmed when unhooked. If you're riding along and the wind picks up, your natural reaction is to pull on the strap to make yourself more comfortable. In this case you haven't actually depowered the kite as such, but simply adjusted the power in the kite when holding the bar in the sweet spot.
Next time you go to the beach and the wind is just too low to ride, rig your kite and set up your lines carefully. Fully release the trim strap and adjust the line lengths until the kite feels good with the bar a comfortable distance from your body. If you harbour freestyle intentions think about using a larger chicken-loop so that the bar stays in this sweet spot when unhooked, saving you from having to pull the strap on every time you want to pull a move and letting it off again each time you hook back in. Riding with the strap on for every session is a sure sign of a poorly trimmed kite, so take some time to understand the principles involved and make the necessary adjustments. Your riding time will be all the better for it.
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue #39. Read this whole issue online for free, click here now
Mark My Words 17 - issue #39
Kitesurfing Test - Boards 2013
Nomad 136-Team series
Kitesurfing Test - Kites 2013
Airush Wave 9M
Kitesurfing travel directory