Gone with the wind
Amira El-Naqeeb is an eyewitness to the thrill of kiteflying
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From left: Kitesurfers in action; Club Mistral Centre in Ramada Ras Sedr Resort; windsurfers getting ready to sail photos: Hani Abdeen
He was lying on his back, sliding on the water. He slowly slipped his feet into the board's foot straps, then stood up, holding the four-line bars in his hands. He surrendered himself to the wind; he was kitesurfing. Watching him closely sent shivers through my body. "I wonder how it feels to have the wind whistle in your ear and feel it pass through your hair," I asked myself. I stretched my arms and kept swaying from side to side simulating his movement as the wind kept taking him from one side to the other. My arms no longer felt like arms -- they were wings. "I want to try," I determinedly told myself.
Next day, I headed to the kite and windsurfing centre, managed by the famous Club Mistral. The renowned German centre has been in Egypt for the past 20 years and in the Ramada Ras Sedr Resort for the past five years. Famous for its first class equipment, Club Mistral has the widest selection of sails, surfboards and kites.
I started my first lesson with Ahmed Hassan, an assistant kitesurfing instructor. As we headed towards the beach, Hassan said the first lesson, an introduction on how to handle the kite, would take two hours. Taking one look at the white beach and the clear turquoise water made me breathless with anticipation.
"Spin, spin," Hassan said, teaching me how to ascertain from which direction the wind was coming. "Always surf with the wind in your back," he said.
He started unfolding a kite, smaller in size and lighter in weight than that usually used in kitesurfing. "This is the complete beginner's Nasa Kite," said Hassan showing a graph and giving a few instructions and a demo on how to use it.
At first glance, seeing him holding the kite lines and swaying from side to side, manoeuvring with the wind, it looked like an intimate slow dance. But after he handed me the kite lines, it proved less easy than it looked because I was unable to navigate with the wind yet. However, after a few unsuccessful trials, I got the hang of it. "Here you go," said Hassan. "It's all about sense. A very small movement can take you in a different direction."
Unfortunately, this was to be my one and only class because, according to Hassan, a beginner course normally takes around 10 hours, or a week, to complete and I was only in Ras Sedr for the weekend. The course includes the two-hour intro on the beach, body drag, a four-line, and a five-line kite, then a water start. "After the course, depending on the surfer's intelligence and fitness, he will be able to go and come upwind but without doing jumps or freestyle," Hassan added.
After my exhausting training, I joined my new "kite surfing buddies" for a cold drink and chit-chat in the cosy cafeteria in front of the centre. Since I was new to the community, Mohamed Hassan, who has been a windsurfing instructor for the past 10 years, and a kitesurfing instructor for five years, introduced me to my new friends. "This is the best spot in the whole of Egypt for kitesurfing," said Andrew Rutherford, a young Briton who has been living in Egypt for the past four years. Rutherford said the beach had all the right ingredients for superb surfing: wide beach, no rocks, soft sand, the right depth of water, and proximity to Cairo. "I used to windsurf but I switched to kitesurfing two years ago. It's more exciting and easier to learn tricks," he said.
Justin Knight, from Scotland, and who has been living in Egypt for two years, agreed with Rutherford that it was by far the best spot for kitesurfing. "I surfed in Hurghada and El-Gouna before, but this spot is idyllic," said Knight, who learnt how to kitesurf in Scotland.
The spot, in front of Ramada Ras Sedr Resort, is called Ras Matarma, and it is the best site for beginner wind and kitesurfers, regardless of their level. Mohamed Hassan explained that the factors for an ultimate safe and thrilling experience are all an arm's length away. "The beach has to be wide, with no obstacles, in order not to hinder the kite lines. We also have steady side shore winds." I asked Hassan the criteria that make a good windsurfer or kitesurfer. He cited physical fitness and being a good swimmer at the top of the list.
French, Germans, and Russians lead the nationalities that come to Egypt to practice surfing which became popular in the country in 1993, while kitesurfing did not take off in Egyptian waters until 1999 or 2000.
"I am very proud that we have more than 42 per cent repeat guests in the hotel," Mustafa El-Haddad, general manager of Ramada Ras Sedr Resort, told Al-Ahram Weekly in the beach café. El-Haddad said the annual occupancy rate of the hotel is 70 per cent but could be more if not for the water shortage problem. "The hotels' share in the water coming from Ras Sedr City Council is scarce and inconstant," he said, adding that because the share of the hotel is very small, he is obliged to buy water from a desalination station for triple the price. "Ras Sedr's water station is incredibly small so it doesn't have the capacity for more water. This is not our problem alone. I'm speaking on behalf of all Ras Sedr's hotel managers," El-Haddad told the Weekly.
It was a hot summer day, 6pm, and it was time for me to go back to overcrowded, polluted, stressful Cairo. But I wasn't ready to leave. I lingered on the beach like a child begging her mother to play longer. I decided to take a last stroll on the wooden bridge, and have the azure and turquoise hues of the sea, lying against the golden desert, as the last cherished memory of this haven in my head.
Ras Sedr is located at the tip of the eastern coast of the Suez Gulf, about 80km south of Suez and roughly 60km south of the Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel. It is an almost two-and-a-half-hour drive, however, since most of the two-way highway is not well lit, it is not safe to drive at night. East Delta and Super Jet buses can be taken from the new Cairo Gateway in the Torgoman station.