WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO ? Which riding camp are you in? Which would you like to be in? Whatcha gonna do about it? Mark Shinn submits column #31
August 15th and I'm sat in Newquay, Cornwall. I'm not sure what happened to summer as it most definitely isn't very summery here right now! I just arrived from my home in Tenerife where, earlier in the week, I'd watched some of the PKRA Masters competition. Though a PKRA sanctioned event, the results from that event don't count towards the title race (which incidentally Youri Zoon has pretty much wrapped up, having won five out of five events!). As such, the one-off rules forced the riders to combine their usual repertoire of tricks with a few big air 'old school' moves.
It was an interesting format and, as a crowd pleaser, certainly has potential. The Round Robin format, instead of the usual knock out, was also interesting. Each rider competed against every other rider, scoring two points for a win, one for a draw or zero for a loss. At the end of the round robin the highest scoring competitors went through to a semi final and final heat to determine the winner. Though not as clear to the spectators who was advancing through the competition, the format gave all competitors equal numbers of heats to ride and levelled the playing field in terms of nerves and equipment malfunctions. I think the overall format has great potential and the PKRA is doing a great job of looking at trying new systems to improve its current product. In these days of financial crisis and low spending, all sporting event organisers have to be realistic and consider that if they want sponsors to pay money for their product then they need to make sure they have a product worth investing in. The riders may have the best interests of the sport at heart, but the organisers and sponsors are engaged in business, pure and simple. The better the product, the more they can charge for it. I'm not sure how I got to this point because none of this was in my notes when sitting down to write this article, but anyhow...
In all honesty the 'big air' section of the competition was not... how shall I say this diplomatically... well, if you wound the clock back a few years, what I saw in Tenerife wouldn't described as progressive. While they are masters of the modern style of freestyle, most of the PKRA's current crop of talent skipped (or simply weren't around for) the big air phase of kiteboarding and ended up using their heats to actually practise. By the end of the week the moves had certainly started to take some shape and respectable height was being achieved. I wonder how it would look if they actually trained properly for it. I'm under no illusions that given a couple of months training and dedication they would all be pulling tricks we hadn't even considered back in 2004.
Watching 'the best kiteboarders in the world' publicly learning and developing new skills highlighted something I've thought for a while and has relevance to all levels of kiteboarding: you can classify most riders into one of two style camps.
Camp One: These are the 'style' riders, obsessed with making it look good. Once a trick is learnt they keep on hammering away at it, tweaking it, grabbing it, doing whatever they can to make that trick look as good and stylish as it can be.
Camp Two: These riders enjoy technical difficulty and are obsessed with learning new tricks. As soon as a new trick is learnt they move on to the next; the focus always being on going higher, harder and with more difficulty.
This trend covers the entire spectrum of kiters and, if you ask me, we can all learn a lot from thinking which camp we kite in. I completely agree that the style element is important. No-one wants to see riders flailing around without the slightest sense of control; it's not big, it's not clever and it certainly ain't nice to look at. On the other hand, no matter how stylish a trick is performed there has to be an element of technical difficulty in a trick to make it valid and nice to watch. Seeing the same trick over and over isn't very interesting and some might even say shows a LACK of style.
My point is that once you've identified your type why not make an effort to add something? If you're camp one, why not make yourself a list of tricks you think are within your grasp and set out to learn them? Add some variety to your repertoire. If you think you're more the Camp 2 style, take a step back, look at the tricks you know you can do 95% of the time and set about sprucing them up. Add a grab, a tweak or simply try to do them smoother. I once heard it said that the definition of old age is the point at which you stop to learn. For me, most of the joy of kiteboarding is in trying new things or simply finding new ways of doing old things. The sessions where I go out and simply bang out all my old stuff are usually my shortest sessions.
Of course, I forgot to talk about the third camp. After watching Youri Zoon ride in Tenerife, he is firmly in Camp Three; a camp Aaron has had his foot in for many years. Camp Three riders can do tricks that us mere mortals find impossible to even comprehend, yet they do them with a style that most can't even apply to the simplest trick in the book. Amazing to watch, Youri's certainly not a 'here today, gone tomorrow' rider. His will be a well deserved title, especially when you consider he has come back from not one but two potentially career ending knee injuries. If I was 20 years younger I would aspire to ride like this. .
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue #53
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