INTRO - After spending six years bringing him up in a Land Rover travelling around Asia and Africa, Miguel Willis's parents settled on living in Oman in the Middle-East when he was nine-years-old. Since then, travelling has been in his blood and he's visited many of the world's most remote kite spots. This issue, however, he and Kriss Kinn swerve the hordes of randy, partying kids burning up in Faliraki and hit spots on the popular Greek islands of Paros, Crete, Rhodes and Prassonisi
The ancient Greek geographer and historian Pausanias wrote the first travel guide to Greece almost 2000 years ago, and although he covered gods, battles and other noteworthy events he failed to include any kiting locations. Despite this omission people have flocked here on holiday, lured by sun-drenched beaches, ancient ruins and islands with a hedonistic night-life. After spending a few weeks in Turkey (last issue) it was time for Kris and me to sample some of the same, so we headed to the Greek side of the Aegean Sea.
Tiny chapels perch on cliffs overlooking the azure sea and whitewashed buildings
with blue shutters and doors dot the rugged hills amongst the terraced olive groves. In town, scooters weave around black clad old ladies hobbling down the narrow cobbled streets. Paros still remains one of the most picturesque islands in Greece. Paros Kiteboarding Centre is one of my sponsors and Kris was instructing here for the summer so it was an ideal base for a few months, especially as this year the wind practically blew non-stop during July and August. It funnels between the islands of Paros and Antiparos, creating a venturi effect and the water in the channel remains fairly flat. During the height of summer the area in front of the centres was crowded with body-dragging students and kiters. However, further along the beach it remained relatively quiet. Renting a scooter is a good way to explore the island although it's not uncommon to see tourists hobbling around with bandaged arms and legs from accidents.
From Paros we caught an overnight ferry to Crete. Travelling by ferry makes a welcome change from flying, with no baggage restrictions and the space to lie out on deck or walk around. Our board bags didn't fare quite so well though and were stored next to boxes of fish that leaked. For the next few days a rich aroma accompanied us and earned us a few dirty looks from taxi drivers.
Crete is one of the largest Greek islands so we hired a car to explore its northern coastline, which was forecast to receive the most wind. We quickly realised that its rocky shoreline offered few options but we were able to kite close to the town of Sitia, though the small stony beach and choppy water made it far from ideal. This area is supposed to have some good waves later in the year but during the summer the small shore-break quickly closed out. After a couple of days without much success we returned to a large sandy beach close to the main port of Iraklio. There were a few too many used condoms to call it a pristine beach but the local kiters were very welcoming and the waves breaking on a reef provided some fun kickers.
Kite trips seem to revolve around wind and food, so after a day's riding we would set out in search of a new place to eat. Many of the small restaurants were family run affairs, serving Greek favourites; moussaka, souvlaki, stuffed vegetables and seafood. Cheese and olive oil accompanied everything. Octopus were tenderised by being beaten on a rock and hung up outside. The Greek version of fast food is gyro pita - slivers of pork wrapped in flat bread with onions and a yoghurt dressing.
Ancient ruins are as common in Greece as car parks are in other countries and it is not uncommon to see a column or an archaeological dig in the middle of a modern city with a plaque dating its ancient heritage. However, for history, the scale of the next island outdid all the others.
Arriving in the port of Rhodes we had an impressive view of its medieval walled city. In places the walls are twelve metres thick and topped with battlements, a reminder of Ottoman influences are present with mosques and Turkish baths. It is definitely worth taking a day to wander around and get lost in the city's winding streets. Our hostel was in the middle of the old city and what it lacked in luxuries it made up for in character. The main streets were busy with tourists; cafes and shops sold reproductions of ancient Greek statues, wall hangings and other tack.
We caught the bus to Prassonisi on the southern tip of the island, which is one of the most popular kiting destinations in Greece. The wind howled across the huge sand bar and yet in its lee barely a ripple moved across the water. This was a perfect spot to ride. Along the whole length of the sandbar windsurfers wobbled back and forth and unfortunately kiting has been relegated to a tiny corner at one end.
Having such perfect conditions but unable to make the most of them was a Greek kiting tragedy. The onshore side of the sandbar was open to both kiters and windsurfers. It was also less crowded and made a nice respite from dodging crashing kites and windsurfers.
We camped in the dunes with a great view over the beach and thought it was an ideal spot until it blew 35 knots and sand rained down inside our tent. A few days later a storm exposed further inadequacies in our tent, which leaked like a sieve. This was the first rain since April and signalled a change in seasons. The wind that had been consistent for so many months now became erratic and forecasts changed hourly. The Meltemi wind system was coming to an end for this year.
Keep up with Miguel on his travels at: www.miguelwillis.com Stand by for our special 2009 Travel Guide supplement, freewith the next issue! It'll sizzle ma nizzle
With a small window to make the year's profit, prices are often ridiculously inflated during the height of summer. Surprisingly, considering how many people rely on tourism to make their living, the Greek manner can often feel a bit blunt and customer service leaves a bit to be desired.
We tried to camp whenever possible, in some places it's not strictly allowed but people usually turn a blind eye. Greece has a huge coastline but much of it is rocky and during the summer months the beaches are crowded with tourists. It's always a good idea to check with local kiters where you are able to ride as many places have access issues and you don't want to ruin it for the locals.
Prices in €
Coke: .70 ? 1
Beer: 2.50 ? 4.00
Dinner: 7 (gyro pitas and drink). 15 (usual Greek
food and drink)
Hostels: 27 for a private double
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