Aside from helping the manufacturers and sponsors quantify their return on investment, why does it matter to any of us who is crowned the king of kiting? Kiting is an innovative sport with innovative riders doing innovative things with innovative equipment. Why are we trying to cram it into a traditional box? Ask 10 riders "Who's the best kiter?" and you're bound to get a dozen different responses.
Kiteboarding has already lost a number of marquis players to the brutal schedule and tedious demands of competing on the world tours. Lou Wainman, Adam Koch, Martin Vari, and Felix Pivek are a few riders who come to mind when I think about guys who still had tons of room to grow as riders when they dropped the tour limelight. They're still out there, taking the sport and their equipment to new levels. But they're doing it on their terms. I don't even know if Ben Wilson ever competed in a sanctioned event.
I'd like to think that these guys are pushing our sport because they are passionate about kiting, and that the sponsors who have stuck with them understand that. I respect riders who can't stand not kiting when the wind is blowing. Guys who still remember dropping into a perfect wave for the first time. Riders who can still relate to the elation the rest of us feel when we boost a huge air, or land a new trick, or just score a session when we didn't think it would be windy.
But the sponsors still need a way to measure their ROI right? Then let's give them a simple foundation to work from. Look for magazine placements of your logos, and media placements beyond our core publications. Look for mentions of your athlete's names in the forums. Look for the "riders choice" winners at multi-faceted events like the SPI Kite Roundup, the Real Triple S, and the Red Bull Kite Punks (which I just discovered - Thank you YouTube!). These are innovative events being put on by core kite shops that are run by kiters who have worked their asses off to support and build our sport. These are events that reach out to average kiters as well as the pros who are doing things that the rest of us struggle just to understand. By tracking these performance metrics, sponsors can see which riders are pushing the sport, expanding it to new markets, and reaching out to and relating with your customers. Aren't those the goals of sponsoring athletes?
For those riders who think that the only way kiting will be "legit" is to become an Olympic sport, all I can say is that I feel sorry for you. Kiting is legit because it keeps me up at night. It's legit because my friends will drop everything to get out on the water. It's legit because once you've started kiting, you can't comprehend giving the sport up. And if it's not "legit", who cares?
I've had the privilege of riding in beautiful places, and with a few of the guys we see in the magazines. At the end of the day, they're all just like you and me. They're kiters. They don't care who's the best in the world. They care that everyone got the best session today.
A fellow kiter sent me the new Hadlow video today. It blew my mind, but I enjoyed shooting a few pics of my friend kiting under the setting sun last night much more, and I enjoyed my session in the middle of the day even more than the 20 minutes behind the camera. So tonight in front of my computer, the best kiter in my world was Aaron Hadlow. Last night at the Cape Charles beach it was my buddy Erin. Yesterday afternoon it was me. I hope that tomorrow you have the chance to be the best kiter in your world.
The guys on my local kiteboarding forum know I can get a bit long winded, but after reading several pages of PKRA vs. IKA vs. ABC vs. DUI commentary on the various forum pages, I felt like a little perspective is needed on a lot of levels in this sport, or at least the computer surfers do. If kiting is going to continue to grow and succeed, I believe we need potential sponsors to see kiteboarding as a sport that has a very dedicated following of active athletes who live to ride, and who understand that we are so much luckier than all those suckers who sit on the beach and just watch. They also need to see a sport that is somewhat accessible to the rest of the world. If kiting doesn't sell cars, the car companies won't sponsor kiters.
The guys in the red shirts like to say that "Windsurfing's Been Canceled". In reality I think that Windsurfing Committed Suicide. Or at least it wandered off into the desert for a while. Let's not make the same mistake by focusing solely on the tip of the rider pyramid. Kiting allows the average athlete to fly. What could be more legit than that?