WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO - What an end to 2009 we had! In his regular column, former world champion, Mark Shinn, makes sense of it all
It's been an amazing month for kiteboarders. I can't remember a period with so much activity on so many fronts! The PKRA crowned a new world champion for the first time in six years, Alex Caizergues broke his own speed record and kiteboarding hit the mainstream media via a combination of strong winds, a large man-made pier and two riders who couldn't resist temptation. If you add to this the widespread optimism surrounding the economy and the end of the crisis, one might be forgiven for a hint of a grin passing one's chops.
After five years of near-complete domination, Aaron Hadlow has been edged off his PKRA throne. In all truth, the results don't quite do justice to Kevin, as he's been the clear number two for the past few years and has threatened to win on several occasions. There have been some rumblings about cancelled events and scoring systems, but the result is final and we have a new world champion. The very nature of competition isn't fair; there are so many elements outside the rider's control, but anyone that turns up and enters a heat has to accept the constraints and make the best of it. There's undoubtedly an element of luck involved, but isn't it strange how the most talented riders seem to have the best fortune and always end up on top? The discussion about who's the best kiteboarder in the world has little to do with competitions. The tour crowns the rider that achieves the most points at the events staged on tour that year. Talent, style, luck, hair colour; none of these are relevant. If you want to judge for yourself using your own criteria, then fill in the Kiteworld readers' poll in a few months time. Kevin had the most points at the end of the 2009 PKRA season and I want to say congratulations to him. I don't think any other rider has worked harder to achieve what they wanted, making him a deserving winner and lining up 2010 to be an epic season. I'm sure Aaron and Youri Zoon are both going to come back all guns blazing and ready for revenge!
Speed is a curious thing. The sensation of speed is unique and not at all scientific. Ride through chop at 25 knots and you will swear you are about to break the world speed record, but, do the same on glassy flat water, and the sensation will be entirely underwhelming. One thing without doubt is that the numbers posted by the kiteboarding speed riders is insane. Unfortunately, Alex Caizergues' outright speed record has been taken from him, but I have full faith that he, or someone else, will take it back soon. At the recent event in Luderitz, Alex upped his game and set a new kiteboarding speed record of 50.98 knots (94.5 kph) but this was still a fraction short of the outright speed of the trimaran, L'hydroptere (which holds the current record at 51.36 knots). Let's put that in perspective: L'hydroptere is a multi-million euro project crewed by various numbers of people, depending on the wind conditions. Even the most optimistic sailor would have to describe it as a technological marvel. On the other hand we have Alex and co. riding kites you can buy in any kite store in the world and boards that are often handbuilt, with a total equipment budget somewhere in the realm of €2,000 to €3,000. The only connection between the board and kite is the rider themselves, making it a true athletic sport, not a pastime. The physical condition of the rider is just as likely to affect their overall speed as their equipment. L'hydroptere also holds the nautical mile speed record, at 50.17 knots; obviously it's a big physical challenge to sit on the side of a boat pulling a piece of string. Okay, I exaggerate. The achievements of the boat are incredible, but I don't consider the two sports to be comparable. One other thing: in Luderitz the guys were riding in a channel just three metres wide. At 50 knots (92.6 kph) you can cover three metres in exactly 1.167 seconds. So not only are they trained athletes, but they are also slightly crazy, which, by incredible coincidence, leads me onto my next topic.
On 16 November, Jake Scrace and Lewis Crathern put kiteboarding firmly in the UK (and international!) media spotlight, by jumping over Worthing pier. The jumps themselves are obviously huge and make the pier look small and quite easy to clear (which it's definitely not!). In fact, I'm sure it wasn't that easy at all and took a lot of skill and huge balls. Whilst opinion may be divided as to the wisdom of such a feat, as well as about the way it portrays the sport, you can't deny that this single event created more exposure for kiteboarding within the general public than anything else.
It's a sad state of affairs, as the UK is without doubt the most successful kiteboarding country in terms of world tour competition success, yet a single jump can make national headlines like nothing before. Personally, I think it's a good thing for the sport. Yes, safety is important, riders have to be responsible and not put others in danger and, no, you should not try this at home. But all these goals will be easy to achieve when there are more participants in the sport and, hence, more money. You can be sure that of the millions of people who've been exposed to kiteboarding through Jake and Lewis's stunt, some are going to take lessons next spring, and some of those are going to take up the sport. I'm not advocating that anyone else tries something like this; Lewis is one of the UK's most respected kiters, Jake is incredibly experienced and has a lot of skills, plus this jump was obviously carefully planned and thought out, but it did reinforce the fact that the cutting edge of kiteboarding skill is not what attracts people to the sport. Although most would agree that dramatics have no place in competition, there is a benefit to the sport in exposing its more visually impressive side to the general public.
Oh, and it makes for good YouTube videos, too!
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue #43
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