Many come to the Caribbean to sail on water. Others come to sail in the sky.
All-inclusive Coconut Bay Beach Resort on St. Lucia hosted a Kiteboarding Fantasy Camp in February 2011, sponsored by Kiteboarding magazine, and during my stay the bright blue sky was veritably clogged with kites of all color, the boarders below skittering across the waves and more than occasionally launching themselves 30 feet in the air to perform incredible stunts.
I got tired just watching them, so I figured it better to sit on the beach and watch. This is a glorious sport, fluid, athletic, graceful, and you don’t have to be a pro to do it. 2Elements is the kiteboarding shop here, run by native Briton Chris Haysey, and they offer lessons to get you up on the azure water in no time. The shop is a pleasant walk down the beach, several hundred yards from Coconut Bay and many are the guests who come here solely to take to the water and sky.
The difference between kiteboarding and windsurfing, which can be confusing to neophytes like me: Kiteboarding (also known as kitesurfing) is done on a board and letting a 20-foot-long kite attached to lines some 75-feet long pull you along the water. Windsurfing is standing on a surfboard and pulling up a sail attached to it and riding the water that way.
St. Lucia is one of the hot spots of the kiteboarding world, pros here told me, battered blissfully on the south, where Coconut Bay is, by strong, steady Atlantic winds. Haysey said the best months are December through August, with average wind speeds of 18-20 knots, compared to still-brisk 14-16 knots in off season.
The fantasy camp had pros like Andre Philipe and Damien LeRoy on hand to guide campers on day-long trips on the water. They were extremely gracious and helpful and folks I talked to who paid to attend said it was money very well spent. These are top athletes in their field; it would be like golfers at a camp being taught by Tiger Woods, the amateur boarders told me, such was the expertise offered to them.
Richard Hallman was the freelance photographer here to document the camp, himself an accomplished boarder, living in Hood River, Ore., a prime U.S. spot for the sport.
“I’ve been all over doing this, and this part of St. Lucia is one of the best in the world,” Hallman said, rigging his waterproof camera with which he got some amazing, up close shots of boarders literally flying overhead. “The steady winds are the key here, they’re slightly onshore so no matter what happens, you get blown toward the shore. And it’s a long, clean beach, no rocks.”
I ran into Fabio, a young, muscular Italian who is part of the teaching crew at 2Elements, who boasted to me, “I’m the best on the beach!” and then joked that if I took his photo, I’d have to pay him – until he found out I’m Italian and my family hails from near his native Lake Cuomo.
This would seem a sport for the fit; boarders can stay out on the water for up to six hours at a stretch, venturing out a half mile or more and cutting endlessly back and forth, their magnificent backdrop the towering Maria Islands just offshore, a nature reserve that is home to some of the rarest plant and animal species on the planet, including the Kouwes snake and Zandoli Terre lizard, two species found nowhere else.
But being in superb condition isn’t necessary, said Aaron Sales, editor of Kiteboarding magazine, who gave me a rudimentary lesson in the sport, showing me the bar used to control the kite, the long lines attached to it, and the board. He said manipulating the bar to control the kite, leaning back or forward to let the wind do the work, is the key to conserving energy and maximizing your time on the water.
I didn’t have time for a complete lesson, so I didn’t take to the water, but the options are many at 2Elements. Guests at Coconut Bay can take a “teaser taster,” a short, free lesson followed by a quick turn on the water, but Haysey said the best way to learn the sport is to take the full course. For beginners, that means a 10-hour course for $600; at completion, each guest receives an International Kiteboarding Organization (IKO) certification card.
Those wanting to tune up what they already know can get private lessons for $60 an hour. And guests who already kiteboard and want to rent gear can do so for $80 a day, the amount dropping for multi-day rentals. If you bring your own gear – and many do – they’ll store it for $15 a day.
Lessons are very much worth it, the pros and amateurs told me, and the evidence of all they’ve learned was splashed across the horizon as I sat watching. The sky seemed full and crowded, with upwards of two dozen kites at any one time, but that was a bit of an illusion caused by my shoreline vantage point, Haysey told me. These folks are good, having trained well, and paying attention to the rules of the water, he said.
Up and down the stretch of beach by 2Elements, beautifully nylon kites stretched out and billowed on the sand, awaiting their owners to lift them to the sky, catch the wind and take them out to the sea, where many just zipped along and the more well versed took to the air, shooting skyward, grabbing the board to perform superb, twisting aquabatics that were just mesmerizing to watch, pro and amateur athletes enjoying the full offerings of this watery, windswept playground.
And if, like me, you are just a spectator, there’s no better way to spend your time at all-inclusive Coconut Bay Beach Resort than to pull up a chair at 2Elements or lounge on the sand and watch others indulge in one of the most graceful sports you’ll ever see.
Guests can make kitesurfing reservations online, over the phone or at the Adventure St. Lucia Desk located in Coconut Bay’s lobby. 2Elements also rents paddle boards, kayaking and windsurfing gear.
Kiteboarding at 2Elements, Coconut Bay Beach Resort and Spa
St. Lucia, West Indies
Kiteboarding lessons $60 per hour.