Mark My Words
WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO – In his latest column, two-time world champion, Mark Shinn asks, “What's with all the player haters?”
It’s nothing short of amazing how much kiteboarding has developed over the past eight years. I don’t think anyone who was involved in the sport in the late '90s would ever have anticipated we would come this far this fast. I didn’t see it coming, for sure. What amazes me even more is the appetite of kiteboarders for change. Maybe it’s the reason why many of us took up the sport in the first place, but is there any other sport in the world that can change like ours?
Let's take a look at surfing: for the past 15 years the three-fin thruster has been the only board of choice for any serious surfer. Then a few years ago a select few began experimenting with quad (4) fin boards and slowly but surely the word is getting out. Magazines are writing tests about them, shapers are explaining why they work better, riders are proclaiming their benefits. Now go to your local surf shop and try to find a quad fin board or a set of quad fins to buy and, unless you happen to have visited one of the biggest shops in the world, you’ll be lucky to find anything 'off-the-shelf'.
Two years ago a new style of kite entered the market that was radically different (the bow of course) and most shops already have shelves full of them. As a result, it would be almost impossible to find a rider that has never tried one. On the board front we’ve gone through, one, two, three, four, five, six and eight fin set-ups, probably more...that’s almost one fin set-up per year - and still there are more appearing all the time.
I was riding in Tenerife with Ruben and Aaron recently for a project we're doing with Kiteworld and they showed me a kiteboarding forum that I’d never seen before. Frankly, I was shocked by the aggression and “hating” from some of the contributors; their readiness to attack other riders' styles and equipment choices is astonishing. I can’t understand why a sport that gives so much enjoyment should generate so much antagonism.
OK, what does this have to do with the speed that the sport has grown? Well, it just made me wonder how a sport that can be so open to change in the overall scene can contain elements that are so averse to change. It seems that for every step forward the main body of kiters take, they leave in their trail a small clique of riders that become very vocal in their disapproval of the “new ways” and embark on a self-appointed crusade to show everyone else the error of their ways. It seems strange to me.
I had a great conversation recently with a friend of mine in Belgium. Allow me to fill you in on a little background info: Friend X is a successful businessman in his early 50s and after a lifetime working in the surf industry is more-or-less retired now, spending most of his time in Biarritz in southwest France, Costa Rica or Indonesia chasing perfect surf. Over the years I've known him, his time spent in Belgium has become less and less…until recently that is.
Friend X started kiteboarding in its early years, but after a serious accident gave up and returned to his surfing roots. Recently however, the move to full-depower kites has enticed him back. After a particularly good North Sea session a few weeks ago, he confided that he was considering canceling his next trip to Sumba, Indo as he could travel and surf all through the winter but would rather be in Belgium during the summer so that he could take advantage of the kiting there. He was so happy that after 35 years he had found a sport that he loved and didn’t need to travel to enjoy. Here’s a guy that can go anywhere and do anything he wants and yet chooses to stay home and kite in a country that, let’s face it, is probably not at the top of many travelling kiteboarders' wish list!
We truly have a great sport and the huge range of conditions you can ride in combined with the massive range of styles that you can practice must make it one of the most diverse. For me, riding with friends like Mr X is one of the most pleasurable aspects of kiteboarding and I would have to give serious consideration as to whether I prefer a solo session in perfect conditions or a session with friends on an average day. I’m sure the members of a certain internet forum would be mortified by this kind of statement. Messing around in two-foot onshore waves isn't especially hardcore or radical, it’s not life threatening, very difficult and certainly isn't pushing the boundaries of the sport anywhere new or revolutionary...but does any of that justify dissing it?
I started kiteboarding because it looked like fun and despite all that’s happened between then and now I continue to kiteboard because I enjoy it. Maybe as a sport we need to judge a little less and enjoy a little more.
Well, time to get off the soap box for this month but let me leave you with this parting thought: I wonder if the true legends of the sport, like Robby Naish, Kelly Slater, Laird Hamilton, Tony Hawk, Matt Hoffman et al ever really stopped to consider whether what they were doing was cool or not? I suspect not. They simply pushed their personal limits and those of their sport in order to see what was possible.
“Ride more, talk less” doesn't seem like a bad philosophy to me!
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue#29. Read this whole issue online for free, now click here.