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Kiting in the Sahara

Kiting in the Sahara

BY NICOLAS PHAM-DINH

Picture yourself riding limitless flat-water between between picturesque sand dunes in a small desert oasis. Welcome to Dakhla, which means “entrance” in Arabic, a 30-mile long lagoon at the westernmost edge of the Sahara desert. Warm water and near constant winds make Dakhla a paradise for wind sports. Its remote location and lack of amenities keep it from being a destination of choice for the average sun-seeker.

There are a few kiteboarding/windsurfing camps around the lagoon that offer beachside accomodations for around $450 per person per week, meals included. The two prominent ones are Océan Vagabond and Attitude. After reading some reviews online, we chose Océan Vagabond, a peculiar place tucked beneath a massive dune on the leeward side of a large tidal pool.

The easiest way to get there is to fly directly to Casablanca from Montreal with Royal Air Maroc (around eight hours), then take one of the daily flights to Dakhla (three hours). As we wanted to visit Marrakech on our way there, our flight schedule was much more complicated than that. I shall spare you the details.

The landing in the tiny Dakhla airport was by far the roughest plane landing I've ever experienced. At some point I actually felt the plane skidding sideways one way, then the other on the landing strip, which was slightly unpleasant to say the least. But apparently this was normal, and I understood why when I stepped off the plane and had to lean on the banister to avoid tipping over due to the wind strength! I instantly knew we were in for some great riding. Retrieving our luggage, we noticed that at least half of the passengers were carrying boards and kites. Yes, there is little else to do for tourists in this place.

Ocean Vagabond is at a 30min bus ride from Dakhla (transportation is included). It has 20 bungalows, a fabulous restaurant that serves some of the best fish I've eaten to date (it's all-inclusive but you can pay extra to have local oysters and langoustines), a beautiful beach bar to enjoy the sunset, and a kiteboard/windsurf/surf shop and school (Club Mistral). The whole "camp" is energy and water self-sufficient, using uderground sources and solar power. A very cool little paradise.

They say it's always windy there, but the windiest time is between April and October. As we were there in November, which is the end of the season, we got four days of rideable wind out of seven. On the second day, the wind peaked at 33knots in the afternoon, and I had massive fun riding my 7.5m. The wind usually starts blowing at around 9 a.m., and is usually good for a 12 to 14 meter kite until noon, when it generally goes up to 15-25 knots until sunset.

There are also several excellent wave-riding spots oustide the lagoon, which I unfortunately did not get around to trying because the wind died mid-week. If it had continued to blow, I would have joined a wave-riding camp given by three-time wave-riding world champion Kirsty Jones, which would have been pretty awesome.

On windless days, Ocean Vagabond offers catamaran rides, fishing trips, surfing, and wakeboarding, for a nominal fee. Day trips into the village can also be arranged - if you go be sure to visit the Hammam, for an authenitic Moroccan experience. One day we ended up going on a surf trip. Some of the waves were quite big (about 15 feet!), but I was disappointed to see the beach littered with garbage. On another day, we made a friend who took us for a day trip in the desert with his 1980 Land Rover, a day we will remember for a long time.

There is a mandatory secure kite storage, which costs an extra $70 per week. It was well worth the price because you can leave your kites inlfated the whole time, and your gear safely stowed. Not only do you only need to pump once, they have a compressor to assist! The $70 also inlcudes boat rescue, which is always a good thing to have.

In the end, we had a great time and made good friends. Dakhla is a great place for kiteboarders, but leave the non-kiters behind because there isn't much else to do...

When to Go

 

King of the dunes!
The Dakhla lagoon
Kiting in the Sahara
Océan Vagabond's beach bungalows
The beach bar
Windless day
The perfect desert machine

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