Kiteboarding: Learning to Fly


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It’s windy in Santa Marianita. Now, early June, the trade wind season is just beginning, when hot air from the coastal plains and cool ocean currents pull in easterly winds.

“This stretch of the coast is the only place in Ecuador where we have winds consistent enough to practice kitesurfing on a regular basis,” explains David Hidalgo, the owner of Ocean Freaks, one of several water sports schools in this small town, around 20 minutes south of Manta. He smiles, “When you take the warm weather and accessibility into account, it’s one of the best spots on the Pacific Coast of South America.”

David is a level 3 IKO-certified kiteboarding instructor, which means that he has over 1,000 hours of teaching experience. Overall, David estimates that it takes an average 6 to 8 hours of instruction to be able to kiteboard independently (handling your own equipment and everything), as few as 4 hours if you’re a natural, and 10 hours or more if you’ve had little experience with watersports before.

David helped me put on the harness, tie knots to the kite, and guide the entire apparatus once it was billowing in the air — but it was a bit overwhelming to manage all of the equipment and coordinate my movements with the wind, and I was still safely on land.

“It’s a very technical sport,” as David explains, although this has some unexpected advantages. Once you learn the ropes (literally), you don’t have to be particularly strong or fit to be able to have a good run out on the water. It also means that people tend to learn and practice kiteboarding in a community, helping each other out with equipment and keeping an eye on each other.

By day 3 of kite-surfing training, you begin to feel comfortable against the waves (photo: Juan Pablo Verdesoto).

That’s one of the reasons why kiteboarding can be a fun activity for groups that span across generations, from 10-year-old kids to retirees in their 70s. David says that it’s common to see parents who are enthusiastic about teaching their children kitesurfing, families who come to Santa Marianita to learn together. Not everyone (child or adult) has a natural affinity for water sports, but with practice anyone can learn.

Of course, young children have slightly different requirements: smaller life jackets, a fully supported harness (going through the legs and not just around the waist), and smaller kites that are proportional to their body weight.

David shows me a picture of a young Canadian couple and their two sons who came through a few months ago. The father and oldest son are using a tandem board, with four footholds instead of two. The boy’s feet are in the inner rung, with his arms latched on to his father’s legs, and as the board skims over the waves, his face breaks out into a thrilled smile.

“The most important thing is to be patient in your teaching. With children, you can’t push them past their comfort level. You have to let them learn at their own pace.”

David explains that fear, for younger children, takes on a different dimension than it does for adults. “If you tell them to jump, they’ll jump.” But the foreignness and force of the ocean might be more intimidating to them: the pull of the waves, the passing fish. Children who have more exposure to the ocean tend to have an easier time catching onto the sport.

And as Carina Schäfers has observed after organizing trash pick-up days, overcoming this fear/distance has an impact on both the community and the environment. “It’s not just about the sport. It’s about teaching people that the ocean is alive. Once you’ve had a change to connect with that other world, you’re more motivated to protect it.”

Other watersports like paddleboarding, kitesurfing, and even diving are available here in Santa Marianita and nearby San Mateo. “Our goal is to make you stay in the water, no matter what” Carina laughs.

Ocean Freaks is on the far end of Santa Marianita’s beach, a thin stretch of sand that separates the sea from the tropical forest of Pacoche. Their office, where they store the equipment and give classes, is open from 10 am to 6 pm. Even without clients, the building fills up quickly, buzzing with activity. On the second floor, David’s mother, who moved to Marianita from Manta after the earthquake, has opened a restaurant called Ocean Freaks as well, and when she’s not cooking, she’s knitting for her grandchildren, who are also often running around.

The winds pick up in the afternoon, the perfect moment to head out to the water. It’s also the perfect moment to have a cup of coffee on the balcony of the café, where you can look out over the beach and watch colorful kites gliding over the waves.

Visita el restaurante d e Ocean Freaks cuando en Santa Marianita o contáctate directamente con la asociación para cursos y una jornada deportiva en el mar.

Visit the Ocean Freaks restaurant in Santa Marianita or contact the association directly for courses and a sports-filled day at the beach.

+(593 9) 99 24 0658

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