INTRO – Fun for all levels and with enough wind to be shredding dawn till dusk among the dolphins and flamingoes, in the resort report in issue #73 we revealed simple and relaxing holiday experiences on the edge of the Western Sahara on and around the immense Dakhla lagoon, southwest Morocco
WORDS – Kiteworld Magazine Team
In Dakhla’s early kite days, visitors would return home praising the conditions, but commenting that the sparse camp accommodations let the area down as a destination. You’ll see things have changed off-the-water. Thankfully, it’s all still killer on it.
Klaus Warkentin from Dakhla Attitude has lived in Dakhla for four years and has personally kept a log of weather statistics. “Over the last three years we have had over 300 days of wind each year, averaging 25 knots!” was the first thing he was keen to tell us.
Situated on the edge of the Western Sahara desert, the Dakhla peninsula shelters a huge flat water lagoon from the Atlantic Ocean, so whatever your level and riding preference, you’re likely to be covered – there’s even a ‘speed spot’! Perhaps it’s not the ideal holiday option for those looking for lots of non-kiting activity options, but if you’re hungry for fantastic wind conditions, flat water, waves, beautiful sunsets and relaxed evenings with good food and like-minded people who really love kitesurfing, then Dakhla should be on your list of future holiday destinations.
Not entirely shut off from the rest of the world, getting to Dakhla however usually involves a flight connection and then there’s the transfer through the desert, often at night. Hold your hopes high that you’ve booked the right holiday though because when you wake up in the morning you’ll be water-side and greeted by the unique golden-brown colours of the Sahara, the immense turquoise lagoon and very often flocks of incredible pink flamingos. “As-salamu alaykum” (peace and blessings be upon you) indeed.
Gemma Hamaini runs Kite Morocco which is situated at the Dakhla Spirit camp on the northwest lagoon coast. “I clearly remember my first impressions of Dakhla in 2009. We landed at sunset and drove out into the desert with the feeling that we were about to find somewhere special. After just seven days I decided that I wanted to stay and set something up in Dakhla.”
“It took my breath away the first time! Cheesy, but true. I couldn’t believe there was this perfect lagoon seemingly in the middle of the desert that went on for miles.” exclaims Sara Jolly from Explora who are based opposite in the Dakhla Alize camp. She doesn’t paint a picture of pure paradise for those in search of absorbing luxury and lush green palm trees, though. “Dakhla is raw and real, but for kiting the conditions are pretty much spot on. I’ve had more time on the water here than anywhere else I have traveled for kiting.”
For regular learning conditions, often in waist deep water depending on the tide, you’ll be putting in good quality hours here as you quickly develop your skills. Flat water doesn’t just attract beginners though; the freestyle conditions are excellent and there’s also plenty of adventure for those looking to engage in lots of varied and roving freeride mileage.
So, let’s get the layout of the lagoon, as it’s far from the duck pond you may be used to! The town of Dakhla is roughly 30 kilometres southwest from most of the camps which are in the north-northeast corner of the lagoon. A stern downwinder to town isn’t out of the question and will take good riders about two-and-a-half hours, to give you an idea. “The lagoon and wind changes as you go. The birds and dolphins will ride with you and the people you pass on the shoreline will wave as you pass!” enthuses Klaus from Dakhla Attitude, who, like all camps/centres, run guided downwinders.
The tides have a big effect, but all camps and centres offer riding right out front of their properties, with varying walking distances to the water’s edge, depending on the state of tide. There’s flat water for freestyle progression and endless freeride runs progressing to chop and ramps for riders looking to boost huge.
Talk to most people who have been to Dakhla though and they’ll tell you that the real magic happens at the Speed Spot. You can reach it in a few minutes, but you should go with a guide as the wind is offshore over the sand bar that appears at low tide.
“You’ll find this amazing stretch of butter flat water and perfectly consistent wind. It’s called the ‘Speed Spot’, but it’s a freestyle heaven. A good sunset session there is possibly my all-time favourite.” Gemma explains. “The totally flat water is a unique sensation and there’s enough space for everyone, whether they’re into freestyle, racing or strapless freestyle. The nature is completely unspoilt as you can find yourself kiting next to dolphins, flying fish and flamingos!” adds Klaus.
There are plenty of downwind potentials. At 13 kilometres, the downwinder to the white dune is the crème of the Dakhla crop, taking you past Dragon Island and works at high tide, as opposed to the Speed Spot which works at low tide. “It’s a magical experience, too.” confirms Sara.
KiteWorldWide also run downwinders through the lagoon and, according to manager Juergen Sievers, “You feel like you’ve ended up in this Tolkien-like scenery with a huge white dune in the middle of the lagoon.”
Another downwinder down the west side of the lagoon will take you to the oyster farm where you can land your kites and enjoy a lunch of oysters, tajines and grilled fish before heading back to your hotel or camp.
Dakhla’s most famous calling card for kitesurfers is its enourmous flat water lagoon, but the PKRA has done a good job of raising the wave riding profile with world tour stops staged there over the last few seasons; something that the local instructors and guides have been enjoying for years.
4×4 transfers from the camps to the waves take between five to twenty minutes, depending on which camp you stay at. Point de L’Or (the golden point) features a point break that wraps around a small cliff with a wave breaking for up to 400 metres. There’s an even longer wave to the south at Foum Lamboiur which is the beach on the edge of town and where the PKRA have hosted their events. If you’ve seen their videos, you’ll be aware of the potential. In general the spots are very quiet, but the only thing to be aware of are the rocks at the start of the point at low tides. Foum Lambouir is the most used spot with easier access, but is further away from most camps than Point de L’Or, which is just five minutes, but requires a 4×4 to access it.
WIND, WEATHER AND WATER:
Dakhla genuinely offers conditions all year. Blowing from the northeast, April through to the end of September are the windiest months; July and August being the best, with a 90% chance of wind, although a little gustier. April to June you’ll be on the water 75 – 85% of days and 75% in September. Lighter in the morning, you’ll find great learning conditions with the wind peaking early afternoon before dropping towards sunset at 7pm. Outside of those times the weather is still sunny, the costs are cheaper and, for many, this is their favourite time of year. The spots are quieter, you’ll still only need a shorty or thin suit and the waves can be fantastic with the swells increasing from October through to the end of March, reaching up to two metres with eight to twelve second periods. Average winds are 19 – 25 knots in the off-season and October in particular is highly recommended for anyone. One thing to bear in mind is that as the wind is thermal driven the wind is a bit lighter on the ocean than over the lagoon, but there’s certainly no shortage in power.
Take your full quiver if you have your own gear. Most good riders use their nines and twelves the most. Lighter girls will need their nines and sevens in the prevailing 22 – 30 knot winds.
The weather’s good all year, from 20 – 30°C / 68 – 86°F during the day, dropping to 12 – 15°C / 54 – 60°F at night. In the height of summer boardshorts and bikinis only during the day, shorty the rest of the year and a warm sweatshirt and jeans for the evenings. The water temperature sits around 19 – 24°C / 66 – 75°F all year. In strong winds it feels much colder, so maybe pack a longer wetsuit. January and February are the coldest months.
The vast majority of kiters choose to stay in one of the camps on the lagoon’s water’s edge, though Kite Morocco have a guest house option in town. Unless you only want to kite at the town’s main wave spot, the best option is to book accommodation at the lagoon where the offerings now cater for all tastes and budgets; most are all-inclusive meaning you can just kite, relax and enjoy good food and drink without having to worry about anything much more than that. See the ‘Useful Contacts’ section for more details on the camps/accommodation.
FOOD AND DRINK:
All the camps and hotels are all-inclusive and provide excellent fresh food and drinks at sunset. See the ‘Useful Contacts’ section again for more details. If you want to get out of camp for a while then Dakhla town is a delight and probably not what you’re used to. Food options range from camel kebab (!) right through to the freshest fruit juices. Visit the small souk in town and the local markets selling herbs, spices nuts and olives. Look out for the cars selling seasonal fruits and try the Dakhla-grown cherry tomatoes. Enjoying a traditional tea in a cafe is a must-do, and lunch at the oyster farm is also highly recommended (even if you don’t like oysters, as there is plenty more on the menu). Between the camps and town you’ll hopefully find a little semi-hidden fish restaurant on the water’s edge that serves seafood, fish and fresh oysters. There are pizza options in town as well as a more upmarket dinner at Villa Dakhla.
Dakhla has developed to offer much more than just warm, windy water (as apparently that’s not enough for some people!). The Dakhla Attitude Hotel now has a 2.0 system cable park in a 140 x 45 metre pool with two kickers, rooftop and box that is available everyday and for two night sessions with BBQ and beach party each week. Most camps offer no-wind activities, the most regular being surf and SUP trips as well as catamaran sailing, windsurfing, blokarts, fishing and horse riding. Non-sporting options are fairly limited, but eating good food never gets old on holiday and there’s always lovely weather on the beach and expansive sands. There are trip options to the sweet water blow holes of Imlili in the desert, Portorico beach or the thermal source of Asnaa where you can take a hot shower in sulfate rich water directly out of the ground.
If you are staying at one of the camps no rental car is necessary as you can kite directly in front of your room. Transfers to town and back can be €10 per person or free depending on your package and be aware that there aren’t many taxis. The UCPA hotel in town brings people to the lagoon each day but it’s very inconvenient compared to just walking to your kite spot and the costs can build up. Make sure you buy a rescue voucher for the lagoon if you’re not staying at one of the camps. If you stay in town you’re best to rent a car to get to the kite spot or daily 4×4 transfers can be arranged with schools to a variety of spots.
There are daily flights to Dakhla (VIL) from international connections in Casablanca or from Agadir on Wednesdays. There are no direct flights to Dakhla from outside Morocco. Be prepared to spend a night in Casablanca for your connecting flight on your way home, but there is a airport hotel with a free shuttle bus. Twice a week there’s also a service from Las Palmas, Gran Canaria with Canary Fly (www.canaryfly.es).
This feature appeared in Kiteworld issue #73, released January 2015. Find out what else was in the issue here.