Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Break in Our Regularly Scheduled Travel Blog: Kite Surfing Festival!

Yesterday our town hosted a kite-surfing festival!  
             We're known for our kite surfing; we have a long, shallow, sheltered bay, brisk regular winds and our weather is consistently sunny all summer long.  People came from as far away as Adelaide for this competition -  thousands of dollars in prizes were at stake!
           And it was a washout.  Yesterday, of all possible days, our steady summer weather went bust.  The heat rose, a sluggish rain oozed in, the organizers had somehow failed to check the tidal plats and scheduled the main competition for low tide, and then the wind died. 
            Imagine forty degree heat, a bay that's turned into a tidal mud flat, a seawall full of surfers, and no wind - no wind at all. It was a sight to break the stoniest heart.
            We oozed our own way down to the beach about half past three. The car park was full of sunburned men sitting in their combi vans and 4x4s, drinking beer, staring out at the tidal flats and looking depressed.
            The gamer ones were mustering down on the sand. The MC was organizing a footrace across the sand flats into the shallow water and back to the seawall - carrying kites, of course. 
            "Off they go!"  The bullhorn crackled.  "They're away!  It's not easy carrying a kite in dead wind! Give it up for them battling it out down there on the beach! They're heading for the marker out there, yattatattatta whaddallawhaddallawhaddala, there they go, Mike Brady's out in front, must be dog tired by now but still going strong, yattatattattawaddatta yaddala - Hell with it.  A hundred bucks to the first one past the marker."  The bullhorn abruptly shut off.
            The rain oozed, just enough to turn the steaming air into a swamp.  Mr Tabubil and I lolled and dribbled our way along the foreshore to the cafe and collapsed into chairs outside the door. 
            Paul, a friend, and the roving photographer for the local paper, wheezed into view with his long-lens camera.
            "Hey, Paul!"  Mr Tabubil gave him a friendly wave from the shade, and patted the seat next to him. "Want a seat?"  Nodding his thanks, Paul tottered towards us across the steaming flagstones.  He sank into the seat and wiped a large handkerchief across his forehead. We sat together in companionable silence, watching the runners below us pounding across the sand, their kites clutched to their chests.
            "Poor bastards."  Paul shook his head sadly.  "Hell of a comedown, isn't it?"
            "Don't lose heart."  Mr Tabubil told him cheerfully.  "After they finish this one, they've got half an hour to refresh themselves for the the tug-of -war. The afternoon could be salvaged yet!"

And lo - as the roars from the tug-of-war subsided behind the refreshments tent, the wind kicked up and the tide began to pour in across the sandbar.  In a quarter of an hour it was knee deep; the surfers galloped down onto the sand and pumped up their kites and got the heck out onto the water and proceeded to cut loose as only a crowd of moderately sozzled kite-surfers can do.  (It mostly seems to happen thirty feet up in in the air and upside down.)
            Mr Tabubil and I joined them - we waded out a couple of hundred meters and stood knee deep in the water, watching them flying up and down the bay. The surfers seemed to reckon that Mr Tabubil with his camera was someone official, and set their runs to stop right in front of us. Quite a view.
            After half an hour of mostly sensible shenanigans the organizers reckoned that the wind was here to stay and set up the markers for a downwind speed race.  Half the riders returned to the shore to switch their kites, the whole lot of them assembled behind the starting buoy - and the wind died.  Spectacularly.  Half the kites fell out of the sky like lead bricks - en masse and en unison - and hit the water with an almighty cracking sound.  The rest were drooping sluggishly toward the water, aiming to catch up with the first lot.  One gallant soul managed to stay aloft - but the only way he seemed to be able to grab any air was on a heading straight out sideways into the gulf.
            "Abandon your boards!"  The MC screamed through his bullhorn.  "Get down to that line anyway you can!  Body-drag if you have to!"
            And so began the slowest race in speed-trial history.  They crawled, they dribbled, they lolloped and floated and oozed- on their bellies mostly, as their sad and sluggish sails towed them at a tortoise's pace down the bay.  It was quite the heck of  a thing to watch - they moved down toward the marker like they were mired in deep slow-time, but the riders were strung like violins - they kept the kites spinning in small, tight tight figures of eight - doing everything but call down black magic to keep grabbing air and staying in the sky.
            "That's some incredible skill you're watching, guys!"  The MC hollered at us.  "That they're moving at all takes skills like you've never seen!"  Overwhelmed, he began calling the race, but there's not much you can do with "The blue one on the end has grabbed two yards of bay, guys!  The three in the middle are still in the air -!"  So he started on about Denise again.
            We'd been hearing about Denise all afternoon.  The MC had a thing for her. "That's Denise out there with that blue kite.  Denise is Amazing.  Denise's the most athletic woman this town has ever seen.  She's a fabulous flier, guys.  Denise is hot!"
            By the time of the downwind speed race, his MC-ing had devolved to a sort of Denise-based shorthand of "That Denise - she's hot!  No, seriously guys, she's actuallly got some sky! Callan Morris has some sky as well!  Dylan Cater has three yards on Callan!  Denise is hot!"
            One unfortunate surfer, heading out into international shipping waters managed to wrangle his board back to the starting line and, somewhere around tea-time, headed properly off down the course.  It was a game changer - the race had a competitor who was actually standing up.  Inch by remorseless inch he gained ground.  The MC woke up and started hollering again: "Denise is hot but it's Colin, Colin Delworthy, standing up!  He's out ahead!  He's...still... out ahead.  Go Colin!  Denise, you're still hot, girl, but I think we've got a front runner here!" 
            It was a proud moment for the man.  He had the privilege of announcing that the race had a winner.  The rest of the kites arrived as well, eventually, but by then the tide had gone out again.
            "That's it then, guys."  The MC crackled tiredly.  "Great race.  great race.  How about a round of applause?"
There was an obscene - and muffled - shout from the competitors tent.
            "Fair enough.  I reckon there's some beer left in the judges marquee."  And the bullhorn shut off again.

Of course, as soon as they'd all gone ashore, the wind kicked up again.  It was uncanny.
The riders shot back out for another shot at the freestyle prizes, but we'd had enough.  We'd been standing in the water for an hour and a half, the water was almost up to our waists, and we were done in.
            Our cars were parked on the other side of the competitors field.  We wandered back past the combi vans and listened to the MC spouting gems like "That's Douglas Donnan out there with the helmet.  He's been knocked unconscious five times out on the water and ended up in the hospital - how many times was it?  Five times as well, there you go.  My word.  So he wears the helmet now.  He's been drinking pretty steadily all afternoon, so we're looking forward to some interesting riding out there, eh Douglas?"
Douglas grinned and popped the MC a big thumbs up.

We went home.

The Footrace

The field - swampish and gusty!

Up close and personal, no zoom necessary - the best sort of view.


Grabbing some air

And the moment they all fell out of the sky.

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