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KTA Myanmar Wave Rider Cup: travel tales

We had all been waiting a long time for the Myanmar Wave Rider’s Cup to kick off, and when it finally did groups of riders and organisers travelled from all over Asia (some even from as far as the US and Europe) to be in Ngwe Saung for the event. It wasn’t an easy journey to begin with, Myanmar being fairly off the beaten track, it involved at least 2 or 3 flights for most in attendance. This event was many people’s first look at Myanmar, and in the countdown leading up to it everyone was getting pretty curious about what the location will be like. But at the end of the day, kiters are simple creatures, right? Once the minimum requirements of beach, warmth, waves and of course wind are met- it’s smooth sailing.

 

Ngwe Saung Welcome Committee...

Ngwe Saung Welcome Committee…

 

Even though Myanmar is very much up and coming in the backpacking community, and hordes of travel blogs are hyping it up to be the new off-the-beaten-track location, the country’s ins and outs still aren’t too widely broadcast compared with other heavily documented parts of South East Asia. That’s part of what makes many people so excited for this event- that shadow of mystery.

 

The first thing I noticed when I got off the plane was how beautifully dressed everybody in the airport was. Bright orange, pink, turquoise and yellow saris, dresses, shawls, all delicately embroidered. Babies eyes rimmed with black kohl, women’s faces smeared with expressive strokes of gold make up. Yellow eyed men stared out from under their security guard caps, and directed us out of the airport parking lot in our mini-van sent from the club in Ngwe Saung. Our fully air conditioned bus meandered through the traffic, eventually reaching a roundabout decorated with what must have been thousands of multicoloured flower garlands. A police van cut us off, I leaned out the back seat window of the bus to try to get a look at a truckload of Myanmar’s infamous police. Instead I caught a glimpse of a young woman with her hands wrapped around the bars of the back window of the van, looking out at the traffic just as I was. I wondered what she had done to be there.

Taxi, Myanmar style

 

The city is lowrise, dirty, and dusty. The muted concrete buildings are silenced by the brightly dressed people, the fruit stalls, the flowers sold at road side. We had arrived in Yangon.

 

The traffic jam stretched in both directions. Any bus that drove against us in the other direction was much older, and much more crowded. Several times I caught the eyes of a passenger in another bus that crawled alongside ours, each of whom spent a few seconds longer than usual holding my gaze- both of us briefly enjoying and questioning each other. Every 50 meters there was a stall selling colourful scarves and saris, piles of which towered high over the vendors heads. Look any direction within the concrete jungle and you can see billboards advertising designer apartments, shopping Meccas and luxury holidays. But as concrete gave way to palms, the road side advertising veered more towards what we consider ‘basics’ of decades long gone- fire extinguishers and electric washing machines.

Military style briges still connect the main highways

 

The land is busy right to the water’s edge. The shacks on the outskirts of the city cease to be individual dwellings, and appear to become one single roof under which the whole suburb lives. On the skyline temple rooftops compete for attention with Myanmar’s first high rises. As the city broke away and the roads became a medley of red mud and gravel, our lumbering bus was over taken by a group of motorbikes being driven by monks, sheathed in the traditional dark red cloth.

 

We drove in the fading evening light, deeper and deeper into the jungle. Our driver estimated a 5 hour trip from the airport to the beach. 6 hours in, we stopped for the second time- this time not for an intentional rest, but because most of the road in front of us was blocked by a broken down bus. Standing on the roadside, dancing around a campfire, bottles of beer in hand was none other than the rest of our KTA battalion. As it happened, their bus had left Yangon airport about 4 hours before ours, but had broken down two thirds of the way through the trip. Although they had been reassured every half an hour that the replacement bus was coming ‘in half an hour’, by the eighth time they were told that the faith was starting to shake.

Night as dramatic as day

 

I still don’t quite understand why our perfectly functional bus remained stationary, alongside the broken down version on the road in the middle of the jungle for almost 2 hours… But I didn’t mind so much, what was most surprising is that no one seemed to mind so much. Despite the fact that they had been stranded roadside for over 4 hours, everyone was still smiling, swapping stories for cigarettes, passing a box of donuts around the group in one direction, and a bottle of whiskey in the other. A bonfire blazed away next to the group, regularly stoked and fed with dried palm leaves and jungle brush.

 

14 hours after the entirety of the group left Yangon airport, we arrived at the Ngwe Saung Yacht Club, our adopted home for the next week. Regardless of the early hour of the morning, it appeared almost everyone who was already at the resort had stayed up to meet the bus. The moment we pulled in is a memory I’m sure I’ll look back on 40 KTA events from now, and though I imagine it will get lost in countless other memories yet to be created-  it will surely be one of the best. Everyone inside the lobby of the resort swarmed up to the edge of the bus, where we poured out one by one- shattered and dishevelled after the journey of doom. People ran for their friends, some they hadn’t seen for months or years, and others that had only been separated since the airport- it didn’t matter.

 

What a feeling, travelling to a place so unfamiliar and finding familiarity in the people around you. We may be in place that makes you about as sure of your surroundings as the Germans in the Russian winter… But despite how alien you might feel, you are perfectly at home with all the other kite surfers that colonise the Myanmar beach just a few days a year. Maybe it’s a community of old friends, new friends, people you know by reputation or some you’ve never met- it won’t matter. Anything that can bring together this many people, from such different walks of life, well it must be something pretty special.

Team KTA Myanmar

Team KTA Myanmar

 

And the event itself? You can check out the full event report here if you like. I won’t rehash the same info… For now I’ll just draw attention to the thing that left the biggest impression on me. Unsurprisingly, a spirit of determination could be felt from the front runners of each race, but the overwhelming feeling at the event was not one of competition- but community. I think that’s what sets the KTA apart, really. It’s not a tour that puffs up the egos of the top 30 guys in the industry, the kite surfing ‘royalty’ who see a competition as a chance to lay claim to the throne. The KTA is a lifestyle tour, it’s a tour for the riders- every rider. It’s about the guy who picked up a twin tip 3 months ago and wants to get up and be a part of something, it’s about the guy who wins every year in a row, but feels no superiority to the newbie. It’s about the feeling we have when everyone comes off the water after a tough heat, and instead of post mortem discussions all anyone wants to discuss is where to go for a cold beer. No elitism, no crash protesting, no exclusivity… Just real people, real kiting, a beautiful beach in an even more beautiful country, and a community of some of the best people Asia has to offer. My first KTA event- I feel as if I have been let in on the world’s best kept secret.

 

See you all in Vietnam…

-Grace