Tarifa: Spanish resort town offers wind conditions tailor-made for kitesurfing

Juan Antonio Martin Escobar, an experienced kitesurfer, executes a jump before gliding in for a landing on Sancti Peteri beach.



In Spain, when people refer to the Windy City, they aren’t talking about Chicago. They’re referring to Tarifa, a resort town at the southernmost point of the Iberian Peninsula, where real wind happens about 10 months out of the year. Here two major airstreams converge, producing blustery conditions that are a dream come true for extreme watersport enthusiasts called kitesurfers.

Kitesurfing, also known as kiteboarding or flysurfing, is like snowboarding while wearing a parachute and slicing through waves instead of moguls.

On a good, ferociously windy day, hordes of kitesurfers come out to the beach along Spain’s Costa de la Luz near Tarifa, hauling boards, harnesses and an assortment of colorful “chutes.”

They and their boards plow through the waves while being pulled along by wind-filled chutes at alarming speeds. Sometimes they leave the water and soar as much as 25 to 30 feet into the air, all the while switching hands back and forth, dipping from side to side and executing stunning pirouettes.

The sport has not been around long, according to the International Kiteboarding Organization. The roots can be traced to the late 1970s, but the sport did not really emerge until 1995 when it began getting media attention. The first manufacturers appeared on the market in 1997 and the first competition took place in Hawaii in 1998.

While watching kitesurfers is a kick, the fearless and fit may want to try it for themselves. Lessons are available and equipment can be rented at numerous kitesurf centers in downtown Tarifa and along the coast just outside the town.

Christina, an English-speaking Austrian who works at Spin Out Surfbase, the oldest kitesurf center in Tarifa, emphasizes the importance of taking lessons. In fact, she says Spin Out will rent equipment only to those who have had appropriate training.

The Swiss owner, Marc Staempfli, says that safety is a top priority, and Spin Out has to be certain folks are sufficiently experienced to handle the equipment.

To that end, the Spin Out staff offers a range of courses, beginner to advanced, as well as private lessons.

It usually takes one three-day course to get the hang of the basics. (Moves like the “conniption,” “judo air,” “rewind,” “no-hands-tabletop” and “single back roll” may take a bit longer.)

All the necessary equipment — wet suit, harness, board and kite — is included. A two-hour beginner or advanced lesson costs 100 euros. A three-day course covering four hours daily costs 270 euros. Reservations are a must but can be made easily via e-mail.

A local kitesurfing expert, Juan Antonio Martin Escobar, known as “Peluka,” mastered kitesurfing’s basics several years ago and now kitesurfs every chance he gets.

He says although he has numerous cuts and bruises courtesy of his own board, he continues to follow the wind up and down La Costa de la Luz year round, even in winter. For this devoted kitesurfer, the major downside to the chilly months is not the frigid water but lack of adoring bikini- clad chicas.

However, chicas or not, winter waves and wind hold special appeal.

For kitesurfers like Peluka, any time the wild wind blows is the right time for the sport. They brave extreme conditions in the hopes they will be rewarded with what they love best about kitesurfing — the thrill of flight.

Chances are, in Tarifa, they will not be disappointed.

Gayle Smith Padgett lives and works in Heidelberg, Germany.

Know and go ...

¶ International Kiteboarding Organization: www.ikorg.com.

¶ British Kite Surfing Association: www.kitesurfing.org.

¶ Spin Out Surfbase: Casa de Porro, CN 340, KM 75.5, 11380 Tarifa, Spain (Nine kilometers from central Tarifa.); telephone (+34) (0) 956-23-63-62; fax (+34) 956-68-08-44; Web site www.tarifaspinout.com; e-mail: info@tarifaspinout.com.

¶ Tarifa Tourist information: www.tarifa.net.

¶ Official Spain Tourist Information: www.spain.info/Tourspain.com.

— Gayle Smith Padgett

A kitesurfer hangs on tight to the harness and glides across sparkling waves at Sancti Petri.