Our bus dropped us off in Mui Ne, one long road set back from the beach. All along the beach front were expensive resorts with beach access, so we enquired at some of the guesthouses on the other side of the road. We found a nice little air-conditioned room at Houang Vu for 10US$ a night.
Mui Ne is famous for it's constant cross-onshore wind and many kitesurfing and winsurfing centres, so after dumping our bags we crossed the road and cut through one of the posh hotels to the beach in order to investigate. Up until now, and actually for many years, I'd had no intention of learning to kitesurf but, after chatting to Jeff, one of the instructors at Fly Kitesurfing School, I became a bit more tempted. I figured it was now or never. We had no other plans while we were here, other than soaking up the sun and relaxing, so it seemed like a good opportunity. Jeff explained the available courses and prices, and said that if I wanted to learn, he could teach me himself. He seemed like a down-to-earth and patient guy, so I started to consider it seriously. We went
for some food, but by the time we'd stuffed our bellies and got back to the centre it was shut. Maybe this was fate, I thought!
The next morning though I went back and signed up for a seven-hour, one-to-one course, starting that morning. I went and got my beach stuff on and went back for my lesson. At first he taught me about the kite, how to set it up and pack it away, emergency procedures, and how to fly the kite on the land. At first I was terrified flying a 10.5m² kite in 20 knot winds, but compared to the small foil kites I had flown on land, it was really stable! I learnt to fly the kite with one hand only, a skill needed for the water, and to control it at ten, eleven, one, and two o'clock in the wind 'window'. I then got kitted up with a helmet and a bright pink lifejacket (which helped other kitesurfers stay out my way) and went into the water. At first I held onto the back of Jeff's harness, and learned the principles of body-dragging upwind, using my body and one arm as a rudder. Once
I got the idea I took the kite myself, and Jeff held onto me, ensuring that I didn't fly off into the sky. He was fab, really encouraging, and gave me constant feedback throughout. We were going to do some power strokes, but I was already feeling the strain on my forearms where I didn't even know I had muscles, so we decided to leave it there for day one.
The next morning Ross hired some equipment from Mr Lee, a friendly local Vietnamese guy, with the cheapest rental prices on the beach. He started with an 11m², but as the wind was slightly fickle in the morning, he quickly swopped to a 14m². He had a couple of hours blasting up and down before joining me for moral support and paparazzi duties during my afternoon lesson. The lesson went surprisingly well again and I got to grips with doing power strokes, body-dragging by myself, and body-dragging with a board in one hand to get out over the shore break. This skill is really important because when you get going, wipe out and lose your board, you need to body-drag upwind to fetch it. Having done this successfully, we
called it a day as my aforementioned forearms were feeling the strain, and I wanted to finish on a high note.
Ross had another good session with Mr Lee's kites the following morning, before joining me at Fly again in the afternoon. For me, the third day was a bit of a disaster! Jeff was unwell, so I got one of the younger beach bums to teach me. Rather than helping me build up my confidence, he managed to trash every bit that I had built up over the last couple of days in just half an hour. I know everyone has their own teaching style, but blatant put-downs and a lack of interest, or even a lack of basic instruction isn't too helpful for a nervous beginner. I stopped the lesson there and then, and prayed for Jeff's swift recovery.
On Friday morning Jeff was back, and determined to get me on that board. I'd made a deal with Ross that if I could get up and go along for three seconds, we could have a lobster for dinner that evening.
Jeff gave me a thorough run through of water-starts on dry land, then came out
with me to help me position the board and kite correctly. After a few practice swings of the kite, I powered it through the 'window' and managed to get up on the board! Not for long, but we definitely counted three seconds. I had another few successful goes, then retired for the day as I was still really lacking in stamina.
As promised, we found some fresh lobster at a restaurant on the main road and had an awesome dinner that night. Unfortunately, the next morning the lobster (or maybe the swallowed sea water) gave me a dodgy stomach. I'd arranged to have another hour's lesson, so I Imodium'd up and went out kiting again. Even if the worst had happened, I was wearing suitably-coloured swimwear and shorts to disguise the evidence. The session was great and fortunately my bowels behaved! I went along in both directions, not for long, but once I was up I was so shocked that I forgot what to do next. Nonetheless, I had achieved the necessary competencies to qualify me as IKO (International Kitesurfing Organisation) Level 2, a prerequisite for hiring my own equipment at a later date.
Mui Ne is a
very popular due to it's consistent thermal winds that rise in the afternoon to around 25-30 knots. The sea gets a bit choppy when the wind picks up so makes learning a little trickier. Jeff's boss/girlfriend Liz runs two kitesurf schools on Mui Ne beach, C2Sky and Fly. They're very flexible with lesson programs and were happy to spread things out over five days, allowing my arms to recover fully in between. All the schools employ local Vietnamese lads to help set up, launch and land the kites, as well as carrying them the length of the beach when you drift downwind and can't get back by your own devices.
We left Mui Ne that afternoon on the night bus to Hoi An. I was feeling pretty chuffed, and am looking forward to honing my skills further at one of the kite schools in Bali, much to Ross' delight...
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