WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO - The kite beach is for kiting, not shoreline chit-chat. Mark Shinn lets off a little steam in his regular column
I'm horrified. Over the last month or two I've spent time on some crowded kitesurfing beaches; popular spots that get busy during the summer months, and what I've seen has shocked me. Modern kites are unquestionably much safer than older models - not just in depower and safety features, but also in stability and handling characteristics - but it's the practices of a large percentage of kiters that simply stupefies me and has led me to the inescapable conclusion that, although some may regard kiteboarding as dangerous, few can escape the fact that kiteboarders themselves are a lot MORE dangerous. I simply don't know where this has come from, perhaps it's a lack of appreciation of the risks, their instructors, a general sense of invincibility, or simply arrogance that is the cause, but common sense seems to be a thing of the past for so many.
If you're wondering to what I am referring to here are a few prime examples: Example One: Why would you launch your kite with your back to the water? If something goes wrong and you get dragged unexpectedly, which way do you think you'd travel? Correct: away from the water (which is soft) and towards something much harder and with vastly superior stopping powers.
Example Two: Why would you stand on the water's edge with your kite above your head talking to your friend? You know that you're preventing other riders entering and leaving the water, you know you're inviting someone to cross their lines with yours and you know your kite could luff, drop and catch the wind; launching you to God knows where at any moment.
Example Three: Why would you practice your latest move right next to the beach when the highly probable outcome of said move is you swimming and, equally likely, is the possibility of your kite hitting the ground and placing other beach users at considerable risk? Bearing in mind example two, where the shoreline resembles a real time chat room, your escape intact from such a scenario appears improbable enough that I defy you to even use the word 'accident', but I've seen it happen time-after-time on the same day with truly dazzling regularity.
I've recently been reading some articles written by the late Douglas Adams (author of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy which incidentally, is not his best work by far, in my humble opinion). In one such piece he notes that there's only one question that's deemed important enough to have an entire letter in the alphabet named after it. There is no 'how?', 'where?' or 'when?' in the alphabet, but there is a 'why?' He suggests that this might be the most troubling question of all for people. Mr. Adams goes on to speculate that there is probably only one generally acceptable answer to this question which is 'why not?', and maybe it should be given its own letter too (kind of like V, W, X, WHY? WHY NOT? Z). I'm going to have to disagree with him from a kiteboarding standpoint and say i YOU don't take basic precautions for your own safety then no amount of designer's brilliance is going to help you. Think about it next time you go out and do the right thing, for yourself, and all the other beach users. 'Why not?' is no answer after the accident has happened. Ten years ago kites had no safety features and riders were genuinely terrified of them; you launched your kite, went on the water and, when you were finished, put the thing back on the ground as fast as was humanly possible. There aren't many things in kiteboarding that I would like to return to, but this attitude is surely one that we could all benefit from.
In general, I'm not one to get on my soapbox and preach (though if you read the last 600 words you might disagree!), but I just read my emails and can't help another rant. If you are looking for a 'what a wonderful sport we have' column, then stop reading right now. What the hell is going on in the kiteboard competition world? Has everyone involved gone completely crazy? I'm not talking about the competitors (who judging by the level of difficulty and risk in their moves evidently are crazy!) but the organisers and organisations whose job it is to bring kiteboarding to a wider audience in the best light possible. This year has been such a disaster that you have to wonder what the hell they are playing at? For sure the worldwide economic crisis has hit sponsors hard, and I don't envy the task of anyone whose job it is to secure funding for recreational events. I think everyone can understand some events have been lost, even on short notice, due to the crisis. It happens. It's unfortunate, but kiteboarding can survive it, but what exactly is the point of the PKRA, KPWT and IKA fiasco? Here is a brief synopsis of the situation: Pre 2008, KPWT and PKRA tours both existed in more-or-less a happy equilibrium. The IKA shows up unannounced and pretty much uninvited.
KPWT says it will join the IKA.
PKRA says it will join the IKA.
PKRA says it will not join the IKA.
PKRA says it will join the ISA.
PKRA leaves the ISA and rejoins the IKA.
KPWT is thrown out of the IKA.
With time I could make a list of benefits that the PKRA and KPWT have appeared to have experienced since involvement with the IKA but, off hand, I can't think of a single one. After talking with regular kiters, no-one seems to have a clue what is going on, who, if any one, is competing and what they are competing for. It's a pretty sure sign of disarray when the addicts of the sport (who by definition are the most interested) are not being reached. At a time when it seems the sport would benefit from pulling together and finding a way to better times, it seems to be becoming more and more divided and less and less of a player in the international sponsoring stakes. The international kiteboarding associations appear to be content to squabble, declaring themselves 'sanctioned' or 'non-sanctioned' while I sit here wondering who really cares? It's easy to criticise from the outside and, as this is a one-sided discussion and the key parties in each organisation (Mauricio Toscano - PKRA, Frederic Gravoille - KPWT and Markus Schwendtner - IKA) don't have the opportunity to answer back. I would like to invite them to put forward their individual cases to try to justify the unfortunate situation we have that is the 2009 competitive calendar.
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue #42
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