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I love to windsurf and kiteboard, but I'm a wimp about cold water. Although I've done some kiteboarding in the San Francisco Bay, I still prefer to travel to warm water destinations. Below is a brief review of the places I've been to so far. The high season months are noted next to the locations. I'm happy to provide more detail to anyone planning their next windsurfing or kiteboarding trip.



Margarita (Jan - May)
Check out the VIDEO! April-May 2004
Margarita is my favorite windsurf destination and I've also been kiteboarding on my last several trips and it is fantastic. Margarita Island is part of the Minor Antilles in the southern Caribbean, just off mainland Venezuela, northeast of Caracas. It is perfect for sailors of all abilities, and one of the best places to learn with shallow water extending 200-400 yards from shore and steady side-shore winds that are typically light in the mornings and increase in intensity throughout the day to 25+ mph in the afternoons. These shallow Caribbean waters must be at least 85 degrees and probably remain in the high 70's to low 80's even after sailing out a few miles. There are many places to stay right on or near the windsurfing beach in El Yaque, which makes everything very convenient and social. Most hotels include breakfast and the restaurant options for lunch and dinner are typically very good. There are a number of windsurf centers in El Yaque, but I always book my trips with Vela Windsurf. They are a first-class operation, with excellent instruction and equipment, and an awesome staff that has remained virtually the same for the past seven years. El Yaque Beach has a number of kitesurfing schools as well, which I tried for the first time in May of 2001. I recommend Robby at Premium Kiteboarding. Robby and his staff have amazing instruction and are running an efficient operation with perfect equipment for learning. Vela also has a kiteboard school partner and they can book that for you. When you get to El Yaque, be sure to have a drink at Gerry's Bar near the Vela center.
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Coche (Jan - May)
Coche Island is a 45-minute very wet boat ride from El Yaque Beach on Margarita Island (mentioned above); it is between Margarita and mainland Venezuela. The windsurfing at Coche is all about speed with its perfectly flat water and consistent 18-28 mph offshore winds. I also just kiteboarded there for a daytrip in Jan '03 and it was incredible. It typically blows lighter in the morning, peaking in the afternoons. Coche is not ideal for beginners, but great for anyone who can waterstart and sail reasonably well upwind to get back to shore. The turquoise water and wide white beach are beautiful. You can stay on Coche but it is very quiet with very little to do. I recommend staying and windsurfing in El Yaque with day trips to Coche. Vela Windsurf organizes trips and rents gear in Coche.
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Los Roques (Jan - May)
Los Roques is a stunning group of more than 50 uninhabited desert tropical islands in the southern Caribbean approximately 160 kilometers north of Caracas. Day trips and multi-day trips can be arranged from Margarita (mentioned above) and there are also flights from Caracas. Winds aren't as consistent or strong as in Margarita, but there are a variety of conditions around the island with the windsurf center, including flat water, bump and jump and a small wave break on the windward side of the island. Vela Windsurf is the operator in Los Roques. Be sure to explore the deserted white sand beaches, snorkel in the magnificent coral reefs, or kayak through the crystal clear waters.
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Bonaire (Jan - May)
Bonaire is part of the Netherland Antilles in the southern Caribbean, just off mainland Venezuela, northwest of Caracas. The windsurfing area at Lac Bay has the best beginner conditions I've found so far with flat, shallow water and steady onshore winds typically 15-30 mph. Lac Bay is a 20-minute drive from the main part of the island where most people stay, so renting a car is required, but the town is interesting with local flavor. Watch out for donkeys in the middle of the road during the drive back to town at dusk! Lac Bay offers two windsurf centers adjacent to each other on the white sands of Sorobon Beach. The two operators are Jibe City and "The Place". When I was there in 1999, "The Place" had slightly newer gear. Be sure to save some time for diving. The waters around Bonaire are designated as an official marine park so diving Bonaire is like diving the Caribbean the way it used to be - untouched and unspoiled.
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Aruba (Jan - May)
Aruba is part of the Netherland Antilles, in the southern Caribbean, just off the northwest tip of mainland Venezuela. It is beautiful, with flat turquoise water. There are some shallow areas that make it easy for beginners, but I've heard some complain that the large hotels cause a wind shadow so the wind can be fluky near shore. The 15-30 mph winds are offshore, which is challenging for beginner and intermediate sailors on high wind days. One of my friends had to be rescued after getting carried a long way out. There are plenty of high and mid-range options for places to stay near the windsurfing area, as well as options for windsurf gear rental and instruction, however I recommend booking through Vela Windsurf as the center and staff are excellent.
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Alacati - Turkey (Jun - Sep)
Alacati ranks up there as one of my favorite places although water temperatures are about 10-12 degrees (Fahrenheit) cooler than the Caribbean. I recommend a shorty or thin full wetsuit. Alacati (pronounced Alachati) is along the Agean Coast of Turkey, one hour from the Izmir airport. It is wonderful for sailors of all levels, including beginners because it has a fairly shallow area that extends 200-400 yards from shore with side shore winds of 15-30 mph. Combined with flat water, this makes it the perfect place to improve technique and for slalom sailing. The other side of the bay is only about a mile away (great for forced jibe and tack practice) with several small beaches. The wind is typically strongest in the afternoon. There are a couple of options for staying right near the windsurf centers, but it is much more interesting to stay in one of the towns because the Turkish culture is wonderful. One option is the interesting old town of Alacati. A great option is Ilica (pronounced Ilija) which is a nice, small town with a local feel and very convenient with a shuttle service to the centers. Another option is Cesme (pronounced Cheshme), a bit further away and more touristed with a louder nightlife and a larger selection of hotels and restaurants. All are within a 10 to15 minute shuttle from each other. There are three windsurf operators in Alacati. I recommend the German Surf and Action Center.
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Vassiliki - Greece (Jun - Sep)
Vassiliki is on the southern tip of the Greek island of Lefkada, located to the west of mainland Greece in the deep blue Ionian Sea. Summer water temperatures are only slightly warmer than the Agean, in the mid to high 70's; most sailors wear a shorty or thin full wetsuit. Vassiliki has light, onshore wind in the morning and a brisk side shore blast of 18-35 mph most afternoons lasting for 2-6 hours. The water is fairly flat so this is excellent for slalom sailing and jibe practice. One downside to Vassiliki is that there are odd periods when the blast doesn't come for 4-6 days. The beaches are also primarily rocks so be sure to wear sturdy sandals. Vassiliki town is wonderful with shopping, fun bars and restaurants - many on the water. There are numerous places to stay and many windsurf center options, but I highly recommend Club Vassiliki, which has good gear, a wonderful staff and excellent teaching for all ability levels included as part of the overall program.
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Paros - Greece (Jun - Sep)
Paros is a beautiful Greek island located in the Agean Sea in the center of Cyclades. It is about 90 miles from Athens and connected by boats with nearly all the Agean islands and Crete. The Professional Windsurf Association has chosen Paros for six or seven consecutive years as a World Cup site. It is suited to all sailing ability levels although I don't think it is ideal for beginners. It is windy year round, but the well-known Agean summer wind usually blows all day and is strongest in July and August. Winds are typically side shore and blow 13-38 mph but can turn offshore and blow as hard as 55-60 mph. Water temperatures are in the low to mid 70's. There are several small windsurf rental areas at Golden Beach on the south east part of the island; I recommend going there first and then selecting a center that has decent gear because it seemed like these centers could change fairly often. Many advanced sailors prefer Tsardakia, just north of Golden Beach. There are also at least six other sailing spots around the island. Be sure to explore the island if you go to Paros. It is beautiful with interesting culture and history.
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Lake Arenal - Costa Rica (Dec - Apr)
Lake Arenal is a reservoir in central Costa Rica and faces an active volcano. It was a natural lake artificially enlarged in 1970 by the National Electricity Company to provide electricity by hydropower. During high season the winds average 25 mph but can blow much stronger with up to a 5-foot swell with port ramps. Water temperatures are low to mid 70's. Lake Arenal is not a good place for beginners and often not even for intermediate sailors. The only day I was there it started blowing 22 which seemed perfect, but this quickly became 35+ with big gusts, and large, choppy swell. When I lifted my sail just out of the water to waterstart, the rig was ripped out of my hands and blown 20-30 feet away from me. Eventually everyone was blown off the water and I had to be rescued! Although there isn't much beach or a lot of interesting places to hang out on the lake, the area is beautiful, and exploring this area, and the town of Fortuna and the active Arenal Volcano a couple of hours a way is very worthwhile. There are a few centers to book through. The one I'm familiar with is the Tilawa Windsurf Center.
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Mui Ne - Vietnam (Oct - Apr)
Mui Ne Beach is 200 km east of Ho Chi Minh City, 22 km east of the town of Phan Thiet, and near a small fishing village. It's a very long stretch of white sand with palm trees, very cute bungalows, and small low-rise hotels and restaurants. I was there in December 2003. It still isn't too crowded with windsurfers or kiters, although it seems to be a really great destination for wind sports so perhaps this will change a lot in the future. It is easiest to fly into Ho Chi Minh City and then it is a 3.5 hour ride by bus or taxi. The dry season of October through April brings relatively strong consistent winds and a nice swell. The rainy season (which isn't supposed to be all that rainy in Mui Ne) also has wind, but lighter, and blowing in the opposite direction. It isn't uncommon to blow more than 30 knots in the afternoons. I was on everything from a 16 meter kite when the wind was terrible to a 6 meter kite when it was howling. August through December can bring some pretty good waves. While we were there the storm patterns messed with the wind a lot so one week was pretty bad, many days were very gusty, and sometimes there were six to eight-foot high waves breaking right at the shore making it pretty challenging to get out past the break. We were told this is pretty uncommon though. If not for that, I'd say that the conditions are good for all levels, with light side-on shore winds starting around 10:00am and stronger side-shore winds in the afternoon. Jibes is the main water-sports haven on Mui Ne Beach. It's run by a frenchman, Pascal, who also runs a nice mid-range hotel almost next door called Full Moon. They rent out brand new windsurfing gear, surfboards, and give kiteboard lessons and sometimes windsurfing lessons. They also have a good restaurant and bar and it seems to be the only semi "happening" place on the strip. They employ four "beach boys" who are awesome - helping pump up the kites, helping us launch and land, and they wash and put away the gear at the end of the day. They'll even come out on a windsurfer and rescue you or your board if you run into trouble. It is pretty amazing that they offer this service. They seem to do it for everyone that is around there (for free - although hopefully most people tip them). Over time I suspect they'll only be able to do it for those staying at Full Moon and those taking lessons with them. They are doing the best they can to keep the beach and people safe. Overall, Mui Ne Beach is a very pleasant place to be. It's quiet, without a lot of touts, a long strip of restaurants with great food, and tons of guys on motorbikes cruising the main road who will pick you up and take you virtually anywhere you want to go for about US$.30. Everything is almost free relative to US currency.
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Baja - Mexico (Nov - Feb)
There are several places to windsurf on the Baja peninsula but the Sea of Cortez has the El Norte winds that blow from November to March, providing excellent bump and jump conditions on good days. I wouldn't put Baja at the top of my list of favorite windsurfing spots because the water is still pretty cold for me, and the wind is not as consistent as I'd like. Baja is really best for advanced sailors because the conditions are challenging. Winds average above 18 mph and the swell can be pretty big during the high season. Water temperatures range from 65-75 so most people wear a wetsuit. Vela Windsurf runs a first-class operation, and they also offer mountain biking, kayaking and possibly kitesurfing lessons by now. This is important because one downside to Baja is the wind patterns. It typically blows for 3-4 days and then stops for 3-4 days. My experience was very few windy days in two weeks right in the middle of the high season, so it was great having the mountain bikes and other toys.
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Maui - Hawaii (Jun - Sep)
I love Maui, but it is not currently one of my favorite windsurf destinations because the only windsurf center that had gear rigged on the beach is no longer in operation. This center managed to operate illegally for nearly 15 years and someone finally cracked down on several businesses operating like that on the North Shore. I also prefer the warmer Caribbean waters. However, it is very convenient so it is likely I'll be there rigging gear there soon, and I love watching the excellent kitesurfers on the North Shore! Maui is known for having windsurfing conditions to meet every need; flat water on the south shore for beginners and intermediates; chop, swells and reef breaks on the north-shore for intermediate to very advanced windsurfers. Winds average 15-20 mph in spring and fall, and 15-25 in the summer. Water temperatures are typically in the high 70's to low 80's during the summer months. On the North Shore, Kanaha is a wonderful long beach that seems to be a good place for beginning and intermediate sailors because of its easy launch site. Moving in the direction of Spreckelsville, the sailing conditions get more interesting and challenging. There are a zillion places to rent gear in Maui. I would probably choose Vela Windsurf because my past experiences with them have been fantastic. Vela Maui also offers kitesurfing lessons.
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Future Trips
There are a number of places I still hope to try at some point - I've heard that Cape Hatteras in North Carolina and South Padre Island off of the Texas Coast are shallow and warm with consistent winds during several months of the year. I am looking forward to trips to Dahab and Safaga in Egypt when it is safe to travel there again. Cape Verde, Africa, the Canary Islands, and Tarifa at the southern tip of Spain sound incredibly interesting, and I'll likely try a few other Caribbean spots such as Tobago, St. Lucia, Barbados and Cabarete. If you have been to these spots and have helpful information to share, I'd love to receive it! Please send me email at karen@chakmakian.com.
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