x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Kitesurfing is the sport that is flying high

The watersport that incorporates a mix of activities, fast-growing in popularity, is the final sport at the 10-day Al Gharbia Watersports Festival.

Kitesurfers at Al Gharbia Watersports Festival. Mike Young / The National
Kitesurfers at Al Gharbia Watersports Festival. Mike Young / The National

View the vogue sport of kitesurfing for the first time, and you might deem it a variation. Listen to the practitioners wax lyrical - and boy, can they wax lyrical - and it is actually a culmination.

This zany-looking thing that began to turn up in the late 1990s and proliferate in the 2000s is not just another aquatic pursuit to add to the list. It is something that just might trump the whole list.

"This is what really motivates me because there's a bit of everything, including flying," Luca Savastano said. "This is the perfect mix of all, together. It's like paragliding, jumping in the water and surfing, everything. It's the creative mix you can do ... It's the best expression of all the sports melded together."

As the Italian Dubai resident spoke from the shore in Al Mirfa yesterday at the Al Gharbia Watersports Festival, he ticked through some next-of-kin sports such as windsurfing and wakeboarding, but noted those sports tend to involve one or two skills, or one or two directions, cumbersome hardware.

Kitesurfing, as the Welsh Dubai resident Ed Rees put it, brings "much more of a 3-D dimension" with its "huge variation in the disciplines within the sport now" - meaning it can be an extreme sport, or not.

It already holds down a main spot amid the Western Region's four-year-old festival, the nine-day, 11-sport montage of surf-skiing, stand-up paddle boarding, beach volleyball, beach football, swimming and traditional dhow sailing. It also tends to take people's lives by the scruff, entrance them.

Savastano, 31, started about eight years ago from the Italian island of Ischia. His friend Fabio Tomi, 30, started eight years ago on Italy's sublime - if frigid in April - Lake Como. Their friend Christelle Schaal, 29, became surely one of the sport's first native Parisians when Tomi began teaching her 11 months ago in Dubai, and she won the women's freestyle competition here. Rees, 30, began five years ago after watching some guys from the Jumeirah kite beach.

Just listen.

Savastano: "The feeling cannot be described. I don't want to go into the standard thing, saying it's about freedom and all this. It's something stronger than that ... Personally, I see a bit more of magic in this."

Tomi: "The first time I put the board on the feet and had my first run of 100 metres by luck, really it's a strange, different feeling, just totally different. Since that moment, there was no way to escape from this sport. Now anytime there is wind, this is what we look for. And as long as you find wind, you will find us on the beach. Or, better, in the water."

Schaal: "Every time you go in the water it's special. Every single time. I never get bored of it. It's a pure pleasure. I feel like I was made to do this sport."

Rees: "It all starts, really, when you put the harness on. By the time you're moving the kite with your hands, suddenly everything gets transformed through your body and all of a sudden, you've got this raging bull."

All speak of freed minds. Said Tomi: "It gives you totally a sensation of clearness."

This thing, which emerged in the late 1990s then evolved technologically and safety-wise, has shaken their lives all the way to transformed. Their social lives very much include maybe 50 or 60 of the estimated 2,000 UAE-based kitesurfers. They plan travel around weather forecasts and seasonal wind behaviour.

Savastano, Tomi and Schaal kitesurfed Mauritius, where Schaal improved by leaps. Tomi and Schaal did Cape Town, a wind-rich nirvana of the sport, where, Schaal said: "It's like it's a thick wind, really. Constant and strong. It's really heavy. So you go high and you can do crazy stuff."

Rees claims to have grown pickier about settings - he used to continue into darkness - and likes Oman's Masirah Island for its generosity with considerable waves. Savastano extols a Red Sea archipelago.

Said Schaal: "This is like, I'm checking my phone all the time to see the wind, see the forecast, see how is the wind. I'm becoming more addicted than" Tomi, who first showed her the sport during that 2011 storm "with things flying all over Dubai," he said.

They have learnt to like 20 knots of wind and go wary at 40. They know the choice UAE spots: Dubai's kite beach, Yas Island, Al Dabiya. Maybe 15 years from when just one or two guys in Dubai hankered desperately for kites, as Rees has heard it told, Tomi estimates they are amid a second generation of this millennial concoction.

It is as if they know in their bones some delectable open secret.


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