WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO - It's a tough world out there kids. In his column this issue, Shinny explains the importance of being dynamic
I recently had a discussion with a long-standing friend who I've been out of touch with for the last couple of years. One of the first questions he asked me was, 'Are you still a pro kiteboarder?' First I said 'Yes', then 'No, and then, 'Well actually, I'm not really sure!' There's no more used term in kiteboarding than 'pro'. I made a search on a kite forum and came up with 13,369 hits and, if you study a small selection of them, you can see that the term's widely used in reference to riders, equipment, performance of a brand, wipe-outs and much, much more. I turned to the dictionary for some help on the matter but the result was not a great deal more enlightening. Apparently, when used as an adjective, one use of the word is 'engaged in an occupation as a paid job rather than as a hobby', but when used as a noun it can mean 'somebody with a high degree of skill or competence'. In this respect it's hard to see how it can be relevant to a kite bar or a foot strap but, as I'm as guilty as the rest in tagging equipment as 'pro', I will gloss over that small detail!
It's interesting to look at what it means in terms of a rider though. So many times you hear regional riders referred to as the local pro and, I guess in one context, it's correct. There are an incredible number of local riders that ride amazingly well and describing them as 'very competent' is almost an insult to their levels of commitment and ability. On the other hand, having been a pro of the other variety for many years, I understand that it's not the same thing. A sport is often described as having matured once there are athletes involved that can make it a full time profession and make enough money from it to not just survive, but also call it a career. Kiteboarding surpasses these criteria easily as we have a sport that can support a number of riders that are full time competition professionals as well as a group of full time lifestyle/image riders.
Whilst it may seem like the dream job for most people, being a paid rider is just not that simple. Whilst there is money to pay the rider, there's no budget for press agents, secretaries, trainers, mechanics etc. etc. The modern pro rider has to manage his finances, plan and prepare travel schedules, develop and implement a training schedule, deal with equipment maintenance and future needs, communicate with the press in all its forms and negotiate with sponsors for funding and much more besides. It's a huge job for anyone and, in many, many cases a talented rider will drop off the scene simply because they can't manage all the aspects involved that are NOT kiteboarding. It's a strange situation where someone that displays a talent for riding (which is a physical activity) immediately has to deal with so many other factors with no instruction or 'how to' manual to fall back on. In the ideal world every brand would have a team manager and every professional a personal manager that could take care of these things, but, once again, there's simply not enough money in the sport for most to be able to afford such things. Some of the riders are fortunate and have parents or partners that step up to the plate and arrange these things for them and, very often, these are the ones that flourish. When I was competing full time it was my goal to be able to concentrate 100% on my equipment and riding and not become distracted by the paper work and, when I could do so, there was a clear and positive improvement in my results and progression. Unfortunately there was also a clear decrease in my press coverage and travel preparations!
I think the area that's changed most since my departure from the competition world is in the level of training needed for modern competition riding. In 2002 I was double world champion and to be honest, the only training I ever really did was kiteboarding. On some windless days I would go mountain bike a little, or even go to the gym for an hour, but to call it training would be a gross exaggeration. In 2009 I honestly don't think it's possible to be competitive like that and, even if you are competitive, I don't think you can avoid injuries without proper preparations. Wakestyle riding is extremely demanding on the body and you can see the multitude of injuries the modern competition pros are suffering from the increasing amount of braces and strappings that appear in event photos.
Fortunately, in this respect, there is a mountain of information available on the net and any rider that has the inclination can discover exercises and schedules that will improve their fitness levels and help in the prevention of injuries. I hope more riders start to pay attention to this because there is nothing worse than seeing great talent being lost through injury (apart from seeing great talent getting lost through bad management of course!).
I guess I have to say something else this month about change. There's a rumour going around that I've left Nobile Kiteboarding. In fact, it's not a rumour, it's true. After five great years I decided it was time for my life to go a different way and I've moved on. I'm sure Nobile will continue to go from strength-to-strength as it's a brand that is dedicated to making kiteboarding equipment that's fun for everyone. The Shinn brand of boards that has always been a part of Nobile (like a brand within a brand) will move with me and I should have some more news for you by the time I sit down to ramble on again in a months time.
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue #41
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