Mark My Words – Issue #81


Mark My Words – Issue #81


INTRO – Shinny reflects on a personal journey dating back to 1998 that’s themed around the enduring thread of light wind fun. This article came out at the start of summer so think of it as an early Christmas present taking you back to warmer times!


Mark Shinn - Mark my words


This month I’m NOT going to surprise you by NOT wasting these precious few inches talking about competition kiteboarding. I’m NOT going to talk about foil racing, NOT going to talk about freestyle and I’m most certainly NOT going to talk about big air competitions. ‘Why’ you may ask? Well, it seems to me that the vast majority of kiteboarders are now so bewildered by the endless acronyms and backronyms (ha! guess you didn’t know that word, did you? A backronym is in fact an acronym made from an existing word; kind of like a forced acronym. In fact they may be created with either serious or humorous intent and can also be the result of false or folk etymology), the pointless and confusing press releases and the general lack of ANY discernible progress that has been made.

Instead, I thought I might pen a few words about that thing that I suppose we all enjoy: riding. More to the point, I thought I might talk a little about that thing that we all inevitably do at some time or another, like it or not: light wind kiting. I don’t think any other part of our sport has seen so many changes and developments. As a designer it’s still one of the most challenging areas, not least because, at this point, there are so many ways to obtain your light wind thrills.

I started my journey in 1998. As for many windsurfers the allure of kiteboarding was the increased benefits it offered in lighter winds and flatter water. During the last 18 years my enjoyment of stronger winds and waves has developed, but if there is one enduring thread it’s the pursuit of fun and performance in the light stuff. Back in 2000 the world was all about big air and hang time. Well, it was for me and some others – of course Lou Wainman and a few notable others were already busy with new school and wakestyle.

In order to practice jumping you need power, so what did we do when we didn’t have enough power? We changed to a bigger kite, so it was logical to make bigger and bigger kites, leading to the creation of some kites getting up to even as big as 30 metres. Yes, I did have a 30m kite in my board bag at one time, but most riders had at least an 18m on hand. It didn’t take a great deal of time to realise, however, that these giant kites were not only extremely slow in turning and took forever to inflate, but also offered progressively less and less light wind performance – to the point where a reasonable rider could in fact get going in the same wind on both a 16m kite and a 30m kite. Smaller kites move faster and thus generate more speed; more speed equals more apparent wind and more apparent wind means more power. Et voila…

Along with this realisation came the shift in development towards more efficient boards. If you can ride faster and need less power then you can use a smaller kite. Flatter (and even negative) rockers, wider and more parallel outlines brought us boards like the ‘door’ and allowed twin-tip riding in previously impossible wind speeds. The problem is that like the huge kites, these boards – whilst serving a definite purpose – started to stretch the limits of what was really ‘fun’. For some riders merely staying upwind is fun enough, but for many the fun comes from tricks and moves; simply mowing the lawn is not enough.

I personally hit the wall early on. For me the fun comes from learning new things and I was looking for something more challenging – enter the skimboard. Wide, flat-rockered, finless and strapless; few boards can get you going as early as a skimboard, but the attraction lay not in the early planing, but the tricks that were possible. The kite became an engine; just something to get you moving. The tricks were all about fancy footwork, not air time. In fact even staying upwind was a luxury not a necessity – as you can master many of the skim tricks while going downwind, too, so there was even less need for plenty of wind. I still enjoy a skimboard session, but not enough to carry an extra board in my boardbag. Strapless surfboards were already on the scene during my skimboard phase, and though they’re not as potent in super-light winds, the available trick list was/is similar. Pretty much wherever I go I take a surfboard in my bag, so the skimboard took a back seat.

I don’t know too much about the early days of kite racing, but I saw the extremely rapid development of the Formula class and the radical way these boards evolved. Race boards represent the extremity of light wind performance (or at least did until the hydrofoil blew them out the water). When the goal is winning a race, all other factors fall in behind. The fun comes from winning, or at least trying to win. Fun factor and comfort play less of a role in the development of race equipment. I do believe this is the reason that race boards never made an impact on the general kiteboarders who don’t race.

Again, coming back to my own experiences, this is about the time that my friend Greg Drexler introduced me to his board, the Paipo, and the Shinnster was born. Strapless, extreme light wind performance, some wave ability, but still fun. Versatile enough to ride in flat water or small waves – it seemed the natural unification of the skimboard and light wind surfboard that had been kicking around my garage for some time. At least it was… until last summer when I was dragged kicking and screaming aboard the hydro-foiling band wagon.


Mark Shinn - Mark my words


I was not an early adopter, but I am a passionate newcomer. Foiling IS changing the face of our sport and for all the right reasons. Yes, the race thing is there, it’s special and brings attention to our sport as the pinnacle of racing performance, but it’s the freeride aspect that excites me so much. Bolting a foil to the bottom of your board adds such an insane amount of quality water time without the need to invest in larger kites or specialist boards – at this point it really seems to be the missing link I’ve been searching for. It’s genuinely fun in winds that no other development could even touch and brings a whole new set of challenges for even the most jaded and reluctant of light wind kiters. Don’t listen to the doubters who say it’s dangerous or too hard – it’s not and it doesn’t have to be expensive – especially when you consider the savings of never needing a kite bigger than 12m again. It’s a new skill to pick up but, if like me it’s that journey that you enjoy, then you are in for a treat and those light summer sea-breezes will get your pulse racing once again.



Every issue in his column, Mark My Words, Mark waxes lyrical on all things kitesurfing! Subscribe now for more gems of wisdom from Mr Shinn!


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