September 2017


Wind Riders: The Kiteboarders of Kalpitiya
September 2017




A freerider at Kalpitiya Lagoon

Without sunglasses, the glare is blinding. The dunes stretch as far as the eye can see, bleached of almost all colour by the unrelenting sun of the Dry Zone. The horizon has almost disappeared, blurring out as sand and seaspray are whipped up by a wind from Africa. There are no buildings. No habitation. And it is 34˚C at 10am. But all around me, broad grins break across suntanned faces. This is what they are here for. From as far away as Brazil, France, Australia, and Hong Kong, they have come here, to Kalpitiya, to ride the wind.


Words and Photography: David Blacker


During the gentler months of the northern hemisphere winter, when the seas off western Sri Lanka are calmer, the air cooler, Kalpitiya is popular for whale watching, diving, and boating. But from March to October, it is a world famous kiteboarding destination. The winds that race in across the Arabian Sea and swing round the southern tip of India rip across the razor thin piece of land that protects a series of lagoons, 150km north of Colombo. At Kalpitiya, this narrow area is barely a couple of hundred metres across, with the sea on one side, and the lagoon on the other, providing two quite different experiences to the wind riders.


Donkey Point, named after the area's hardy four-footed inhabitants, is only for the most experienced kitesurfers. Exposed to the open sea, the point juts into choppy surf, and the riders skim the wavetops, bouncing from crest to crest beneath their wind-filled wings, racing each other almost to the beach before swinging their long pointed boards around hard to ride back out to catch the next waves. The riders are fewer here, the true adrenalin junkies.


On the lagoon side, the sky is dotted with shapes similar to the kite-flying season, colours blossoming in the steel blue air, the wings hauling their riders across the calm waters at the end of their long nylon flying lines. While the lagoon waters are protected by high sand dunes, once the kiteboarders' wings are unfurled, the wind is still strong enough to give them a good turn of speed. These are the freeriders, using their stubbier boards to launch themselves into the air.


There are no cafés, bars, or clubs along the beach. Life here is about kiting, and nothing else. When the riders are not out on the water, they are eating, sleeping, and preparing to go out again. The only shelter on the beach are a few wood-and-thatch huts, built low against the wind; fishing wadiyas converted into kiting stations and schools, hiring out kit to kiters and teaching the sport to those who are here to learn.

Want to learn to ride the wind?
If you are a total newby, a basic training course of 9 – 12 hours (spread over two – three days, depending on the weather and your stamina) will be conducted by International Kiteboard Organisation (IKO) certified instructors at any of several schools in Kalpitiya.

You will also have to pay equipment insurance (wing, board, harness, and control bar) in case you damage it.

Already know how but don’t have the kit?
Kiting stations in Kalpitiya will rent you everything you need.

When to kite?
March to October is the ideal time, with southeasterly winds of 18 – 20 knots all day. For the hardcore kiteboarder, this is the best time of the year. From November to February the winds are less consistent and strong enough only in the afternoons. For those who want to mix kiteboarding with other pursuits such as diving or whale watching, this is a great period.


It is a very tight-knit community and, like many of the niche pursuits, almost cult-like, with its own language, culture, and dress. But there's nothing exclusive here. The wind riders are eager to welcome newcomers to the sport, to share techniques and tips, to convert the heathen to their particular lifestyle.

So where to next?
If you’ve already surfed Kalpitiya and want something new, try out Mannar Island, further north, for a more wild and remote experience riding the winds whipping across Adam’s Bridge. The winds in Arugambay and Whisky Point in the East Coast are also ideal for kitesurfing.


Accommodation in Kalpitiya varies from star-class mini-resorts that are open year round, to rough-and-ready seasonal surf camps with tents right on the sand. During the kiting season, the surf camps are in high demand, both by veteran kiters and newbies. The commune-like feeling on the beach continues after it's too dark to surf. Some kiters have been here for months, while others have flown in for a week, squeezing in as many hours as possible during their short stay.


Everyone seems to know each other, eating at long tables, swapping their stories of the day's exploits in Portuguese, French, German, and a babel of other languages, discussing technique and equipment, talking of wind and water and the best spots to catch both. They socialise long into the night, unbothered by the next day's early start.


The pulsing music drowns out cheerful voices, but I can see their hand movements, palms imitating angles of attack and wind direction, describing tricks and moves.


One thing is guaranteed each day: there will be wind, and as a bumper sticker on one of the surf trucks declares, "LIFE IS BETTER WHEN IT'S WINDY."

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    Riders unloading their kits at Donkey Point

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    Pumping up the wing's inflatable leading edge

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    Kites dot the sky over the Kalpitiya Lagoon

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    Fishing wadiyas serve as kite surfing stations and training schools

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    Riding the wind!

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    Morning yoga prepares surfers for another day of kitesurfing

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    The coconut palm fringed Kalpitiya shore in the morning

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    Horse riders explore the terrain of Kalpitiya

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