Kite surfing: Prepare to realise Da Vinci's dream

The warm waters and strong winds of Costa Rica's Bahia Salinas makes it the perfect location to learn to fly.

Above Isla Bolanos, a small rocky outcrop in the sea off north-west Costa Rica, magnificent frigatebirds wheel in wide circles; closer to ground level, their adolescent offspring make short excited flaps across the nesting ground. And in the bay behind them, a single, brightly coloured wing swoops and dives, lifting a lone figure through the air with marvellous height and speed. Da Vinci would weep at man's easy, dextrous flight, if only he had the chance to observe the kite surfing at Bahia Salinas.

Costa Rica is a compelling juxtaposition of volcanoes and rainforest, azure sea and powder sand. It is known as a surfer's paradise, but relatively little known as a kiting destination. Perhaps this is because its singular geography – on the isthmus joining North and South America – makes the bay at Bahia Salinas the only place to kite surf on the western coast of Central America.

But this bay is perfect. The winds rise on Lake Nicaragua; they are then funnelled through a small gap in the mountains of the Cordillera Central, and towards Bahia Salinas; the curve of the coast means that this strong, constant wind blows onshore, making it safe to kite.

Shaggy blond Italian Nicola Bertoldi was one of the pioneers of kite surfing in Costa Rica. He discovered the area in 2000 when the road – still unsurfaced today – was a dirt track, and spent solitary months teaching himself. "Most of the time I wasn't even in the water," he laughs. "I was always untangling my lines." Now an expert, he is bringing his experience to bear as an instructor, "so other people can avoid making my mistakes".

For those who've not seen it, kite surfing is the lovechild of wind surfing and wake boarding, without the awkward mast/sail combination of the former, or fuel-guzzling engine needed for the latter. It has its roots in 13th-century China, but was reinvented in the 1980s by wind surfers in Hawaii and France. It's currently one of the fastest-growing watersports, with some 250,000 practitioners around the world.

After watching Nico's balletic aerial performance, my own attempts are clumsy beyond measure. But I'd learnt the basics, so after a brief safety drill Nico suggests I give it a whirl. First he hands me a pair of booties, explaining: "You know – in case you step on a stingray."

The water is delicious, some 25C. I slide my feet into the straps on the board and move my kite across the "wind window" (the imaginary arc above my head from nine o'clock to three o'clock) to start – and immediately, ignominiously, face-plant. No question, I'm still a hatchling, faltering in erratic bursts. Striding along the shore, issuing directions into the walkie talkie tied to my helmet, Nico offers corrections and encouragement.

Much like skiing, learning to kite is exhausting. And deeply uncool. Each time I bellyflop into the water I loose my board. I must "body drag", putting the kite low in the sky and tacking upwind using my body as a rudder, to try to find it. Body dragging is a good way to swallow spectacular quantities of saltwater. One hunt is particularly difficult: every time I spot the fin, it moves. At last, I realise what I am chasing is not my board, but a green turtle.

However, the pain of hours spent thrashing and cursing is erased by the joy of a few minutes riding. On the odd occasion when it works, the wind fills my kite, my sinews strain to throw my weight back in the harness as I rise up, and then sing through the water, jumping the rough toss of the balmy waves.

The dry season, from November to April, sees winds building to 25-30 knots, which blow constantly from sunrise to sunset. Unlike more prominent kite destinations, such as the Caribbean Cabarete or Spain's Tarifa where crashes are a common hazard, this beach is rarely crowded. "The most I've ever counted in the air at one time is 22," says Nico, cracking open an Imperial beer at the end of the day.

Nico also runs the Blue Dream Hotel, whose 14 simple bedrooms are cut into the hill above the bay, each with views across to Nicaragua. Any guests not spending the day on the beach can idle in the spa, practice on the yoga terrace, or sea kayak for half an hour to Isla Bolanos. It is a pleasant distance, which I make in the company of two brown pelicans. After dragging the kayak onto the crescent sand, I scramble to the top of the island, and silently stand watching the magnificent frigatebirds feed their young; this is one of only two of their nesting colonies in the region.

Costa Rica is one of the few places in the world where you can surf as well as kite. So I took a break from the Blue Dream Hotel, drove south to Playa Coco and hired a boat to take me to the notorious two-mile shore break at Roca Bruja, or Witch's Rock. The great chunk of stone was once part of a volcano, and was thrown here in a monumental eruption. The break, glorified in surfing circles by the seminal movie The Endless Summer 2, was swelling to a majestic barrel. From the relative safety of the deck, I watched experts disappear into the belly of the waves and emerge euphoric seconds later.

On the way back, I detoured inland, leaving the arid, baking heat of the coast as I zigzagged up the cool, green hills around the active Arenal volcano. Here, the climate becomes temperate. The 33km lake beneath the volcano is flanked with retirement homes for Americans and Europeans, and the Alpine feel is enhanced by cuckoo-clock chalets and a surprising number of German bakeries. Lake Arenal is also possible for kite surfing, but the water is colder, and the molten colours of Arenal's lava flow are obscured by ash, so I choose to return and spend my last day back at Bahia Salinas.

As the tide goes out, the glassy water reflects the pink of the sky. I carve upwind, one lazy hand trailing in the water, ebullient. Nico sails past and reaches out for a high five; he goes on to jump, suspended in the air for six, seven seconds, before landing with a flourish, his spray golden in the low light.

Da Vinci believed that "When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return." I share the sentiment for kite surfing in this remote corner of Costa Rica.

Travel essentials

Getting there

* The closest international airport to Bahia Salinas is Liberia. Thomson Airways (0871 231 4787; thomsonfly.com) flies weekly from Gatwick, although this service will be withdrawn on 30 April. The best way to get to the Bahia Salinas is by taxi, which costs around $75 (£50) for the 75-minute drive.

Costa Rica's main international airport is at San José, four-and-a-half hours' drive away. There are no direct flights from the UK. The US is the main connecting country, or you can travel via Madrid or Mexico City.

Local buses connect San José to La Cruz for around $8; a taxi from there to the hotel costs $14 for the 15-minute journey.

Kite surfing there

* Blue Dream Hotel, Playa Papaturro, Bahia Salinas, La Cruz, Guanacaste, Costa Rica (00 506 2676 1042; bluedreamhotel.com). Doubles from $25 excluding breakfast. Private kite surfing lessons cost $40 per hour, including equipment.

More information

* Visitcostarica.com

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition