WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO - Although he's been enjoying a little casual coastal cruising on a raceboard, we won't be seeing Mark Shinn converting his freeride enthusiasm onto the race course
Like many of you, my joyous arrival at the sporting mecca we’ve come to know as kiteboarding came through some shameless dabbling in the darker arts of wind sports. Before kiting I was a windsurfer and before windsurfing, a sailor. In fact, before I was a sailor I was a surfer but that small fact doesn’t fit into the rest of the story, so I'll omit more details of it. As a sailor it was all about racing, every weekday session was spent training for the weekend races. As my tendency moved to windsurfing it was naturally in racing that I first focused. Eventually I was distracted back to wavesailing. I have to admit that whilst I was not bad at boat racing and was marginally better at windsurf racing (the main problem seemingly to be a lack of ability to point the vessel towards the next mark accurately) clearly neither were my true calling
Over the last few years racing has begun to emerge as a credible part of kiteboarding. To be honest it made a shaky start and certainly in the early stages was at some risk of being relegated to the same popularity levels as kite water-skiing. The PKRA and the KPWT messed around with border-cross but the riders did little more than pay it lip service and it soon disappeared. Now course racing has come onto the scene and with the involvement of the IKA and talk of the Olympics etc. there is no doubt that kite course racing is here to stay. Given my history in watersports more than a few people have questioned as to whether I will get involved, but I have to admit that, until now, the whole subject has left me cold. To me kiteboarding has always been a freeriding board sport; no complicated rules and no first over the line competitions. Apparently I was wrong. A few weeks ago I was at the Kiteboard Open event in Holland. As usual the wind didn’t play ball at all (though somewhat unusually the sun was out and it was 28 degrees on the beach) and the only action on the water was the European Course Race Championships. Ready to be completely underwhelmed by the spectacle I took my seat to watch and was, to my surprise, subsequently impressed. It’s not that course racing is a spectacular event to watch because it’s quite honestly not impressive at all, but what is amazing is the speed the guys were riding both upwind and down in such little wind. The freestylers on the beach could barely keep their kites in the air. It’s the first time I’ve witnessed it first hand and it made me want to get a board, get on the water... and that set off alarm bells.
Since then I’ve got my hands on a few boards and tested them. I’m now convinced that there's another revolution on its way. I’m not talking about the kind of industry changing revolutions of the past (like de-powering kites) but the quiet kind that sneaks up on you. No matter what style of kiteboarding you aspire to the one thing we all want is more time on the water and few of us are fortunate enough to get out whenever we want. XL twin-tips are a great solution for riders that are focused on learning tricks and improving their skills for stronger days, but for many they are just not fun. Skimboards are fantastic fun and offer a challenge for everyone but not all riders want to go through the challenging early learning stages. It seems to me that riding a board that planes in five or six knots, goes upwind effortlessly and is a blast to come back downwind on is something that a lot of riders will be interested in. In the last week I rode on four days that I normally wouldn’t have, with light onshore winds and choppy water. A friend and I cruised up and down the coast, travelling upwind distances that would be tedious and tiring to say the least on a twin-tip. Dedicated course racing boards are always going to be difficult and demanding to sail because the racer will sacrifice everything to be the fastest, but hopefully there will be enough trickle-down technology to breed a whole new class of free-race boards which provide genuine fun on light wind days for a lot of people.
On the same subject, but only loosely, I watched the results of the World Course Racing Championships with interest. There are a few familiar names to me in the fleet; guys that I travelled on the freestyle tour with some seven or eight years ago. Many of them are still in the industry and I run into them occasionally, but one name jumped out at me, especially when I saw it at the top of the rankings at the end of the event. I had the honour and privilege of training, travelling and competing with Adam Koch in the early days of kiteboarding. Adam was the rider that convinced me to give up with my chosen Jimmy Lewis wakeboard and start riding a Mutant. Adam was the rider that motivated me to train board-offs and focus on style, not just the tricks. Adam was one of the most influential riders in the sport and brought a level of skill and grace that's still not often seen. For me it was one of the great travesties in kiteboarding that freestyle moved into the new school era overnight and a rider like Adam, with so much to offer, was left in no man's land with no real options to pursue the sport he loved at a professional level. I lost touch with him after I moved on from the Naish team and heard he had taken up photography and started a family. Seeing Adam win the World Championships this year really seemed to bring things full circle for me. No rider deserves to succeed more than Adam and I hope that this success means he will be back in the sport for the long term now, for he surely has something to offer.
Few who witness his version of big-air freestyle would dare to call it old news! Congrats to you Adam, but no, there is not a chance you will see me on the race course in the near future!
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue #46