Kitesurfers pioneer north shore crossing

Kitesurfing is a hazardous sport not widely practiced because of the inherent dangers; intrepid surfers harnessed to a gigantic kite that powers them along on a board in usually choppy waters in high winds.

Kite surfing

Sariego wants to kitesurf south side now
Photo: Sean O’ Neill

Two daring kitesurfers went on a unique trip off Grand Cayman’s coastline last Sunday and found the experience totally exhilarating because the steady winter trade winds have returned and local wind-sport enthusiasts have been dusting off their equipment.

Windsurfers and kitesurfers alike revel in the warm blue tropical Chris Sariego and Tristan Relly, ostensibly covered new water, by kitesurfing from Morrits at the north east corner of the island along the entire north shore to Papagallos in the north west, in one non-stop trip, a distance of roughly 20 miles as the sober turtle swims. There are currently no kite-surfing schools in Cayman. The kites new are between $1,000-$2,000 and a board between $500-$700 but the outlay is worth it for the experience.

The breeze rolled in at around 17 knots from the north east and the tide was coming in, an important consideration when a few inches can be the difference between a clear course and running aground.

The route passed over some of Grand Cayman’s loveliest scenery, from the relatively untouched cliffs of North Side to the world famous stingray sandbar. Sariego and Relly are the first kitesurfers known to have completed this trip, despite it being close by. This is for good reason, the prevalence of shallow coral heads and iron shore cliffs make it treacherous territory for kitesurfers.

Yet the opportunity to glide in shallow water over the beautiful coral and white sand on Cayman’s ‘wild coast’ is a major draw. Having weighed up the risks and accepted the responsibility – and having a backup crew following by car for safety – the riders found some of the best wave-riding conditions available on the island. Since the waves are breaking in shallow coral there is no margin for error and riding in these conditions is not advisable for novice riders.

The peaceful beaches hosting family picnics on the north coast were an interesting contrast to the hubbub of Rum Point, a welcome energy boost for the riders before the final stretch crossing the North Sound.

‘It was one of the most memorable kitesurfing adventures of my life,’ said Relly who got thirsty. ‘I wish I had taken some water though!’

The trip took just under three hours, including time spent exploring the different breaks along the way. Sariego’s dog Brownie was the first to meet them on the way in, enthusiastically swimming into the waves at Papagallos. He said: ‘Tristan and I are looking forward to the next southerly wind so that we can explore the south coast in the same way.’

South African Relly, 31, is in financial advisory services with Deloitte & Touche. ‘We didn’t want to drag over the coral and if you’re over an area where there’s iron shore it can be hazardous. The places the people have already been in Cayman are tried and tested and slightly safer. There’s never been a huge demand for additional space because people found the area that they knew and it worked.

‘The appeal for me is to be out there in the elements. I enjoy the challenge of balancing on the board and playing with the water and the board, mixing the elements.

‘I’ve been kitesurfing since about 2000. I’ve always enjoyed water sports and when I first saw the experimental gear coming through I knew straight away it was a sport I had to get into. I was doing weight boarding and water skiing up till then.

‘We might do the same course again, we enjoyed it so much. There was a danger of the kites getting tangled and because of that we kept in communication by each other by shouting.

Sariego, 39, is from Chile. He is a manager at the Ritz-Carlton and been a kitesurfer for three years. A wind surfer for 15 years, he has also snow skied. ‘All those skills helped me to learn to kitesurf. It is something of an extreme sport because of the physical conditions and the dangers. But it is no different to doing powered snow and skiing on a mountain. It has its dangers, just like scuba diving has its dangers too but with the right safety approach then it’s a great sport. But you have to have respect for the water and the environment and know what you’re doing.

‘We want to do the same on the south side of the island but it’s a little more tricky because you need to wait for the winds to turn south-easterly which doesn’t happen regularly, so we’ll see what happens. But we’re going to do this course again. We really enjoyed it. Beautiful waves along the coast that you can ride. That area is so beautiful but you never get to see it. That’s why we took our time.’

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