Mark My Words

Mark Shinn Column

Mark Shinn’s 77th KW column

This feature first appeared in issue #100 in July 2019


For issue #100 Shinny restores our appreciation of generation 2002, the year he became the only rider to have ever won two freestyle World Championships in the same season.


Mark Shinn KOTA

King Of The Air winner 2002, Mark Shinn Photo: Red Bull


I’ve read that it’s a symptom of advancing age when time seems to pass faster. If that’s the case, my age must be advancing rapidly because 2002 (which by now you must have realised was the birth date of this fine publication) feels like yesterday.

With the benefit of hindsight it’s pretty clear that this year was the pinnacle of my competition kiteboarding career and I can remember the heats and events clearly. In fact it creates some kind of paradox in my head; memories seem fresh of a recent past and yet when I look at the images, the equipment seems to be from a long by-gone era! The face of kiteboarding has changed immeasurably and I find fewer and fewer riders who were active in that period still kiting today. Maybe it’s symptomatic and most of the pro kiters in 2002 were early adopters of the sport and have since early adopted another one?

There were however some very famous current stars who were already on the scene back in 2002. I first met Kevin Langeree (3 time KOTA winner and 2009 World Champion) and Ruben Lenten when they were young teenagers at an event in Belgium in 2001. On a day with zero wind the pair of them were on the beach flying a kite for hours on end. Aaron Hadlow was already a regular at international kiteboard competitions and being talked about as the ‘next best thing’, despite those of us winning at the time having only been in the scene for two years!


Mark Shinn Column

PKRA 2005: Kevin Langeree, Ruben Lenten and Aaron Hadlow! Photo: Christan Black


Marcus ‘Flash’ Austin was the first genuine ‘superstar’ of the sport. I guess by 2002 his domination of the sport was waning a little as the winning style of the time started to move in different directions. Not many people know this, but Flash was single-handedly responsible for one of the worst fashion incidents in kiteboarding – trousers over the wetsuit – AKA: kite pants! I heard all kinds of justification for this trend, but few people really know the truth in how it started. Flash signed a contract with a fashion company (US40) and didn’t have a contract with a wetsuit brand. When I asked him some years later about the trousers his answer was clear: “I don’t have a wetsuit sponsor, but I need a wetsuit. Why would I promote that company for free!”.


Mark Shinn Column

Flash Austin
Photo: F-X Abonnenc


Of all the riders competing at the time Martin Vari was the one I feared meeting the most. I have met many, many athletes in my time and Martin has to be one of the most naturally talented ever. Not just in kiteboarding, either. I am sure he would have been a star in any sport he chose. His ability to see something and do it instantly was only out-shone by his creativity. When the dangle-pass era came around (2003) Martin was already better at it than anyone else could hope to become in the next two years and, while the rest of us were desperately trying to catch up, he’d already passed onto short lines and un-hooked kiteloops. It’s a shame Ruben didn’t introduce us all to the mega loop a few years earlier as I’d have loved to see what Martin would have done with it. I remember well a best trick competition in Cabarete, DR in 2002. Martin did, what is to my knowledge, the first powered handle-pass trick seen in a world tour competition with a flat 3. I won that competition with some kind of a board-off, but looking back the decision was probably wrong. He had no leash, no bindings, no highly developed freestyle C kite… and we’d just been given a first class insight into the future of competition kiteboarding and not one of us there recognised the significance of it.

Competition back in 2002 was split into two world tours and Red Bull events. The KPWT was the first established tour and started in 2000, but as a commercial entity the tour made many decisions based on financial gain and the riders largely lost faith in it. After 2002 the tour declined in participation, with the American riders calling it the ‘European tour’ and most of the European riders calling it the ‘French tour’. The other tour, the PKRA, was founded by a committee of competition riders and was developed to try to put the interests of the competitors first. Even back in 2002 it was clear to see that the PKRA had the higher calibre of rider and, despite the fact that I won both tours that year (a feat that both sets of organisers were so unhappy about that they made it impossible to repeat in future years), I consider winning the PKRA tour to be a far larger accomplishment than winning the KPWT.

Ironically, I didn’t find out about winning the PKRA until one month after the final event. I was leading the rankings but it was close and we were informed that the last event had been cancelled. I was at the King of the Air event at the time and when someone told me I was PKRA World Champion it didn’t sink in at all. I guess having a final event and a prize giving gives you some form of closure. Anyway the next day I won the KOTA and the PKRA already seemed very far away.

Red Bull were involved with kiteboarding since the very beginning and as is their mantra, rather than sponsoring events, they instead directly created their own. The King of the Air started in Hawaii before I was aware of any other kiteboard competitions and, by 2002, there was a second event in Tarifa, Spain called the Red Bull Skyride. If you ask me what I consider to be my proudest competition moment in kiteboarding, it would be winning the KOTA in Ho’okipa, Maui in 2002.

As a windsurfer, Ho’okipa has a special importance to me and at the time kiting was not allowed there, so the KOTA was the only time we could go out on that hallowed turf. I competed in the final against Flash Austin and I think we may have started the judging debate that still runs in KOTA till this day. Should the points reward height and risk, or should you prioritise control and technical difficulty. I remember in the final Flash was going HUGE but even his biggest fan would struggle to call it controlled. I rode with my more accustomed technical style and the rest, as they say, is history.

I think 2002 was the beginning of the end for the directional Mutant style boards that I was riding exclusively. For the first couple of years of riding I was an absolute wakeboard and bindings fanatic, but in 2001 I realised that if I wanted to compete in a variety of conditions the wakeboard would have to go. I briefly considered riding a TT but found it too compromised and decided if I was going to leave my board of choice to achieve competition results, I may as well go for the board that delivered the best performance in competition conditions.


Mark Shinn Column

Mark and the mutants
Photo: Christian Black


At the time all competitions were focused on jumping and transitions and judging criteria was largely based on overall impression (rather than scoring individual tricks). This made height and number of jumps critical to winning a heat. The Mutant with its large fins on one end provided superior grip for boosting and an express train back upwind for the next move, so it just fitted the style of the day better. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the first real snowboard technology twin-tips (that are ridden by 99% of twin-tip riders today) which revolutionised kiteboarding for most riders, was not introduced until 2003. As the style of competition riding transformed into dangle-passes, kiteloops and eventually wakestyle, the mutant became a dinosaur of a past age and today the only places you can find them are stuffed in the back of someone’s garage gathering dust, or under the feet of a few die hard riders that stick to the riding styles of back in the day (yes I still have a collection and I keep promising myself that one day I will dust them off and take them out to play, but in reality I probably won’t).

Looking back now my heart was never much into the competition shift towards un-hooked riding and that probably explains why during the following years I experimented so much with surfboards, wakeskates, strapless riding, skimboards, and now of course hydrofoils. I made the changes to TT boards and I even trained enough to achieve a reasonable level once again in freestyle kiteboarding, but after 2003 it all seemed a little bit too much like work for me.


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