Kitesurfing in Nicaragua

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Kitesurfing is an extreme, dangerous and rather addictive sport, so some people who practice it tend to become incurable kitesurfing maniacs. Nothing is more important for such people than kitesurfing. Their jobs, their families, their lives away from the shore don’t matter much and the only thing that really moves them is the wind. The most extreme kitesurfing maniac we have ever met is our friend Rado, who hosted us in Nicaragua. He would go kiting anytime, day or night, as long as there is good wind, sometimes driving for hours to get to a spot, and it doesn’t matter if a meteor strikes Earth and everything explodes… as long as there is water and the wind blows- he is happy!

Rado

Rado

Well, there is a lot of wind on the shores of lake Nicaragua most days, and most days, Rado is there flying in the air, alone or with some of his kitesurfing buddies. One of them is Dinko- another awesome Bulgarian living in Managua, and while in Nicaragua, Ivo joins in.

Dinko

Dinko

Ivo, Rado and Dinko ktesurfing in Nicaragua

Ivo, Rado and Dinko ktesurfing in Nicaragua

We arrive in Managua and spread our tent in Rado’s backyard. This is going to be our main campground while visiting Nicaragua for two weeks. The very next morning, we pack the kites. Rado has a bunch of different sizes kites and boards and he is always planing to get some more. We drive direction Granada for about an hour and then some more to a special place on the lake, where the beach is wide and the waves are big, driven by the easterly winds blowing west to the Pacific Ocean. The road becomes sand among cow pastures. We pass through a tiny village with poor houses. Dogs, chickens and barefoot kids roam in the dust. Giant spiderwebs have invaded bushes and trees, suffocating fences, climbing on roofs. And then we drive on the beach.

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We get to The Place. I love tagging along with Ivo and Rado just because these special hard-to-get-to kitesurfing places Rado takes us to are unbelievably beautiful and unpopular with the tourists. The beach is deserted except for a lonely white egret patiently staring in the water; the lake is dark and agitated by the wind. On the horizon, the perfect cones of Maderas and Concepcion Volcanos are perched on top of Ometepe Island.

Lake Nicaragua

Lake Nicaragua

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Lago Cocibolca (Mar Dulce- Sweet Sea) or Lake Nicaragua is a navigable tectonic lake with an area of over 8,000 km2. It is the largest lake in Central America and the 19th largest in the world, slightly smaller than Lake Titicaca. Even though it is much closer to the Pacific Ocean, the San Juan river joins the lake with the Caribbean Sea, and thus has provided access for pirates to Granada in previous centuries. A project to build a canal linking the Atlantic with the Pacific similar to the Panama Canal exists since over one hundred years now, but for various reasons (mainly financial) the project remains on paper only.

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The lake is a windy place, with a reputation for powerful storms, excellent for kitesurfing all year round.

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But kitesurfing is not an easy-breezy business… It involves a lot of equipment repairs, as the inflatable part of the kites tends to break and deflate, and the fabric tends to tear. Especially if you are a newbie, like Ivo. The first couple of times on the lake, he kitesurfs mostly around, on top and inside of trees…

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Practice makes a difference, though, and with time, even Ivo starts enjoying the ride.

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Ivo ktesurfing in Nicaragua

While Ivo, Rado and Dinko are flying around, Maya and her friend Cathy (Rado’s daughter) are playing in the lake, running among waves, making sand sculptures and drawings.

Cathy and Maya

Cathy and Maya, Lake Nicaragua

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And while the girls are having fun, I am negotiating with a local man for a couple of watermelons. He takes me to the watermelon field so I can pick the melons I want and he doesn’t charge me for the ones we break right there and then to try if there are red and juicy. Yes, they are.

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Mira and the watermelon man

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PHOTOS FROM THE LAKE

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Dinko

Rado

Rado

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Dinko

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KITESURFING AND SAFETY (from Wikipedia)

Kiteboarding is a surface water sport combining aspects of wakeboarding, snowboarding, windsurfing, surfing, paragliding, skateboarding and gymnastics into one extreme sport. A kiteboarder harnesses the power of the wind with a large controllable power kite to be propelled across the water on a kiteboard similar to a wakeboard or a small surfboard, with or without footstraps or bindings.

Any location with consistent, steady side-onshore winds (10 to 35+ knots), large open bodies of water and good launch areas is suitable for kitesurfing. Controlled flying is possible and is one of the biggest attractions of the sport.

Power kites are powerful enough to pull the rider like a boat in wakeboarding and to lift their users to diving heights. But a kite could become uncontrolled and that situation can be very dangerous; especially within a difficult environment. A kite can get out of control after the rider falling or in a sudden wind gust, which can happen more frequently due to excessively strong winds from squalls or storms (“collard”).

It is possible to be seriously injured after being lofted, dragged, carried off, blown downwind or dashed, resulting in a collision with hard objects including sand, buildings, terrain or power lines or even by hitting the water surface with sufficient speed or height (“kitemare”, a portmanteau of kite and nightmare). Adequate quality professional kiteboarding training, careful development of experience and consistent use of good judgement and safety gear should result in fewer problems in kiteboarding.

Kiteboarding can pose hazards to surfers, beachgoers, bystanders and others on the water. Many problems and dangers that may be encountered while learning kiting can be avoided or minimized by taking professional instruction through lesson centers. Kitesurfing schools provide courses and lessons to teach skills including kite launching, flying, landing, usage of the bar, lines and safety devices.

Accidents can generate serious injuries or even be deadly. 105 accidents were reported in the Kiteboarding Safety Information Database between 2000 and September 2003, with 14 fatalities.

Kitesurfing safety rules

Kite High Rule – A kiter who is upwind (closest to the wind) must keep their kite high to avoid their lines crossing those of downwind kiters. Similarly, the downwind kiter must keep their kite low to avoid their lines crossing upwind kites. This applies regardless of whether kiters are on the same, or opposing courses.

Clearance Rule – A kiter while jumping must have a clear safety zone of at least 50m downwind because they will move downwind during the jump. A rider must also have a clear safety zone of 30m upwind to jump as his lines could touch the kite or the lines of another rider kiteboarding close by (see Kite High rule). It’s important to also consider potential hazards downwind and crosswind of the rider such as people, buildings, trees and other fixed obstacles.

Kiters are also considered as sailing vessels – so some standard sailing rules apply such as:

Starboard Rule When kiters approach from opposite directions the kiter who has the wind on the starboard (right side, right leg/arm leads in direction of travel) has right of way. The kiter who has the wind on the port side (left side, left leg/arm are leads in direction of travel) shall keep out of the way of the other. In simple terms, this means “keep right” with the kiter coming in the opposite direction passing on the left.

In sailing terms, a sailor or kiter with right of way is entitled to “insist” on exercising that right (warning opposing kiters) by shouting “starboard” very clearly and in good time.

Other boating rules such as no-go zones, distance from shore and swimmers also apply.

Similar articles from the blog:

Kitesurfing in Aruba

Kitesurfing in San Blas

Kitesurfing in Panama

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Punta Chame. Kitesurfing in Panama

Punta Chame. Kitesurfing in Panama with Rado Barzev

by Mira Nencheva

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At the end of a narrow almost deserted peninsula less than 100 km west of Panama City, we get to a wild beach of extreme tides, black vultures and skeletons; of howling winds and flying people. An hour and a half drive from the city is Punta Chame, a popular kitesurfing spot along the Bahía de Chame in Panama, a prime destination for adrenalin-junkies from the city.

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

One of those adrenalin-junkies and kitesurfing maniacs is Rado Barzev, a tall big guy from Sofia (Bulgaria) whom we met the first week of our arrival in Panama City.

Rado Barzev

Rado Barzev at Punta Chame (Panama)

Rado’s family moved to Nicaragua in the 1980s when he was a teenager. He did his master’s degree in Economics in Chile and a doctorate in Holland. Today, he works as a freelance Environmental Economist consulting international organizations on environmental projects based in all of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean region. Thanks to his work, which involves a lot of traveling, he spends a lot of time in Panama City, a central strategic place for the region. His job is done in two stages: first visiting the place and then writing estimates and reports for the projects he is commissioned to work on, mainly from his computer at home. Rado, always chill, positive, and contagiously cheerful, is one of not many people in the world who actually love their work, enjoying the freedom of choosing his next project, working from home, and traveling for work. Thanks to this, he has visited some of the most beautiful natural, historical and cultural destinations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Rado Barzev

Rado Barzev at Punta Chame (Panama)

Nature and travel are the two most enjoyable things for him. Rado also makes sure he has enough free time on his hands, which he spends with his beautiful girlfriend Kenia, visiting interesting places, enjoying the mountains and the sea, reading, playing tennis, but mainly kitesurfing in Nicaragua or Panama, or wherever he happens to be.

Rado Barzev at Punta Chame (Panama)

Rado Barzev at Punta Chame (Panama)

If you ask me, Rado’s primary occupation is kitesurfing and his work is done in his spare time, that’s how it looks. He is constantly monitoring the wind forecast, and as soon as there is wind strong enough to fill the kite, he jumps in his car and an hour and half later is in Punta Chame.

Rado Barzev at Punta Chame (Panama)

Rado Barzev at Punta Chame (Panama)

“Tomorrow- good wind! I’m going to Punta, you coming?”, we get his messages once or twice a week and most of the time we pack Ivo’s kite, Maya’s and mine bathing suites, a couple of beers in a small cooler, and off we go with Rado to kitesurf in Punta Chame.

Ivo and Rado at Punta Chame (Panama)

Ivo and Rado at Punta Chame (Panama)

Once, we wake up around 7 in the morning and find a message sent at 3 o’clock at night: “There will be wind at 5 a.m., I’m going! You guys want to come?” We missed that invite, as we, unlike Rado, sleep at night. I think he has a beeper that goes off day or night, as soon as a good wind is predicted. A true maniac.

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

The first time Rado comes to Amador Causeway to pick us up to go kitesurfing is comical. He is about two meter tall guy and we expect he is driving some sort of a big car, a jeep maybe. A tiny Chevrolet Spark with a kiteboard on top shows up and from it Big Rado emerges, like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon. “It is much more economical and much better for the environment”, he explains smiling. “When I grow up, I want to have a car exactly like this one.”, Maya says. “And me, I want to become like Rado, when I grow up…”, Ivo is inspired. Incredibly, we all fit comfortably in the little car, with all the kiting equipment, the beer cooler, and even Maya’s friend Noee.

Rado's car

Rado’s car

All packed in the Chevy, we start west on the Inter-American Highway for the first 70 km and after the turnoff for Punta Chame we continue on a narrow winding scenic road for another 25 km, past rolling hills and small ranches, along a vast bay lined by shrimp farms and mangroves, until we reach the beach.

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

It’s low tide and the beach is vast and wet with tiny craters formed by air bubbles coming out of the yellow-and-black sand. A strange and beautiful sight.

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

The wind here is unbelievable. A river flowing between high hills and entering the sea forms a large delta and creates a sort of a funnel, so even when there is zero wind in Panama City it can blow 20 knots in Punta Chame. Kitesurfers’ paradise.

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

Across the bay to the west we see the blue silhouettes of islands posing for spectacular sunset photos. One of them was property of John Wane.

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

Ivo and Rado unpack the kites and are gone for hours flying left and right parallel to the beach in the company of a few more enthusiasts and two yellow dogs. These must be the happiest dogs on the planet, splashing in the water, and running after the kitesurfers all afternoon.

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While Ivo and Rado are zooming in the sea, Maya and her friend Noee play on the beach and even sneak unnoticed in the swimming pool of a near-by hotel, enjoying every minute of our unforgettable afternoons in Punta Chame.

Maya and Noee

Maya and Noee

Meanwhile, I explore the shore with my photo camera. It is one of my favorite most photogenic places in Panama: a deserted beach with huge driftwood sculptures, patrolled by hundreds of black vultures and frigate birds.

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

At low tide, the yellow and black sand, the sea, and the tiny sea creature create abstract patterns of colors and shapes on shore, with different textures every time.

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At the south end there is a community of small fishing boats, abandoned and still, anchored in the sand without sea. At low tide the water beneath them disappears and they just sit on the beach waiting for its return.

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Kitesurfing in Punta Chame with Rado has become the highlight of our time spent in Panama City, while waiting for the rainy season to end, before heading off to the mountains and volcanoes of Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Ivo and Rado at Punta Chame (Panama)

Ivo and Rado at Punta Chame (Panama)

If you are going to kitesurf in Punta Chame, here a few facts and some useful information about the place:

• On the Inter-American Highway going from Panama City to Punta Chame, there are a few very nice and clean gas stations with fast food restaurants, toilets, and small stores, where you can buy food and drinks.

• In the morning going to Panama City and in the late afternoon going to Punta Chame, you will experience some intense traffic jams on the main highway.

• After the turnoff there is a police outpost stopping every car, checking each passenger’s passport and immigration status. Always bring your passport with you!

• There is not much in Punta Chame besides a few hotels and beach houses. And the kitesurfing school.

• The kitesurfing season is between mid-November to the end of April, with strong winds. Occasionally, there are gusts even off-season.

• You can get kitesurfing curses during season from beginners to advanced. The school is closed off-season.

• There are a few nice and safe spots to park a camper van for free and spend time in the area.

• Often the sea is rough with waves and strong currents.

• The beach is with grey sand, wild and deserted. It is also extremely polluted with plastic garbage deposited by the sea. No one cleans and maintains it.

• At high tide there is virtually no beach and kiting becomes very dangerous, because of the proximity of the large rock wall on shore at the south end. It gets hard lo launch or land the kite.

• At low tide the beach is huge, but the shallow waters are full of stingrays. Swimming is not advisable at low tide.

• Not many services are available in the area, besides a few hotels and restaurants. It is a good idea to bring food and drinks with you.

• The small town of Chame is up the road near the highway and has a bank, an ATM and a few basic grocery stores.

• In the area you will find a few nice beaches: Playa Coronado and Playa Farallón, which are upscale beach destinations, the surfing beach at Playa El Palmar, and the white-sand beach of Playa Santa Clara.

Kitesurf Punta Chame Picture Gallery

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

Ivo kitesurfing in Punta Chame (Panama)

Ivo kitesurfing in Punta Chame (Panama)

Vultures and skeletons, Punta Chame (Panama)

Vultures and skeletons, Punta Chame (Panama)

Rado Barzev at Punta Chame (Panama)

Rado Barzev at Punta Chame (Panama)

Maya at Punta Chame (Panama)

Maya at Punta Chame (Panama)

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“Ride the wind of today, for the wind of yesterday will bring you nowhere and the wind of tomorrow may never come.”

Ivo, Punta Chame (Panama)

Ivo, Punta Chame (Panama)

Mira, Punta Chame (Panama)

Mira, Punta Chame (Panama)

Ivo, Punta Chame (Panama)

Ivo, Punta Chame (Panama)

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Ivo

Ivo

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Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

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Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

Maya and Noee

Maya and Noee

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Mira

Mira

Ivo and Rado

Ivo and Rado

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

Punta Chame (Panama)

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Maya and Noee

Maya and Noee

Ivo...

Ivo…

Other stories from the blog about Kitesurfing:

Kitesurfing in San Blas

Kitesurfing in Aruba

Rado, Ivo and Shrek

Rado, Ivo and Shrek

About the author: Mira Nencheva, her husband Ivo and 11-years-old daughter Maya are sailing around the world and living off-the-grid full-time aboard their 38 feet Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana since July 2013. Their journey is documented in a travel-adventure blog www.thelifenomadik.com and in theirFacebook page: Facebook/TheLifeNomadik

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Kitesurfing in San Blas

Ivo and his kite

Ivo and his kite

Most of the 360 islands of the San Blas Archipelago are near Panama’s mainland and away from the trade winds. But there are a few outer island groups near the barrier reefs to the north still getting the effects of the trades and these are the island you want to visit if you are going to San Blas to kitesurf. The best spot with fields of waist-deep clear water, sandy bottom and sweet east winds is at Cayo Holandes island group, near the anchorage nicknamed by cruisers The Swimming Pool.

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There is a $10 anchoring fee valid for one month and a Kuna man named Viktor will swing by in his ulu (a dugout canoe) to collect it as soon as you drop anchor. No matter how long you are planning to stay you have to pay 10 bucks. Almost everywhere you go in Kuna Yala (San Blas) you will have to pay a few dollars for anchoring near an island or for stepping on it. To Ivo this was very disturbing, especially after we paid the record amount of $430 for 1-year visas for Panama and a cruising permit, plus a separate $60 fee paid to the Kuna Yala Office on the island of Porvenir for anchoring anywhere in Kuna Yala territory. In two years of cruising and visiting over 30 countries we have never been required to pay so much when checking-in in a new country. So Ivo just couldn’t grasp the logic of having to pay again and again and again and again almost every time we drop anchor or we go ashore in San Blas. And Ivo can get very negative when it comes to ‘unfair’. But it’s not just this.

One day we kayak to a small uninhabited island bringing only a photo camera, sunscreen, and a towel. There we see a few huts currently in construction, an ulu and two Kuna men on the beach. One talks politely with us, explaining how much a traditional ulu costs and how it is made up in the mountains on the mainland by masters ulu-makers. I ask if I can take a picture of this canoe and he says sure. But then the other guy approaches and asks for a dollar for photographing his friend’s ulu. Then he says that each one of us has to pay $3 for stepping on the island- a total of $10 for 3 people + 1 picture, he quickly calculates (even though Ivo and Maya remain in the kayak and technically never set foot on land). He gives us as an example he obviously used many times before: “If you go to a restaurant and order food you have to pay for it at the end, and similarly you have to pay for stepping on the island and taking a picture of the ulu.” I try to argue politely that this is totally unexpected for us, that I had permission to take the picture from the ulu’s owner, that we have no intention of stepping on the island, and that we don’t have any money on us right now. The two guys then search very thoroughly my bag, where they find a towel and sunscreen, and when they don’t find any money, they are very disappointed and tell us to leave. But first they explain, that to them “all white people are gringos (rich Americans) and they have to pay.” Ivo is furious; I can see fire coming out of his nostrils. But he manages not to kill anyone. We leave.

I’m including this information, because we have heard that people have been asked to pay up to $100 for permission (or rather for a fine) to kitesurf near some of the islands in Kuna Yala. At Cayo Hollandes you are welcome to kitesurf for as much as you want and with no additional charge, as long as you pay your $10 anchoring fee.

Thus, after Aruba, where Ivo took his first kitesurfing lessons, this was the next spot where he could practice and improve his new skills. At the beach we meet two other guys kitesurfing which always doubles the fun.

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About the author: Mira Nencheva, her husband Ivo and 11-years-old daughter Maya are sailing around the world and living off-the-grid full-time aboard their 38 feet Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana since July 2013. Their journey is documented in a travel-adventure blog www.thelifenomadik.com and in theirFacebook page

Facebook/TheLifeNomadik

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Kitesurfing in Aruba

Kitesurfing in Aruba

Ivo kitesurfing in Aruba

Ivo kitesurfing in Aruba

A couple of days after we dropped the hook in the calm waters of the bay near the Renaissance Hotel in Orangestad we met Tony. A friend of a friend, Tony is most probably the only Bulgarian who lives in Aruba, and he is here because of one thing and one thing only- kitesurfing.

Tony

Tony

Tony immigrated in Canada long time ago and until a few years ago he used to live in Montreal. He also used to travel all over the world to places of sea and wind. He used to windsurf all the time since 1979 until one day in 1999 in Hawaii, where he met and befriended Robby Nash and Pete Cabrina, he discovered a new thrill- a parachute attached to a board that allowed him to surf crazy fast on the surface of the sea, to jump over waves, and to fly! Kitesurfing became his life.

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He was the one who brought the first kitesurf in Montreal, introduced and developed the sport there when the sport was not only new, but also considered “ a suicide” and the kitesurfs were nothing like the modern ones but only had two lines and were hard to control. Kitesurfing used to be a dangerous business and to some extend still is.

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Then Tony discovered Aruba. The island became his favorite kitesurfing getaway and after a few vacations there he decided to move to Aruba and kitesurf full-time every spare moment of his life.

 

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Tony took us to Boca Grandi, a popular kitesurf beach on the north shore, where the reefs break the sea and the winds are constant and violent- just as he loves them. There are no hotels and no residential houses. The nearest building is the prison up on a hill overlooking the beach. To get there by car took us about half an hour form Oranjestad, past a few smaller towns, the abandoned oil refinery on the southeast corner until the road became bumpy sand dunes and we got to a small sandy parking lot. The only people on the beach were kitesurfers who all knew each other.

 

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We spent an afternoon watching Tony and about a dozen other kitesurfers fly around. Ivo was hooked. But Boca Grandi is not a place for beginners. To learn kitesurfing you need calm shallow waters and not many dangerous underwater rocks and reefs, as before you start “flying” you will be mostly splashing around and drinking seawater…

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So Tony sent Ivo to Armando.

Armando Wester is one of the first kitesurfers in Aruba. He opened a kitesurf shack on the north corner of Palm Beach – Armando’s Kitesurf Shack, which is exclusively for kiteurfing lessons, equipment rentals and sale. The place is on the south shore of the island and is a lot more protected from big waves. In fact it is flat as a lake, shallow and with sandy bottom, which makes it excellent for kitesurf beginners. Here we met Armando, as well as the other guys and girls who work as kitesurf instructors, all super fun kitesurf maniacs. Everyone in Armando’s Shack are doing what they love to do- kitesurfing and teaching people to kitesurf.

Armando

Armando

Ivo took a couple of lessons with Carlos, who was super sweet and patient and fun. Then Ivo became the proud owner of a 12-meter kitesurf, a board and harness, which Armando sold him at a discount price.

Carlos and Ivo

Carlos and Ivo

Armando is a terrific dude. He is totally chill, with a permanent smile on his face, even (or especially) when kitesurfing. He is not one of those business-oriented lets-make-more-money lets-rip-off-everyone type of people who start with a dream and transform it into an industry and then become so preoccupied with profit, that forget about the dream in the first place. Not at all. He got the shack on the beach years ago and started giving lessons to people passionate about the sport. But mostly, he just wanted to kitesurf all the time. Today nothing much has changed, except that now he has a few people working for him as instructors, so he can just focus on chilling, kitesurfing and his young family. He was super cool with Ivo and helped him a lot with the choice of equipment, and he even let him practice with a smaller kite for the entire time we were in Aruba and while Ivo was still learning the ropes.

Ivo

Ivo

After a couple of weeks practicing every day, Ivo was finally able to enjoy the kite. And he will do so everywhere we go around the world, where there is sea and wind.

Kitesurfers we met in Aruba

Henry

Henry

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Armando

Armando

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