The growing popularity of kitesurfing in Kenyan coast – Business Daily


Monday March 11 2024

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A learner undergoes a kitesurfing class at Diani Beach in Kwale County on February 29, 2024. PHOTO | SIAGO CECE | NMG

A few years ago, kitesurfing was not popular in the coast. The water sport, which involves surfing with a kite and a surfboard, would hardly be noticed or mentioned in local sporting events.

Kitesurfing was associated with foreigners who loved it. But the tide is turning as more Kenyans enrol in kite schools to learn the skill.

At Kenya Beach in Diani, Kwale County, Goodluck Shamala leads his team in preparation for students scheduled for their lessons on that day. BDLife meets him in his office overlooking the white sandy Diani Beach at around 11 am, he would be in the water by then, but the wind is light, so they have to wait.

Goodluck is the founder of Kenya Kitesurfing School, a training centre for those interested in learning kitesurfing as a sport, both professionally and as a hobby. “I first came to the coast to visit a relative. Shortly after, I fell in love with the ocean and was supposed to be a diver, but in 2004, I started working as an assistant at a kitesurfing school here in Diani. That is when I gained interest in being an instructor,” he says.

Kitesurfing was not popular by then, but he took the risk to learn the skill and expand it. He had to be certified by an  International Kiteboarding Organisation (IKO) to be recognised as a trainer. “I had to travel to Zanzibar to get this accreditation. It was not easy and I saved a lot, but I had to do it. After certification, I did some freelance work for five years and then set up my school,” narrates Goodluck.
At the moment, the certification costs around $2,000 (Sh285,000) and is more expensive when done in Kenya compared to Zanzibar. There are only five kitesurfing schools and three local kitesurfing instructors in Diani, with the rest being foreigners. A kitesurfing school has an office, an equipment store and changing rooms.
Goodluck says the high cost of equipment, which is also not found locally, makes the sport expensive and perceived to be for the wealthy. “Foreigners have access to the equipment and also connections with their counterparts in other parts of the world. But for us, it is tough to even get contacts abroad. All this equipment is manufactured in Europe,” he said.  But things are slowly changing as the sport takes root.

“Before, I would only receive students from foreign countries, but now some Kenyans from Nairobi and those living in Diani are showing interest and coming for lessons, although their numbers are still small,” he said.

This has been made possible by subsidising costs for residents, which Goodluck does by first asking the community members to work with him.
A full course costs Sh18,000 for a three-hour session. There are three sessions. But Goodluck charges locals Sh12,000, meaning they have to pay Sh36,000 for nine hours, in three days.

Among the people he trains is Juma Omar, who has now become an instructor. Omar fell in love with the sport by accident and is now reaping the benefits. “I never liked working at the beach or being referred to as a beach boy. I always knew that after my education, I would find a decent corporate job elsewhere, but things changed when I found a friend at the beach,” said Omar.

In the beginning, he had to learn how to swim. This is the basic skill needed by anyone with an interest in kitesurfing. If they do not know, they are taught. It then took him three years to fully understand the sport and be able to operate in the water comfortably.

“This is not like any other sport where when you are tired or your equipment fails, you stop and walk back. We deal with the water and that means for you to get out of it you must swim back to the shores, or at least swim long enough before someone comes to your rescue,” said Omar.

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Goodluck Shamala, an internationally accredited kitesurfing instructor launches his kite at Diani Beach. The watersport is slowly gaining popularity among Kenyan locals. PHOTO | SIAGO CECE | NMG

Now an instructor, Omar hopes to be an international kite surfer and travel around the world for competitions. So far, he is already getting opportunities linked to the sport.

“In May this year, I will be travelling to Denmark to teach kitesurfing. This will be a great opportunity for me to travel and learn new tricks from other parts of the world. I am going to work there and also be taught a few freestyles,” he said.

To be an instructor, he had to get a general certification from the International Kiteboarding Organisation, then another (certification) as a level one instructor.

“The challenge is that you still have to renew your accreditation after a period, which is expensive,” he says.
However, he said that more Kenyans should embrace the sport despite the cost. Additionally, most locals are locked out of water sports activities and opportunities due to a lack of swimming skills, which is a prerequisite.
For learners who can swim, the surfing class starts with a small kite to make them understand the movement and how the strength of the wind affects its power. For the actual kitesurfing, Goodluck said one has to warm up with a few exercises at the beach. This is after they have put on the gear; a belt (harness), kiteboard, and sometimes a vest and a helmet for safety, for a learner.
One then picks the kite that has been set up by the beach with four lines more than 24 meters. The lines are connected to knots in the kite that have already been pumped with air on its edges to make a C shape.
One locks the lines into a hook on the belt (harness) and then walks strategically to the water while flying the kite, depending on the direction of the wind.
For the surfboards, they have foot straps where one places their feet the moment they get into the water, to ensure they are held perfectly throughout the surfing.
Surfing also involves tricks and stunts, which are a major contributor to better scores during competitions. Since the harness holding the kite is tied around the waist, the experts said that one is advised not to have any back complications when taking part in the sport.
“The back is the centre of everything, and, besides the hands, that is what is used to control the kite, especially when there are strong winds,” he says.

lifestyle kitesurfing

Goodluck Shamala, an internationally accredited kitesurfing instructor at Diani Beach. PHOTO | SIAGO CECE | NMG

Furthermore, any surfer is required to warm up and stretch before launching their kite. Ignoring such safety protocols can lead to a dislocated ankle or back injury. Being a risky affair, any surfer is usually required to sign a release of liability as a disclaimer so that the school is discharged in case of any accidents.

Kitesurfing instructors believe that safety is the most important thing in the sport, followed by fun. “There is no specific formula to know how to kitesurf. It is more of freestyle moves and the more you perfect the tricks, the more fun you have,” said Goodluck.

The adrenaline-technical sport equally needs high concentration and a fit person to prevent the slightest mistake that could be a safety hazard causing accidents or injuries.
Beginning to kite in the ocean is called launching while coming back to land after a surf is referred to as landing.

“With the launching of the kite, if there are no proper instructions, anything can happen like the kite dragging you on the beach, leading to severe injuries within a split second. The kite has a lot of power,” he said.

Instructors have been trained not to let students surf in the deep waters, but within the instructor’s limits to prevent such accidents. Also, anyone training for the first time does their trials in low tide and low water. It is always sandy and the beach is wide with more space. But no one is ever perfect. Goodluck says it is always a learning process.

Besides being a fun sport, kitesurfers also enjoy its rewards, especially from winning competitions. They range from monetary awards, travelling opportunities and grants and sponsorship. “In athletics, it is all about running and whoever finishes first is the winner, but with kitesurfing or kiteboarding, it is normally freestyle moves and that is what earns you points during competitions. So you have to be good at that,” said Goodluck.

Some of the tricks involved are handle pass, back rolls, big jumps, and rotations, which earn you points. The competitions are stiff, only the top three are awarded. However, many people are also limited in taking part in the competition because of the expensive equipment, making their participation very costly.

The kitesurfing enthusiast says that winning in a competition makes one popular, while as a school, it increases their recognition. Other rewards are that one may land a sponsorship deal with one of the famous kite brands.

There are also monetary benefits because the winner gets a $2000 grant. “If I get such an amount of money, I can improve my kite school and other operations while most of my goals will be achieved,” he adds.
He says the reason only a few Kenyans have set up kite schools is that it is capital intensive. But Kenya is loved for the sport, especially by foreigners. Kitesurfing and other water sports are great tourist attractions, especially in Diani, Mombasa and Watamu.

“Most people come from all over the world looking for nice spots to do kitesurfing because the conditions are favourable for the beginners and advanced. If you go to Europe it is very cold, and staying in the water for all that time is not easy, that is why they prefer to do it here so that they can practice more,” Omar says.

We also met Andreas Schulz, a German tourist who is on his second visit to Kenya.
“I tried kitesurfing here and it was a beautiful experience on a beautiful beach. After three days of training, I was eventually allowed to kite alone in the water and it was fantastic,” he says.

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