Growing Craze For Kitesurfing

It is about 3pm and the beach is a show as kites of different colours hang beautifully in the sky, surfers racing against the tough waves jumping on the clean waters of the Indian Ocean.

The sport is a thrill and to onlookers it might seem hard to understand. A surfer rides on the deep face of a moving wave, which carries them back to the shore.

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For Christopher Mutunga, it has taken him four years from being a beginner to now when he is having fun on the water.

Mr Mutunga trained for two years as a kite surfer at Diani Kite Club located within Simba and Oryx Beach Cottages in Diani.

He started with pumping air into the kites, setting the lines (bar lines) to the kites and rescuing surfers during emergencies or accidents.

“I was fresh from high school and I had a passion for swimming. Hanging around the beach made me passionate about the sport,” Mr Mutunga says.

The 27-year-old surfer is bold. He has surfed as deep as four kilometres and up to the Diani reefs.

To start kitesurfing, he says, one needs a kite, 24/25 metres bar lines, surfing board and harness. In addition, a life jacket and a wetsuit as they will help one keep warm and afloat.

“One also needs gloves and reef shoes to avoid getting bruises from coral rocks,” Mr Mutunga says.

A kite surfing class starts with theoretical concepts where one learns the safety measures before going in water.

“The second class which is practical is done on water. Make sure the bar lines are arranged well and tied carefully on the harness onto the waist before going on board,” Mr Mutunga says, adding that also, one has to be a good swimmer because the sport is majorly done in water and in case of an accident; one can be able to swim to the shore.

Also, one should be able to communicate well. Seeing and hearing well is required so that one can hear when cautioned about impending danger and avoid causing accidents like clashing with other surfers, boats and swimmers.

“Learning how to study the weather pattern, especially the wind direction is key. We train on how to study the wind direction, seasons and also the tides,” Mr Mutunga says.

Beginners use bigger surfing boards because they are unlikely to sink. Mr Mutunga reminisces surfing under the light of full moon.

Bonny Otieno, Christopher Mutunga and Ali Mlenga

Kite surfers From left; Bonny Otieno, Christopher Mutunga and Ali Mlenga with tourists at Diani beach. PHOTO | DIANA MUTHEU | NMG

“The pros can use boots, small and other technical boards for cruising on the waves. As a beginner, I only surfed close to the shore. I had an instructor accompanying me. Of course, I fell down many times,” he says.

Daniel Heinrichs, who founded of the Diani Kite Club says one does not need to be super-fit to kitesurf.

Even 10-year-olds can surf with the right kite and board.

“Your arms do not take the strain but the pull of the kite goes through your harness, so it’s your abdominal area that gets the workout. One only has to be comfortable in the water and have reasonable level of fitness,” Mr Heinrichs says.

Kenya has two wind seasons so a surfer has to know when to hit the tides. “The warm north-easterly wind called Kaskazi blows from December till March with a steady 18 to 24 knots and from June until September, the wind changes direction and comes from the south to south-east. The conditions during this season are more variable with sometimes stormy winds up to 30 knots,” Mr Heinrichs says.

Waves suitable for surfing are primarily found in the ocean but can also be found in lakes or rivers in the form of a standing wave or tidal bore.

“Kitesurfing is an extreme sport and can be dangerous. One should follow instructions and put on safety gears. During the rainy seasons, it is challenging to kitesurf because of visibility and low manifestation of wind,” says Mr Heinrichs who has done a maiden trip from Lamu to Diani.

“I term kite surfing as a free sport because it needs water and wind. I took two days to surf from Lamu to Diani which is about 273 kilometres, with a stopover in Malindi. I documented the journey,” he says, adding that he would soon surf all the way to Zanzibar.

The sport is not cheap. A 10-hours beginner course costs about Sh38,000.

“It can take four to five days to learn basics and safety measures,” he says, adding that Kenya is one of the countries that has a big potential to grow the sport.

During festive seasons, more than 250 people kitesurf along the Diani beaches.

Mr Heinrichs who started kite surfing in 2011 says that Kenyans should create interest in the sport and also the government support it.

Another surfer, Bonny Otieno who got interest on the sport five years ago while he was selling statues at Mwazaro area in Kwale county says the sport has taught him hard work, obedience, persistence and time keeping.

“I have also interacted with many people from all over the world. We have the resources and the youth can transform the skills they get to business opportunities,” Mr Otieno says.
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