Once he’d got over the anguish that we would finish publishing Kiteworld, leaving him just one issue short of having written a hundred columns in the mag, Mark Shinn agreed to a final interview with Kiteworld editor, Jim Gaunt. They discussed everything from Mark winning both World Championships in 2002 (the year Kiteworld was born), the changing face of professionalism in kiting, stories behind the key moments and characters who have helped shaped the sport, and his enduring love of scoring as much water time as possible

INTERVIEW: Jim Gaunt

ALL PHOTOS: Robert Hajduk / Shinn (unless otherwise stated)

J: You were double world champion in 2002 and very much the man of the moment. How long ago does that feel? M: Actually, it feels like yesterday, but also like a million years ago. I remember the training and the competitions like it all just happened, but then thinking about flying a Naish ARX kite seems such a long time ago. It’s weird the way you remember stuff, but I was vice world champion in both 2000 and 2001 and I remember those years equally well; specifically, being really frustrated about it! J: When did you first see kiteboarding and how did your involvement begin? M: I had moved to Tenerife for windsurfing and was working in the D’Light workshop, spraying and sanding boards. I think it was late ‘98 or early ‘99 when Franz Olry and Christophe Tasti came to Tenerife on a Wipika demo tour, trying to expose people to the sport. My friend Joe, the shaper at D’Light, was instantly like, “Yeah, we have to do this!” I wasn’t really convinced, but at least it looked like a better option for lighter winds than windsurfing at the time. The internet was in its infancy and there weren’t any kite magazines, so it was really hard to find any information. The only thing we knew was that there was an event coming up in Cabo Verde in very early 2000. Just a 90 minute flight from Tenerife, we decided to go, mostly to see what other people were doing. I entered the event and did reasonably well, finished third, and was offered to go to some other competitions. It kind of snowballed from there.

Unhooked was the way in the early days!

Photo: Unknown

J: Did you get nervous at competitions in those early years, perhaps feeling that the adrenaline of competing might push you to do something you hadn’t tried before... on what was very unforgiving equipment? M: I wasn’t nervous because I had no expectations at the first event. I was just going because I was excited and stoked with the sport, wanted to see what was happening and where it was going. Flash Austin came to that first event in Cabo Verde wearing trousers, which I never understood. He was flying one of the first Naish AR5 four line kites (most of us were still on two line) and was never unhooking but going crazy with transitions. The idea that you could jump and land going in the opposite direction was a pivotal moment for me. I decided that I had to learn to jump hooked-in because, until then, we’d always been unhooking to jump and would hang under the kite. Watching Flash was like seeing the future was being hooked-in. I remember just getting pounded in the weeks after that because my level of kite control wasn’t there. The kite would hit the water before me, but we were all going through the same. In that period up to 2002 we did a lot of events. I think 18 or 20 that year between the Kiteboard Pro Tour, the Red Bull events and the PKRA competitions. So we were mixing with other riders a lot and in 2002 I knew that my level of performance was enough to win almost every competition I entered. So I wasn’t nervous; it was just about executing it. Certainly, after a just few events in 2003, I already knew though that I wasn’t good enough to win the events anymore. I wasn’t doing the cutting edge tricks that Martin Vari and those guys were.

Despite winning both world championships in the same year, winning the Red Bull King of the Air at Ho’okipa in 2002 in front of his heroes is probably Mark’s most special memory from kiteboarding competition Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

J: It must be a pretty rare opportunity to be in the right place at the right time in a sport when only a handful of people, not only have access to the equipment, but also the time and ability to reach a skill level within just one year and almost become good enough to win competitions? M: I don’t think that will ever happen again because it’s now so easy to share information. I don’t remember the first guy to do a back loop on a wing, but I’m pretty sure that 12 hours later 50% of the wingers in the world had seen it. Going to the first kite competitions was like getting ready for the unexpected. Someone would turn up with something new because between events no one really knew what anyone else was doing. I remember Martin Vari did an enormous double dangle-pass at the Cabarete event in early 2003; it was the single most impressive thing I’ve ever seen in sport. I was just thinking, ‘Wow! That’s a different sport to what we’re doing’, which was lots of spins and board-offs. J: The Cabarete 2003 PKRA event has gone down in kiteboarding competition folklore. We had the late, great James Oroc report on it for us at the time. I just re-read it in issue #06. Competition was very exciting back then! M: I think Cabarete was maybe the third event of the season and, although we’d seen some handle-passes earlier in the season, we hadn’t seen the full extent because the first events hadn’t been very windy. I remember watching Martin’s first heat in Cabarete. He was sailing a pretty nice heat, but then he took his handle-pass leash off his chicken-loop and clipped it back onto his spreader bar, so it wasn’t attached to the kite at all. I was sat with Adam Koch at the time and we were going, “What’s he doing?” He sent a massive unhooked jump and did the double dangle-pass, floated down and rode away. To be honest, I’ve rarely seen anyone do it better than he did it there. He was so in control and calm. He landed, hooked-in, unclipped his handle-pass leash and put it back on the chicken-loop. The handle-pass thing went crazy and changed so much overnight that suddenly there was absolutely no point to even do a board-off in a heat; it was without merit. I’m not sure that moving from board-offs to dangle-passes was a particularly healthy development, but I don’t think it matters. There’s so much talk about guiding the sport in the right direction but, I’m sorry, you can’t. The sport isn’t a thing, it’s a collection of people. The direction the sport takes will be the direction that most people choose. The fact that all the brands are mostly focused on freeride equipment tells you that people have voted with their wallet. Now most people want to freeride, regardless of what the pros are doing.

Mark with original Naish Kiteboarding team rider, American Chris Gilbert, who went on to be head of kiteboarding product design at DaKine Photo: Christian Black