A travel companion and I were in Paracas Bay, three hours south of Lima, Peru. Paracas is a relatively unknown location to practice the relatively unknown sport of kite surfing. And the nearly constant wind, placid protected waters, desert landscape and nearby luxury and backpacking accommodations make Paracas Bay one of the best places in the world to kite surf.
Kite surfing has only been around since the mid-1990s. It was initially an extreme and difficult sport: imagine getting pulled into the open sea by strong gusts and a rudimentary kite. (A kite that, upon falling into the water, was impossible to get back into the air). By 2005, newly designed kites that were inflatable, waterproof and had steering systems made kite surfing a safe sport for a wide public.
This history was explained to me by Jose Rosas, head of Perukite, which offers the lessons in Paracas and the northern beach of Mancora.
Rosas is a fixture within the alternative sports scene in Peru. He and his wife previously did competitive paragliding, but after seeing how great the risks are, they took up kite surfing.
|Katia Salas and Jose Rosas.|
“The cool thing about kite surfing is that you get a high rush of adrenaline with very little risk,” Rosas said. “It’s not like paragliding or in other sports that when it goes wrong, it goes really wrong.”
(His wife, Katia Salas, is now Peru’s top freestyle kite surfer. She’s also sought after for photo shoots in Peruvian magazines. One spread read “Sand Girls" and featured Salas and two other Peruvian water sport champs.)
Rosas says Paracas is the best place in the world to learn kitesurfing. “You have incredible winds – very consistent, about 300 days a year. Only Egypt and a couple other plances in the world are comparable to that."
In 2006 and 2007, Rosas worked hard to attract foreigners to Paracas. "And then we had a huge earthquake with a tsunami," he told me, referring to the Ica earthquake, whose epicenter was within 10 miles of Paracas Bay. "Everything got destroyed and I lost my investment.”
Perukite reopened its Paracas Bay operations in 2010 and things are starting to pick up again. Most of the kite surfers in Paracas are Peruvians, Rosas says, although foreigners are now stopping in Paracas to learn the sport during their Peru travels. Serious kite surfers, many from Argentina and Chile, also stop by to take advantage of what Rosas describes as "a freestyle paradise."
Kite surfing, day two
Back in Paracas on the second day of our kite surfing lessons, it was sunny and, of course, windy on the bay.
|To kite surf, the rider maintains the kite at 45 degrees and weaves it in a figure eight. (Nathan Paluck photo) click to enlarge|
|Sunset in Paracas Bay. (Nathan Paluck photo) click to enlarge|
"The wind kicks ass here," Rein Petersen said as we pulled up to the bay. Petersen, who is Canadian, has been kite surfing full time for several years in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. He chased whales 10 kilometers out to sea while kite surfing in Ecuador ("They come from Antarctica. You see a whale and you bolt for it.") Besides for his obsession with wind and whale-chasing, he is also a patient and easy-going instructor.
By the end of the first day, we were flying a four-meter-wide intermediate kite and making it to do circle-eights above the water. (Full-sized kites are typically seven meters wide; the gear costs around $1,400.) Weaving the kite up and down while the line maintains a 45-degree angle with the ground is a tricky but essential part of the sport. This is how the kite catches the force of the wind and pulls the rider.
The first incursion into the water is called the Superman. While keeping the kite floating gently above me, I got into the water chest down. I looked back warily at Rein, and he encouraged me to continue.
I lowered the kite into the 45 degree angle. The kite tugged me. With a gentle tweaking of the handlebar — controlling the kite takes finesse but is not physically demanding — I set the kite into a pattern of circle eights. The force of the kite’s pull whipped me on top of the water and I was dragged hands in front of my head, looking, well, like a surprised Superman. (Other kite surfers later gave accounts of screaming, but I’m sure they were mistaken.)
A full course with Perukite lasts about one weekend and costs $325. The course prepares you with kite surfing basics, the safety procedures and students leave with an International Kite Surfing Organization certificate. This IKO certificate is a license to practice kite surfing around the world – in Miami or Switzerland, for example.
Perukite also rents out the full equipment, with no lessons, for $75 per day.
Perukite has seven IKO-certified instructors and assistants.
See more information at Perukite.com.
At the end of the weekend, I had gotten OK at the Superman, but always ended floating in the middle of the bay with the life jacket after crashing the kite into the water. (Perukite staff drive out in a motorized raft to pick you up. This is where being in a protected bay is essential for a beginner.)
Others were quicker to catch on. A young Israeli backpacker got on the board and took a few beginning rides with the kite. He left Paracas that night on his way to Lima with an IKO certification, which allows him to kite surf in oceans around the world.
Although, if he wants great wind in a beautiful desert, he should just come back to Paracas.