INTRO: Uh oh, Shinny's been on the beers again...
PHOTOS: Malwina Wrobel
I see from last issue that I now have competition in the column inches front here in KW! I guess I should welcome Aaron to the literary world, but I was secretly hoping his practices would be worse than mine (missing deadlines, bad grammar, inappropriate comments etc. etc) making me look better. Turns out that being five times World Champion isn't enough and Aaron submitted his scribbling legibly and, even worse, EARLY as editor Jim goaded me with emails saying simply, 'Aaron's sent his in already...'. Aaron, what are you doing? Bad precedence and all that? You made me look bad on the water, and now on the page too! Just joking. I enjoyed reading Aaron's words and will enjoy seeing him back on the water even more.
Okay, I suppose I should get down to it; knuckle down, focus and say something. Well, this week my thoughts have been focused mainly on waves and wave riding. (I say this week, but in truth they're more often focused on the subject than not!) Yes, freestyle kiteboarding continues to make amazing progress, yet wave riding with a kite has positively exploded in the last couple of years. I'm not sure if many of you saw it, but there was a pretty awesome video of Keahi de Aboitiz kiting in the Wadi wave pool (check out the video below) in UAE doing the rounds on the interweb. Okay, the action wasn't mind blowing, but let's think about the potential.
One of the most elusive qualities of our sport is the difficulty and comparative rareness of finding the perfect conditions. We need the right wind strength, from the right direction, with the right waves and the right tide state. Add to this (for most of us) the restrictions of work and families and what do you get? Well, I'd say the almost perfect recipe for not making a lot of progress in large amounts of time! If you could fix down the variables and practice a given trick over and over again, how much more progress would there be? Look at skateboarding in the vert ramp. The ramp doesn't change. Sure, if it's wet you can't skate, but you can go to the ramp everyday for a year, drop in on the same spot, hit the coping on the same spot, film yourself on every attempt and even the seriously un-talented amongst us are going to learn sooner or later and the talented are going to bend minds. One of the more impressive facets of kiteboarders (and windsurfers and surfers for that matter) in my eyes, in a sport of pretty much infinite variables, is that riders can learn tricks and even land them with consistency.
I read last year that it took years of time and millions of euros to make a robot that can catch a tennis ball. 'Justin' has an 80% success rate at catching the ball when indoors, and only with a tennis ball. This implies that the difficulties of trying to control all the factors involved in riding a wave are, put simply: tricky. What inspired me about Keahi's Wadi clip was the thought of being able to fix down some factors in the equation. The wind might be irregular but the wave is a picture of mechanical perfection and the sides of the pool don't move. If you have a trick in mind it could be possible to approach exactly the same point of the wave, which has exactly the same shape, over and over again, until the lessons are learned and the move, nailed. It might take away some of the mysticism and free spirit of the sport, but on the other hand I'm pretty sure if you give ten of the top riders a month of conditions in the pool, then the results would be staggering.
Ironically enough, if you watched Keahi's other clip from the last month, 'Hawaii Sessions' (check out the video below), you'll have seen him riding at one of the quieter Maui spots where the wind is more or less straight onshore. Onshore winds provide a slightly more consistent set of conditions than side or side-off (or maybe the conditions are simply more tolerant and easier to ride in?) Anyway, the moves being pulled impressed me so much that I pretty much decided to focus my efforts on wave riding and leave the strapless airs to the new kings of the sport.
As someone that develops equipment for a living, the even bigger lure of the pool for me is the possibility it would offer to test different equipment in a more stable environment; to try to put a number on all the facets of shape and construction that, till now, seem so elusive and personal. Testing equipment can be confusing, frustrating and depressing. Of course, on the flip-side it can be inspiring, fun and very rewarding, but with so many factors changing all the time, it's hard to pin any factor down with any degree of certainty and define the multi-dimensional puzzle that are surfboard shapes.
Keahi made me dream. Imagine a wave pool optimised for kiting with low side walls and kilometres of clean, open space all around to allow the consistent 25 knot trade winds to blow through un-impeded. On the shore would be the CNC and workshop set-up full of materials ready to tweak, hone and produce the next shape ready for testing in known conditions the following day. Of course, the spot would have accommodation for plenty of friends, white sand beaches, perfect temperatures and an airport nearby that had a constitutional ban on low cost airlines landing (we wouldn't want anyone's trip to be spoilt by the excess baggage drama of trying to go home!).
Of course, there would also be a beach-side bar serving just one brand of beer where I could watch the pros improve their skills day-in, day-out. One brand I hear you say? Of course one brand. One thing I've noticed in all my travels is that the best beer in every location is the locally brewed beer. It's almost like knowing the ingredients and weather conditions they have to work with has allowed brewers to make small adjustments and fine tune the process to make the finest beer possible (for that spot!).
Perfect boards, perfect waves and perfect beers. I must be dreaming. If anyone out there has a couple of million euros to spend, please drop me a line.
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com