22 years after starting kiteboarding (and 88 Kiteworld columns later), Mark Shinn is still as motivated to ride as ever. This issue, he reveals why

WORDS: Mark Shinn PHOTOS: Robert Hajduk / Shinn

Sucked in by life in the water

I started kiteboarding in 1999. Before kiteboarding I was (well, in fact I still am) a windsurfer and competed at a reasonably high level. I have no problem accepting that I have an addictive personality and tend to become obsessed with the things I like to do. However, if you asked me back in 2002 (my most successful competitive year – winning two world titles), “Do you think you will still be riding and motivated for sessions in 20 years?”, I think my answer would have been, “Riding yes, but still motivated for every session? Probably not.”.

Okay, there were some ‘down years’ where MTB riding occupied my free-time more than kiteboarding, but I didn’t stop riding in that period and I have to say that more recently, for the last five or six years, my motivation has been as high as ever.

The push of learning new things motivated me in my early kiteboarding career. The possibility to create new moves and be involved in the leading edge of the sport was addictive and there was no time to waste. If I took a week off someone else might take the next step and leave me trailing behind. It was a head long rush and, with the competition schedule far more stacked than it is today (in 2002 I competed in 18 professional level events worldwide), every session seemed vital.

Taking a break can bring you back fresher and more focused

My motivation for freestyle competition dried up when it became apparent that I was no longer at the leading edge and just keeping up was the best I could hope for. I started to become interested in other aspects of kiteboarding; the drive into surfboards had just begun with the North Rocket Fish and release of the Space Monkeys 2 movie. Inspired, the quest to find the perfect equipment and conditions took over as the driving force for my kiteboarding. In fact, if I look at my progression over time, the points of maximum motivation have always occurred when I was exploring a new style, discipline or material change. Surfboards, strapless surfboards, skimboards and then bridled kites came before the gap years where I took more interest in other things, but I didn’t change anything during that period. My obsessions came back when the first hydrofoils started to appear under the feet of some crazy French riders and since then that side of the sport has only become stronger as the doors of progression – as both a rider and a designer – were not so much opened to me, but rather blown off their hinges. A lot of kiters ask me about my passion for winging and it comes from the same origin as my passions for all things: it’s very new and the rules for riding and equipment are still not fully formed.

A wise man once said to me, “You’re not old until you stop learning.” As I sit here writing, completely sunburnt and exhausted from six hours on the water, I realise it’s the constant search for something new that drives me on.

Twin-tips, surfboards, foilboards, strapless freestyle boards – the secret to eternal youth!

I most definitely include the collection of new knowledge in that description of ‘new’. I don’t think a session goes by where I’m not fiddling, tweaking or testing. It’s not always new material either. Very often I’ll take old, failed prototypes in the hope that some new knowledge or technology will change that fail into a winner (unfortunately the competitive side in me does emerge all too often and I will do anything in order to not accept failure, no matter how long ago I’m reaching back). I need to experiment and challenge the assumptions I made about how things work, or how I can still improve them. Much of the time the process is at odds with my development as a rider; the lack of any meaningful hours on one fixed set-up means most of my learning is about adapting existing skills to a new set-up. On the occasions that I am just riding for myself, I do find that I have the added bonus of making much faster progress, though. Of course there is another aspect to my continued motivation: I do so much testing and so many disciplines that I don’t have time to be bored of any of them!

It’s a common misconception that progress is a constantly rising line on a graph. The truth is it resembles something more like a stair case, with periods of rapid improvement followed by periods of stagnation.

No motivation needed when your mates crash

Returning to progression while you’re in the stagnation phase is one of the most difficult challenges an athlete can face (and one of the reasons top level athletes change coaches and trainers periodically), but without doubt, taking a break helps get through this flat spot. The constant switching of material and disciplines means I avoid the stagnation period altogether. I may not yet be old (because I continue to learn), but I’m fully aware that the speed of learning decreases with age. Isn’t that just part of the wonderful pattern of life, though? The young lack experience but have the ability to learn quickly, while the mature have a wealth of experience with which to (hopefully) avoid a lot of the pains and accelerate the process of learning. So, if you now ask me the question, “Will you still be motivated to ride in 20 years?” the benefit of experience tells me that yes, I will probably will be (good health permitting), as long as I still find something new to learn.

Although that’s surely quite possible after a life time in watersports, I’m still sat here closely resembling a beetroot with an un-opened bottle of suncream on the van seat beside me. It really didn’t look that sunny today, honestly!


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