WHEN French Legaignoux brothers ventured out into the ocean in 1984 with kites strapped to their bodies and waterskis on their feet, they could have never imagined that 30 years later, by the famous Trafalgar lighthouse in Canos de Meca, kites would line the skies by the hundreds as kitesurfers worldwide took part in this adrenaline-packed sport.
This new craze has also taken the nearby Tarifa shoreline by storm, completely eclipsing windsurfing in popularity among thrill-seekers.
“There is nothing like it,” says kitesurfing instructor Ingo Maes, owner of Dragon Kite School in Tarifa, where he has introduced tourists and locals of all ages and athletic levels to the incredible rush of the sport.
“It opened up a new life for me,” continues Maes, who worked in Egypt as a diving instructor before moving to Tarifa to teach kitesurfing in 2005. In addition to diving, he is also an experienced snowboarder, skateboarder, and windsurfer.
Calling Tarifa ‘the best kitesurfing spot in Europe’, he explains that it has exceptionally mild winters as well as one of the best wind currents in the world.
By this he refers to the Poniente, an extremely constant easterly wind from Portugal. It measures between two and five on the Beaufort scale and brings in a cooler breeze from the sea.
The other dominating wind – better for windsurfers – is the Levante, which comes from the southeast over Africa and builds up for a few days before peaking at eight or nine on the Beaufort scale.
“When I saw people jumping 15, 20 metres high, I knew I had to do it,” he remarks. “The feeling you get on the waves is incomparable.”
Though such incredible heights may strike equal measures of amazement and horror, Maes says that the landing ‘has almost no impact at all’.
“It’s like jumping from your chair onto the ground,” he laughs.
Because of the calmness of the sport, kitesurfing companies such as Dragon, Club Mistral, Hot Stick and Tarifa Air Force can teach clients to kitesurf at any age, from retirees to children as young as eight years old. Tarifa Air Force even offers special ‘children’s courses.’
“You start with a small kite and as you learn you keep trying bigger and bigger kites,” says Patricia. This keeps the level of power always in line with the level of experience of the kitesurfer.
To the skeptic, she assures that despite its appearance, the sport is much safer than skiing or snowboarding, with many less serious accidents.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should just take a board and a kite onto water without lessons. However, the learning curve is astonishingly quick.
In general, beginners need three days to learn the basics, and in only five are out kitesurfing on their own.
Both Hot Stick, Dragon and other businesses like Club Mistral and Tarifa Air Force rent out kites, wetsuits, helmets and lessons from as low as €50 per day.