Kitesurfing in Fujian: Offshore in Xiamen (Part III)

Travel | by Aimee Groom
Posted: November 5th, 2010 | Updated: September 9th, 2014 | Comments

kitesurfing in xiamen, china After a few days in remote Liu'ao we were back in Xiamen, and I had high hopes that my kitesurfing skills were finally going to get the chance to shine... until now they'd been extinguished over and over again by big, crashing waves and inconsiderate wind. Would today finally be the day I put the kite and the surf together and actually stood upright on the water for more than two seconds? >>> Continued from Part 1: On the Road to Liu'ao.) "If it's going to happen anywhere," I thought to myself as we pulled up at 59Fly kite club on Haiyuntai Beach, "it's going to be here." Looking out across the calm waters, I felt a first rush of adrenalin at the mere thought. Earlier in the week in remote Liu'ao, that rush had been edged with a prickly sensation that grew from fear of being far from help and uncertain of what lay beneath the waves. Here, however, I knew I'd be safe. There was a kite school and there were no ramshackle fishing boats dotting the water to collide with, just a few large, well-weathered clusters of stable rocks. And, of course, there were more people around. Knowing that others nearby were making their first forays into this powerful sport also helped set my mind at ease. The wind was steady but still a tiny bit offshore and so it was with many reminders from Flo not to get washed out to sea and end up in Taiwan, that I eased the kite up, into the air. Board in one hand and kite in the other, I waded into the water and let the power of the wind pull me, clinging to the board like a shipwreck victim to a piece of flotsam. A short distance from the beach and I stopped, leaving the lines floating gently in the air above.  Taking a deep breath I worked the board towards my feet and, with a sharp pull to the right and a tug to the left, I was up! As I skimmed across the water I heard Max whistle from behind... "Wahoooooohooohooooo!" I cried in response, the salt water spray in my face—but good god this was easier when there were no waves. How the hell did I ever think I could do this in the rough surf of Liu'ao! kitesurfing in xiamen chinakitesurfing xiamen, chinakitesurfing in xiamen, china A few moments later and I remembered the offshore wind. The thought of a deep sea rescue in contested waters was not an appealing one, so I promptly set about about trying to stop (which at my level involves ungracefully sitting splash-back into the water) and attempted to return towards the shore. Going upwind, it turned out, was a decidedly trickier affair, and after much splashing about and skidding for a few seconds with the board at quite the wrong angle, I was resigned to superman (yes that is a real term) arms outstretched back to the beach. Flo was there waiting. Having hobbled along the sand with his broken foot, he caught the kite as I emerged from the water and beamed at me: his gal, the kitesurfer. Well, close enough anyway. Making our way back along the beach I listened carefully to instruction and praise and yet more warnings about the offshore wind. "I know babe, I know," I replied. "I'll be careful." Except that it doesn't always matter how careful you are, it's not always up to you. kitesurfing xiamen, china After a round or two of successes where I breezed through the downwind, struggled with the upwind and made it safely back to the beach, I re-entered the water once more. A few hundred feet out and the wind dropped for a microsecond, just as I was pulling the board around and suddenly the kite was falling. Half a second too late I tried to pull it up but it was already in the water. Unperturbed I pushed the bar and tugged at the lines as one is supposed to do. "Let the wind take it and pull," I told myself. No problem. But it wasn't working. Looking around I was far from shore and could see Flo gesturing wildly: "Push the bar, push the bar..." "I am pushing the bar goddamit," I said through gritted teeth, and still the kite was pulling around, the wind taking it like a sail and dragging me along behind. I reached further up the lines, pulling desperately as they cut into my hands against the pressure of the wind, but to no avail. I was getting further from the beach and fast approaching the rocks that marked the end of the bay and open water. Suddenly the pressure from the kite eased at the same time as the bar was almost yanked from my hands. "Oh shit, the safety's gone!" I was now attached by only a single line and there was no way the kite would fly again. I'd have to attempt my first self-rescue, on this, my supposed haven of beaches. As I steeled myself to start trying to wind in the spaghetti of lines that floated before me in the water, I looked back to Flo, screeching at the top of my lungs that the safety had released.  I saw that he was frantically talking with two men and together, they quickly hauled a jet ski into the water. And so it was that my knights in shining Speedos arrived on a blue and green jet-propelled horse, one hauling me up behind him and the other jumping in the water to save my kite. My initial panic quickly subsided back on the beach, only to be replaced with embarrassment. I splashed my way back into the water in a dismal effort to to aid the wiry Japanese man who'd taken control of my kite and, having wound the lines and folded it in half was at that moment calmly using the wind to sail it back to shore. They turned out to be from the other Xiamen kite club and didn't seem at all put out by my dramatic rescue (bless them), but for me, that spelled the end of the day. I'd had my lucky escape. My body was tired and with the wind showing no sign of turning inland, I was not about to tempt fate once more. There were only a couple of hours left of the afternoon and a crew of kiters had assembled on the beach for a competition organized by David and the guys at 59Fly. A pioneer on the China kitesurfing scene, David Zhai founded the club in Xiamen two years ago. He's active in trying to introduce the sport to more people in China and sat down later with me to have a chat about how it all came to be (I'll post the results of the interview soon). Today, competitors would have to launch and fly their kites across to small island visible in the distance, returning to the beach as fast as they could. kitesurfing in xiamen, china As I've mentioned before, the wind is fickle and that day it was sulking and steadfastly stuck to its offshore line. As the sun lowered in the sky, hopes of the competition taking place that day gradually fizzled out. That's just the way it is with a sport like this. Like a child with a strict parent, you have to respect the wind and obey the wind and if it's not in the right mood, you're not going out. Obviously, opportunities to get on the water increase with your skills and abilities, but for many beginners that day, it was a case of sticking to the safety of the sand and the shallows or just hanging out and watching the more skilled riders do their thing. We arrived back down the beach to find that Marie, inspired by the surroundings, had joined their ranks. Though not a complete beginner (you can't go out with a kitesurfer for ten years and have never tried!), it'd been a long time since she'd been in the harness. We watched and cheered her on as she flew the kite first on the beach and then in the water. After packing up the gear on the grassy bank by the kite club, the last of the sun's rays finally gone and the first hint of a mild evening chill taking hold of the air, we made our way for a final beer and a bite to eat at Temple Bar. Aptly named, this is a temple that has been beautifully converted and is one of the prettiest bars I've come across in China. With cold beers in hand and the remains of two-for-one-pizza in front of us, we declared that Flo's foot, my mini-crisis in the water and the canceled kite race aside, as the October holidays go, this one had really not been bad at all. Kitesurfing in Fujian: On the road to Liu'ao (Part I) Kitesurfing in Fujian: Camping out & flying high (Part II) China Travel Interview: Waiting for the wind with Xiamen kitesurf instructor David Zhai

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