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KTA X-Champs Vietnam: Travel Tales

Time is the strangest thing of all. In the world I live in now I find myself constantly looking forward to the next thing, always in the future, always down the line just a little more. Waiting for the first leg of the KTA X-Champs tour felt like forever! How is it that already it’s 2 weeks behind us? Almost 3 weeks ago we began the pilgrimage once again. The journey was enough to rival even the 14 hour jungle bus breakdown party on our way to our Myanmar location back in October… This time my trip consisted of 35 hours of travel in what was no better than an air conditioned coffin, driven by a rather unreliable young man who appeared to suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, but who am I to doubt anyone else’s road skills (we’ll save the story of when I drove the family car through a shed for another time…). Needless to say, by the time our 35th hour came and went I would have been happy to get out of the bus just to walk around the bottom of a rubbish bin- so imagine how happy I was that I got to walk around Ho Chi Minh instead. What an awesome city- it’s a place that just did the whole ‘growing up’ thing right. It’s cool, in the most modest way, its quality. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is- the architecture, the juxtaposition of old and new, the low rises that line streets full of colourful people; the constant motion, bikes zipping past in coordinated chaos…. The breeze and sun on this particular day did nothing but amp up the good vibes that were already being fed to us. But we weren’t city bound for long, the winds up at Ninh Chu Bay were calling.

Ninh Chu calling...

There’s a number of ways to get there- we took a train which was spacious, comfortable, cheap, and (when it runs on time) should only take about 5-6 hours.. Travelling to a new place alone can sometimes feel like trying to orientate yourself underwater when a wave catches you. You’re rolling around underwater trying to find which way is up, while taking tumble after tumble. I have yet to experience that weird in between phase while travelling with the KTA, each time instead I have found myself slipping into daily life in yet another new place that feels exactly like home. Our arrival at Ninh Chu Bay was no exception.

on board from Saigon to Ninh Thuan

We passed the days there in a whirr of sun, wind, and Red Rock beer. The competition was fierce. Even with over 80 registered riders, and the newly incorporated WOO factor, what I really had my eye on was the freestyle. What I had my eye on even more closely were the women registered for the freestyle. I haven’t got exactly the most exposure to this level of kite boarding, especially from girls. When the first leg of competition rolled around I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I have never in my life seen so many incredible female kite surfers- and by the time the competition came to a close I had never felt so motivated or inspired for my own personal kiting. If you ask me, that’s the best part of professional sport or competition- to bring together elements of admiration, motivation, and community. At the beginning of the week, watching the riders felt like watching superstars. By the end of the week, it was like watching a sibling.

kite girls

 

 

The off duty days were spent meandering through the newly developed mountain roads, down craggy cliff faces that led to azure waters housing floating villages, or getting educated by the locals on how to row their traditional round fishing boats. On one particularly blistering hot day, our KTA battalion went a few kilometres down the road to a local Buddhist temple. The whole thing was built in such a way that if you looked at it from the right angle, it looked like it was just about hanging off the face of the mountain it was built upon. Regardless of what angle you look from, it looks like a damn steep climb. Nestled a few hundred metres below is another small temple-like building, which seems to have been adopted as shelter from the sun for those wandering the road, more so than a place of worship- per se. A few small children braved the heat and came out to have a look and say hello to our team, before we carried on further up the path. At the bottom of the staircases winding up the mountain was a very large pile of bricks. The local kiters who had joined for the day explained that it’s traditional to carry a brick up the mountain to help with the ongoing renovations- so that we did.

azure

 

It took roughly one billion steps, 2 time outs, and at least one close call with a heart attack but we did eventually reach the temple at the top. It was exquisite, while still being understated. Looping dragon statues cascaded down the sides of the staircases that led up to the main chamber, where the simple and very peaceful Buddha sits. Some of the local guys with us took the opportunity to send off a little prayer, it was all very special to watch. Despite what we might have thought, the climbing wasn’t over for us yet- we were bound for the very highest peak of the mountain, where we would find an old gunners turret from the war. Through the cactuses and up the goats path further and further, we were rewarded for our efforts with 360 degree panoramic views of Ninh Chu Bay. Planes of salt and rice fields stretched out as far as the eye could see, only interrupted on the horizon by staggering mountains, or at the water’s edge, where even from miles away we could see the kiters practising for the competition ahead. 

temple

We sealed our bonds together night after night on the beach at Ninh Chu bay, where Mark and Thao hosted a variety of impressive parties- from reggae nights where we were fed heaped plates of jerk chicken, to atmospheric live music sets from some of Vietnam’s most prominent up and coming musicians. Looking around the beach club on one such night, the thought that struck me was just how blissfully, completely happy everyone looked. Riders, crew, sponsors and hosts alike drank and danced and fell into a pattern of letting only the most genuine versions of themselves show. Some people even chose to keep the party going by camping at the beach club after hours. Others rolled back to base camp at our hotel around the corner.

party

 

It’s through these events, scattered here and there throughout the calendar, that we can all remind ourselves what this kite surfing life is all about. There are few things in the world I can think of that compete with the feeling of riding the wind. It gives you the freedom to zone out from life, but engage with your spirit. It relaxes, while it excites. It is challenging, and meditative. In any other facet of life these would be competing expressions, but when it comes to kite surfing, it’s less a contradiction and more an addiction, it’s love, it’s the lowest maintenance girlfriend you’ll ever have. Your kite is the other half you’ve always dreamed of; the one that always wants to do what you want to do, that begs you to take it travelling the world, wishes you would bring it to hang out with your friends more often… And the more you do, the better it gets. You fall in love with it more every time. Isn’t this the high that we’re all in it for? The travel, the community, the connection with nature…

connecting with nature

This event is the first big one of the year that brought this group of people together, to celebrate the thing that we all have in common. It gives us the excuse so many people wait all year for- pack up your kite bag, point at the map and follow the wind. There’s no feeling in the world like that feeling, the rush, the freedom. And that’s what we’re in it for, isn’t it? We’re in it for the high.

 

-Grace