WORDS - Mark Shinn
INTRO ? In his second column, two-time world champion Mark Shinn offers up some tips on the art of winter travel
Having spent the last seven years tr aveling to kite, I like to think I have accumulated some useful knowledge, both in regards to the best places and the methods of getting there.
The internet, more than any other aspect of my life in recent years, has revolutionised traveling. In 2001 my travel agent listed me as his best customer. In 2006 I didn't book a single flight through an agency. Internet search engines have made finding flight connections as easy as learning the airport codes and typing them in. On this note, I want to share with you my 'site of the moment' for travel. www.skyscanner.net is a search engine that only checks the charter and low cost airlines on the routes you want to go on - fantastic!
One of the only down sides to internet booking is the ease of making major fuck ups. One of the first trips I ever booked online was to New Caledonia. I was so stoked to have found it hundreds of pounds cheaper than the travel agent that I was tripping over myself to get my credit card numbers typed in to book it. I started to get the inkling that something was wrong when we arrived at the airport to check-in and found that the first section of our flight went to New York and then LA. Strange, I thought New Caledonia was the other way? But what did I know.
15 hours later we arrived in LA and looked at the next step of our trip: Honolulu, Oahu. Now the alarm bells started to ring. I am not the world's best geographer, but even I know that Hawaii is not on the route from Europe to New Caledonia. It would have been quicker to get to Australia! After a quick search of the airport press shop we found a world map and my mistake became obvious. In my rush to get the lowest price I'd failed to check the routing and instead of a nice 20 hour flight through Singapore, we traveled 45 hours the other way round the world! The second half of that trip I was accompanied by an icy, fuming girlfriend muttering somewhat incoherently about how had it been possible to make a mistake like that?
I did find a revelation during that trip in Auckland airport, New Zealand, however. They have a 'rest area' for stop-overs comprising essentially of a set of rooms, each with a bed, TV and a communal shower that can be rented by the hour. If only other airports would take their lead and implement a similar system.
Actually my first winter trip ever was as a windsurfer. After a particularly miserable October session in Bournemouth, I realised that my summer suit was just not going to cut it anymore. I stopped by the local shop to buy a thicker winter one, but before parting with my cash thought that instead of handing over the 300 notes I could instead buy a plane ticket to the Canary islands and sail in shorts all winter. It was a solid plan and only fell down on my return to the UK in spring when I had to buy an even more expensive winter suit as my hard-worn resistance to cold that I'd built up over some years had all but melted away in the Canarian winter!
Of course, with so many winter spots on offer now it's hard to know where to go, so I thought I'd offer my thoughts on a few of them:
Brazil is the current favourite of the winter traveling kiteboarder, and rightly so. Five months a year of consistent wind, glassy flat lagoons and cheap living is a combination few can resist. There are too many spots to mention, but if you fly to Fortaleza and then start traveling north you will find a kiting paradise every few miles. The only down side of northern Brazil is that the popular spots and lagoons, like Cumbuco, are starting to get crowded and the locals have have started to smell the tourist Euros coming in. A trip further south to Natal, in particular Tibau do Sol and Pipa, could be just what you need, however. Rent a buggy and drive along the beach until the conditions catch your eye, then just stop and ride. Be very careful to reserve your gear on the plane in advance though, and have a printed agreement of the cost of it. The check-in staff at Fortaleza airport have seen thousands of kiters by now and are wise to all the tricks. Which reminds me - Golf bags? Come on, who do you think you are kidding?
If you want flat water, warmth and reasonably consistent wind then Egypt is always a good option. There are a multitude of spots and they all have their good and bad points. A shorty might be needed in winter and for sure take care with what you eat and drink to avoid the infamous 'Egyptian Tummy'. Flights to Egypt are cheap and plentiful.
If you are starting from the UK, there are now many cheap flights to Barbados. The conditions there in winter are fun with wind present most days, if not always super strong. If freestyle is your thing this might not be the best spot for you as there are waves pretty much all the time, but the chance to drink great rum every night is too good to miss!
For me these are still the best option. The weather is great, and best of all, if you leave at 6am you can be on the water by lunch time. Lanzarote, Tenerife and Fuerte all have their spots and if you haven't been in a while then maybe this winter is a good time to rediscover the islands. With the cost and frequency of flights now, it really is feasible to take a trip to Tenerife for three days based on the state of the forecast and it'll probably cost less than the fuel needed to get down to Cornwall for the weekend!
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue #24. Read this whole issue online for free, now click here
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