14th Oct 2012 10:43am | By Laura Laker
“Ever ridden a horse?” my Egyptian kitesurfing instructor Cousha asks.
Before I can answer, he continues: “This is the exact opposite of riding a horse. Pull on that line and we will soon be watching you fly away.” So it’s with those anxiety-inducing instructions I’m introduced to kitesurfing.
The sport is a relatively new one, a complicated combo of wakeboarding, windsurfing and gymnastics. In 1998 it went mainstream.
Coincidentally, that was the same year that El Gouna, the Egyptian kitesurfing hot spot where I’m taking my lessons, started its transformation from empty desert to developed tourist town.
Arriving at the Red Sea resort had been a bit of a mission (a 40-hour delay thanks to airline strikes meant I’d spent the previous night camped out in Heathrow airport), so I have never been so pleased to see a tour driver as I am to see Samy. The Cairo-born Egyptian has an infectious smile and welcomes me to Hurghada airport in the hot September sun.
I greet him with salaam alaikum (hello) and he gives me a few enthusiastic high-fives, teaches me some new words and turns up his stereo.
Soon everyone in my tour group’s minibus is clapping along to Middle Eastern pop sensation Amr Diab’s Habibi Ya Nour El Ain, hurtling along the desert highway towards El Gouna.
Refreshed the next morning, we head to RedSeaZone, one of three kitesurfing schools on the outskirts of El Gouna, on the funkily named Mangroovy Beach.
Its L-shaped wooden beachfront structure houses equipment, a bar with comfy sofas and a hammock, two friendly dogs and numerous kiteboarders sheltering from the blistering sun.
Standing on the pale sand, wearing a waist harness and a foam helmet, my back to the wind, I hold a horizontal bar tethered to my front with the kite hovering high above.
My instructor Cousha starts the drill: “We move the kite in infinity,” he explains, meaning that the figure-of-eight motion will help power me through the water.
After a few botched attempts, the gloves are off and Cousha is losing his patience. “Not like that, stop pulling the bar!” he yells over the wind. I’m taught to imagine the area in front of me as a clock.
If I want to move left, I pull the bar into the ‘power zone’ between 10 and 11 o’clock; to move right, I bring it between one and two o’clock; at 12, the kite sits in neutral. It’s not as simple as it sounds.
“Move the kite to 11 o’clock,” Cousha bellows. I promptly move it to one o’clock. “Look at the kite!” he yells. “Where is it?” Oh, god, I feel like an idiot.
I spend the next hour wrestling the kite, while Cousha gives me a hard time when I get it wrong – which I do, often. But we soon develop a fun rapport, and despite the banter, I’m sure I’m improving.
El Gouna provides perfect kiting conditions for beginners and pros alike thanks to a gentle breeze for most of the year (April to November are the most reliable months) and 100-150m of warm, shallow water along the town’s 10km of desert coast, which ends in lush reefs and sand bars.
After my class, I’m introduced to Nemo, another RedSeaZone instructor who happens to be Egypt’s third-best kitesurfer.
He’s guaranteed a place in Egypt’s team for Rio 2016, where kitesurfing will feature in the Olympics for the first time. Nemo – a relaxed character with an obvious nickname – is testament to how far this sport has come.
Having spent hours in the water, I’m ravenous. Doaa, our straight-talking guide, takes us Downtown – with bazaars, boutiques, restaurants and plenty of shops, it’s a popular tourist hangout.
We munch nachos and pasta at Jobo’s sports bar (Tammr Henna, Downtown, tel. +2 065 358 0521 ext. 32127). The venue serves free beer on Mondays between 7pm-9pm, and at 10pm, a waiter brings us free chilli vodka shots with fresh mango juice. Happy days!
“We have a lot of retard here,” Doaa shouts over the music. “Polish retard, also German, English.” We all look at each other, and I’m not sure how to respond.
I open my mouth, then close it again, before I realise she’s saying “retired”. Relieved, we all fall about laughing.