WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO - In his regular column, Mark Shinn wonders whether it's time to open up to the truth
I may be wrong (I have been before) but I can't help thinking that no matter how many incredibly talented riders I see pictured hacking at lips there's always something that's not quite right. The quest to legitimise wave kiting has been a short one, but fervently led by many a fantastic surfer. Tube riding with a kite was declared impossible until it was emphatically proved to be not only possible, but within the reach of everyday mortals. Big wavekiting arrived over night and riders were instantly dropping into stupidly big waves (remember the shots of Martin Vari at Shipsterns? I still have nightmares over that one!). Strapped, unstrapped, hooked or unhooked, few people can argue that wave kiting has arrived and justified its existence and place in the line-up.
|So what's my problem with pictures of kiting in the waves? Well, to be honest I couldn't have put a finger on it a couple weeks ago, before a vacation snowboarding in the French Alps. I'm strictly an enthusiastic amateur on a snowboard but I love the sensation of carving and still enjoy riding a slalom board and hard boots when the piste is flat and hard. I might not be good but I'm keen to improve, and after my more advanced riding companions telling me 100 times what I was doing wrong, it began to sink in; it's all about the shoulders. If you want to initiate a turn it all starts in the shoulders, both frontside and backside. Look at a classic photo of Kelly Slater and you can see that his shoulders are at 90 degrees to the board, mid-turn, his body is completely open to the direction of the turn and the board is following along nicely. Now look at the most recent shot you can find of Mick Fanning and nothing's changed. Don't get me wrong; there are many other finer points of technique involved in making the perfect turn, but this position is startlingly obvious when you start to look for it and it carries through all of the core board riding sports of surfing, snowboarding and skating.
|So how does this relate back to kiteboarding? Well, take a look at all those fantastic shots of kite riders hacking off-the-lips and you'll notice that they all have their shoulders perpendicular to the line of the board and, in fact, closed to the direction of the turn. The need to steer the kite forwards during the turn means everyone is riding with their front hand on the bar and in this position it's impossible to open your body up. I'm not suggesting that anyone is making a grave technique error here (before you start shooting me down in flames), we're all guilty and I'm simply making an observation. Ironically enough, this problem isn't as obvious if you ride backside as you need to steer the kite before you turn the board and most people then let go of the bar with their front hand allowing them to twist their shoulders into the move. I say ironic because there's a large fraternity of hardcore wave riders that shun backside riding in its entirety, but I think it may be technically much closer to surfing techniques than frontside riding. It seems to me that the only way to achieve a position during frontside off-the-lips that closely resembles a surfer would be to hold the kite in the rear hand only (possibly crossing your rear hand over to the other side of the bar to allow you to steer it forwards). On the other hand though, there is really nothing wrong with the moves we're seeing on a daily basis now. Maybe kitesurfing doesn't have to exactly resemble surfing after all? I wonder at what point the sport is truly legitimised and can move onwards into its own realms, without being constantly compared to something else?
I spent the first two weeks of the New Year in Barbados. To say kiting has taken over would almost be an understatement; there are still windsurfers there (the sport that made the spot famous), but they're now out numbered five to one by kiters. What impressed me most though was the sheer number of people riding surfboards. Silver Sands isn't a super-flat water freestyle paradise, but it was pretty cool to see so many surfboards out in the waves. It made me chuckle as eight years ago I was reliably informed that the only kind of kiteboards with a future were twin-tips and that directionals were the throwback of a dying generation. But there I was watching 75% of riderson the water on full directionals. If you're lookingfor a winter spot then I can't recommend it highly enough; fantastic atmosphere, great riding, arelatively inexpensive and easy non-stop flight from London and perfect winter sun. It had been six years since my last trip to Barbados. I won't be leaving it that long again. But I could be wrong (I have been before).
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue #44