Evolution of Kiteboarding
Thrill-junkies gravitate towards kiteboarding (also known as ‘kitesurfing’) – it’s a common testing-ground for windsurfers, pilots and wakeboarders, with surfers (primarily male ones) swelling Kite school attendance figures in recent years, although it’s also increasingly the practice of women, casual travelers, traveling businessmen and even entire families.
The average age of students is around 26-35 – yet in areas with more access to Kiting (e.g. El Gouna, where I underwent lessons) school kids seem to start their kiteboarding much earlier. Some of the instructors and kite school attendees I spoke to mentioned students in their fifties! While it requires a certain amount of flexibility and stamina, it’s certainly not just for the young folk…
Challenges and travel
The greatest technical challenge for beginners and seasoned kiteboarders alike is acquiring an intuitive understanding of the natural elements involved. These include wind strength & direction, the underlying sea currents (when the kiting is in marine conditions) and a host of environmental factors specific to particular locations that can affect the kiteboarding experience – for example, knowing where coral outcrops are!
It’s this regional variability than gives kiteboarders such an excitingly diverse set of challenges – and for this reason, kiting is a sport that rewards travel. It gives you a chance to experience local cultures, the myriad conditions associated with each kiting spot, and in some cases presents you with opportunities to experience remote corners of the world as yet untouched by commercial tourism (unless the tour operators had a thing for very windy places).
A few places where I have sampled the kiting lifestyle (with a training kite and/or undertaking a full course of instruction):
- Mexico (Tulum Beach)
- Egypt (El Gouna)
- …and most recently South Africa (Langebaan) – see below for more details.
South Africa as a Kiting destination
South Africa is regarded as one of the major kiting spots in the world, and you’ll find World Champions spending time there on a regular basis, particularly along the beautiful, rugged West Coast.
So why South Africa?
According to Dimitri & Michelle, owners of the Windchasers Guest House & Kiteboarding School in Langebaan, it’s all about a rare combination of factors that make it perfect for the sport:
- flat water (Langebaan is built around a lagoon)
- ideal wind direction (side on shore)
- a wind that is unrelenting for several months of the year
The couple founded Windchasers in 2003, first as a guest house, then expanding a year later to add the Kite School and an accompanying shop selling kiting gear. They believe the sport put Langebaan on the map, contributing significantly to its commercial growth and bringing kiting tourists in to discover the spectacular scenery for themselves (for example, the dramatically named “Shark Bay”, named for its docile & non-aggressive sand sharks.)
Kite Schools based in Cape Town (120 km down the coast) regularly use Langebaan as a location for teaching programmes. In Langebaan, particularly at Shark Bay, the sand is fine and soft and no additional protective footgear is required (contrasting with my experiences in El Gouna, where the presence of coral required good footwear.) It’s literally a great place to take your first steps in the sport.
Alongside developing a keen awareness of your surroundings, you need the right gear. Commendably, the Windchasers Kite School stocks Cabrhina gear for teaching purposes – regarded one of the best-quality brands, with a price-tag to match.
Considering the tendency of beginners to crash their kites it seems like a strange decision for a school to teach with up-market gear – but the rationale is simple. Learning with quality gear helps students progress to proficiency much faster – and low-quality equipment fosters a slower learning experience (at the customer’s expense).
Speaking personally, I never quite understood the difference until I bought my own Cabrhina gear this year and immediately felt more confident on the water.
Thanks to growing demand, more and more kite schools and shops in South Africa are selling gear all year round, ensuring competitive rates, great service and a wealth of choice in Cape Town and elsewhere.
South Africa on the international stage
In recent years South Africa’s standing as a venue for water sporting has gone through the roof, mainly for the environmental conditions already mentioned – the ability to choose between high and low seas depending on your need and the near-perpetual wind during the summer season. There’s also the matter of a weak currency (making holidays hugely affordable), the reliable air connections from Europe – and of course the country’s astonishing scenery. Whether you’re deep in the heart of Cape Town or driving up the West Coast, the natural landscape is never far away and almost always within sight.
Escape the European Winter
There’s also the not inconsiderable attraction of a summer that correlates with Europe’s winter, making it an ideal getaway for Europeans keen to skip the cold weather. South Africa’s Kite season starts around November, with the wind finally ebbing around March. (It’s still possible to kiteboard during the country’s winter months – but conditions are far less reliable.)
The famous Cape Town wind, usually blowing from the south and/or west, is fuelled by air around the South Pole – as a consequence it’s cold and dense, providing kiteboarders with more “grip”. (The warmer the air, the less substantial it feels and acts against a kite.) For the quality of the wind alone, it’s no surprise that many kiteboarders make South Africa their home for much of the year – if they ever leave at all!
Water sport capital of the world contender?
Thanks to this year-round international presence, the Western Cape is a hotspot for professional kiteboarding/kitesurfing events. Take the "Red Bull King of the Air 2013" competition held in Big Bay, with Table Mountain as a backdrop. During this event, 16 top kiteboarders ran through their best moves in front of the Red Bull King Of Air committee and eight ‘wildcard’ judges picked from the ranks of national & international kite boarders . . .
South Africa, whilst staying true to its traditional roots, is clearly pushing for the unofficial title of "water sport capital of the world" – and that’s inspiring a new generation of entrepreneurs. Take the local homegrown brand of Vanhunks Boarding, offering its own SUP ("Stand Up Paddling"), kiteboarding, surfing and skating gear. Showing those traditional roots are never far away, the company name references an old & very famous South African legend…
In the 18th century, Dutch pirate Van Hunks retired to the Cape of Good Hope, and up on Devils Peak he got embroiled in a smoking duel (!) with a stranger. The two men smoked for hours until Van Hunks claimed victory, at which point the pirate realised that the cloaked stranger in front of him was in fact the Devil himself – and a bad loser. One infernal clap of thunder later, Van Hunks had vanished, never to be seen again. To this day, when the south-easterly wind blows over Cape Town and white cloud boils over Table Mountain, it’s said that what some take for cloud is in fact smoke, and Van Hunks and the Devil are duelling once more…
Disclaimer: Big thanks to the guys from Windchasers for the help with supporting information as well as a night’s with accommodation on arrival in Langebaan.
Guest post: Thanks to Lezaan Roos of Travelllll.com