Better known for honeymoons and lazing around in luxurious villas, the Maldives may not seem like a kitesurfing haven. But since 2016, the Raalhu Gudi (“raalhu” means wave and “gudi” means kite) kitesurfing festival highlights the archipelago nation’s calmer waters and good winds, ideal conditions for fans of the sport.
“The Maldives is perfect [for kitesurfing] because of the deserted beaches and flat-water lagoons and no crowds,” says two-time kiteboarding world champion Youri Zoon from the Netherlands. “I’ve kept coming back since 2016, and have seen kiteboarding grow massively.”
Zoon has been lending his star appeal to Raalhu Gudi since the inaugural festival three years ago. It was founded by Asim Mohamed, local kitesurfer and manager of the Maafushi Dive and Water Sports Centre in South Male Atoll.
“I wanted to promote kitesurfing as a sport in the Maldives and to get young people involved,” Asim says. In that first edition, the first of its kind ever held in the country, Zoon led a kitesurfing camp on Maafushi island for 30 participants.
This year’s event, taking place from 18 June, will see four world-class kiteboarders, including Zoon, lead participants on an 804km route across the Maldives. The course passes through 13 of the country’s 26 atolls and it’s expected to take 15 days to complete. That means about four hours of kitesurfing each day, punctuated by stops at various inhabited islands where participants will work with the local community on reef and beach clean-ups, with hopes of raising awareness about how littering adversely affects the environment.
Maldivian kitesurfer Zayan Mohamed is one of this year’s entrants and dreams of going to the Olympics. “Kitesurfing is the best action sport in the world,” the 17-year-old says with a grin. And now that it’s been added to the Youth Olympics and will debut at the Paris Olympics in 2024, kitesurfers like Zayan, who cut their teeth in the Maldives’ ideal conditions, may be in for quite a ride.
Where else to kitesurf on the SilkAir network
1. Koh Samui
Maenam, Nathon and Hua Thanon are the best spots for kitesurfing, with the optimum times being November to February. Bonus: an introductory kitesurfing course starts from just THB4,000 (S$171).
An international airport, long stretches of quiet beaches and consistent winds let you kitesurf here all year round, though the best time to go is between September and March.
Kaliantan beach boasts some of the most reliable kitesurfing conditions in Indonesia, with steady winds and a sheltered lagoon. More experienced kitesurfers can ride downwind to the other beaches.
This article was originally published in the June 2019 issue of Silkwinds magazine