In fact the oldest customer at Kitesurfing Phuket, is a sprightly 68 year-old. Irishman Willy Kerr, who founded Kitesurfing Phuket, said, ‘He’d had a triple bypass heart operation and his doctor advised him to start doing some exercise. I think he’d flown a kite on land, which is why he thought about kitesurfing, but he loves it. I’ve even seen him doing jumps’.
The Chinese are credited with using kites for propulsion in the 13th century, Through the 1980s there were sporadic and occasionally successful attempts to combine kites with ice-skates, snow-skis, water-skis, roller-skates and even canoes. In 1990, practical kite-buggying was pioneered in New Zealand and in 1996, kitesurfing started to gain popularity off the Hawaiian coast of Maui. Now in 2009, it’s become the fastest growing water sport in the world.
The principle is simple. Your feet are attached to a small board and the kite provides the motive power to propel you through the water. You don’t have to be a muscle-bound teenager to take up kitesurfing.
In fact, it’s proving particularly popular with middle-aged men. To learn the basics requires only a modicum of strength and fitness, so it isn’t essential that you’re in peak physical condition.
Phuket’s climate is perfect for learning to kitesurf and, with the demand for recreational activity here, it was only a matter of time before the sport hit these shores. According to Willy, "It’s the perfect place to learn to kitesurf because the water’s fairly shallow, so it's relatively safe, and there are normally fairly light winds, which are very forgiving for beginners".
Kitesurfing is still regarded as an extreme sport, and while it’s undeniably more dangerous than snooker, for example, it’s becoming safer due to innovations in kite design, safety-release systems and increased regulation of the industry.
"The manufacturers changed the designs of the kites recently to make them far safer. Almost anyone can use them now. We’re the only school in Phuket which is registered with the governing body, the IKO, and all our instructors are qualified. There are a series of qualifications you can obtain, and some beaches in the world won’t let you kitesurf unless you can show them the relevant certificate," said Willy.
While learning to kitesurf might require neither youth nor strength, you’ll need both time and money. Depending on your natural aptitude for the sport, and whether you’ve relevant experience in any similar activities such as surfing or skate-boarding, it should take about ten hours to learn the basics. With Kitesurfing Phuket, the ten hours is spread over the course of three days at a cost of 11,000 THB per person.
"All lessons are carried out with 100% safety in mind, and a maximum of two students per teacher. Some schools tend to overcrowd the kitesurfing lessons, which can mean you waste a lot of time waiting for others. This can be very frustrating when you’re paying by the hour because, naturally, some people are going to progress quicker than others.
"Teaching with only two students per teacher makes a huge difference in your learning time and enables students to progress more quickly and safely. We’ll only teach you in shallow water, where the instructor can stand beside you at all times, and in a clear spot away from other kiters, to ensure that nobody gets hurt if something goes wrong. We use the latest Ozone hybrid kites. With these kites, all the student has to do is let go of the bar, and the kite loses its power completely. We also use radio helmets for real-time coaching and advanced lessons," Willy explained.
You can rent all the equipment from Kitesurfing Phuket for a fee of 3,500 THB per day, or purchase your own kitesurfing kit. This will probably set you back about 45,000 THB, but it should last for several years.
To make the most of the monsoon conditions Kitesurfing Phuket uses two venues. From June until mid-September, during the south-westerly monsoon, they use Nai Yang Beach: from November until February they move to Friendship Beach in Chalong Bay, to take advantage of the north-easterly monsoon.
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