...that is the question.
It's a dilemma that every windsurfer faces, and it creates a contentious, ego-fueled debate between windsurfing diehards and kiteboarding converts. There are several key angles to the debate: 1) Which sport is cooler?, 2) Which sport is easier?, 3) Which sport is more practical?, and 4) Which sport is most dangerous?
1) Which sport is cooler?
Kiteboarding is cooler. Duh. I know so because whenever I tell someone I'm a windsurfer he gives a dismissive grunt, scratches his head, maybe picks his nose for a while, then perks up and says, "Hey, so uh, you know what looks cool? That kiteboarding stuff! I saw this thing on the Travel Channel once, and those guys were catching, like, 20 feet of air!" Sometimes I try to respond by emphasizing some of the positive advantages of windsurfing as opposed to kiting, but really there's no point. We windsurfers lost the battle for coolness a long time ago. Kiteboarding is a newer sport, provides a quicker route to extreme thrills, and attracts a younger, sexier crowd... which attracts a younger, sexier crowd.
However, along with coolness comes image-consciousness... the nagging, un-fun compulsion to buy expensive surfer-sunglasses, get a labret piercing, wear ironic trucker's caps, and put boardshorts on over your wetsuit. A wetsuit is one of the few excuses modern humans have to prance around in near-nudity, but of course the fashionistas ruin it for themselves with the boardshorts on top thing.
2) Which sport is easier?
Windsurfing is much easier to learn. With the right stuff you can learn from a friend in less than an hour. But the kind of windsurfing that you can do after an hour is not at all the fast, cool-looking kind; witness the author with a beginner board and sail last summer:
Cool looking windsurfing skills take much longer to acquire, and thwart many would-be sailors. By contrast, learning kiteboarding involves several days of expensive, professional instruction and is very tricky and intense. But at the end of that you're going fast and looking pretty cool, even though you may be wiping out into a garbage scow 5 miles downwind of where you started.
3) Which sport is more practical?
I have to qualify this one. In terms of storing and transporting gear, kiteboarding is more practical. The boards are small as a bath mat, the kites can deflate to the size of pillow, and there are no rigid rig components like masts and booms to worry about. However, in terms of actually getting to RIDE your toys, windsurfing wins hands down. Case in point, I windsurfed within a couple blocks of my house almost every day last summer, while my kiter buddy Sam only got out a couple times. Kiters need consistent wind greater than about 10 knots, a wide-open place to launch and land, and shallow water with no obstacles to dodge or current to fight. (Advice to windsurfers: If you want to maximize the advantage you have over kites in sub-optimal conditions, you need a longboard.)
4) Which sport is most dangerous?
Kiteboarding is more dangerous by far. When you fall off your windsurf everything instantly comes to a stop, and you get back on. When you fall off your kiteboard the kite keeps pulling, sometimes even harder than before, slingshotting you downwind until you either get it under control, pull the safety release, or hit something big and unyielding, like your mom standing there taking pictures at the water's edge. Lots of people die kiteboarding every year. You should tell your mom to stand further away from the water.
Ok, I said my piece. Now it's confession time. I want to try kiteboarding. I've been secretly practicing with Sam Lake and Paul Dovel's kites, and I watched Sam's "Zero to Hero" kite DVDs. The ones produced by Trip Foreman; the Benedict Arnold of windsurfing who founded Real Kiteboarding and created the infamous "windsurfing has been cancelled" bumper sticker. Yes, I know it's shameful. But even if I do end up learning and loving kiting (I might not) I'll never disrespect or abandon windsurfing and my windsurfing peeps. It will probably be a while before I actually get on a kiteboard but it will definitely make this blog when I do. In the meantime, it's supposed to blow 15-20 knots out of the NE tomorrow, and be almost 50 degrees F. Sounds like windsurfing weather to me. :)
PS- Just because, here's Hamlet's soliloquy, the one I corrupted from Shakespeare for the title of this post, in it's original form:
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action. - Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember'd.