WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO - We're lucky to have a double World Championship columnist in Mark Shinn. He's been around the kiteboarding block a bit and looks back on elements of the great kiteboarding journey so far.
So, this is the 50th edition of Kiteworld Magazine. As I look at my title system at the top of my screen, I realise that I've now written 27 Mark My Words. At 1000 words on average per piece, that makes somewhere in the region of 27,000 words in total. Some books have fewer words than that, and the average University thesis is 9000 words (and students have up to three years to write that, so cut me some slack Jim!). I'm not sure you would get much of a degree if you submitted my humble scribblings, so let's move quickly on...
KW editor Jim mentioned that maybe I should take this opportunity to talk about the pivotal moments in my kiteboarding career? Why not? These points may seem irrelevant to many of you (and scarily, will be about a time before many of you started kiteboarding) but they all had a significant effect on me and my decisions. I list them here in chronological order, not in any order of significance.
In the spring of 1999 Franz Olry and Christopher Tasti came to Tenerife on a Wipika promotional tour. A distributor for the Canary Islands had just been appointed and the boys came to generate interest and encourage people to get involved. It worked. Jo (shaper of D'light boards) and myself were instantly hooked and ordered kites. The learning process involved a lot of lost skin and frustration and, in truth, it was only my determination to not let Jo learn to go upwind before me that kept me trying. I saw a picture of Franz from that trip recently and he was HIGH. I see few riders at that height, even today with modern equipment. Shows quite how talented a rider he is.
For my first 18 months I was riding a wakeboard with bindings. Jimmy Lewis was sending me boards from Maui and riding a two line kite unhooked was the only way to ride, as shown by Lou and Elliot in the first amazing video I saw called 'High', by Tronolone Productions. I met Don Montague (Naish kite designer at the time) and Adam Koch (Naish team rider at the time) during the first events of 2001, using boards that they called 'Mutants'. After talking with them (and subsequently stealing Don's) it became clear that this was the future. I immediately switched to a directional. At a time of four line C kites with limited depower and a competition style that was orientated around big air, this board really did allow me to develop my style, so much so that by 2002 I was winning nearly every pro competition that I entered.
Sadly for me (though clearly not for the sport) the Space Monkeys crew of Jaime Herraiz, Will James, Martin Vari and Jeff Tobias completely changed the face of competitive kiteboarding in the winter of 2002/2003 with the handlepass, and the Mutant died at pretty much the same moment the board-off did. In fact, though these four take the credit for changing the face of competition kiteboarding to modern freestyle, they certainly weren't the instigators of that style of riding. Lou Wainman takes that honour, with Bertrand Fleury and Andre Phillip being some of the earliest and most noticeable proponents of that technique.
I first saw Lou perform a slim-chance in competition in Holland in 2001. in 2002 Dre was making front-to-blinds. Martin was pulling flat 3s but what really changed for the masses was the advent of the handle-pass leash, meaning that you could practice tricks without losing your kite every five minutes when you missed your pass. Maybe the honours for introducing modern freestyle competition should go to the handle-pass leash, not to any single person?
In 2003 I saw the first twin-tips created in a modern snowboard factory. These were built in a co-operation between North Kiteboarding and the Nobile factory in Poland. The following year many other brands moved to this technology and the future of TT boards was set. The introduction of 15 years worth of snowboard technology and innovation took the TT from being inefficient and uncomfortable to dominant in nearly all conditions. Every kiteboard manufacturer has their own thoughts on flex, the use of it, the control of it and the benefits of it, but without doubt it brought some kind of standard to the industry. Before this, kiteboards ranged from 80 or 90cm long up to 170 or 180cm and widths varied from 30 to 41 or 42cm at the most extreme. The introduction of flex brought 95% of boards into a 120 to 140cm length range and added the benefits of more width without a significant loss of control. Wider boards meant better light wind performance, better upwind ability and better pop. In addition to these obvious benefits, snowboard technology removed kiteboards once and for all from under the windsurfing and surfing umbrella. Different factories, solutions and technologies meant a whole new breed of kiteboard designer emerged.
I first heard about the Cabrinha Crossbow in the autumn of 2005. As a company backed up by a great marketing machine, I was a little sceptical from the advertising I saw (let's face it, there have been more than a few 'revolutions' in kiteboarding that have turned out to be... not!). But when I tried the kite I was absolutely blown away; not because it was the perfect kite (in my opinion it was far from it), but it opened the door to the future. Until then we had been discussing the difference between depowering a kite 15% or 20%, no more. There are a few brands and designers that can probably (and legitimately) claim to have discovered this concept and technology before Cabrinha, but by bringing it to the market in such a way, Cabrinha ensured rapid acceptance to the concept that a kite should depower 90 to 100%. I think there are very few kites today that don't owe some aspects of their design to this breakthrough. Personally, it all came at a very good time; I'd stopped competing in freestyle and was focussing on waves and strapless riding. The difference it made was huge. I don't think I rode a C kite for several years after. More importantly, it played a huge part in the development of safe kiteboarding and thus introduced many participants that otherwise wouldn't have started on previous, generations of kites.
You know what? I'm going to stop now. I intended to write much more, and I may well in the future. I still have several more life changing developments on my list, but something has occurred to me. All the changes I've mentioned have been equipment driven. Bow kites, handlepass leashes, snowboard technology etc. etc. However, kiteboarding is now a mature sport. We have our own brands, our own athletes, our own organisations and we are no longer the smaller brother or illegitimate offspring of another sport. Kiteboarders are widely recognised by the general population.
Thinking back through the last few seasons we've entered a phase of refinement, not breakthrough; maybe it's a sign of the sport's maturity? I believe we're entering a time when the sport will be moulded by riders and style. If I write this same style of article in another 50 issues time (though I don't even want to think about what I might write about for another 50,000 words) I wonder if I'll be discussing the achievements of athletes and brands that helped move the sport further into wider recognition of the general public and to become something that's not merely spectacular, but legitimately individual.
T'would be a nice day when some one asks me what kiteboarding is and, instead of saying, 'It's like wakeboarding/windsurfing with a kite', I can answer, 'It's like nothing you have ever seen before.'.
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue #50
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