WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO? Even pros get 'office hands' every now and again, but not for long. In Mark Shinn's latest column, he hits the liquid gym
If I make a few spelling mistakes today I apologise in advance (what does he think we do here all day? Copy, paste and knock-off early? - Ed) I went over to the dark side this last weekend and spent two heavy days windsurfing and my hands are now quite literally torn to shreds. Why? I hear you cry (I'm referring windsurfing, not the lamentable condition of the palms of my hands).
Over the last couple of weeks I've had a good friend staying out here in Tenerife with me and I kited more than usual - on race boards, twin-tips, surfboards strapped and un-strapped; on everything we could think of. Kiting with someone you've shared a lot of history with always enhances the pleasure as old jokes return and phases of kiteboarding are re-discovered. We discussed every aspect of the sport, including riders, equipment, the past and, inevitably, the future. Kiteboarding is somewhat at odds with many sports in this respect. If you look at most sports, their fans seem to be obsessed with the past: How many cups the team won? How many matches without defeat? Etc. etc. Kiteboarding is obsessed with the future: Who will be the next best thing? What will be the next revolution in material? But I digress.
The upshot of this intense re-immersion into kiteboarding was the need for a break and a chance to refresh and recharge. It's no great secret that I originally moved to the Canary Islands to windsurf; it's a sport I still love and very much enjoy. I don't feel the need to go every day, but once every couple of weeks is good. Whenever I do go I'm always amazed that two sports that have been lumped into the same sentence so often are so different. Windsurfing is hard. Sailing in chop is bumpy, jarring and harsh, every jump lands with a jolt and the tolls on the body are high. Kiteboarding is, in general, much more smooth, jumps can be landed with ease, chop can be ridden through without such slapping and your body feels more at one with the material. In windsurfing, it often feels like you're fighting the gear. In contrast though, the worst case scenarios in kiteboarding are much worse. The crashes are much more violent and thus the concentration needed when riding is much higher and the mental toll more exhausting. For me, windsurfing is more like going to the gym; it's fun, it's exercise and it doesn't take a great deal of thought or concentration. Kiteboarding is more like, well, it's like going kiteboarding and, after a couple of days of doing something else, I'm usually hungry to get out again.
I know I've said it before, but the huge variety on offer in our sport is off-the-hook and it continues to surprise me again and again, which is a constant source of pleasure. I recently tested a race kite: super high-aspect ratio, limited depower range and slow turning. As soon as I put it in the air it reminded me of the old school jumping kites and on the water I wasn't disappointed. A fast turning high depower kite might have taken me higher but the hang-time on this particular kite was immense. The control offered by a slower turning kite meant I was able to dust-off a variety of tricks that have been left on the shelf for a while now. I never tired of the big air style, but at the same time I always found modern kites to be better suited to simple big air tricks rather than the more technical variety. Slower turning kites mean the tendency to over-steer is reduced and the kite ends up in an acceptable position in the sky for large, controlled boosts most of the time. Limited depower ensures that letting the bar out won't leave you dropping from the sky at a rate even Icarus would have been surprised by and, let's face it, 'limited' is a pretty subjective term. Any of you that were lucky enough to fly the Naish X4 back in the day would certainly not term any modern kite as having 'limited' de-power! I don't think for one minute that I'm going to go and ride every session from now on with board-offs in mind, but I'm happy to have found a taste for that experience again. I won't leave it so long before the next fix.
Not sure how we got onto that whole topic, but let's take a quick step back to the condition of my hands. Some years back I would have laughed endlessly had someone else had this misfortune. Claims of 'tourist hands' and 'weekend warrior' would have been ringing out and admitting to blisters would have led to nights of shame and having to listen to endless condescending old wives' tales about how such disasters can be avoided. They say with age comes perspective, though now I consider it to be more proof of how I've developed and opened my mind. I don't let one thing dominate my life anymore, but rather enjoy the benefits of several and choose my pleasures depending on the conditions and the mood. I don't think it's cheating anyone or being disloyal to indulge in other past times and, if it focuses your mind for the next session, then how can it be anything other than a good thing? I will continue to windsurf and bike and surf and swim and, when the time is right, I will go kitesurf.
Fortunately, it's blowing 20 knots and there are head high waves today, so I'm not going to have to wait long for my fix. Blisters or not, it's time to get wet. There will be no jumps, there will be LOADS of depower and a kite that turns so quick I have to tape my eye brows down. Happy days.
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue #55