It’s a sport you’ve potentially never seen before—except perhaps for images of billionaire Richard Branson scooting across the wave tops with a naked woman on his back—and it may well be a sport you’ve never tried, but kitesurfing (or kiteboarding as it is also known) has taken the extreme sports world by storm in recent years.
Inspired by experiments in kite-propelled skiing, the first on-water attempts at kitesurfing were made in the mid-’90s, and by the early 2000s, the sport had grown in popularity with a niche set of windsurfers crossing over to try it—including Branson, one of its earliest champions. Today kitesurfing has taken off worldwide, with adventurous types from Central America to Southern Europe getting out on the water.
Learning to kitesurf
WIth a lot of elements at play and some serious equipment needed, kitesurfing is not the kind of sport you can easily pick up without lessons. Most instructors suggest 3-5 days of lessons, during which time you’ll go from practicing drills to trying your first solo ride out at sea.
Beginners start out on the beach, where the first task is to learn the feel of holding and controlling the kite while your feet stay firmly rooted in the sand. Once you’re comfortable you’ll be able to head out to sea—learning how to launch the kite and get yourself back upright when you (inevitably) take a tumble. Some schools have “kite caddies” on dry land to help you get launched more easily. From there it’s all about learning to steer and feel comfortable riding on your own.
Where to go
If you’d like to try your hand at kitesurfing, we’ve rounded up some of the best places to kitesurf, and as luck would have it, they’re also some of the world’s most beautiful beach destinations, too.
Cabarete, Dominican Republic
A combination of consistent trade winds, an offshore coral reef, and hills around the bay creates optimal kitesurfing conditions at the beautiful Cabarete, just 20 minutes’ drive from Puerto Plata airport. This former sleepy fishing village is making a name for itself as one of the adventure sports capitals of the Caribbean, with windsurfing and classic surfing also on offer. The most consistent conditions for kitesurfing are to be found from June to August, although with trade winds blowing year-round and clear warm waters, there’s really no bad time to visit (outside of the main hurricane season from September to December). When it comes to instruction, Ali’s Surf Camp, one of the oldest surf schools in the country, is well regarded.
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Just a few minutes outside Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon, you’ll find some of the best kitesurfing conditions in Europe. There are a number of excellent beaches to try, from Costa Caparica just across the headland, to Guincho, west of the city near the beach town of Cascais. The reliable Nortada wind picks up from midday onwards, so by mid-afternoon, the bays are filled with kitesurfers tacking back and forth. The best times to surf here are June to August when the air is warm, and the water is not too cold (although wetsuits are still necessary… it is the Atlantic after all!) and you’ll find people of all abilities practicing their turns. South Adventures offers lessons for all abilities at both Guincho and Caparica beaches.
Kite Beach, Maui
Yes, we know, the clue is in the name… The official title for this kitesurfing paradise is Kanaha Beach, but the western end of the sand is so popular with kiters that the unofficial nickname has stuck fast. Close to Maui’s main Kalahui airport on the North Shore, hitting the waves at Kite Beach is a bucket list item for top kitesurfers across the world. Don’t let that intimidate you: It’s also one of the best places to learn the sport. An offshore reef creates a flat bay close to shore ideal for novices, while the waves beyond the reef offer experienced kiters the chance to try those jumps and tricks. The most consistent winds are found over the summer months, although experts love the big winter swells. Maui’s Kiting.com offers everything from tandem taster sessions —where you ride with an instructor on the same board—all the way up to advanced lessons teaching gravity-defying tricks.
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Bahia Salinas, Costa Rica
In the north of Costa Rica, just a few short miles from the border with Nicaragua, you’ll find Bahia Salinas—the northernmost beach in the country, one of the windiest places in the world, and one of the best places to try kitesurfing in Central America. During peak season (November to May) the wind blows almost every day with amazing consistency, so even if you’re short on time you’re guaranteed a few good days out on the water during your stay. The Costa Kitesurf School is a great place to head for lessons in Salinas, lead by Fernando Toscano and Sebastian Spielmann.
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Barker’s Beach, Grand Cayman
Long known as a top Scuba destination (as well as an offshore banking haven), Grand Cayman—a British overseas territory south of Cuba and west of Jamaica—has become a hotspot for kitesurfing in recent years. With beautifully clear, calm water, sunny days year round and consistent trade winds from November to April, all you need to succeed here is a swimsuit and a sense of adventure. Most of the action happens at Barker’s Beach, where the bay is wide with plenty of room to learn. Kitesurf Cayman offers daily lessons throughout the season as long as there is wind. If the winds don’t blow you can always enjoy the fantastic diving and snorkeling the island has to offer until it picks back up again. If you’re here in January you might catch some of the world’s best kitesurfers in action at the Rock International Open contest which takes place every year.
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