It’s a short, bumpy flight from Nairobi to Ukunda airstrip, which practically hugs the sandy shoreline of Diani Beach. My nose is pressed against the cold Cessna window as I gaze into the tropical blue expanse of the Indian Ocean. As the plane lands, the screensaver-worthy vista disappears. But my excitement is soaring high because in just five minutes I’ll be right there.
A short while later, my vacation-hungry feet sink into the warm white sands of Diani. Completed by a soothing breeze and the gentle hum of the ocean, the beach looks like the perfect spot for doing nothing. But I have something else in mind.
The following morning, my friend Colin and I report to a well-tanned, bearded Italian man with dark glasses and a leisurely stride. For the next three days, Stefano Arco is to be our kitesurfing instructor. We decide to split the lessons not only because it’s easier on our wallets but also because it seems like it will be more fun.
Stefano lays down an impressive bow-shaped black kite on the beach. It looks like it can easily span the length of a Maruti 800.
He unrolls its power lines and inflates the kite as I watch a couple of kitesurfers hit the waves, darting over the water aided by their colourful crescent wings. This is exactly what I want to do: surf away into the cerulean horizon.
Stefano begins introducing us to the world of wind vocabulary neither of us is familiar with. Or so I think until Colin reveals that he has windsurfed before. “Upwind, downwind, wind window.” Words that currently don’t mean much but will prove to be crucial over the next three days.
“Test it for yourself,” Stefano says inviting me to grab some sand, hold my hand out, and open my fist. The fine grains escape and land on the beach, almost parallel to the water. “This is downwind, the direction in which the wind is blowing. The wind window…”
The heat from the mid-day sun is torturing my skin and my mind begins to dream of sipping a chilled piña colada, sitting on a beach chair under one of the coconut trees that are generously sprinkled along the coast.
“So what is it?” Stefano asks.
I’m caught off guard.
“I know the theory is boring but it will be important for when we are in the water.” Stefano lightly reprimands me for getting distracted and happily repeats the wind window concept.
Colin and I take turns to show him our control of the kite in the semi-circular wind window, like the top half of a clock, from 9 o’clock on the left to 3 o’clock to the right. Perfect! We are ready to hit the water. Alas, the lesson is over and we will have to wait for Day 2.
But Day 2 holds a surprise. I cannot believe my eyes. I am completely dwarfed by a green and black kite that is twice as big as what we tried on the first day. “That was just a trainer kite. This is the real thing,” Stefano beams as he launches the monster and takes us into waist-deep water.
Bigger kites are more powerful so this is a different beast. Colin and I are still getting a hang of the movements: steering left requires a gentle tilt of the right thumb against the bar and vice-versa. The lesson keeps getting more and more frustrating for me. In Colin’s hands, the kite flutters majestically in the Kenyan breeze. In my hands, it goes rogue, using every gust to hurl me into the salty ocean that irritates my eyes.
By the third day, Colin is so far ahead of me that Stefano divides our 2.5-hour lesson into two 75-minute individual sessions. I watch Colin take on the body drag, the next level when a kitesurfer glides over the water: one hand maneuvering the kite, the other holding a surfboard not yet in use. He is doing well and inching towards the final level where the power of the kite propels the kitesurfer, now standing confidently on the kiteboard as it dashes over the water.
It’s my turn to enter the water and my confidence is completely dampened. But Stefano isn’t letting me give up. Painstakingly, he corrects my wrist movements and that reflects in the kite’s sways. We walk up and down in waist-deep water as I hold it steady at different positions. I cannot claim to read the wind like Stefano does but the kite and I develop a relationship. I talk and it listens, moving gently the way I steer it. In one magical moment, the kite becomes my connection to the sky and the sun while I am the thread tying it to the water and the earth.
Unfortunately, this isn’t enough for my sweet surfing-into-the-horizon finish. But that just gives me an excuse to head back soon to the sandy stretches of Diani.
Orientation One of Africa’s best beaches, Diani is a popular kitesurfing destination on the southern coast of Kenya.
Getting There Direct flights (approx. $150/`10,000) from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport go to Ukunda, which is a 5-minute taxi ride ($15/`1,000) from Diani Beach.
Stay & Activity The writer stayed at Kenyaways Kite Village and took lessons at the on-site H2O Extreme Sports. Each kitesurfing lesson lasts 2.5 hours and costs $215/`14,400. For beginners, it takes 10-15 hr over 4-6 days to learn basic kitesurfing. Group size is limited to 2 persons. Good windsurfing times are Jun-Sep and Dec-Mar.
Aanchal Anand is a travel addict who has been to over 50 countries across 5 continents. When she isn't travelling, she is typically coaxing her two cats off the laptop keyboard so she can get some writing done.