Mark My Words
WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO – In his regular column Mark Shinn reports back from the Chile PKRA wave event, the first competitive event he's entered in three years. The lesson learnt: never lend a board to Hadlow!
Fast forward through an insignificant 13-and-a-half-hour flight (non-stop from Madrid to Santiago) and there I was, sat on the beach in Matanzas, on the west coast of Chile for my first PKRA event in three years. I had been looking forward to riding in epic conditions and catching up with old friends, however, our welcome was somewhat inauspicious as the first thing we saw on arriving in town was a huge 'NO PKRA' sign hanging from a shop window just off the beach! Fortunately, this was more to do with some local politics rather than being directed at the riders, so our fears of pickets on the beach and homicidal locals were unfounded. In fact, the welcome could scarcely have been better and the conditions surpassed everything we had hoped for.
Before the wave event could get underway, there was the small matter of the final PKRA freestyle competition of the year, and for the first time ever the result of the tour had not already been decided before the final event. Whatever your thoughts on competition kiting, you cannot help but be impressed with what these guys are doing. The two finals of the double elimination between Aaron and Kevin Langeree could have been uploaded for viewing without any editing, it was so good to watch. In the end, the global domination for my compadre in knocking this issue together, Mr. Hadlow, has continued for a fourth consecutive year. The bad news for everyone else is that it looks like it could go on for a while yet. Congratulations to both Aaron and Kevin for treating us to a spectacular end to the year. (Incidentally, the Chile wave contest was the first time Aaron and I ever had a heat together. We both rode strapless and he used my spare board. He beat me too the little bastard! Last time I lend my board to anyone!)
In the warm-up wave sessions it quickly became clear that there is an emerging flock of purely swell-bred addicts that have never made a name for themselves in freestyle. One of the criticisms of wave kiting in the past is that it’s been seen as the discipline that riders go for when they are too old (or not good enough) to do freestyle anymore; in other words it represented the easy way out in some respects, and to be honest some (though not all for sure) of these criticisms have held water.
This new breed of kite pro has entered the sport purely from a surfing background and has started to make this side of the sport its own by bringing a whole new perspective, and it’s immediately visible. The back-side off-the-lip of Guilly Brandao has to be seen to be believed and the sheer speed and precision of the way that Dru Beavis tears a wave to bits is breathtaking. I don’t think you can achieve these levels if you don’t dedicate yourself to waves and also have a small lifetime of surfing experience to fall back on. It can't have been a surprise to anyone to discover that both these guys are world class surfers in their own right. We are on the way to legitimizing the sport of wave kiting once and for all. Kiteboarding has planted the seeds for a true grass root support framework, and we are now starting to see the fruits of that labour. I’m excited to think about the future. Don’t be surprised if you hear less and less about the established order and new names keep popping up all over the place. Now we're starting to get somewhere in waves.
Of course, no competition would be complete without its share of judging complaints, and this event was no exception. It’s still early days though, and sitting in the riders' meeting before the event it was obvious that there is no clear consensus as to what the future actually holds. One group of riders are trying to take kiting closer and closer to surfing in the quest for purity, while another group are pushing the fact that we have an advantage over surfers and should feel free to exploit it. In my opinion, if you have a kite in your hands then you are kitesurfing, so it’s never going to look exactly like normal surfing nor be bound to the same restrictions.
Another hot topic over recent years has been riding waves switch. Again, the kitesurf world is split in two (when isn't it?!) with the sides this time lining up to stake their claims on whether it’s cool to ride waves back-side or learning to ride switch front-side. For a long time I would have counted myself on the side of 'switchers', but in the past year I've felt a change taking over. I think a lot of the criticism of back-side riding in the past has been that it simply looked bad, however, anyone who has watched the videos from Chile is going to have to come clean and say that back-side riding can be SICK. I wonder if surfing had all these discussions in its early years and if they are simply normal growing pains or if easy and instant global communication has caused it? Either way, I'm stepping off the fence and saying that I really like it. Like anything, it’s hard to do it well, but things that look good should be and are worth the effort, and when done correctly it’s every bit as radical and credible as a front-side turn.
This month I’ve broken free of my routine and managed NOT to write this column on a plane. Yep, this month I’ve pulled out all the stops and am writing it instead from a hospital bed! Too many years of abuse and lack of care have led to the need for a knee tune-up. If I made a list of the two most common injuries in kiteboarding they would have to be broken ribs and damaged knees. I know of many pro riders that have had knee surgery in the past couple of years, some of whom are frighteningly young to be receiving injuries like that. I don’t really know why I’m telling you all this...perhaps I can feel a Jerry Springer final thought coming on...
So be careful, and remember that five minutes spent stretching before you ride could stop you from having to read this article in the same bed that I’m writing it from! Take care of yourselves, aaand each other.
OUTRO – Check out our cuts of Mark smacking lips back-side from our editorial planning trip to Tenerife as well as the video footage from Chile at Kiteworld.tv
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
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