WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO -Mark Shinn is back with his regular column, eventually getting around to giving you some vital light wind riding technique tips
'Crisis' a much-used word these days. According to the Oxford English Dictionary it means a dangerous or worrying time or a critical moment, suggesting that a crisis is something that has a somewhat limited time duration. However, as I've heard this word used incessantly over the last four years, and I suspect that the world-wide economic uncertainty is not going to resolve itself in the next three months, it brings us neatly into the European spring (and if you thought it was easy to connect the economic crisis to next spring then think again!). For most, tightening the metaphorical belt will mean a reduction in non-essential spending and a maximisation of the benefits of the spending you do make. In kiteboarding terms that surely means extending the amount of time on the water with the gear you already have, or with the minimum amount of purchases for the coming season.
The logical place to look to extend your time on the water is the light wind area. Statistically you're far more likely to live in an area of predominantly light winds than strong winds. In addition, the ability to 'hold on' to your gear in heavy winds is considerably easier to achieve than maximising the efficiency of your performance in lighter conditions. Brute force and ignorance most often win out over technique and skills and, for some reason, human nature seems to value feats of strength and agility over victories in efficiency and technique. People are far more likely to boast about their ability to hold down a seven metre in 40 knots of wind than their ability to ride a twelve in eight knots (which in my opinion is far more of an achievement, unless you happen to be particularly light or have a helium inflated skeletal structure).
One of the problems with sports like kiteboarding is that there's no real infrastructure behind the sport. If you have a problem with your golf swing you can easily book a round with the local club pro and get it sorted. Like-wise with tennis, football or squash etc. These sports don't guard the dark, mystic secrets of technique, but rather impart them to all who have the time and desire (not to mention the money) to learn them. The local club pro is safe in the knowledge that helping you down the route to a consistent, reliable swing today won't mean you're chasing his job tomorrow.
Kiteboarding seems to have a little of the opposite mentality, in many cases the local 'pro' has become rather unapproachable and arrogant, guarding his little nest of tricks like a mother hen with her eggs. I suspect it's the age of the sport; in the early years of a sport's development there are fewer practitioners and the level needed to rise to the top is lower. However, with a bigger base of 'not bad' riders the leading lights will always be looking behind them, scared of losing their place in the industry pecking order as 'the next hot shot' is already knocking at the door. In some cases it might be a justified paranoia but, honestly, if a trick took you ten attempts to nail it then it's probably not that hard. Once again, statistically speaking, there will be someone more talented than you out there that can nail it in five goes. They might also have the luxury of living in one of the few cosseted windy spots and thus have the opportunity to make those five attempts in a much shorter time. Their progress might be faster (or heaven forbid, they might not have a job/family/dog/girlfriend and simply be able to get out on the water more).
I seem to have wandered off track here. I was planning to impart a few words of light wind wisdom, not rant about others for not imparting their tips. I think I might drag this subject out into two issues; setting out my ideas here and going into more depth next time.
So, here is my short guide to beating the crisis and getting out in lighter winds without spending a lot of money:
Line extensions. Back in the early days all kites came with 30 metre line sets. Looking around today the average is between 20 and 24 metres. 'Why?' you may ask yourself. It's down to a mixture of budget and performance. The lines are one of the most expensive parts of the kite set-up, believe it or not, and if the manufacturer can cut out eight metres of line (two metres off each line) it represents a significant saving without the consumer noticing any direct loss. Cynicism aside, short lines do make the kite appear to turn faster while longer ones certainly add low end grunt. Want to know why? Watch this space!
Upper body stance. It might feel efficient to take your front hand off the bar and twist your upper body forwards in light winds, but it isn't. The best stance for light wind, upwind charging is to have your weight evenly distributed between the feet, both hands on the bar and looking forwards.
Trim adjustment. I mentioned some issues ago the difference between depower and a trim strap, well, now's the best time to use that trim strap. Try to set the strap so that you can ride with your arms slightly bent with the kite at full power and try not to sheet out. Yes, I know the natural reaction to a gust is to stick your ass out and let the bar out, but try not to, it will only slow you down. Edge harder and increase your board speed. Gusts are the perfect moment to gain ground upwind, not to lose it.
Kite angle and movement. Sweeping the kite through the sky is great for getting going but it's absolutely not ideal for making ground upwind. As soon as you are planing try to keep the kite movements as subtle as possible. Let the air flow over the kite as every turn disrupts the pattern and loses power. Try to fly the kite at around 45 degrees. Too high and the kite is out the power window and you will stop; too low and you will feel a lot of power, but it's only power that's taking you downwind and of no real use.
Board choice. A board is normally a smaller investment than a kite and might give you much more time on the water for your money than any other investment. Modern free race boards perform fantastically well in light winds and are a lot of fun to ride. Adding a board to your quiver might lower the limit of the amount of wind you need to ride by five knots or more, which could make all the difference.
Next month I'm going to go into all these area's deeper and with better explanations. I bet the suspense is killing you!
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue #56
Mark My Words - issue #56
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Kitesurfing Test - Kites 2013
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