Wind Sports Blow into the Bay Islands
Wind sports Find a Niche on the Archipelago and Expand the Offerings of Sports Activities

April 1st, 2010
by Jennifer Mathews, Benjamin Roberts, and Thomas Tomczyk Photographs by Benjamin Roberts

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Miguel "Micky" Carbajal sails through the quiet waters of Sandy Bay at his windsurfing school on March 24.

Miguel "Micky" Carbajal sails through the quiet waters of Sandy Bay at his windsurfing school on March 24.

Although the tourism industry of the Bay Islands is already developed, there are plenty of opportunities for new recreational activities to grow. Many of these activities are based on the plentiful waterfront resources of the islands. Snorkeling and diving are very popular as well as plain old beach-sitting.

There are some water activities, though, that exploit the wind for speed: wind surfing, kite boarding, and sailing. These three sports are finding a growing number of enthusiasts here on Roatan and on the other Bay Islands, too and there are a growing number of places that will teach them to anyone with a spirit of adventure.

WINDSURFING

Although Roatan is not an ideal destination for the windsurfing extremist, the conditions that the island offers are ideal for the amateur and novice. Roatan’s reef, which almost completely surrounds the island, makes for calm seas allowing stability and control when learning how to balance on the board. This is crucial when learning how to “turn” the board and sail which can be difficult when battling winds and waves while literally walking around the surf board. Miguel “Micky” Carbajal, the proprietor of the Roatan Windsurfing School, the only windsurfing school on the island, describes the sport as a type of “controlled jumping,” noting that learning how to control the board is a small fraction of the sport itself. “You must feel the wind.” Micky’s style of teaching is very much indicative of the conditions on Roatan, one of a kind.

A former windsurfing professional from Chile, Micky practiced the sport well before technology began to make its way into what are now known as extreme sports. “Everything was much, much heavier,” remarks Carbajal, who makes sure you know each and every step by heart before you even get on the water. He teaches his students a three step approach he developed himself. Saying that his biggest sense of accomplishment is working with people who usually doubt themselves at first and watching them blossom and learn. “It’s a mental thing as well, you know.” Knowing where the wind is coming from and its strength is crucial in windsurfing, usually requiring multiple attempts on the board in water to figure out where you are, and how to either move up, down, or cross-wind. “Some people get on the board and just now how to do it, others not so much,” remarks Carbajal. An almost supportive barrage of instruction blowing at you with 25 kmh velocity is what it feels like to learn from Micky. It works. Indeed if the winds are blowing as fast as the instructor, it can be the most difficult object of windsurfing to master. This is why most experienced windsurfers refer to the sport as sailing and not surfing. If one does not have a grasp of wind they will find themselves either standing atop a motionless board or in the drink.

With 60 boards and 40 sails, Carbajal has the right combination of equipment for any student and has recently opened a new location at Fantasy Island. Hoping to attract new enthusiasts to the sport, Carbajal says, “I didn’t come here to make millions, but to survive. I came to put people in the sport. I’m a romantic. I love the sport, I respect it. It’s a joy for me.”

KITE BOARDING

Bryan Cannon, who currently manages Marble Hill Farms, a boutique resort on the north shore of Roatan’s East end. In 1995 he graduated from Texas State University with a degree in Microbiology but, “I fell in love with kite boarding and I enjoy sharing the stoke,” says Bryan. He opened KiteHonduras at Marble Hill Farms in late 2006 and instructs about 20 students annually.

Jim Smith, owner of Marble Hill Farms wants to turn the East Island destination into a destination for wind and water sports. “Sea kayaks, wakeboarding, waterskiing, windsurfing, diving and kite boarding,” are some of the many water sport activities he sees in Roatan’s future.

The kiteboarding lessons take place in Diamond Rock and by the Saint Helene mangroves. “I had to figure out the wind and safe spots to ride as there is just so much coral around,” says Bryan. Kitesurfing schools provide courses and lessons to teach various skills including kite launching, flying, landing, usage of the bar, lines and safety devices.

On the first day of lessons, in chest high water, students work on launching and flying a kite. The relationship to a kite is key in learning to kiteboard and once someone has gained a good feel for moving the three to 22 meter kite by using four lines, they can strap on the board. “We can teach someone basic skills in three to five lessons,” says Bryan. The school offers a three hour package of classes for $150.

Kiteboarding instructor Bryan Cannon rides the wind at the school in Marble Hill Farms.

Kiteboarding instructor Bryan Cannon rides the wind at the school in Marble Hill Farms.

Kite boarding is possible in winds as low as 10 miles per hour and Bryan estimates that Roatan gets about 70%, or 255 days of the year are good enough to kiteboard. “At 15 miles an hour is when it really gets good,” says Bryan who also teaches more advanced kite boarding techniques involving loops and jumps.

Roatan gets the best, most consistent wind in the months of April, May and June. The winds usually blow from the East, in the morning from ESE and in the afternoon switching to ENE direction. Whereas the South side offers more sheltered and deeper water, it’s the island’s North shore that has a perfect place to learn and practice kite boarding and windsurfing. “With the island being so high we get many lulls and wind whirlpools (on the north shore),” says Bryan.

Bryan’s school uses Best brand equipment, including 2006 and 2007 Best Waroo kites and is affiliated with the manufacturer. These kites has modern safety features such as depowerability and re-launch features. A new equipment package can cost a few thousand dollars, but used gear can be had for less.

Bryan is an instructor accredited with the IKO – International Kiteboarding Organization.

Last July, the school began offering week long kite boarding packages. “I teach people to be independent kite boarders, so they can go out on their own and ride,” says Bryan. A kite, board, harness, along with bar and 75 feet long lines are all that’s truly needed to practice the fast-growing sport, but you may require a life-vest (PFD), wetsuit, booties, gloves, hood, a couple of kites for varying conditions, etc.

Another kite boarding operation has begun service on Utila. Lisa Price, and her Kitesurfing Belize school, is a German kiteboarding instructor who has made her base on Utila’s Chepas beach. In 2004 Lisa left Florida and founded a kite boarding school in Placencia, Belize. “My objective is not to be settled somewhere, but rather travel and teach on different locations,” says Lisa, who lives on her boat and teaches two-three students per week. “I personally like Honduras much more than Belize, and try to focus in the future more on Honduras,” writes Lisa.

SAILING

As you look out onto the mooring sites in the waters off the Bay Islands, more and more you see high end yachts, catamarans, and sailboats of varied make and model. Many are visiting or passing through. Some are here to stay. The opportunities for visitors or residents to partake in sailing adventures are charters are numerous. One Roatan captain, however, is set apart from the rest, known throughout the island as Captain Alex.

Captain Alex sails a 26 foot Caribbean sloop, handmade in Belize of mahogany and cedar, which can often be seen in Flowers Bay across from the Flowers Bay Community Center. The samwood mast and bamboo boom hold a canvas sail, sewn together in various colors. The shallow water draft and no keel make it easily maneuverable with its homemade. Bits of the boat hold pieces of history, giving to its unique character. For example, the rain cover to the hull below is cut from the original sign that advertised his sailing trips from Foster’s bar in West End.

“The first time on the boat, I fell in love with it.” Alex is originally from Punta Gorda, but spent some time in Belize City, which is where he found his dream boat. Originally used as a fishing and lobster boat in the waters between Belize and Mexico, the boat was passed from generation to generation until the last owner let it fall into neglect and decided to sell it. The boat was made in 1957, “the year I was born,” said Alex. It was meant to be. But in the beginning, his wife did not see it that way. She wanted him to buy a newer boat. “Buying that boat, she turned her back,” laughed Alex. “I bought a big towel, because she didn’t want to touch it. Now it’s a joke with us.”

A good hat is a requirement out on the water, were the sun's rays can be quite powerful.

A good hat is a requirement out on the water, were the sun's rays can be quite powerful.

Alex bought the “Adventure Girl” in 1992 for $6,000 and said that if he were to sell it today, it would be appraised at $12,000. He lived for two years on the boat in Belize and sailed in 1994 from Cay Caulker to Dandriga to Roatan, returning to sail his home waters.

Originally learning to sail from a visitor from Los Angeles, Alex passes on his love of sailing through lessons or excursions to tourists. His enterprise is based on word of mouth or repeat business from returning tourists. He has no website or advertised contact info, but tales of sailing with Captain Alex are plastered all over in blogs and travel review sites. People literally come from all around looking for the famous Captain Alex. And they find him easily.

Alex takes a minimum of three people on a half or full day excursions. Average price per person is $50, depending on the trip. His boat can hold a maximum group of eight. On excursions, he usually sails one side of the reef then the other, stopping at key snorkeling sites, and pointing out interesting coral and fish.

On his days off, Alex still prefers to be on the water. He checks the Farmer’s Almanac every day for weather trends and heads out. “Every day’s ‘a fishing, not every day’s ‘a catching,” he jokes. Every nine months he takes the boat out of the water for minor repairs to sand, reinforce, caulk, and repair leaks. The more time the boat is in the water, however, the better, because it cures the wood. “The only thing rotting on that boat is out of the water,” said Alex.

Captain Alex finds himself in an interesting position. “No other islanders sail. They all like power,” he said. “Even my kids don’t want to learn. They all want to go fast, not do something natural that takes time.” But in many ways, he might find himself to an advantage. Many tourists come to the island in search of the simple things, getting in touch with the ways of the past. Alex’s vessel and sailing methods cater to just that mindset. In a world of exaggerated fuel prices and a trend of returning to the basic and efficient in transportation, he is also in the driver’s seat. “Say you want to go to Belize,” he said. “All you have to do is wait for an East trade wind, and then you just go!” [/private]

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