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Get the adrenaline pumping? Absoutely. Easy to master? Not really. Andrea Thompson enters the Indian Ocean kitesurfing scene to try his hand at learning to “ride”
Thirty minutes after starting my first kitesurfing lesson, I suddenly find myself wanting the tranquility of the hotel pool. Standing waist-deep in the sea, I feel a strong tug on my kite ropes as the wind picks up and my entire upper body rushes forward. I spend the next few moments being dragged at an alarming rate across the surface of the water before being planted facing the salty ocean. I am certainly out of my comfort zone.
“Hey, calm downâ¦ you’re trying too hard to control the kite, man,” my instructor Joel said, appearing beside me and speaking in a languid tone universally reserved for surfers the world over. âThe kite is like a wild beast. The more you try to control him, the more he will control you.
Kitesurfing is not for the faint hearted, but it is a sport that I have long wanted to try. I learned to surf over ten years ago and loved it, standing on the board from my first few minutes and progressing quickly. I spent many weekends in Newquay
– whatever the weather – with my girlfriends riding the waves for hours every day, and vacations based around new places to surf.
My partner Will is an experienced kitesurfer so family vacations over the past few years with our two boys (now seven and four) have taken us to some great kitesurfing destinations. But I have never reserved a taste so much. The temptation to relax with a good book once I hit the beach was just too strong.
That’s why I finally decided to try kitesurfing in Mauritius: it has the best conditions in the world for beginners. The beaches here are vast and the water is shallow and clear. Thanks to a protective coral reef around the entire island, there are plenty of flat water lagoons with few waves to knock you off your board. This comes in handy while you have mastered the basics, like controlling your kite and standing (if you’ve already mastered skateboarding, snowboarding, or wakeboarding you’ll have a definite advantage).
The best season for kitesurfing in Mauritius is between May and November when the breeze is fair (around 20 knots) and the average temperature is around 24ËC (22ËC in the water). I choose to wear a wetsuit every day, mainly because you spend a lot of time as a learner standing in the water listening to the instructions on how to master the kite (the hardest part), which can get cold.
âKitesurfing is 20% board skills, 80% kite skills,â Joel told me on my second day. Having only flown a kite a few times when I was a child, he forces me to get out of the sea just to practice flying it on dry land for a good hour of class. The main obstacle, I find, is overriding the natural reaction of pulling the kite towards you when you feel yourself losing control of it to the wind. It actually has the opposite of the desired effect; build up the strength of the kite, which can be slightly terrifying as you are propelled faster across the water. Surprisingly, it’s your heart that does the heavy lifting and stays sore at the end of the day, rather than your biceps, as the harness takes so much of the load off your arms.
My kitesurfing days with the Kite Yoaneye Center passed on Le Morne beach in the southwest of the island, which is the place to go and spectacularly beautiful with its mountainous backdrop. Besides the beginner-friendly lagoon, it is also home to the One Eye Reef, famous for its powerful waves, and dotted with surfers performing impressive jumps and freestyle tricks and surfing long, wild waves along the coast.
Our first stop is the neighbor Dinarobin Beachcomber Golf Resort & Spa, an elegant hotel that sits on a pristine mile of white beach fringed by lush green palm trees. It’s a five-minute drive from the lagoon itself, with the stunning Morne Brabant mountain as a backdrop. In addition to its four excellent restaurants serving fresh locally caught fish, it has a championship golf course as well as its own full water sports center (based at its sister hotel, Paradise, a short shuttle ride) with the friendliest and most patient set of instructors I have encountered.
My sons love to paddleboard and snorkel in the calm blue waters, so we head to the center every morning right after breakfast. We also make full use of the free sailboats and catamarans that you can hire to cross the lagoon in search of turtles. The boys are also excited to find that they can go fishing on a glass bottom boat and encounter the local marine life as part of the daily activities at the kids’ club. It’s seamless. The times even match kitesurfing lessons, so we spend a good three hours of adult time on the water each day before relaxing with the family by one of the heated outdoor pools later in the afternoon. .
It’s also good that we were just five minutes away, because by the time I get on the little shuttle for the bumpy ride back to our hotel each day, I’m physically and mentally broken, and my mind is numb with the intense concentration of learning something new for three hours straight. As I listen to other surfers unpack their day’s experiences, I learn to surrender to that wonderfully zoned feeling of being in the sea air for hours and totally in the present. I rationalize that it might take me two weeks to feel like I’ve really made progress, but that euphoric feeling that everyone’s talking about is definitely there.
After a few days of kitesurfing we need to relax and check out The Mauritius Residence, an imposing hotel on the east side of the island’s famous Belle Mare beach. During the two hour drive, we zigzag through tiny villages, lush fields and the most beautiful deserted beaches, stopping at a hut on the road to purchase local pastries, which are a wonderful blend of Indian street food. traditional, Caribbean / African flavors and, yes, a Cornish pÃ¢tÃ©. Mauritius is a fascinating blend of African, Indian and European culture, thanks to its unique location in the Indian Ocean – just 1,000 miles off the coast of the African continent – and past colonization by the French and the British.
Our room at The Residence overlooks the longest and whitest beach in Mauritius, perfect for a morning barefoot run or yoga session. A former colonial-style hotel, inspired by the homes of the island’s sugar cane plantations, The Residence is an impressive property set on 25 acres, where we were introduced to our personal butler for the duration of our stay. We quickly settle into a routine, taking a quiet spot each morning by one of the beautiful heated pools to dive into our books, while the boys search for crabs along the coast just in front of us.
It is also here that we can taste some of the best local cuisines of our time on the island. The evening buffet alone is worthy of its own food critic and offers a delicious range of vegetable curries, fresh seafood, freshly baked flatbreads with spices, and lovely French desserts. It doesn’t take long before we have fully embraced the concept of vegetable curries, dahl and rotis for breakfast and lunch as well, the variety of dishes is so wide.
The award-winning spa is a welcome relief for our tired and sore members, and I am delighted to find that we are only a 15-minute drive from the famous open-air markets of Center de Flacq (which are held on Wednesdays and Sundays), where
I spend an entire afternoon hanging out and haggling with the merchants before shopping for gorgeous white linen shorts and silver jewelry.
On the last day, as I plant my toes deep in the white sands of Belle Mare, I vow to return to Mauritius next year to hone my kitesurfing skills and explore the culture a bit more. A week is not long enough to experience all that this diverse and perfect island has to offer.
â Air Mauritius offers direct flights from London Heathrow to Mauritius. Economy class flights start from Â£ 732 per person including all taxes; visit airmaurice.com
â Seven nights for two adults staying full board in a Junior Suite at Dinarobin Beachcomber Golf Resort & Spa from Â£ 975 per person, including complimentary land and water sports; visit beachcombertours.uk
â Seven nights for two adults with half board at The Residence Mauritius from Â£ 1,155 per person; visit cenizaro.com/theresidence/mauritius
For more information on Mauritius, visit tourism-mauritius.mu