Mark My Words
WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO – Mark Shinn hits the last spot on his travel wish list, Cape Town, South Africa and it turns out to be a case of better late than never
I’ve been travelling for competitions, demos, visits and freeriding since 1999. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have had the chance to visit so many countries and experience so many different cultures and have tried to take each and every opportunity that has been open to me. There has, however, been one glaring omission from the rather long list of countries and spots I’ve visited, so glaring in fact that it’s become a bit of an embarrassment and I’ve flippantly quoted to all those who enquire about my notable lack of presence that, after living in the Canary Islands for so long, I would never willingly travel to a location where the water was colder than home. However, this isn’t entirely true. The main reason I’ve never been to South Africa is simply that the opportunity has never really arisen. Somehow for the past eight years I’ve always had something more pressing to do during the peak months of wind in Cape Town.
It seems that South Africa and Brazil have become the winter getaway spots of choice for myriad riders offering the perennial favourites of consistently warm and windy conditions. Brazil has a host of flat water lagoons whilst Cape Town offers mile upon mile of wave strewn coast and, in recent years, a host of riders from the kiteboarding 'A list' have made South Africa their winter training home.
My initial impressions were good. While not short, the eleven hour flight from mainland Europe is made considerably better by the small time difference of only one hour (or two hours if you're coming from the UK). This obviously doesn't help with the boredom of flying, but when you arrive you are fit to get straight into the thick of the action. In my mind this makes it a true short-stay winter option; Brazil on the other hand has a significant time difference and you can be assured of four or five days of early wakings before you adjust to the new time zone. Entry into South Africa is also relatively painless with no visa required for most.
We arrived on a mid-January evening and slept early (and if you believe that you’ll believe anything! The truth is that we arrived in the evening and proceeded to sample as many of the local brews as we could before staggering home to sleep) to be sure to be ready to ride the next day.
Turn up at Big Bay just north of kite beach (Dolphin Beach) in the Bloubergstrand area on any given day in the winter (or as it is locally known - summer!) and there’s a good chance you’ll bump into some well known faces. While we were there we rode with Ruben Lenten, Aaron Hadlow, Sebastian Catalan, Kevin and Jalou Langaree, Cesar Portas, Bruna Kajiya, Felix Pivec and many more. Surely a sign that the spot must be good!
Typical conditions seem to be light-ish in the morning and then strengthening throughout the day until the evening when the winds can get seriously strong. I rode a five metre kite for two sessions in Cape Town, and it’s been a long time since I’ve had to do that! On the inside there is plenty of flat water between the waves for the freestylers to do their thing, while at the same time the waves can be a lot of fun. I didn’t get to see it huge on my short trip but I can see the potential of the place. The water didn’t seem as cold as I’d been led to believe either. I arrived equipped with a 5/3 full suit only to be seriously overdressed and wishing for a 3mm suit at most. The water is in no way cold enough to keep you on the beach (though skinny dipping might not be the best idea if you want to impress!).
The wave riders seem to have fallen into a pattern of endless downwinders to the extent that there even exists a downwind shuttle service; just tell the driver where you are heading and what time you will be there and he will be waiting patiently to bring you back to your start point. I didn’t partake in the downwind missions (after spending the first six months of my kiteboarding career struggling to go upwind, I’m somewhat unwilling to give it up now), but I can certainly see the attraction.
Of all the spots we went to the quality of the water and beaches was truly refreshing, blue, blue water, white sand beaches and little or no pollution. I enjoyed several outstanding sessions in Big Bay (of the spots I visited, this is for sure my favourite spot on the Cape) with waves varying from knee high to well overhead. The wind is pretty much dead side-shore, making front or backside riding a dream and being a beach break and the peak is spread along the length of the beach there are no real crowding problems in the line up. Another great feature is the bar just next to the spot where we enjoyed many a sunset beer watching the last of the riders finish their session.
Of course action on the water is the key ingredient to a good kite trip but it’s not everything and South Africa can provide more than enough off the water entertainment to keep even the most dedicated tourist happy.
Of course action on the water is the key ingredient to a good kite trip, but it’s not everything, and South Africa can provide more than enough off-the-water entertainment to keep even the most dedicated tourist happy. I spent a couple of days in a game reserve not too far from Durban and I would defy anyone not to be impressed when confronted with the native wildlife in the flesh. When you’ve had a fully grown African elephant staring you down you’ll have a much better appreciation of the word 'intimidating'.
The political situation in South Africa seems to be a little unstable (to say the least) however, given the country's turbulent recent history it’s hardly surprising and I suspect it will improve as time goes on. In fact, on the whole I’d say I felt notably safer in South Africa than I have done in Brazil.
All in all South Africa gets my full recommendation as a great place to visit and well worth the time and expense needed to get there, but it seems that everyone I have tried to recommend it to has been there already! So there you have it, I am officially the last person to know about kiteboarding’s least well kept secret spot. That makes this whole column almost entirely redundant and pointless, and for that I apologise to all of you that have made it this far hoping I might have something new and enlightening to offer! Next issue I shall attempt to do better, but for now, in a last ditch effort to redeem myself, I shall close with my current top five list of winter travel destinations.
(Disclaimer: M Shinn reserves the right to insert or remove any location on this list at will without notice or specific reason.)
1 South Africa (if you read this column you’ll know why)
2 Brazil (it might have been ousted by SA for now... but it’s still pretty good!)
3 Barbados (it’s just so much fun and the conditions are great)
4 Tenerife (there is a reason why I still choose to live there)
5 Cabo Verde (INSANE waves and warm water)
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue#32