Best of the Rest
This is part two of a three part travel story on Egypt written by Jenny Cooper. Links to parts one and three at the end
INTRO – We asked local kiter, English ex-pat Jenny Cooper, to explain what makes kiting spots in Egypt tick and to introduce us to some of her friends from the beach
The kite stations at El Gouna are diverse in their design and size, but also their owners, staff, storage and guests. Without guests the kite business wouldn’t exist here but there would still be plenty of locals kiting at every opportunity. The facilities and kite scene are fantastic as, with a small number of kite schools in an intimate community, there's a fun camaraderie between all kiters. But thanks to the kite business, many Egyptians have got into the sport that otherwise would never have had the opportunity to do so.
The social life is not station specific, it's not even kiter specific; it’s just one of the things that makes El Gouna special. Kiters party together with the venue depending on the night, the occasion and the season. El Gouna has a programme of street events and the parties in the warm summer nights can last till dawn. Of course, for full on club nights out you can head to Ministry in Hurghada, which is just down the road by taxi (or bus, but only until around midnight).
The kiting infrastructure of a resort like El Gouna is pretty much typical of the Red Sea Coast. The beach front is privately owned and, aside from any rental equipment and teaching costs, freeriders are expected to pay a reasonable service charge to cover beach rent, storage, rescue, facilities and, importantly, beach service from the beach boys.
The Egyptians employed in the kite stations are mostly young men who move from their home towns to the coast in search of a good place to work and, more often, to be able to earn money to send back to their families. Family life is very important in Egypt and most workers in the resort work seven days a week for a number of weeks before returning to their families for a one or two week holiday every couple of months. Asking them about home and their family means a lot. The same goes for language; a little effort goes a long way. If you can, try to at least remember 'Shokran' and 'Afwan'; Egyptian Arabic for 'Thank you' and 'You’re welcome', even though many Egyptians I know are well educated, articulate and speak more English than I do Arabic. Their own language has no prepositions, so the same applies when they speak English. So although it may seem a bit stilted, it’s actually just very efficient. The locals are generally warm, welcoming and funny. They may also work at their own pace, as you will discover, so be ready to go with the flow.
Egyptian friends bring their friends and help them find work, who in turn make new friends. Kimo, Momo, Emad and Gogo all came to initially to work as beach boys in Hurghada and later became instructors. Significantly, being an IKO instructor here allows the guys to earn a good wage for themselves and their families. Momo and Emad have gone on to become full time pro-riders for EFG Hermes – one of the Arab world's biggest investment banks. Kimo's friend Nemo came here to assist him as a beach boy and also ended up as an instructor; you get the idea. The latest addition to the Egyptian instructors here is Cosha who knew Momo already, I think! Guaranteed to entertain, he likes to try new stuff at what is obviously not the best time; such as kite loops in the kite loop contest at Kitejamboree on a borrowed seven metre in 30+ knots of wind! Kite like an Egyptian - it’s not for the feint hearted. They seem to know no fear!
Egyptian wages can make even buying a harness a real challenge and sharing is normal between the guys. Cosha and Nemo bought a €500 2008 Ozone Instinct nine metre and shared it until it demised in tatters earlier this year. Their old Choc board delaminated, but that didn’t seem to bother them as they could still ride it blind in 30 knots. Cosha now has two crispy new Vegas 2010s which he will share with Nemo until Nemo gets his own kites. Nemo already has a board from his sponsors, Crazy Fly, and Cosha cut a deal on a new Choc board at the end of Kite Jamboree event this year, so hopefully they will have reliable equipment now with which to improve their riding and keep up the amazing showmanship.
To understand a bit more about some of the people you’ll meet here, on a more personal level, here’s an introduction to a few of my friends from the kite beaches here:
MOHAMED HOSNY AHMED AMIN AKA: "MOMO"
Egyptian full time pro rider, El Gouna
Momo, 27, first came here from Cairo after finishing high school in 2002. He planned to work as a computer programmer but, as a competitive handball player, found his way to the Red Sea for a brighter future in sport and ended up working as beach boy at Colona in Hurghada. He started kiting in 2003, got his IKO instructor qualification in 2006 and found a job as as a kite instructor in El Gouna. He’s an awesome kiter has great beach presence, looks good, has a precise style and, as a pro rider for EFG Hermes, is always working hard to maintain and improve his level. He became Egyptian national champion in 2009 in his first year of competition and made his first international trip to the KTA event at Hong Kong earlier this year, where unfortunately, there was no wind.
KHALED GAMA HASSAN
Beach Boy, El Gouna
Khaled, 28 moved to El Gouna four years ago to find a job to help support his family in Aswan. He quickly picked up some English language skills and learnt what he needed to to work on the beach, as well as being able to make small kite repairs and work the rescue boat. He’s really practical too; can lay a floor, is a talented woodworker and can turn his hand to pretty much anything. He loves his life on the kite station and it shows in his smile. A couple of years ago he learnt to kitesurf and whenever he gets chance he's out there with our old 13 metre 2003 Slingshot Fuel or seven metre Wipika Amp. Beach boys like Khaled are the key to the success of a kite station, doing all sorts of little things that make a great difference.
BARAKAT MAHMOUD AHMED
Kite repair man, El Gouna
It’s hard to see where Barakat's work on a kite has been done; his attention to detail is immaculate. Born in 1981, his family are farmers and live on the Nile in Qena in Upper Egypt (which is actually in the middle, not the north!). He studied social work at University before heading to the Red Sea to look for better life. As a social worker job prospects were limited, with salary potential a few years down the line of around LE300 per month (about £35). He started at Kitepower in El Gouna as a beach boy in 2003 and lived on the kite station. After two years he was appointed beach boy supervisor/manager and then moved into the repair shop when the previous (European) repairer left, just over three years ago. Barakat now lives in downtown El Gouna. His own kite is a North Rhino 2006 and his kiting style is old school; one footers and board-offs, but he told me his favourite thing about kiting is mending broken kites and that he gets most satisfaction from restoring a really badly damaged kite for its owner who is desperate to get back out on the water.
Mahmoud found his way to the Red Sea in 1985 from Al Fojaira in the UAE. His first steps in the kiting world were when he started working as a beach boy at the Tommy Friedl Pro Centre in Hurghada. Helping people set up their lines, launch and land their kites, he says it was difficult to learn fast because kitesurfing was such an expensive and foreign sport that the locals had no knowledge of it. It was when an instructor from New Zealand came to work at the centre that he got 'totally infected' with kitesurfing, and was able to start assisting him on his lessons. After three years he had enough money to buy his first kite, a 2006 North Rhino and to be able to do his instructor course. The 28 year old then moved to El Gouna for a year of intense studying, gaining his bachelor degree in social studies earlier this year. He's now back at the Tommy Friedl center as a fully qualified IKO instructor and says, “Kitesurfing is everything to me. This sport has completely changed my life in a positive way!”
OUT OF TOWNERS
As well as the Egyptian kite station work force and all the holiday guests (from trainee kitesurfers to free riders), El Gouna attracts visitors from the kite industry, ranging from numerous pro riders returning here for training and video/photo shoots in Gounas’amazing blue lagoons and luminous light, to manufacturers, such as Jozef Bukovčák who comes here to visit his now resident test rider from South Korea Kiwhan, to develop and refine the next season’s equipment. The pro riders who come here are an important and very visible part of the scene, building good relationships with the local stations and riders as well as being great showmen and women and are obviously much better to watch than me on the water
OUTRO – Jenny Cooper is a freelance writer. She moved to El Gouna with her husband, Dave, from the UK four years ago, to focus on their kiting. A lovely couple, you'll catch them riding at the Red Sea Zone centre. They can probably count on one hand the windy days they've missed out on since they arrived! Dave's photography website is: www.redseamonkeys.com
PART ONE: Missed the first part? Find the El Gouna conditions and more by clicking here
PART THREE: Find the final part of this feature on Soma Bay by clicking here