The wind that sweeps across Tarifa, Spain, drives people crazy. But that same wind makes the town a haven for windsurfing enthusiasts from across the globe. Some consider Tarifa the windsurfing capital of the world, or “Costa del Windsurf,” as one city road sign proclaims.

Hundreds of windsurfers and kite surfers go to Tarifa annually to take advantage of the same wind that powers the modern propeller windmills that line the nearby hills.

Although windsurfing wasn’t founded until the late 1960s in California, the sport is now an indelible part of the laid-back culture. The area around Tarifa is filled with surf shops advertising rental gear and lessons in several languages for those who want to learn more about it or kite surfing.

On a typical day, the golden Los Lances beach is filled with dozens of colorful surfers trying to tame the gusts and currents. Last August, it was not unusual to see as many as 300 surfers, some of them kite surfers flying more than 100 feet into the air.

If you don’t know how to kite-surf, there are plenty of schools to choose from.

Matheau Guyon, a Frenchman who teaches kite surfing at Tarifa Max Sports, said the area is perfect for beginners because the beaches are wide and there are no rocks. Guyon, a self-taught windsurfer, said kite surfing has become so popular because it is easier than windsurfing and enthusiasts can pack all of the equipment in a car trunk.

“It’s easy,” he said. “After one hour, you can really learn how to control it.”

But you don’t have to be a surfer to see and enjoy Tarifa. The town’s surfing culture and proximity to Morocco attract an eccentric international crowd that makes for entertaining people-watching. In the old city, it’s not unusual to see a mixture of European surfers in Rasta-style dreadlocks kicking back in the cafés and seafood restaurants with lawyers and British jet-setters.

In June, President Bush’s daughter, Jenna, visited. Her appearance attracted worldwide attention after her Secret Service agents got into a fight with two men trying to steal a cell phone near the 22-year-old Bush.

Many people pass through Tarifa to take the high-speed ferries that make the crossing to Morocco in about 30 minutes, but most visitors come for the breathtaking views of North Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar. On a clear day, you can easily see the Moroccan mountains across the strait.

“You can live next to the sea in a lot of places, but here the scenery changes every day,” Guyon said. “Sometimes you can see fantastically Morocco. Sometimes you can see even the mountain full of snow in Morocco. … It’s always changing. The scenery is really beautiful.”

You’ll just have to withstand the crazy wind to see it.

On the QT ...

Directions: Tarifa is at the southernmost point of Spain, about 80 miles from Rota. From the naval station, take CA-613 to A-491. Take A-491 to N IV. Follow signs to Algeciras. Near San Fernando, the road changes to E-5; take it south until you see the exit sign for Tarifa.

Times: Most stores and shops close for lunch between 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. Most of the town monuments are open Tuesday through Sunday.

Costs: Parking in town is charged by the hour in prime locations, but there are some free spots a short walk outside the city center.

There are many schools that offer windsurfing and kite surfing in town and just north of Tarifa. Rates vary, but most schools charge between $30 and $60 an hour, depending on how many people are in a group. There are special rates for two- or three-day lessons.

Gear can cost more than $100 to rent for the day.

Food: There are several restaurants and cafés in the center of town offering an array of seafood. Most restaurants offer locally caught tuna and sea bass.

Information: The Tarifa tourism office is in the center of town on Paseo de la Alameda at the end of the walking street. See the Web site for more information about Tarifa and the area.

— Scott Schonauer

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