Adrenaline-pumping? Definitely. Easy to master? Not so much. Andrea Thompson hits the kitesurfing scene in the Indian Ocean to try her hand at learning to ‘ride’
Thirty minutes into my first kitesurfing lesson, I suddenly find myself longing for the tranquillity of the hotel pool. Standing waist deep in the sea, I feel a hard tug on my kite strings as the wind picks up and my entire upper body jolts forwards. I spend the next few moments being dragged at an alarming pace across the surface of the water before being face-planted into the salty ocean. I’m admittedly out of my comfort zone.
‘Hey, take it easy… You’re trying too hard to control the kite, man,’ says my instructor Joel, appearing at my side and speaking in a languid tone universally reserved for surfers everywhere. ‘The kite is like a wild beast. The more you try to control it, the more it’s gonna control you.’
Kitesurfing is not for the faint-hearted, but it is a sport I’ve long wanted to try. I learned to surf over ten years ago and loved it, standing up on the board in my first few minutes and progressing quickly. I spent many a weekend in Newquay
– whatever the weather – with my girlfriends riding the waves for hours every day, and based holidays around new places to surf.
My partner Will is an experienced kitesurfer, so family holidays over the past few years with our two boys (now seven and four) have led us to some great kitesurfing destinations. But I’ve never so much as booked a taster. The temptation to kick back with a good book once I’d hit the beach was just too strong.
That’s why I finally decided to try kitesurfing in Mauritius: it boasts the best conditions in the world for beginners. The beaches here are expansive and the water is shallow and clear. Thanks to a protective coral reef around the entire island, there are lots of flat-water lagoons with few waves to knock you off your board. This comes in handy while you’re getting the hang of the basics, such as controlling your kite and staying upright (if you’ve ever mastered skateboarding, snow boarding or wakeboarding, you’ll have a definite advantage).
The best season for kitesurfing in Mauritius is between May and November when the breeze is just right (around 20 knots) and the average temperature sits at around 24˚C (22˚C in the water). I opt to wear a wetsuit each day, mainly because you spend a good deal of time as a learner standing around in the water listening to instructions on how to master the kite (hands down the most challenging part), which can get chilly.
‘Kitesurfing is 20 per cent board skills, 80 per cent kite skills,’ Joel tells me on my second day. Having only flown a kite a couple of times as a kid, he forces me out of the sea to practice simply steering it on dry land for a good hour of the lesson. The main hurdle, I discover, is overriding the natural reaction to pull the kite towards you when you feel yourself lose control of it to the wind. It actually has the opposite of the desired effect; strengthening the force of the kite, which can be slightly terrifying as you’re propelled faster across the water. Surprisingly, it’s your core that does the bulk of the work and is left aching at the end of the day, rather than your biceps, because the harness takes lots of the load away from your arms.
My days kitesurfing with the Yoaneye Kite Centre are spent on Le Morne beach in the south west of the island, which is the place to go and spectacularly beautiful with its mountainous backdrop. Aside from the beginner-friendly lagoon, it’s also home to the reef, One Eye, which is celebrated for its powerful waves, and is dotted with surfers doing impressive freestyle jumps and tricks, and riding long, wild waves along the coast.
Our first stop is the nearby Dinarobin Beachcomber Golf Resort & Spa, a stylish hotel that sits on an immaculate mile of white beach fringed with lush green palm trees. It’s a five-minute drive from the lagoon itself, with the magnificent Le Morne Brabant mountain framing the backdrop. As well as boasting four excellent restaurants serving up fresh, locally caught fish, it has a championship golf course plus its own comprehensive water sports centre (based at its sister hotel, Paradis, a short shuttle ride away) with the friendliest and most patient set of instructors I’ve come across.
My sons are keen to go paddleboarding and snorkelling in the calm blue waters, so we head to the centre each morning straight after breakfast. We also make full use of the complimentary sail boats and catamarans that you can hire out to sail across the lagoon to look for turtles. The boys are also delighted to discover they can go out fishing on a glass-bottom boat and meet the local marine life as part of the daily kids’ club activities. It’s seamless. The timings even fit with the kitesurfing lessons, so we get in a good three hours of adult-only time on the water each day before relaxing as a family by one of the outdoor heated pools later in the afternoon.
It’s just as well that we’re staying a mere five minutes away because by the time I get into the little shuttle van for the bumpy ride back to our hotel each day I’m physically and mentally shattered, and my mind is numb from the intense concentration of learning something new for three hours straight. As I listen to the other surfers unpack the experiences of their day, I learn to surrender to that wonderfully zoned out feeling of being out in the sea air for hours and being totally in the present. I rationalise I may need two weeks to feel like I’ve really made some progress, but that sense of exhilaration everyone talks about is definitely there.
After a few days’ kitesurfing, we’re in need of some relaxation and check into The Residence Mauritius, an imposing hotel on the east side of the island’s famous Belle Mare beach. During the two-hour drive there, we zigzag through tiny villages, lush fields and the most beautiful deserted beaches, stopping at a road shack to buy local pastries, which are a wonderful mash-up of traditional Indian street food, Caribbean/African flavours and, yes, a Cornish pasty. Mauritius is a fascinating mix of African, Indian and European culture, thanks to its unique location in the Indian Ocean – just 1,000 miles off the African mainland – and past colonisation by the French and British.
Our room at The Residence looks out over the longest, whitest beach in Mauritius − perfect for a barefoot morning run or a spot of yoga. An old Colonial-style hotel, inspired by the island’s sugar plantation houses, The Residence is an impressive property set on 25 acres, where we are introduced to our personal butler for the duration of our stay. We quickly settle into a routine, taking a quiet spot each morning by one of the beautiful heated pools to get stuck into our books, while the boys look for crabs along the coastline directly in front of us.
It’s also here that we get to sample some of the best local cuisine of our stay on the island. The nightly buffet is alone worthy of its own food review, and features a delicious array of vegetable curries, fresh seafood, freshly baked flatbreads with spices, and pretty French desserts. It’s not long before we’ve fully embraced the concept of vegetable curries, dahl and rotis for breakfast and lunch too, the variety of dishes is so wide.
The award-winning spa is a welcome relief for our tired and aching limbs, and I’m delighted to discover we’re just a 15-minute drive from bustling Centre de Flacq’s famous open-air markets (held on Wednesdays and Sundays), where
I spend an entire afternoon browsing and haggling with stallholders before buying a pair of beautiful white linen shorts and some silver jewellery.
On our final day, as I plant my toes deep into Belle Mare’s white sands, I vow to return to Mauritius next year to perfect my kitesurfing skills and explore a little more of the culture. A week just isn’t long enough to discover all this varied, picture-perfect island has to offer.
● Air Mauritius flies direct from London Heathrow to Mauritius. Economy flights start from £732 per person, including all taxes; visit airmauritius.com
● Seven nights for two adults staying full-board in a Junior Suite at Dinarobin Beachcomber Golf Resort & Spa starts from £975 per person, including complimentary land and water sports; visit beachcombertours.uk
● Seven nights for two adults staying half-board at The Residence Mauritius starts from £1,155 per person; visit cenizaro.com/theresidence/mauritius
For more information on Mauritius, visit tourism-mauritius.mu