ROGER COX Gallery images


Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 22 September 2012

GIVEN a relatively level playing field – ie, water deep enough so that a shark could manoeuvre proficiently, but shallow enough so that a bear could stand and operate with its characteristic dexterity – who would win in a fight between a bear and a shark?” This is the question around which American author Chris Bachelder constructs his 2001 novel, Bear v Shark – a darkly comic demolition of the American dream, set in a dystopian near-future where people have become so anaesthetised by TV and the internet that they are almost completely incapable of interacting with each other in the here and now. The titular contest, set to take place between two apex predators in a gigantic megastadium in Las Vegas, has electrified America, becoming the subject of endless TV and radio debates and spawning action figures, breakfast cereals and even a parenting guide called How to Talk to Your Children about Bear v Shark. We learn that there are also patents pending for similar televised contests: Possum v Squirrel, Owl v Deer and Squid v Monkey.

Bachelder’s book goes on to become almost unimaginably silly, but, in the premise as elsewhere, there’s a kernel of truth buried deep within the nonsense. At some fundamental level, we humans love comparing things. We also love imagining things. Hardly a surprise, then, that we love making imaginary comparisons. And the idea of taking an imaginary comparison and making it real? Well… you just know that if Bear v Shark ever actually happened, regardless of protests from the animal rights lobby, the ratings would be through 
the roof.

All of which brings us – rather tenuously, I grant you – to this weekend’s Windfest, a celebration of Scottish windsports during which a version of Bear v Shark will be played out along the Troon coastline.

“If a group of the best windsurfers in the country and a group of the best kitesurfers in the country were made to race from one fixed point to another fixed point, who would win?” That’s the premise of the Beach2Beach Challenge, which will take place between South Beach and Barassie either today or tomorrow, depending on conditions. The event has run twice before, and the windsurfers have come out on top both times, with East Kilbride’s Alan Jackson dominating. However, 
recent advances in kitesurfing technology mean that this year’s event could go either way, as top Scots kiter and Troon local Holly Kennedy explains.

“It’s always so close between the windsurfers and the kitesurfers,” she says, “but in the end the windsurfers have always been able to pass the kitesurfers because the kitesurfers haven’t been able to stay as far up-wind. Now, though, we’ve got these race boards for kitesurfing – bigger boards with bigger fins – so I think a kitesurfer’s going to win it this time.”

Conditions on the day could play a role too, Kennedy points out. The largest kitesurfing kite is a lot bigger than the largest windsurfing sail, so if the wind is light, kitesurfers will be better able to harness it.

The Beach2Beach Challenge is just one part of an extensive Windfest programme. The British Kitesurfing Association (BKSA) will be running the Scottish leg of their UK tour (for both racers and freestylers), and there will also be a number of fun events for kiters, including a big air competition. Kennedy should excel at that one, having set a big air world record of 8.9 metres back in 2010.

Windsurfers, meanwhile, will compete in a race event dubbed the Master Blaster and, conditions permitting, there will also be a freestyle competition, giving them a chance to show off their best tricks.

Earlier this year, the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) announced that kitesurfing would replace windsurfing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio – sad news for windsurfers, but exciting for kiters like Kennedy.

“Right now I don’t do racing,” she says, “I’ve just been doing freestyle, but I’d love to become an Olympic athlete so I’m finding out about it just now.”

Pity ISAF didn’t compromise and have Windsurfers v Kitesurfers. Oh well – maybe that’s one for 2020.

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