A thrill that even the hardened adrenaline-junkie will find all too tantalizing, kitesurfing has come a long way since the Chinese started using kites for propulsion in the 13th century. With feet on board and hands on steering bar, kitesurfers come closest to fulfilling humanity’s long sought after dream of controlled, free flight.
True, for the most part, kitesurfing seems to be about gliding across waters much like any other surfing sport. But when the wind is right and adventure beckons, all it takes is a tweak here and a tweak there on the steering bar, and suddenly this sport appears to be spent mostly up in the air, where skilled surfers can zoom up to 15+ meters into the sky, and stay up there long enough for onlookers to start to question whether they will ever come down. Dangerous: yes. Fun: hell yes!
But kitesurfing is not so dangerous as to fail to gather an ever-growing number of avid fans here in Egypt. In fact, Egypt is proving to be one of the global hotspots for the young sport, with schools and centers in Sinai and Hurghada once dedicated to windsurfing now throwing away their sails for kites.
One such center, Airspace School, in Ras Sudr, has been attracting quite the bit of local and international attention for its key location. Setting itself up at the very pristine Lagoon Beach (some 20 minutes away from Moonbeach Hotel), the water area, described as a buttery smooth kitesurfing playground, has been rented by Airspace for the past three years. Being a lagoon, and therefore lacking the risk of surfers flying too far off from shore, the center offers a safe environment perfect for a range of beginner and refresher courses – there’s also a good range of kits to rent out for the qualified.
Kitesurfing, despite its dangers, is quite a graceful sport. Beginners at Airspace will start by learning to maneuver a small kite across the wind window (the area above and to the left and right of the person when they’re standing with the wind to their back) through the steering bar while standing by the beach. Using a regular sized kite (which are actually quite huge, depending on wind conditions) would be a bad idea, and at this early point would quite possibly involve you flying right off into one of the villas some distance away.
For this part of the training, however, it’s a subtle process that takes time to get used to – a fraction of a second of pulling onto one side of the bar at the wrong time is all it takes for this miniature kite to come crashing down. Once you’re sensitive enough to the ways the wind and kite interact and have a thorough understanding of basic wind logistics, you move on to real-sized kites.
For some it’s a hassle, while others see it simply as part of the game, but what is sure is that unfolding a kite, inflating it, unwinding the lines from the steering bar and attaching them to the kite, while making sure they’re not tangled, does take some time. Packing up is equally time-consuming, and you’ll often see beginners sitting for hours on end attempting to untangle what looks like a bunch of knots coming to form one big, nasty, stubborn knot in the lines.
Tedious as it may be for some, the second you get a kite up in the air, strapped is it would be to your harness, all else is forgotten. And this is the second thing you learn to do, along with practicing all the corresponding safety precautions. From there on, after mastering basic maneuvers, you learn to body drag, which is basically kitesurfing with your body in the water without a board – an essential skill as you can expect to have your board slip away from you now and again. Finally, with that out of the way, it’s only a few more steps on how to initiate a water start and how to make a turn, before you’re up, up and away – literally.
The downside of kitesurfing, however, aside from the small possibility of getting blown away into a hut or tree and the occasional unknotting sessions spent alone, is that it is an expensive sport. A secondhand kite will cost you around LE1500 (a board LE1000), and a decent firsthand kit that includes both kite and board can go in the region of $3000 – not to mention that you’ll probably need a couple of kites to match the various wind speeds. Yet expensive as it can be for the serious surfer, it is no mere rich-man’s sport – a highly organic sport, it’s all about freedom meshed with skill, and once you hook your kite to your harness for the first time, you can be sure that you too will be hooked to this riveting sport for some time to come.
By Hazem Zohny