A travel guide- TARIFA. Streets to Surf. Part #2
"The kitesurf capital of Europe"
It's no joke when you hear that Tarifa is the "kitesurf capital of Europe". Most wind addicts that have experienced the place where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean could probably agree with me when I say- Tarifa is like no where else. Let me explain...
I've kited in "busy" conditions, and depending on what your definition of "busy" is, most people probably have. Every year, a fair whack of the Australian kite community attends the Merimbula Classic in the last weekend of November. This brings around 100 kiters the Sapphire Coast, and when mixed with windsurfers, foilers and SUP'ers, it can get pretty hectic.
However, Tarifa is next level.
You pull up to the main kite beach in Tarifa and there are kites as far as the eye can see. 1000 coloured sails in the air on a good day. In summer, you'd be lucky to score a session without being surrounded by 100 kitesurfers within 100 meters of you- minimum.
Close calls? Yes. Tangles? Sometimes. Utter astonishment at the fact that there are probably more kitesurfers in the water at that exact moment than anywhere else in the world? Definitely.
Before I scare you off from even visiting this mecca for wind sports, let me tell you that if Tarifa is anything; its windy and it is so much fun. The one thing that is so great about this spot is that there's just so many like minded people. We kite. It's an international love. We all meet in the middle, here... Where else do you get that in the world?
As frustrating as kiting with 1000 people in the water might sound, it's actually quite mind blowing. Visiting this place should definitely be on every wind-driven water baby's bucket list.
In saying that, being in Tarifa for 3 months taught me a thing or two about the do's and don't's. So lets get to it.
Part #2 SURF.
They say if you can kite in Tarifa, you can kite everywhere. When i first got to Spain I had no idea how they read the wind, because instead of your standard N/S/E/W directions, its Levante and Poniente. Confusing? Let me lay it down:
Levante- the wind that Tarifa's craziness is known for. Levante is a more dense wind that comes from the east. It's hot, strong, gusty and offshore. Don't let this scare you off though... this wind is a good strong breeze if you're into big loops, high jumps and just hanging on for your life (as crazy as it seems, its still pretty fun). Because the wind is offshore, it blows all chop off the water, so the ocean goes completely flat.
Poniente- the 'cool & calm' wind. Poniente is the wind that comes from the west over the ocean. In saying that, it generally delivers a more drier and cool wind. It can be light, mild or strong- frequently changing and is quite onshore. Poniente brings in the wind swell, so conditions in the water can be quite choppy. depending on the size of the swell, there can be some good surfing conditions as well.
The wind cycle is as follows:
3-4 days of levante. Day #1 ALWAYS being the most hectic. Quite gusty, on and off and pretty offshore.
The following levante days are more consistent and provide good, strong trade winds.
1 day where it's calm (Thank God, rest day!!). This is because the levante and poniente winds are fighting (switching from east to west or vise versa). You can generally see it on the ocean too, defined with a big white line where the Mediterranean and Atlantic Ocean meet.
2-3 days of Poniente. Poniente is a more subtle breeze, cooling the land down. Beware, it can get pretty chilly.
TIMES TO KITE
When I stayed in Tarifa, I was told many things about when was the best time to kite. Since the conditions are pretty all-year round (besides winter) it really depends on the other factors such as crowds etc. Do not, I repeat DO NOT visit Tarifa in the peak of summer (July-August) as it is just way too busy with tourists and kiters. You can't walk in the streets, you can't park your car ANYWHERE and its just too busy to have any real space in the water. If this is your gig- go for it. But as I was leaving early August, I was so over the crowds. As for the other months...
April- early July (Spring-ish and Summer-ish)
This was my favourite time in Tarifa! It's not too hot, not too busy and the wind is pretty consistent. The water was quite cold leading up to summer, where I was wearing a 4/3mm and a 3/2mm up until July. After that, the air and the water warms up making it almost too hot for a springy.
Late August- October (Summer-ish and Autumn-ish)
This cannot account for what the weather and kiting conditions are like during this period, BUT friends have told me that this change between late summer and early autumn is good because the crowds leave and the swell starts to push in. So if you're into more of surf-style, this time might be for you.
The wider area of Tarifa & surrounding spots within 1 hour of driving actually are great riding. Varying from high wind, waves, and super flat; there's something for everyone.
The main kite beach, this is where all the lessons take place. It's the closest beach to the main part of town, but its packed with kooks (sorry). If you're learning or up for a little challenge with your dodging skills, be my guest. But not my favourite.There are two chiringitos (beach bars) which are nice to chill after your session too.
This spot is great in all wind directions, and is awesome for just chilling too. More experienced kiters come here, as the wind is a bit more consistent. There are a few rocks though, so beware of the fins. Also keep an eye out for all the local pros!
A super flat spot right where the Atlantic Ocean begins. On the right side of the break wall, Balneario is a butter flat spot that's very popular for megalooping and big air. This spot closes, however, after the 1st of summer. But you can always catch a sneaky sunset session.
Los Caños de Meca
Caños is about an hour drive from Tarifa's centre and is a great way to still get a kite session in when it's blown out and 40+ kts in Tarifa. It's also super beautiful. If there's any swell on the horizon, it's also a great spot to get a few waves.
If the wind is strong with levante wind in Tarifa, drive to Palmones in Algeciras (35 min) the wind becomes consistent and loses some power. It's a flat water spot in the harbour, so you get to kite with the ships... just don't swallow any water.
LESSONS & GEAR HIRE
Well, don't stress. There's literally a gazillion kite shops and gear hire shops in Tarifa. Like seriously, every second shop. It's actually quite amazing that there's business for that many kite shops. Regardless, they've got you covered. With plenty of brands, you have plenty of choices. The only down side to hiring is that it's quite expensive. Most shops will do you a package deal, but in comparison to that hefty extra baggage fee on the plane; it's still more. My advice? Take your own stuff. Not only will you be familiar with it, you can account for the varrying conditions Tarifa will present you. If this isn't an option for your trip- there's plenty of gear hire to go around.
As for lessons- the same rule applies. There are SO many options. Package deals are on offer everywhere, so you can usually pick up a pretty sweet deal at most shops. There are so many people learning in Tarifa, just because wind is so readily available. So if you're finding the spot a little difficult, I'm sure you're not alone. And remember... it only takes 12 hours to get up and going! Lessons in Tarifa are usually 3-4 hours. 4 of these and you're good to go.
Here's a list of what brands are in each kite shop:
B3 Watersports- Naish, Slingshot
Tarifa Air Force- Elevate, Naish
Alex Pastor Kite Club- Airrush
Kite and More- Duotone
Kite Obsession- Cabrinha, Naish
** Alternatively, just go for a walk and find out for yourself.
Seriously guys, get here and give it a go. Tarifa is hectic, crazy and windy. It speaks for itself and anyone that resides there OR goes there will tell you the same. Kiters from all around the world come to this mecca for wind, and come back year after year. I couldn't recommend it more, just for the pure amazement of kiting in such conditions.
Also, don't go in the peak of summer... even the locals leave.