Funnels of beer, barrel loads of wind and a dramatic helicopter rescue...it could only have been the biggest student kitesurfing event in the world.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that the first installment of On The Road saw us visiting a blue movie set or to watch some sort of retro 80's throwback band from Down Under perform a tribute set. The truth may disappoint some of you, but we were actually heading to the world's biggest student kitesurfing event, put on by the Student Kitesurfing Association in Bude, Cornwall that had for some reason been given the title, Aussie Kiss V. To be honest we never did find out why, and any insignificant musings like that were soon put on the back burner when we walked into a caravan park bar that was six deep and kicking off. Quickly realising that we were the only people to order a pint without some sort of cordial in it to aid rapid consumption, it was clear we were in danger of looking a little out of place and in for a weekend not only of getting our mettle tested against the notoriously strong winds and waves of the southwest, but also pitted against the iron constitutions of an age group whose regard for the health implications of alcohol excesses are casual at best.
The event didn't fail to deliver as over 180 students descended on Cornwall's Watergate Bay to either learn or improve on their kiting skills. Huge swell, helicopter rescues, 50 people almost being cut off on the beach and a huge joint party of over 500 windsurfers and kitesurfers were only some of what went on.
The forecast gales and big swells arrived early the next morning. The conditions were challenging but we were spared the rain and even got a little sun, and once the youthful metabolisms had been invigorated with the obligatory greasy baps it was great to see a beach filled with people either being introduced to the sport, or being given a helping hand to progress by among others, the Turbulence Angels (never ones to miss a good party) and Martyn Hogg. The concept of bringing such a large group together is a tough one to crack but it seemed like good progress was being made as we watched more and more take the reigns of the numerous kites on offer. At times they ran a little low on kit, but it was clear there was no shortage of enthusiasm.
The wind continued to blow throughout the day and strong gusts saw a few students getting airborne and others practicing their skudding skills. Meanwhile another drama was unfolding on the water.
Mal, a local rider, had overcooked it out back in the large swell and strong currents had pushed him past the end of the beach. Riding on a borrowed kite he made the mistake of holding on that little too long and was pulled into the break at the foot of the cliffs before anyone had noticed he'd gone. As soon as word spread that a rider was missing, Ben, one of the SKA organisers, risked his own bacon by heading out along the rocky cliff base to see if he could spot Mal. The coastguard was called and two helicopters, a rescue swimmer, abseil team and paramedics were rushed out but the only person that could help Mal was Ben; the tide had cut off access to the base of the cliffs and there was a danger that those on the beach could end up stranded if they stayed any longer.
Ben found Mal exhausted and dragged him up the face of the cliff and out of reach of the rising tide. In Mal's own words he had 'nothing left' by this point, wasted by his struggle in the surf. As worried observers the helicopter rescue looked impossible, but the winch-man somehow reached them and they were both lifted off the rocks and taken to a local hospital. Thankfully minor scrapes and a brush with hypothermia were the worst of it and they were both, of course, at the party later that evening. The severity of what could have been wasn't going to sink their enthusiasm for another belly-full of lager and black.
Continuing the swept ashore theme, the party was a pirate fancy dress night and there were some awesome outfits, as well as some straight-up bizarre ones. There's little point in going into the details of a crowded evening fuelled by Snakebite poured through funnels, numerous boat race drinking competitions and an unending supply of Aftershock as everyone was whipped into even more of a frenzy by a great band and free Kiteworld T-shirts! We retired gracefully, (or at least that's how we remember it) and from some of the sights the next morning, this was a wise retreat.
Sadly Sunday was rained off but having seen the number of people, the bubbling atmosphere and how well the event was run it's clear that next year's is going to be even bigger and better. If this event was anything to go by, then the student world has a very healthy kiting scene which is great for the future of the sport, and it was especially good to see a strong contingent of girls making up the eager hordes.
We'll be there next time but they're still not putting squash in our beer.
To find out more about the Student Kitesurfing Association, other events, or to get help setting up your own student kitesurfing club at your university, head to the SKA website: www.studentkitesurfing.co.uk