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March 06, 2013

Kiteboarding in Cape Town

All photos by Elana Theunissen

White men can't jump? With all the wind power in Cape Town, ALL men can!

Ever heard the saying when life gives you lemons, make lemonade? In Big Bay, when the wind starts howling, the surf starts calling! After all, life really only starts at 20 knots.

In recent days the wind has been blowing full force in the Mother City. Women around town are showing off colourful "doekies" (scarves) to keep hair and weaves in place. Wearing a skirt to work has been declared a bad wardrobe choice. Around the office water cooler, all become wind gurus and weather forecasters.

No complaints on the Big Bay strip, however. 

As office workers rush home after work, fearing sandblast patterns on their cars (especially on Blouberg's Marine Drive), the beach fills up with sun-bleached hair, bronzed bodies and wetsuits. Kiters pump up big, colourful inflatable kites; each mechanically goes through important safety checks on their boards, flying lines, harnesses and control bars. There is no to time to chat. The wind is out. Knots are picking up. Waves are galloping. Blouberg’s famous sunset is fast approaching.

The stronger the wind, the higher the rush.

Kiteboarding is an extreme sport at its most spectacular. It combines wakeboard, windsurf, surf, paraglide and gymnastics into one. Kiters are free-spirited surf riders, trained to harness the sheer power of nature with their kites. They launch into jumps, advanced jumps and backloops. They perform downwind and upwind runs and have fun in the waves at incredible speeds!

It has been said that Cape Town’s waves are not for the faint-hearted. Big Bay certainly is perfect for wind sports, with winds often ranging between 18 and 40 knots, getting gusty at times. Kiters chase waves from Sunset beach in Milnerton, throughout Blouberg, Big Bay and even to the north at Haakgat en route to Melkbosstrand – scenic surfing with Table Mountain and Robben Island as the perfect backdrop.

The sport has a big following in Blouberg, which is evident in the many kiteboard sales and repair shops, branded minivans and professional kitesurf coaches and trainers working in the area.

Kiters migrate from across the globe, irrespective of season, to the ever-popular Kiter beach house metres from Doodles Beach, where you will always find a mix of German, Swiss, Swedish, French, Danish, British, American, Austrian, Dutch, Polish and Portuguese enthusiasts chilling out, sharing experiences and living a lifestyle of sun, fun, wind and water. Above all, they wait for the perfect moment when the surf really fires up!  Kiters are also seen at Cape Town's many attractions, restaurants and night life. They surf hard and play hard.

Word has it the Speed World Cup Surfing event will be hosted in Blouberg towards the end of 2013, where more than 60 international kiters (plus hangers-on) will be visiting our windy paradise. I can’t wait to see them ride the Big Bay waves and have an epic time!

The ultimate kitesurf spin-off (respekt!)

I moved to Big Bay four years ago and immediately fell in love with the airborne adrenaline junkies. The biggest spin-off is the hours of pleasure I get from watching and photographing the wetsuited daredevils as they tame the wind, perform air jumps and tricks, and suspend in mid-air.

When the Cape Town south-easter picks up and all sane Capetonians barricade themselves indoors, I reach for my binoculars and camera bag..

What do die-hard kiters do on windless days when not painting the Big Bay skyline, you may ask?  You'll find them sitting cross-legged on the sandy dunes, staring longingly out to sea..

Post note:  Kiteboard lingo 101 to enhance your kitesurfer spotting experience

  • Air time: a jump (often five to 10 seconds long)
  • Downwinder: a great day out where a kiter goes on a long journey downwind, and generally needs a mate/bus to get back to where they started (some may be as short as five kilometres, some have travelled hundreds)
  • Lofted: to get lifted vertically into the air by a strong gust of wind (unwanted/unexpected)
  • Ripping: when one is kiteboarding very well
  • Blowing up: crashing due to sheer unmanageable speed
  • Pulling the trigger: pulling on one side of the bar, sending the kite up, to initiate a jump
  • Mobe: a move that involves a back roll, with a front-side 360-degree handle pass
  • Nuking: kiting at high wind speeds, for really experienced riders only;  when the south-easter blows so hard that spray comes off the whitecaps
  • Hindenburg: a reference to the Hindenburg airship disaster of 1937, which in kitesurfing terminology refers to the kite stalling and falling out of the sky
  • Dead seagull: normally happens in lightish winds when performing a messy jump. Lines go slack, the kite falls out of the sky, spiralling down lazily, plopping onto the water like a dead seagull
  • Kitemare: a kiteboard surfing accident or dangerous mishap
  • Teabagging: a most unfortunate situation, being overpowered, getting picked up out of the water and dropped continuously; taking a wipe-out and skidding across the water
  • Teabagger: a term of friendship and endearment for kiters by participants of alternative sports
  • Epic: usually to describe weather conditions at a site or a session, i.e. "that was a totally epic session!"
  • Yard sale: a crash after which you find your gear scattered over a wide area.
  • Respekt: as in what you have for those who pull 60-foot jumps with kiteloops or inverted handlepasses
  • Speedbumps: all bodyboarders and surfers
  • Men in grey suits: sharks

Elana Theunissen is a proud inhabitant of the Mother City, and a passionate Big Bay fan.

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