Mark My Words
WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO - Mark Shinn discovers why fins are so important, but not in the way you might think
I’m not sure if it’s official or not, but let’s face it: kiteboarding isn’t a new sport any more. I think 90% of the population of the northern hemisphere have been exposed to it, one way or another - either in real life, on television or now, even through a beer brand in North America (Slim Chance, anyone?). In a young sport there is a veritable plethora of ideas and breakthroughs. The merits of all types of technology are explored, new materials and radical concepts experimented with and, as the sport comes more of age, all the more avenues will have already been explored alongside the ever-increasing volume of brands and designers, meaning each new positive step forward becomes harder and harder to achieve.
Kiteboards are in this zone, however, it would be both naïve and arrogant to assume there was nothing new coming to the world of kiteboards. I’m reasonably confident in saying that if there’s another revolution in the pipeline, it won’t be coming just yet. In the long-term cycle of product development we seem to be in a period of refinement rather than revolution, and that’s not good news for product managers, ie. me! Refining a product requires a complete re-evaluation of your current equipment to identify the areas for improvement. This spring I’ve been paying particular attention to the case for twin-tip fins. For several years now I’ve been faithfully reciting the mantra that specifying fin sizes for twin-tips is an impossible job because everyone has a different opinion on what they need and what works and, thus won’t entertain any discussion on the matter, other than to complain that their new board came with the wrong size fins! This year I decided to prove my point once and for all with a set of tests designed to prove my theory was correct. Interestingly enough, I did just that, but unfortunately disproved my own points at the same time.
Firstly, let me make the point that this is ONLY in reference to twin-tip fins, NOT fins for course racing, wave riding or mutant directional boards!
To make a fair test I took three identical twin-tips and three very different riders. Importantly, the riders were not aware that the boards were all the same. One board was fitted with six centimetre fins, one with three and the final one with no fins at all. The three riders went out together and, rather than race each other, simply sailed close enough together to be able to gauge each others' speed and upwind pointing angle. After a few minutes the riders swapped boards, repeated the test and then swapped once again so that every rider had ridden each board. The results were interesting to say the least: Without fail the fastest rider upwind was the fastest rider upwind on any of the three boards, irrespective of the fin set up. The riders all expressed radical views about the
handling of the boards and their respective ease-of-use, however, the in-escapable conclusion was that fins made no difference at all to the upwind performance.
In terms of sensation, all the riders felt the finless board was the fastest, that the board with six centimetre fins had the most edge grip, but felt slow, yet in reality the speed through the water (like the upwind ability) didn’t change at all when changing boards. The fastest rider remained the fastest rider on all the boards.
Trying to make some sense of it has lead me to the conclusion that the rocker and outline of your TT are far more important elements in the board's performance than the fins. The fins do make a huge difference in the sensation you have when riding the board and its ease-of-use, however... and there it is again; if any phrase has cropped up over and over in the last few years of testing (in my experience), it’s that you can never underestimate the benefits and value of ease-of-use. Feeling comfortable and secure on the board allows you to concentrate on your riding and not on your gear. Your riding will improve faster than buying the latest, greatest highperformance machine.
I’ve been on two kiteboarding trips in the last month; once to Tarifa, Spain and more recently, to Eilat, Israel. I caught up with names from the past and had a chance to ride with them on both trips. Jaime Herraiz and I competed together on the formative years of the PKRA and haven’t ridden together in years. Both Jaime and I have been kiteboarding since the sport's first few years and have seen every style come and go and, attempted to follow most of them, each time discussing at length (and possibly over several beers) whether this latest style really is right for the sport. I think our riding that day provided most of the onlookers with plenty of laughs in our attempts to brush up on our wake-style skills and we only maintained our dignity with a short strapless session at the end of the day. In Israel I rode with Eli Zarka; little more than a kid when I finished competing, but now a regular on the tour and a leading team rider for F-One.
Watching Eli was really a pleasure as he’s developed into, dare I say it, the 'modern' kiteboarder and one of the few riders to develop a true kiteboard style. He combines powered handle-passes with impressive kite loops, not only in a fluid way, but also in a way that makes it look fun. That mix of highly-technical wake-style tricks and crowd pleasing, high-risk moves is exciting to watch and, for most people, easy to understand. I hope that the future of freestyle goes in this direction.
In the earlier days of the sport I was the first to claim that technical difficulty was the only goal of competition riding, but I think the time has come where the sport is sufficiently mature that style and creating a show should be a part of the aim. The whole world is cash-strapped right now and it’s getting harder and harder to persuade anyone to part with their hard earned notes. Riders performing like Eli are what this sport needs to make it stand out from the other professional sports competing for the media attention and sponsors and, more importantly, create a clearly identifiable image.
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue #40