INTRO: Mark Shinn wonders how today's modern, efficient kites are now eroding a
couple's ability of sharing a quiver. Come back... this one's really quite interesting...
Every time I open my account on a reasonably famous social media site it asks me 'What’s on your mind right now?'. It’s an interesting question, because when I open Facebook there is usually absolutely nothing on my mind, hence the reason I logged-in in the first place. However, right now I do have something on my mind, and it’s about sharing. Kite sharing to be precise.
I recently took a trip with a friend; we took the van, surfboards, kite gear, bikes - all the toys and we were ready for anything. My companion doesn’t kite much and, as he’s about 20 kilos lighter than me, I suggested that we just took one set of kites, thinking we’d be fine unless he needed the biggest kite to get going or I needed the smallest.
First day of wind and what happens? Yep, we’re fighting over the seven metre and I end up going on the five. Surely there’s an anomaly there; heavier guy on smaller kite? But considering he was less experienced I caved in and let him have the seven. The session, however, was all-time for both of us and the reasons how it had been so good got me thinking.
We have a culture that places great importance on the size of the kit. Most riders arrive at the beach, look at the conditions and quickly decide 'Oh it’s nine metre weather', or 'It looks good for my 12'. But think about it for a second; in which other sports do you make such choices? I don't think it's very many. In fact, once I started thinking about it I started to wonder if kiteboarding was progressing once more and that there are changes taking place in our sport right under our noses, without anyone talking about it.
In hindsight I realised that I've recently been making my kite size choices based far less on the wind strength and my body weight, than on the sea conditions and what I want to do. Today's kites have a range so large that on any given day you could manage to ride two, or maybe even three kite sizes. For old school and jumping (oh hang on, after the King of the Air, maybe I should be calling it new school?) I might take a ten metre. Alternatively, if I want to ride strapless in the same conditions, I would take a seven or, more likely, a five metre.
Okay, it’s not all down to advances in kite design as, of course, there is an element of technique involved. Generating speed on a small kite in lighter winds is an art form that takes some time (and walking home) to perfect, but it’s one worth working on, especially if you have aspirations of riding more waves and, more specifically, riding better waves.
One of the sad facts of kitesurfing life is that the best waves usually have the worst winds; gusty and offshore or situated in spots where the wave is protected from the effects of the wind, making it super gusty and hard to ride. You could take a bigger kite and power through the gusts, but all that power would overly dictate the way you could ride the wave. Plus, bigger kites are always slower, restricting you further. I’m not about to write a technique article here; if you want some pointers then think about efficiency and speed. Radical changes in any respect will cause you to slow down; speed is your friend in light winds. More speed = more apparent wind = more power in the kite. Think gentle kite movements, try to 'massage' the board over the surface of the water and try to feather the bar; removing any sudden power up or depower moments that can break the air flow
over the kite's surface and choke your forward motion.
Holding down a bigger kite requires less finesse but no less amount of technique. Different technique perhaps, but skill nonetheless. Managing the power and getting the most from it puts the onus firmly on strength and control rather than efficiency and flow, but if you want to go big then it’s a technique you might have to learn.
Okay, reality check: not all riders have two boards and not all riders have the luxury of enough time on the water to be able to focus on multiple disciplines and still progress. However, can you remember rushing to the beach for that after-work session when the wind was dropping just as you arrived? Maybe if you polished your light wind skills you could have squeezed in 30 minutes after all?
Either way, there's no need to spend any extra money on gear; it's about learning to make the best of what you have and becoming a better rider because of it.
Once again I've lost my track in this column. I sat down to write about how I think the days of quiver sharing are now gone. How even though you and your partner might be very different weights, you can end up clashing on the kite sizes you want to use... unless you have a full set of every size! Having said that, in my opinion, for your own personal use, it’s now perfectly possible to have just a two kite quiver and miss only a very few days.
Next time you go to the beach have a think about what kite you 'might' be able to ride, rather than just looking at what kite everyone else is riding. It might open your eyes to new possibilities and there is surely no better way to motivate your kiteboarding enthusiasm than by learning new things. If you have kites that are getting on a bit you might also find you can replace your four kite quiver with two new sizes and enjoy all the same conditions.
Look at that: budget and technique tips in the same article! I’m pretty sure I deserve a pay rise!