My Kite Surfing Adventure

By Andy Higgins | February 2, 2018

I am in search of a new ocean adventure. Who from Gauteng wants to join me?

Background

I grew up in Durban and although I have lived in Gauteng for the past 17 years, I still consider myself a Durban boy. I grew up body boarding at North Beach, doing activities like lifesaving, volunteering for the NSRI and even doing my national service in the South African Navy stationed in Durban as a navy diver. My favourite part of South Africa is the far north KwaZulu-Natal coast i.e. the stretch of coastline north of Sodwana Bay.

As a family we have decided to settle in Gauteng, at least for now, and from a work perspective, I believe this is also the best place for me to be. Personally, my preference would be to live at the coast but right now for the stage I am at in life, it does not make sense to do so for various reasons.

I consider work / life balance important and am therefore always looking for ways to feed my passion for the ocean and general sense of adventure. I really do miss spending time at the coast and as convenient as it may sound, I genuinely believe by having some form of escapism, it is not only good for my soul but also for those I interact with including my family and business colleagues.

Some more relevant information:

  • I would consider myself a novice to intermediate kite surfer but looking to improve my skills (I can kite upwind).
  • I am in a partnership where I have access to two light aircraft (a Cessna 182 and a Cirrus SR22). These aircraft are hangered at Eagles Creek (just off the N14 highway between Pretoria and Joburg).
  • I am involved with a group of lodges - one of them being Thonga Beach Lodge on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast.
  • I have permission from my wife, children and boss to go to the coast for a long weekend four times a year i.e. once a quarter.

With this background in mind, I have come up with an experiment and am looking for some one, ideally like minded, but more importantly crazy enough to try it with me.

The Experiment

There is a 900 meter tarred airstrip, known as Manzengwenya, about 8 kms north as the crow flies from Thonga Beach Lodge. I have landed here before in the Cirrus SR22 (about a 2 hour flight from Joburg).

Manzengwenya Airstrip

The distance from the airstrip to the beach is about 3 kms by road. The road goes to Rocktail Beach Camp (about 2 kms) and then a further about 1 km where the road is not open to public vehicles to get to the beach (so you have to walk in any case).

Then once on the beach, it is about another 8 kms south down the coast to get to Thonga Beach Lodge.

Rocktail to Thonga

My idea is to attempt the following:

  1. Monitor the weather and identify a weather window 3 to 4 days in advance. This weather window has to include suitable weather for flying as well as a decent NE (the prevailing wind) forecast for later on the day of arrival in order to be able to do a downwinder to the lodge.
  2. Where possible, the days planned will be a Friday through to a Monday (3 nights) allowing for the departure date to be pushed back by a day if weather conditions change (and to still make use of the weekend).
  3. On the day of departure, drive to Eagles Creek and leave the car in the aircraft hanger.
  4. Get a commercial pilot to fly the aircraft to Manzengwenya (with kite gear and minimal other luggage).
  5. On arrival, take out kite gear and leave everything else with the aircraft except for minimal luggage, pump and snack/water.
  6. The aircraft returns to Eagles Creek.
  7. Walk the ±3 kms to the beach. Have snack and prepare for downwind kite to Thonga Beach Lodge when conditions allow (leaving pump in hidden location for later retrieval / use - there is also a pump at the lodge for later use).
  8. Spend 3 nights at Thonga Beach Lodge kiting (and if transport allows doing additional downwinders, where possible).
  9. Head back to Manzengwenya airstrip (either getting a lift, hiking or if very lucky with a wind direction change, kiting).
  10. Get picked up from Manzengwenya by the commercial pilot and return to Eagles Creek.

What To Take With?

One of the challenges will be to do the initial downwind with the luggage required for the weekend, albeit minimal. I have two of the following Helixot waterproof bags designed specifically for kite surfing:

Waterproof Bag

These bags are IPX8 i.e. 100% waterproof but only have 6.2 litres capacity. The idea would be to take only the absolute minimum required for the weekend i.e. in the bag:

  • Credit card
  • Cash
  • Driver’s license
  • Leatherman
  • Toothbrush + Toothpaste
  • Razor + Shaving gel
  • Deodorant
  • Personal meds
  • Sunscreen + Lip balm
  • Hat + Sunglasses
  • Phone + charger
  • Phone headphones
  • Garmin Inreach Explorer (satellite two way text communicator for emergencies)
  • 1 x Long pants
  • 1 x Collar shirt
  • 1 x T-shirt
  • 2 x underwear
  • Flip flops

On person:

  • Baggies
  • Costume
  • Rash vest
  • Kiting gear (board, kite, harness, bar)
  • Pump (to be left behind)
  • Snack + water (to be consumed)

Left in aircraft:

  • Clothes / shoes worn for flight (to be used for return flight)
  • Kite bag
  • Snack + water (for return flight)

What Can Go Wrong?

In short, quite a lot.

  • The expected weather forecast does not materialise. The weather is probably the single biggest factor that can make or break this trip. The weather needs to be good to be able to land at the destination unmanned airstrip. There also needs to be a decent NE wind in the afternoon for the downwind kite to work as well as wind on subsequent days to make the trip worthwhile.
  • A suitable commercial pilot needs to be available on the days going there and coming back.
  • There needs to be accommodation available at the lodge (it is a small but upmarket and popular lodge so this is a real issue). The chances are we will end up sharing a room.
  • Kite gear could break or malfunction. Also, bear in mind you will only have one kite size option.
  • Some one could get injured along the way.

So the stars need to align in a very specific way for this to work. In particular, weather window selection is critical. Having said this, there are potential remedies to get around some of these issues in future:

  • Change in weather could be dealt with by diverting to another location like Richards Bay, if suitable. Worst case, abort the mission and try again another day.
  • Too much, too little or wrong wind direction will require a long walk to get to the lodge.
  • I plan to renew my Private Pilots License in due course and in time become less dependent on a commercial pilot (this will also mean leaving the aircraft there during the stay).
  • If the flying does not work out for whatever reason, there is always the option to get in the car and drive (8 hour trip each way). This would be a bit of an anticlimax but better than nothing.
  • There are other places to potentially stay such as Rocktail Beach Camp (would not have to be as strict on the luggage) and Mabibi Beach Camp (will need to leave camping gear there for this).
  • In future, I intend to leave backup kites at the lodge.

Who Am I looking For?

Ideally some one like minded to myself and even better if you are working in the tech or financial space so we have something else in common (but not required). I am after all an introvert so mostly just interested in having some one join who appreciates getting away to the coast like me (and for obvious safety reasons). Ideally you should be into kite surfing although it has crossed my mind that this is not absolutely necessary as long as you are prepared to hike / trail run from the airstrip to the lodge (when my wife joins she will probably do this).

With regards to costs, I am in the process of getting my PPL renewed so my plan is to “co-pilot” the aircraft as part of my training. I will therefore take care of the flights. You will however need to budget for between R6k and R10k for 3 nights accommodation depending where we stay.

Conclusion

This is an experiment in minimalism (if you can call going on a long weekend in a private aircraft minimalistic). It may or may not work. At best it will almost certainly require some tweaks and improvising. If this appeals to you, you are flexible, have no problem dealing with the challenges that are likely to arise and can potentially confirm participation on short notice, then please let me know.

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