WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO ? In 2002 kitesurfers had to focus on fine-tuning their kite handling skills to get the most out of their barely depowerable kites. Have modern kite designs made us lazy and less skilled? Shinny investigates
It's not easy writing this today. I have blisters on both hands, my feet are cut open, I'm sunburnt, tired and dehydrated, but have a smile stretching from one earlobe to the other. This particular set of afflictions can only mean one thing: winter is over and the spring winds have finally returned! I need to look at a diary to remember the last day I didn't get out on the water and my garden is full of boardshorts abandoned after a session. I'm not an expert on the weather or global warming, but I have to say that this season seems to have kickedoff with significantly more purpose than any of the last few. Apparently it's not just the Canary Islands that are feeling it either, the forums are coming alive with posts revealing that all over Europe, at least, riders are once again breaking out the neoprene and hitting the water. So this seems to be a reasonable moment to talk about something motivational or, failing that, at least useful. Having sat on the beach the other day and listened to a group of new arrivals discussing which size kite they were going to use, I think this may be as good a place as any to start.
There's no doubt that modern kites have a far greater usable wind-range than in the years gone by, but there seems to be a growing trend towards using the upper end of their range; something I don't think is wise or beneficial to your riding. There are very few kites that are slow to turn these days, and the most frequent complaint I hear is that after the majority of sessions on a lighter wind kite (a 12 metre, for instance) riders are scared of the speed of their smaller kites. I've heard the conversation and it goes something like, 'Nine or 12 metre? Oh, I'll be okay on the 12.'.
You might be asking yourself why all this matters? Of course the first and most significant answer regards safety. No kite depowers 100%. Some manufacturers may claim it, but it's simply not true. If you attached the chicken-loop to a power meter and sent the kite through the window fully depowered, you will still see a significant pull from the kite registering on the read out. The higher in the wind range you're using your kite, the higher that pull is going to be (obviously), added to which if you're already approaching the upper wind limit of your kite, then even a small percentage increase in wind strength can transform you from comfortably powered to out of control in a very short space of time.
But safety aside, there are some other significant reasons not to kite overpowered all the time. I have some homework for you; take a look on You Tube or Vimeo at some kiteboarding videos from 2002. You'll almost certainly find a lot of footage of huge jumps and board-offs. 2002 was way before the bow kite revolution and the C kites we were using only depowered by 15 or 20% at most. The range was so limited that most riders had seven or eight kites in their quiver to be sure to have the right size at any one time. The salient point here though is that the jumps you're going to see from this period are in most cases higher, longer and more technical than anything you will see on your local beach today. If we assume (and I think we can) that modern kites are better and have the potential to outperform anything that was on the market in 2002, you have to ask yourself why this might be? IMHO it comes down to the riders' technique. Not having the luxury of huge depower ranges, riders learnt to fly their kite to the limits of its potential to get huge air, and handling skills were discussed endlessly in the drive for higher performance.
Now, let's shift back to my original point about rigging big. Your fantastic 12 metre 'no name' kite may allow you to use 80% of its range in 25 knots, but frankly, you are only using about 20% of its potential (unless you are jumping about 30 foot high and generating hang-time of eight seconds or more, in which case you should a) stop reading this article and b) post the video online, because I want to see it!). Simply drifting the kite above your head and pulling down on the bar will give a nice steady pull up off the water and a pleasingly floaty jump that will warm the heart and stroke the ego, but in reality is unlikely to even generate comment from onlookers. Do the same thing with your 'almost unused' nine metre and you'll hardly break the fins out of the water. Those longed-for comments from onlookers will start, but hardly in the positive vein you desired.
Spend a little time learning how to handle the kite though; learn to appreciate the faster turning properties and increased forward flying speeds. Learn how to suck some of the real performance out of the kite that the designers agonised for years over and you'll develop the techniques needed to really fly it, and yourself.
Now, some of you might be sat there thinking rather smugly that, as wake-style is your goal and all this talk of kite handling is unnecessary, well, I'm afraid you'd be wrong. Messrs Hadlow, Yates and Langeree have some of the best kite handling skills in the sport. Wake-style allows almost no corrections of kite error during the move, so flying with precision both before and after the trick are of paramount importance. Added to which the nature of this style requires the use of a smaller kite than a freerider might use, increasing the need to learn how to handle yourself with less pull.
Okay, that's about it for now. Since I started writing this (a few days ago) the wind has dropped and it looks like time to break out the race board and see if I can add quivering thighs to my list of ailments!
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue #51
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