INTRO: Mark Shinn comes across some outrageous behaviour online and hopes he hasn't seen the last of it
I’m horrified, shocked and truly offended. A few days ago I sat down with my laptop and prepared to browse the various kiteboarding related sites that I follow. Mainly news, some interesting stuff and nothing particularly staggering until I hit the clip 'King of the Air 2013'. OMG, how could they put that out there? Don’t they know that someone in it jumped? I mean really jumped; like, pulled the kite backwards through the window and really sent it...
Once I'd recovered from my shock I watched the whole clip and the situation was far worse than I thought; it wasn’t just one guy jumping, but all of them! Were these riders without shame? I've been led to believe that jumping is the ugly boil on the nose of kiteboarding that we’d hidden away and covered up hopefully to go die quietly in the corner. What’s worse is that many of the riders doing it were regular faces and well-known names in the 'new school' movement: Sam Light, Youri Zoon, Lewis Crathern, Kevin Langeree etc. etc. Shocking.
I used to jump but then it was pointed out to me that I was making the sport look bad, that it wasn’t cool and that as a pro rider I should be making sure the sport is heading in the right direction. To quote a famous piece of Christian literature: 'When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away those childish things and limited my kiteboarding activities to within six inches of the water'
(Okay, I admit this quote may not be 100% true to the source). Of course it can’t be cool to jump because at least 95% of kiters in the world like to jump. To have cool you have to have not cool (or should that be 'un-cool'? I’m not sure). So, let me get this straight: the masses are shunned by the few who, incidentally, are mostly sponsored by kiteboarding companies who make their money from selling material to the masses. Got it? Now everything is clear. You pay for someone’s existence only for them to turn round and brand you as uncool and a bad spokesperson for the sport, because you’re clearly leading it in the wrong direction. Hmm.
Next we have Red Bull, who probably spend more money on sports sponsorship than any other brand in the world. Red Bull, who for several years ran The King of the Air - the biggest event in kiteboarding - but stepped back from it in 2005 and limited their activities in kiteboarding to sponsoring a few very high profile athletes, but no events.
Isn't that curious? You’ll have a hard time convincing me that they couldn’t afford it, so I’m going to postulate that they stopped because the style of riding was not causing the 'wow' factor that they look for and so they no longer considered kiteboarding events to be good value for money. I don't think a brand like Red Bull sponsors kiteboarders to sell more Red Bull to kiteboarders, but instead are using our sport as a vehicle to reach a wider audience, which they must have felt they were no longer achieving.
Okay, let’s skip back up to date. The King of the Air event is reinstated in a location famous for high winds and comes back with the riding style that we as kiters have supposedly left behind. This is the exact judging criteria copied from the rules:
70% Height and Extremity (Risk - Speed - Angle of the kite - Tricks - Loops)
20% Style and Execution (Rotations - Grabs - Board-off - Onefooters - Combinations - No Dangles - Landing)
10 % Variety (Different tricks - Both ways).
If you ask me (which clearly you wouldn’t because I’m one of the uncool ones that used to jump), this was an event designed to appeal to the non-kiters as much as the kiter; to result in a YouTube clip that goes viral. Of course that's not cool. How can millions of people watching it online be cool? And those thousands of spectators on the beach must have been wondering how a sport can look sooo bad. It’s shocking that those 24 riders would sell themselves out for money. I mean, they should be in it for the love of it, right? They don’t have to worry about a place to live or feeding themselves.
The footage and images from the event have been everywhere online and I’m curious to see how far it spreads through the paper press now. All sarcasm aside (yes, for those of you in doubt, almost all of the above was written with tongue firmly in cheek), it was nice to see the buzz around the event. It was spectacular, it was entertaining and it was motivating; even the most cynical amongst us could stop for a moment and enjoy what’s enjoyable. I was particularly pleased to see Mr Robby Naish there in an active role. Robby was a hero of mine from my pre-kiteboard days and was an inspiration to me the years I was privileged enough to ride on his team. In recent years I’ve had no contact with him but had the impression he’d drifted away from kiteboarding and back into windsurfing and SUP. You can never underestimate the benefit to a sport or event of a superstar like Sir Naish turning up. It doesn’t matter if you like his riding style or not, he is a bonafide sports celebrity now known for his feats outside the sport even more than for those inside. Having a personality like this involved does more for our sport than all the legit, cool, rad kids combined. In 2002 I won the King of the Air on Maui and to this day I consider it the biggest single achievement of my kiteboarding career. I sincerely hope Jesse Richman can look back in a few years time and say the same thing.
I have no idea if this event will change anything in kiteboarding at all, but I hope so. Every golf player hits drives, every fisherman tries to catch fish. Why can’t every kiter jump (if they want to)?
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
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