1st Mega Downwinder from Kalpitiya to Jaffna
by Micha (comments: 0)
The thrill of surfing
A group of kite surfing enthusiasts comprising two Germans, two Russians and a Sri Lankan have become the first on record to kite surf from Kalpitiya to Jaffna, a distance of approximately 300km, along the North West coast of Sri Lanka.
The team consisted of Chris Waller and Michael Lerch from Speyer, Germany; Nik Olas from Novosibirsk, Russia; Alisa Kirillova from Moscow, Russia and Keira Perera, adventure sports enthusiast and founder Adventure On Community, Sri Lanka.
Beginning their trip on July 27 from Puttalam Lagoon, just south of Kalpitiya town, the team completed 100 km in low wind conditions on day one, to arrive just south of the historic Doric House, Arippu, where they camped for the night. Having stopped at a Navy outpost on the Wilpattu National Park shore, they were provided with support once the Navy personnel realised they had no intention of entering the park itself. The Navy camp then provided the team with extra water and all camps up to Jaffna were informed of the kite surfers' journey and progress, for safety reasons.
On the 28th the surfers reached Talaimannar/Adams Bridge, having travelled 75 km from just south of Arripu Reef along the desolate coast line, with good wind conditions prevailing until the last stretch when they had to deal with heavy onshore wind.
"Riding in the rough open sea is very physically challenging, your knees and legs start aching, and then they burn out, but you put that thought out of your mind and keep riding," said Perera. "We were riding about four and a half hours a day with practically no break. From Mannar town onwards we found a short gap of flat water about four to five meters wide, created as the waves broke on the beach. I'd say for about 40km we rode right in between these breaking waves in two centimetres of water or less, constantly dodging the next wave breaking sometimes two metres high. This was a challenging and exhilarating part of the trip and saved us from the physically draining, choppy waters of the open sea."
July 29th was a low wind day, so the team spent the time getting supplies and resting.
July 30th saw the wind return, but the team were unable to get Navy clearance to pass around Adams Bridge. The plan was altered and the team relocated by jeep to the Mannar Lagoon, just north of Mannar Town, where they then made camp and spent the night.
On July 31st, the kiters left their lagoon-side camp and made a short up and then cross-wind trek to exit the Mannar lagoon at high tide, with Jaffna lagoon as the final goal. They covered 110km on the third (riding) day.
Describing the last lap of the journey from Mannar to just south of Jaffna Pooneryn, Perera stated that this section of the trip was amazing. "Words cannot describe the first half, riding clear, flat, blue water with so many fish and water plants visible. At one point the wind started to drop and the coast took a sharp turn inland. I knew if we followed the coast inland the South West blowing wind would be blocked and we would not be able to progress. At this point I noticed Lerch in the lead thinking the same thing too, so at the same time we automatically adjusted and continued on a Northern course further out to open sea. At one point we were so far away from land you could barely see it, we must have been about 7km or more off shore. The riding was very challenging at this point; the surge in the open sea was energy draining."
According to Perera, this is the point at which they could have made mistakes because they were so tired, and if anyone had fallen they would have had to drag through the surge to recover their board. Failure at this point is not a welcome option and equipment malfunction in particular at this stage would mean you were at the mercy of the sea until you floated down wind and current to reach land, hours away.
"The coast now started to turn to the North East, the approach to Pooneryn, a sure welcome sight, so we adjusted our course towards the coast. We landed at a wild and beautiful place with huge sand dunes and hammering wind. You walk away from moments like this with no award, only a feeling and a memory of that time where you lived totally in the moment."
The reward awaiting the weary team coming ashore was a small church for shelter with a fresh-water well. They were met by their ground coordinators, the Wanabima crew, led by Sidath Liyanage who had followed the team by jeep using GPS live tracking via a Facebook app and set up the various beach camps along the way.
According to Waller and Lerch, who run FreeRiders KiteTours in Kalpitiya and had spent a few years dreaming of and planning the trip, the kite surfers covered a total distance of 300km by downwind, including sections on the lagoons along the way. Waller had assessed it to be a safe ride and a rescue boat was not deemed necessary to accompany them.
Lerch who has kite surfed extensively in Sri Lanka, was awed by "riding through the most beautiful spots where no kite boarder has been before, with green, clear water changing to deep blue. It was a perfect playground, jumping over prawn nets, playing with the waves on the shore, the landscape changing all time."
Having achieved their goal of reaching Jaffna, the kite surfers decided to continue to the island of Kayts, a distance of 54km, with hard cross and upwind the whole way. In 2013, Perera and two Australian adventurers, brothers Aaron and Bryce Doherty had done a similar cross-country motorbike trip starting from Colombo, ending up in Kayts.
Perera who is also a hiker and dive master with adventure sports experience in the US, Honduras and Brazil continues to search for adventure experiences around Sri Lanka to share with others. "We had wanted to do this trip for some time now. It seemed possible, but no one had tried it. We were worried we would get stopped by the Navy or other military, but overall the Navy was very friendly and supported our journey. Our goal of kiting from Kalpitiya to Jaffna was accomplished but we also succeeded in our other goal of showing people that the North of Sri Lanka is a wild, beautiful and safe place. Also when it comes to adventure sports this country has so much to offer."
Michael Lerch, Chris Waller and Sri Lankan Kite surfer Dilsiri Welikada of Kitesurf Lanka undertook the same trip a couple of weeks later, this time covering the Kalpitiya to Jaffna stretch in only two days, without the use of a support vehicle. Landing in Jaffna town the three surfers were greeted by a large group of cheerful onlookers.
Kalpitiya has been recognised as one of the world's top kite surfing destinations. It was ranked #1 by Kitesurfing Magazine in 2015.
Text by Ajita Kadirgamar
Link to original: http://dailynews.lk