Mark My Words
WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO - Back from another 'work trip' / industry holiday, Mark Shinn laments on the healthy state of gear development
October 14th 2010. Once again, October 14th 2010. That’s today’s date and I'm sat here writing this from my office in Tenerife. I've spent a great deal of time over the last two months travelling, mainly in Europe, but I also enjoyed a week in The Gorge, USA and somehow, during that time, I completely and utterly missed the end of summer. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I didn’t miss the whole of summer. I guess it’s a sign of increasing age that the time passes more quickly but, as I don’t feel old right now, I’m ignoring that point-ofview. I prefer to think that summer this year really did pass faster than normal and now winter is practically here again.
I tried to kite in Belgium two weeks ago and, after 30 minutes on the water, was forced to go hunting for a thicker wetsuit and even started considering putting boots on. I’ll admit that 15 years of travelling and living in warmer climates may have made me a little less resilient to the cold than when I lived and sailed in the UK year round, but I know when I’m cold, and cold I was. I’m not now of course; it’s 28 degrees here today and all thoughts of five mill rubber suits have gone out the window thankfully. Completely irrelevant, but reasonably funny, is the fact that the first time I spent a winter in the Canary Islands was down to the fact that upon visiting my local watersports retailer in the search of a new winter suit, I discovered that it was cheaper to buy a return flight to Tenerife for four months than buy said suit. After that very little more consideration was needed.
Anyhow, I know that I’m supposed to write something motivational here, impart some great pearl of wisdom or at least say something interesting but, right now, I feel like I might struggle with any of the above. I can honestly say I've enjoyed my kiting till now in 2010 as much as I have in any of the preceding 11 years but, realistically, I may not have improved a great deal. I should probably be frustrated by that, but the previously mentioned trip to the USA helped me overcome that somewhat. Each year there is an industry show in the States for the shops and schools to come see the products being launched for the coming year. In previous years it’s been held in Orlando, under the banner of 'Surf Expo', but since 2009 the show has moved to Hood River, Oregon in the hope of finding some wind, allowing people to actually get out on the gear. I haven’t been to the US for a couple of years, so I was sure I'd enjoy myself and Hood River is still one of my favourite destinations. I’ve never been that lucky with the wind conditions there, but the feel of the place and the atmosphere is infectious. You just feel relaxed from the day you arrive. This year's visit was absolutely no exception as, for the four days I was there, there was never more than three knots of wind and it rained most of the time, too! It’s a shame for the show, but if you start to get down over kite events that pass by with no wind, then you are going to need a pretty big pot of anti-depressants handy!
In 2001 and 2002 there were a lot of American riders on the PKRA tour (or BMC as it was formerly known) and I spent a fair amount of time travelling and hanging around in Maui with them. Most I have not seen in some years and it was great to catch up with them again. A large number are still in the industry. Sky Solbach is the chief kite tester for North and shapes their surfboard range, Ben Meyer has his own kiteboard brand, Axon, selling in North America, Dave Tyburski is heading up the R&D team at Airush and Chris Gilbert is the head product designer for DaKine wind products. The list goes on... These guys were the leading riders in years gone by and seeing them still in the industry is a great sign. I guess it’s one of the key reasons kiteboarding equipment has improved so much in the last six years.
During a discussion at the show I was asked the question, “What motivates you to keep attempting to make better boards?” The answer is simple: on Saturday morning I go to the beach to ride. My passion is my job. I want to make better boards because I have to ride them and I want to ride the best equipment possible. All the names I listed above (and many more I didn’t) are in exactly the same position. They have ridden and competed at the top level of the sport and know what good equipment feels like. Now they're striving to bring it to you, not from some great altruistic drive, but for the simple and selfish reason that they want to be able to ride and enjoy it themselves. As long as there are people with this kind of heritage in the sport, the progress in material will never stop. I'm not saying that gigantic steps are possible each year, because that’s not how it goes, but you can be sure that there are people out there that know what they want, know how to ride it and are doing their best to get it into your hands year after year. If that’s not good for the future of our sport, then I don’t know what is.
Oh, and one other thing: this morning I noticed that Alex Caizergues regained the World Speed Sailing record with a speed of 54.10 knots – over 100kph! That's just ridiculous. Congratulations Alex!
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue #48