This is part three of a three part feature written by Jim Gaunt about kitesurfing in El Gouna and Soma Bay
Our time in El Gouna was filled with daily activities, but Soma Bay gave us a chance to unwind and focus on nothing but kiting. Again, our new friend Nour picked us up from the Movenpick to escort us to the second half of our stay at the Breakers Surfing and Diving Lodge.
Breakers is a partner company of the 7BFT kite centre situated right in the upwind corner of the kiting area in Soma Bay. Looking across to the other side of the bay you can see the port town of Safaga in the distance and just before that is the huge Intercontinental hotel, in front of which you'll see lots of other kitesurfers on the water in the distance. The huge benefit that the 7BFT centre has, being right up in the upwind corner of the bay, is that the wind blows offshore in front of the centre, creating lovely butter-smooth flat water, and it's only guests of Breakers and Robinson's Beach club that kite there! All lessons are done out in the deeper water with an efficient rescue boat team collecting the strays.
Although the wind is offshore, as it comes charging in over the relatively flat scrub land behind the centre, it's actually very clean. The centre itself has only been completed in the last few years and is therefore very well equipped with compressors, a convenient storage lock-up so you don't need to ferry your gear to and from the hotel, beach beds and sun loungers, outdoor showers and lockers, a snack bar serving food and drinks, including cold beer and, of course, a gear shop and school. There is everything you need right on one spot and you don't need to worry about cash either as you can charge all your food and drinks back to your room at the hotel.
The Breakers is a five minute shuttle bus ride from the centre, which the hotel run for free every 30 minutes. The hotel itself is a very cool, contemporary set-up, offering a much more relaxed and low key vibe than some of the other glitzy ritzy all-inclusive hotels in the area as the management have focussed on what kitesurfing and divers are looking for. The atmosphere is certainly friendly and the food at the communal 'beach party' themed dinner, which we arrived just in time for, was beautiful. We were seated on a round table on the beach in front of the hotel with a South African couple from the UK, a Londoner, a Dutch guy and an Austrian couple. The food was all freshly cooked in a make-shift kitchen area right there under the stars. As we got to know the other guests around the table, John leaned over to me and said, 'Jim, please don't write too much about this place. We want it to be the same when we come back next year. The kiting is the best we've ever had!'
If you've never kited in offshore conditions with rescue boats on-hand, it's quite an experience. Once you've got yourself orientated with the wind direction, the benefits are immense. The closer you can hug the shoreline, the smoother the water as there's no fetch between you and the beach. Although this area of water is popular, we always found space to ride as the beach curves round in a huge arc. The 7BFT centre runs weekly speed contests as the conditions for ragging it are so good. You can grab the GPS from the centre when you feel like having a go, strap it on and then go hell for leather for a while and see what speeds you can get. While we were there an English kiter called James Winstanley (who was on one of Jo Wilsons' training clinics that she was running at the centre at the time) clocked up the fastest time of the week with XXXX on his 14 metre and twin-tip, claiming a bottle of bubbly.
The other benefit of offshore conditions is for tricks. Popping is so much easier in flat, smooth water and once you've got yourself up and out of the water, you'll naturally end up in deeper water, away from the beach. So the risk of wiping out up the beach is non-existent. Remember you should never kite in offshore conditions without a good rescue boat team, but being able to do so here made the holiday riding experience even more novel.
Danielle's goal was to learn to jump and she said that she wishes we'd come here sooner! Within a day or two she was popping up, gliding and landing nicely because 'she felt so much safer being carried out into deep water rather than towards the beach'.
The centre is run by Eva, a 27 year-old German girl who packed in her office job for supermarket giant Aldi back home. A year spent travelling and kitesurfing made her realise that she needed to find some sort of work that would allow her more time on the water. Although she doesn't instruct, she's an experienced kiter and her working experience helps her effectively manage her team that's mostly made up of 25 Egyptian men. She brings a certain softness to the centre that pervades through the happy team. Eva spends a lot of her time mingling with the guests as they relax in front of the centre and highlights that as being one of the best parts of her job. The other being kiting. The knock-on effect of seeing her ride so elegantly and smoothly is that many of the girlfriends who come with their kiting partners feel encouraged and inspired to try the free powerkite lessons in the mornings, rather than just sit all day on the sunbeds. Often by the end of their stay they have been fully converted and bitten by the kiting bug. Job done.
Ending the day at the Breakers is just what you need after a full day's kiting. You can tell that the management put great emphasis on the quality of the food and the attentiveness of the waiting staff is second-to-none. Efficient and unobtrusive they are well versed in the food and wine they serve. You can choose to sit as a couple in a quiet corner on the patio in the evening air, or join a bigger table with your new friends. There's no pressure. The food was themed differently, either by continent or style of cooking each evening. And just to prove how good their kitchen is, the buffet was actually served in the various kitchen cooking areas one evening. It was immaculate, the food was delicious and, as the buffet is all-you-can-eat, with a pack of hungry to kiters to feed each night, they do well to never run out.
The five days passed quickly with only one day without wind. Although simple, the hotel is a lovely place to relax, with a pool, waterfront sunbeds, each with their own leafy parasol and scuba / diving equipment and lessons are also offered at the centre in the hotel. Running out to the edge of the reef a wooden platform provides a quick entry to the most incredible underwater world. I've not done much snorkelling before, but I was impressed by how accessible the reef was. As soon as you drop off the end of the platform your surroundings are incredible. A great way to kill a couple of hours.
We managed to fit another kiting session in on the morning of the day we were to leave before relaxing in the hotel bar waiting for our ride to the airport. The TV was showing Brazil Vs Holland, a match which Holland surprisingly won to make it to the World Cup final. I was happy for our new Dutch friends, who we could still hear cheering as we left the hotel, and I was pleased that England had gone out early. For one, they couldn't string two passes together and, once they were out, the quality of the football on show improved and I was also able to focus on lots and lots of kiting.
In the Spring Tours minibus on our transfer from the Breakers Lodge in Soma Bay, after swapping some feel-good life stories with public relations manager, Ahmed, he had told us to just relax when we got to the airport; that we would be treated like a king and queen.
'It takes a long time to be able to provide this sort of service here, Jim. You understand?' I was beginning to.
MAKING IT WORK
Egypt is a year-round kitesurfing destination, but the summer months are the most consistent. They are also the ho
ttest and, in Egypt, hot is hot; frequently reaching 40°C in July and August. Having said that, it was nice to get some proper heat on the bones after the English winter we'd had and never feel any chill on the water at all, in just boardies and a rashie. The closer you get to winter the more you'll need a spring suit as the wind chill from the north winds can be cool, but the water in this area doesn't really drop below 20°C. Out of the wind the winter is still great for some serious R&R and the water will also be much quieter.
Girls, you will love it here. In general you'll see a lot of girls on the water in Egypt. The mix of easy conditions and warm water make it an ideal spot for learning, but El Gouna also has the benefit of being such an idyllic town with western values, so holiday makers are left alone and not hassled by market traders urging them into their shop or to look on their stall. In Soma Bay the hotels are all-inclusive and, as there's no t
own as such, that's not an issue. Danielle said that riding at El Gouna and Soma Bay was the most comfortable and relaxed she has been kitesurfing anywhere.
One thing to note about kiting in El Gouna is that some areas can be really shallow at low tide, so take care abou
t the times you hit the water. There are deeper areas and a couple of hours after low tide there's plenty of water everywhere
again if you're uncomfortable with the shallows. You can kite all day at Soma Bay.
Hurghada lies between El Gouna and Soma Bay and is the busiest kitesurfing destination of all three, with conditions similar to those of El Gouna. There are Tommy Friedl centres at both the Jasmin Village and Grand Seas hotels.
There's no need to hire a car. In El Gouna we used tuk-tuks which are plentiful, cheap and can fit a bit of kiting kit in too! In Soma Bay there is a free transfer bus running to and from
the beach to the hotel. For all other trips, excursions and transfers, we recommend Spring Tours.
El Gouna has a host of activities to keep you entertained, from golf, sailing, diving and of
course, kitesurfing to go karting and paintballing. There are lot of bars and restaurants to choose from and, if you need more, or want a bustling nightclubbing experience, then head to the much busier and, generally more touristy, Hurghada.
Soma Bay is all about sport and relaxation. There's a championship golf course in Soma Bay and, of course, diving is extremely popular here. Catch a bus or take a taxi round the bay to Safaga, a traditional Egyptian town or, again, head back to Hurghada or even El Gouna for more evening activities.
Spring Tours offer excursions to ancient Luxor and further afield if there's ever no wind and you fancy catching up on your culture and history. Although we didn't get chance to do this, everyone we spoke to highly recommended the experience.
For all the little things, as well as the big things we need to thank Nour and his brother Ahmed for such an outstanding service, becoming to feel like friends rather than guides, typic
al of the warmth of the Egyptians we had the pleasure of meeting. Walking with Nour on a trip we took around Hurghada, we weren't hassled on the streets at every opportunity and he was also able to quickly explain to airport security on our way out of the airport that our strange bags were filled with harmless watersports gear and were able to carry on our way. They run tours throughout Egypt, to Luxor and Cairo as well as 4x4 tours into the desert. Find them at:
+202 27 36 59 72
The Movenpick is a five star resor
t with its own kiting beach. Part of an international chain with roots in Switzerland, they strive to provide quality, reliability and care with a personal touch.
+20 65 354 4501
The Captain's Inn hotel is a boutique g
uest-house situated in the beautiful Abu Tig marina. It's popular with kitesurfers for its clean, relaxed surroundings a
nd close proximity to Mangroovy beach (a ten minute walk away).
+20 65 358 0170
Breakers Surfing and Diving Lodge is a modern 'watersports lifestyle' four star hotel that was fully opened earlier
this year. Set on the edge of the beautiful Soma Bay peninsula, it has everything you need for a sporting but relaxing stay.
+20 653 562 641
Planet also recommend the deluxe 5 star Sheraton hotel in Soma Bay. In general Soma Bay offers an upmarket and quiet location. Contact Planet for more details.
KITE PEOPLE @ THE MOVENPICK
RED SEA ZONE, MANGROOVY
KITE POWER, MANGROOVY
TOMMY FRIEDL PRO CENTRES
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