In January, eight guys in their 40s dropped their day jobs for a 600 kilometre kite- and wind-surfing adventure. The aim: to surf from Lamu off Kenya’s northern coast to the island of Zanzibar.
Over nine days, the team battled injuries, high winds and huge swells, not to mention extreme exhaustion. We talk to team member George Issaias about the trip.
Who thought this up?
Craig Rogers [a Nairobi-born lawyer in London] had been talking about sailing a dhow down the coast since 2005 and had recently been thinking about doing it on a windsurf.
Other guys had done various sections of it [on kites] … but we wanted to be the first to do it all.
One day, Boris Polo [team member and owner of H20Extreme in Diani) finally buckled and snapped: “Let’s just do it!”
How did you go about it?
We used our own kit, a mixture of boards and kite sizes dependent on weather conditions. In general, we took two sizes of kite each.
The challenge was you’d set off in the middle of the day when the wind was light, and be underpowered, but by the end of the day [when the wind picked up], you’d be totally out of control. We had a safety boat follow us in case of emergencies.
In Kilifi, we met up with our 40ft Catamaran, which would become home for the rest of the trip.
What were the challenges?
We had one very difficult day from Shimoni to Tanga.
There was nowhere to stop for five hours, and the wind picked up to extremely dangerous levels. It gusted to 45 knots, with 3 ½ metre swells with a very nasty chop. It was a miracle we all made it in one piece.
A really strong gust took me off my board and I was unable to bodydrag myself to retrieve it because of the waves and the nearby cliffs.
I had to sit there and wait for 15 minutes in the water while the rescue boat finished picking up Craig who was having footstrap issues, before it came to drop off the spare board to me. That was the longest 15 minutes of my life.
The jellyfish stings didn’t help. Most of the guys agreed the conditions were the worst they’d ever seen on the coast, let alone kited in.
Tell us about the injuries.
When we pulled into Pangani, a beach with an old pier that stinks of sewage, the pier columns had broken off, and you couldn’t see them until the big waves withdrew.
One of our guys, Marc, went straight into one and got knocked off his board. He could have broken both of his legs.
As soon as we were on the beach, Nic [the photographer] ran down with hydrogen peroxide, a hard-core disinfectant. I had crashed into a reef after one hour into the trip, and got a gash on my hip.
The hydrogen peroxide was the worst pain I’ve felt in my life but, without it, we could have picked up some nasty diseases. We had a few burnt retinas – really bad eyeache – and crazily achy legs.
Blisters, awful sunburn, dehydration, and many more issues. Your body finds ways to deal with it.
Highlights of the trip?
In Kipini [90 kilometres south of Lamu], we could hear hyena from the beach. Sometimes elephants walk along it.
It’s a really wild place where blue water turns to red because of the Tana River. People there looked pretty shellshocked as only a handful of people had kited there before, let alone a group.
They had no idea what they were looking at and it seemed the whole village came out to check us out and have a laugh.
Between Vipingo and Mombasa, we entered lagoons with butter-flat water. We had 2 ½ hours of smooth riding, immediately after an hour of rough seas just prior.
I can’t explain the ecstasy of that … cruising with your best friends in perfect conditions across empty lagoons.
It was epic. Without question though, the highlight was releasing six baby turtles back into the water in Watamu, thanks to the great conservation work done by the Local Ocean Trust who greeted us on the beach.
Would you do it differently next time?
Two of the most experienced guys, Jason and Boris, used surfboards, which go in one direction and require regular switching of your feet.
I would use one of those. Although technically more difficult, they’re much easier on the legs.
The rest of us were on twintips, which left us with badly-swollen ankles and knees towards the end. All you’re interested in is comfort, not performance.
The surfers seemed to be the most comfortable so that’s what I’d do differently. Did you kite all the way? At the end, we were let down by very poor wind.
We made it as far as Maziwi Island only a few kilometres from Zanzibar, then had to stop and wait for the wind to give us a sign of life.
It went from extreme the day before, to non-existent, so we were forced to sail the last few kilometres on our catamaran. It was a real blow.
We imagined landing in Zanzibar, hugging each other, screaming in celebration. To be denied that is a pretty bitter pill to swallow.
We also had to wakeboard sections of Formosa Bay north of Malindi – again, because of light wind. Despite that, how did you feel?
Overall, we felt fantastic, elated. Our energy levels were very low, but our spirits were very high. There was a really big sense of achievement.
We sat down for dinner [in Zanzibar], and each said a few words about our personal journeys and what it meant to us.
It was a really fitting end to a great adventure and we were thrilled to have done our bit for the coast we all love so much.
The team raised more than $10,000 for the Local Ocean Trust and the African Billfish Foundation