Getting Shacked: Haiti – Issue #84

Breaking new ground in Haiti

 

In Issue #84 we heard from Julien Schwartz who, along with his friends, put his personal savings into a project in Haiti. It may not be the first place on your holiday hit-list, and Hurricane Matthew tested their resolve, but through their eco-tourism project Boukan Guinguette, they’ve built the foundations of a new kiteboarding destination. We caught up with them in #Issue 84 shortly after the hurricane to find out more.

 

 

Môle Saint-Nicolas, with its picturesque turqoise waterfront sits on the northwestern windward coast of Haiti. Iguanas, blue lizards and crabs wander about the pristine white sands around Boukan Guinguette, Haiti’s first and only kitesurfing school. The project was founded in April 2015 by Julien Schwartz, Fritz Eliezer Étienne and six others who all had a lingering love affair with Haiti, but it was rocked recently by Hurricane Matthew; the worst hurricane in the region in recent memory. Thousands of sheet metal roofs were ripped off by the wind and many walls collapsed in the rain. Hundreds of houses were entirely washed away by the sea flood and over 70% of the local infrastructure was destroyed in the local region. Much of the livestock died from onset of extreme elements in an area that was seriously affected, but somehow not as badly as the south of the country.

For the owners of Boukan Guinguette, their property lost ten trees and a quarter of the protective beach wall was destroyed (around 150 metres). The sea flooded the bar, restaurant and kitchen, killing all the fridge and freezer power. The sea level rise was around three metres, giving them a total damage cost of around $7,000. At the current count, the guys have been working for more than 20 days on repairs. It’s slow progress too during several rainy days and with the broken water pipeline that affected the whole town.

Small sections of the wall are still awaiting repair, but for now the funds have dried up. Thankfully the guys were able to re-open the hotel after just six days and were totally operational again ten days after the hurricane had swept through. Julien says, “In general it could have been much worse for us, but thanks to our protective wall between the beach and the site, and thanks to some dykes / breakwaters that we made just before the hurricane, damage was somehow limited.”

Julien first came to Haiti in 2005 during his university training period to work with a French non-profit organisation. He ended up staying with them until 2009 after studying local development and sustainable resource management in tropical environments. “I am what they call an environmentalist!” he says, jovially. His last year of university involved training in Guadeloupe. Julien was interested in a study project on deforestation through the charcoal industry and the interaction of coffee plantations with the economy. He spent five months working with a French NGO in the Cahos mountains in middle of the country and, once the main project manager decided to leave after three years of work, Julien put himself forward to take his place and continue the project with the coffee farmer associations. He did so for five years, focusing on commercialising fair trade and luxurious coffee and implementing agricultural and technical support.

 

 

In 2013 he learnt to kitesurf in the Dominican Republic with Quentin Gustot, who then became the first person to ‘baptize’ Môle’s bay for kitesurfing. Julien said he had “fallen in love with the country”, before explaining that he then met Fritz and Leif Leriche in 2015 who shared his passion for kitesurfing and Haiti. With the purchase of several secondhand kites and boards, harnesses and other equipment from France, they went into business. “That’s how and why we started Boukan Guinguette.” The kite spot is in a wonderful bay (around 15km²) set amidst a magnificent mountainous landscape that surrounds the turquoise blue waters and there’s a full five kilometre downwinder on offer inside the bay itself. The conditions are safe too with the absence of big waves thanks to the spot orientation with a peninsula protecting the bay from the direct forces of the Atlantic Ocean. The wind remains constant throughout the year, except in May and October.

 

SUPPORTING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Working with the town council and development board, Boukan Guingette invests a portion of revenue in public projects that includes promoting local historical sites, like Vallières in collaboration with ISPAN (the national heritage institute), supporting local creole groups and sponsoring local events. Most locals earn their living simply, through fishing, goat breeding and agriculture. Aiming to develop tourism ecologically, Boukan Guingette employs helpers, maids, stewards, gardeners, security agents, cooks, waiters, waitresses and guides who help visiting kitesurfers with their equipment, with training and information on the conditions. “We also try to help the fishermen, farmers, merchants and craftsmen.” says Julien. Ecological tourism development is really only about common sense, prioritising the use of local products, the local population and natural resources first. Diminish importation and waste and at the same time create economic activity in an isolated region. We are always happy to exchange on our experience (good and bad) with other people interested to start something similar.”

 

 

The resort has a total of 20 employees, all Haitian, including a kitesurfing instructor and an assistant. Although the population often lives in difficult physical and financial conditions, Julien and his friends hope that through kitesurfing they can impart a sense of freedom. “It broadens the minds and perspectives of young Haitians as they meet more foreigners and learn about different cultures and ways of life.” Julien believes. They get a chance to try a new sport and develop a sense of pride in their abilities and their town, as Môle Saint-Nicolas is the only kitesurfing spot in Haiti with such a structure. “Kitesurfing was pretty much non-existent in Haiti but we’re building interest in the sport and collaborating with Core Kiteboarding to promote the possibilities in Haiti.”.

“We find this school fascinating!” enthuses Emanuelle L’Heureux, co-owner of Core Kiteboarding Canada. “The way a love for the sport and the region brought people together to the point of setting up such an enterprise in Haiti is very inspiring. Kitesurfers are always looking for an undiscovered spot with beautiful waters and good winds. Môle is a fantastic kitesurfing destination. Being from Quebec that has a large and established Haitian community, it is only natural that we want to support kitesurfing tourism over there. Of course we wanted to provide the latest gear to ensure safe kitesurfing experiences were possible, too.” she says.

 

 

In its maiden year of operation the school delivered more than 100 hours of lessons. 94% of students were foreigners working in Haiti, five percent were wealthy Haitians and the other one percent were tourists from France, USA, Canada, Cuba and Europe. “The vast majority of Haitians don’t have money for sports, especially an expensive one like kitesurfing.” Julien explains, “So we offer classes and equipment for free to the locals. In return they help to prepare, repair and wash the gear, or clean the seabed and beach.”

“In general, the locals have found kitesurfing to be ‘strange’, ‘terrifying’ and ‘fantastic’. It took a lot of time to convince the young people of Môle to try it, but one young boy who started a year ago now kitesurfs on his own, and has become our assistant in the school. Five others are currently learning well.” Julien told us proudly. The aim is to build a reputation for offering a unique cultural experience. There are long terms plans for more bungalows and the development of complementary activities, such as diving, mountain biking, historical site visits and trekking.

The wind conditions are similar to the Dominican Republic, but Haiti has more potential assets. Of course the economical and unstable political situation is often the first thing that comes to mind with Haiti, not to mention the poor roads… but it is a wonderful destination for adventurous kitesurfers looking for new spots that aren’t already overcrowded and offers the chance to discover a unique country and culture. “We would like to develop activities like kayak excursions and outings on fishermen’s sailing boats. This place has a lot to offer kitesurfers who want adventures other than just kitesurfing.” Julien points out, but first realises that they need to also help improve air and sea transportation to Môle Saint-Nicolas and make it more affordable.

Their most cherished dream, however, runs to the roots of why they were driven to set up such a business in the first place, and is to organise Haiti’s first kitesurfing festival.
 “People may think we’re crazy. But today’s utopia is tomorrow’s reality!” he quotes Victor Hugo with a grin.

 

CONDITIONS

You can expect nine months of good kitesurfing conditions in a calendar year in Môle Saint-Nicolas. Julien rates December through April as the best period, with 75 – 85% of ‘kitable’ days also making July through September highly rated, too. October and November are generally good, but being hurricane season you need to carefully monitor the weather, which can drastically change in a week. The months to avoid are May and June with just a 30% strike rate for windy days. In general the winds average 15 to 21 knots with conditions similar to Cabarete in the Dominican Republic, with choppy waters and cross-onshore winds.

 

 

CONTACT

For more information about Boukan Guingette, including access by air, sea and land, visit: www.boukanguinguette.com or contact Core Kiteboarding Canada: www.corekitescanada.com

 

Subscribe now for six issues a year of the original international kitesurfing magazine, rooted at the heart of the sport, and you’ll also receive our annual travel guide with more awesome destinations like this one!.

 

Back to features

Related Articles