Think Maldives, and we think of epic surf breaks, dazzling white beaches and turquoise waters. Dinners on the beach, sunset cocktails and honeymoon bliss. A place blessed with amazing marine life and friendly locals, it is on most travellers’ wish list, a must-do for couples, a definite for divers. Spend your days in search of dolphins, whale-sharks or Manta Rays, indulge in spa treatments and dance the night away. Savour the mouth-watering delights served up by award-winning chefs and enjoy evening entertainment in the most romantic settings on earth.
The last thing we think about regarding Maldives, is the wind… with good reason…
With two short monsoons seasons, usually around December/January and again June/July (which is sadly, also the wet monsoon) it experiences very little wind, has limited reliable forecasts and when it does blow, thermal winds ensure that you are still using kites in the larger ranges. It can be extremely frustrating, impossible to plan around and it’s only reliable consistency, is that, at some stage, without fail, it’s going to let you down. Here we learn the value of rescue facilities, the art of quick set-ups and learn to deal with incomplete lessons. We become experts in salvaging drowned foil kites, masters of light-wind flying and are pros at replacing leaky valves (due to high temperatures and humidity). Here, time on the water is affected by boat traffic as well as other water-users, and sessions can be cut short by seaplane traffic which, for obvious reasons, take priority.
Due to these conditions, it’s understandable why the Maldives is not rated as one of the world’s best wind destinations. For those wishing to explore the world and kite exotic locations, we would probably rank as one of the last places to visit.
However, for a small group of kiters who call Maldives home, it is a magical place with special beauty and meaning. Here we learn to embrace those short sessions which are filled with enthusiasm, joy and the collective desire to progress. Also, the sunsets are beautiful and the water is warm. As in life, we have to accept what we cannot change and appreciate what we have, and not focus on what we don’t have. That been said, here follows the top 5 reasons why kite-surfing in the Maldives is so frikkin amazing.
I once had a student who had an epileptic attack during his first lesson, something he failed to mention on his registration form. He spent 3 days in hospital without even the slightest idea of why he was in Cape Town, who he was travelling with or even where he was staying. During his seizure he managed to send a 3m kite into a full downwind, power-zone, kite-loop, which picked him up and launched him into flight that Superman would have been proud of. The landing was not pretty, head first, and he ploughed a 10m long gash in the sand till we reached his quick-release.
Kite crashes and unwanted beach drags are not uncommon when you teach in high winds. This is mainly due to the performance of small kites which respond to any small steering adjustments. They leave you with very little reaction time, and although they have a smaller canopy area, they have the potential of creating huge amounts of power, sometimes unintentionally. This is what makes learning in Maldives so much easier.
The smallest kite in our school is a 9m and most lessons will start with this size, or even bigger such as a 12m. These kites turn through the air slowly which makes for a more comfortable flying experience and lowers the risk of accidents. We use these sizes due to the low winds we experience and this increases our success rate in teaching, and ultimate enjoyment for our students. With the right conditions, it is possible to have a fully confident and certified level 3 student after 8 hours of teaching, with my personal record standing at 6 hours. Of course this depends on the student and the wind conditions but teaching in lower winds (provided there is any wind) is a much more rewarding experience than trying to survive in 25/30 knots of wind with a nervous student, whose safety you are responsible for.
There aren’t any, ever. Most sessions are around 5/6 kites with a busy day seeing around 10 kites, which is rare. Still too crowded? Take a short trip to a deserted, uninhabited island by catamaran, set-up and enjoy the fact that you are the first people to ever kite there, ever. We have one spot near our island which only works once, maybe twice a year. Very few people have had the opportunity or pleasure to kite there and we anxiously wait every year to see if this unique spot will offer us some water time. We discovered it, we named it.
About those 5/6 kiters mentioned earlier. We all know each other, we know each others’ skills. We know which trick is next on our progression wish list. We see and celebrate new achievements together, and we do so with the knowledge that everyone on the water has my back, is looking out for me and is enjoying the experience as a unit or family, sharing the stoke.
Sure, nobody enjoys non-wind days, but when it’s out of your hands you best find other activities that keep you stimulated and entertained. Thankfully nature provides us with those options…
Snorkel with Manta Rays. These gentle giants can be found it great numbers in our waters, depending on area and season. Although smaller than the Oceanic mantas, these reef mantas can be found feeding off microscopic plankton on the surface, and allow us to experience some very close encounters.
Swim with Whale Sharks. Not as easy to find as Manta Rays, which makes the experience that much more special. Thankfully the Maldives have strict regulations regarding these large ocean dwellers and some areas are controlled to limit number of boats and tourists entering.
Dolphin super-pods, reef snorkelling with turtles, catamaran sailing, shark dives, stand-up-paddling, surfing (in certain atolls), and indulgent spa treatments.
If all this is not enough, Kalpitiya in Sri Lanka has great wind and is a short 90 minute flight from us.
That is, if we not too busy fixing leaky valves and washing drowned foil kites from the last session.
Not only do we kite mostly in flat, uncrowded lagoon areas, the water is an average of 28/29 degrees Celcius. Leave the wetsuits at home. No more freezing hands and toes, no more struggling to get into, and out of, a full wetsuit. Warmer waters mean longer sessions (yeah right) and students don’t tire as quickly. Kite-boarding in board-shorts is way better and more comfortable than full 3mm suits and no defrosting needed after a kite.
What about the chance to see dolphins, turtles or eagle rays while out on the water? Done…
No waves to bash students around or lost boards in the shore-break. On top of that, the Maldives climate doesn’t change much through the year so air temperatures will remain between 26-32 degrees. Makes for a hot workout but don’t worry, the drinks are always cold.
The # 1 reason we love kite-boarding Maldives is due to the fact that we don’t get to kite much at all.
This takes the stoke to a whole new level. Every bit of wind we get, we are charged and highly motivated to stick new tricks and to enjoy each gust of wind as if it’s our last, which it may well be.
The camaraderie is high and the session will be discussed and analysed for days. In the evening there is a rush to check the online videos again to check what we did right/wrong, or to check out the options for the next trick. Lighter winds also ensure that every session is a progression session. We are able to advance and try new skills and tricks as the conditions are perfect for this.
The atmosphere in the team when the next wind forecasts come through, will be one of apprehension and excitement, with hopes that this time, the wind will not let us down. As the rest of the resort goes into meltdown due to adverse weather, one small group of people are doing an “inside dance”. We have no long car trips to endure before or after sessions, we don’t need to stop for groceries for dinner, so most days are ended only once the last daylight has faded.
We don’t get to kite as often as some people around the world, but when we do, it’s in warm, crystal clear waters, with people who have been longing and praying for wind, sometimes for weeks. When we wake up and hear those palm trees rustling, we have intense excitement for the day ahead, without fail, this is how we feel, this is stoke. That’s kite-boarding in Maldives.