This article featured in Kiteworld multimedia issue #108. First published: January 2021
If ever there was a man with all the toys for all wind and surf sports, it’s Mark Shinn. In his 85th Kiteworld column the two-time kiting World Champion explains why kite foiling is still the only set-up that can offer big thrills in the lightest of winds.
WORDS: Mark Shinn
PHOTOS: Lukasz Balinski and Robert Hajduk – Shuttersail
There is a tendency in sport to over appreciate the discipline you have chosen as your favourite, leading to the disregard of others. This isn’t just restricted to kiteboarding – surfers despise bodyboarders, windsurfers don’t like kiteboarders and skateboarders don’t want to share a ramp with rollerbladers (or scooters). I guess a psychologist would be able to explain it with rationales and glimpses into the inner mind of an extreme athlete, but it’s a strange thing when we all share similar conditions, experiences and thrills.
I’ve made no secret of my new found passion for winging (to me it’s a natural development of kiteboarding, surfing and windsurfing) but I’m surprised by the number of times I get asked, ‘Do you kiteboard anymore?’. Learning a new sport does not have to be a mutually exclusive activity; in this case you CAN have your cake and eat it.
What is my favourite sport these days? That’s easy – it’s the one that the conditions are best suited to. I choose kiteboarding when the conditions are right for it and for kitefoiling that means the lighter end of the wind spectrum. What attracted me to the concept from the start hasn’t changed at all:
Mark says that the trick to generating high speeds in low winds is to set your foil up so that it’s properly balanced, which then means you can really commit. “Generating speed means increasing power which, if it doesn’t come from the kite, has to come from somewhere else and in this case you use leg power to increase apparent wind and power in the kite. If the foil isn’t well set-up and balanced the amount of leg pressure you can apply in turn then limits your ability to generate power and speed
Kite foils are unchallenged in delivering high speed and high adrenaline action in winds no other high performance sailing discipline are even working in.
(Have you seen the hugely expensive AC75 Americas Cup boats bobbing around in ten knots of wind, unable to rise up on the foils?).
I watched the highlights from the recent GKA foil freestyle competition in Brazil. The level that the riders have reached is insane, but by the time the wind is reaching 15 knots, personally I have a lot of toys that are competing to be the selected items of the day. In ten knots or less however, the choice is simple.
Of course kitefoil racing is the pinnacle of the light wind performance tree, but the equipment is so hugely expensive to purchase and doesn’t even score 1 out of 10 on the scale for ease of use. For most of us that gear is simply not an option. Thankfully, the performance of a single strut inflatable kite or freeride foil kite is simply breath taking. Modern freeride hydrofoils are balanced and can be ridden quickly. They’re a pleasure to ride and no longer the wobble fest they were five years ago.
I find myself actively searching the forecast for the five to ten knot days in the same way that I search for the 20 to 30 knot days. I truly enjoy the technicality of the riding, searching for the perfectly balanced feeling that allows you to drive the material hard without even giving a moment’s thought to the trim or balance. There is a pleasure in even the simplest move being performed perfectly because light conditions punish even the smallest mistakes. Stronger winds allow a myriad errors that can be corrected simply through the re-application of power. Riding over-powered is like an over-sized plaster covering all the problems of poor technique.
I’ve noticed that strapless riders are also pretty evangelical in their promotion of disconnected riding, but I don’t often ride the foil strapless. I enjoy the feeling of riding fast (and jumping) too much and only a strapless rider will try to tell you they can go as fast without straps.
So, is it all about speed? Not exactly. It’s about the sensation of speed combined with the feeling of balance.
The usual reason that Mark’s columns are late are because he’s on the water, and these are the stats he submitted as his latest excuse from an evening session in late January: “What I like in this speed chart is that you can see I fell twice in the session and stopped foiling in two tacks.”
Imagine riding like that! Mark says his skills improve a lot by pushing himself in lighter winds and that his top speeds come in just 10 to 12 knots of wind, in which he’s reached 58kph on his K2 freeride foil and Airush Ultra single strut kite. Stock, off-the-shelf gear for the masses – so no excuses for the rest of us!
I’ve been wintering in Tenerife where the variety of conditions is spectacular and the possibilities to practice a multitude of diverse sports is almost endless. (Read Mark’s El Medano wingsurfing spot guide in Wing Surf World here.) Kite wave, kite foil, big air TT, winging, surf foiling or even SUP foiling – after a couple of months my enthusiasm for all of them remains undimmed. This morning’s 30 knot big air session was memorable and I have high hopes for this evening’s winging. Why do I have to choose a favourite sport when they all offer something unique and different to the mix?
Some of the most frustrated riders I see are the most dedicated. For example, the pure freestyler who only wants to perfect their moves, even when the conditions are simply not suitable for progression.
Okay, I’m signing off for this issue. I’m proud that I managed a complete piece without mentioning Covid! Let’s hope that by the next time I sit down to write this column all our situations will have become a little simpler with an increased time on the water for all of us.