Surfing the wind and waves at Mui Ne

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Matt Kwantes, chief instructor of Jibe's Beach Club glides on the surface of the water during a kite surfing lesson.

Mui Ne Beach on Vietnam's lower central coast will host the first stop on this year's Professional Windsurfers Association World Tour.

Some 140 windsurfers from all over the world are booked to compete in the Vietnam PWA Grand Slam at the popular holiday spot from February 25 to March 5. The prize purse all up is 100,000 euros, to be split between the freestyle and slalom disciplines.

From Ho Chi Minh City, it takes around five hours to drive to Mui Ne in Binh Thuan Province (for the budget-minded, Sinh Café operates a bus that costs VND200,000 return).

Besides boasting a beautiful white sandy beach, fresh and cheap seafood, and a variety of seaside accommodations, Mui Ne has established itself as the windsurfing and kite surfing capital of Vietnam.

Enjoying a holiday and enjoying nature while keeping fit is a way to appreciate and say thank you to the soul, mind and body. That's why so many foreigners vacationing in Vietnam opt for a healthy holiday by trying a new hobby: wind and kite surfing at the warm, beautiful beach of Mui Ne.

The protective sand dunes behind the former fishing village used to be a shelter for boats during a storm. The coconut lines and small fishing boats are still there, but nowadays it's common to see colorful sails and kites sailing through the air above the shallow sea as the board riders launch themselves from the waves.

Mui Ne has been transformed from a quiet fishing village and storm refuge into a getaway for tourists from all over.

Thanh Nien Weekly chatted with Anya Fedoroua, a tall, slim Muscovite who was relaxing under a coconut tree as she waited for her turn to put into practice the principles of kite surfing she'd just learned in class.

"I heard from a friend that there was kite surfing at Mui Ne. So I came here and will stay until the sixth of January. It is very cold in Russia now. I'm expecting more excitement with the kite surfing here," Anya said.

Pascal Lefebvre, who opened Mui Ne's first water sports shop nine years ago and now owns Jibe's Beach Club, is helping to organize the PWA event.

"January to February is the time of the strongest wind in Mui Ne", Pascal said. "I've dreamed of the PWA championship since the day I first came here," he added.

Water sports are making a name for Mui Ne as a markedly different seaside holiday destination from Vung Tau east of Ho Chi Minh City and Ha Long Bay on the far north coast. And it's a clean industry that benefits Vietnamese and foreign tourists, and of course the local business community.

Ms. Ngoc Mai owns the Diep Ngoc Mai Guest House at 34 Huynh Thuc Khang Street. "Many Russians stay at my hostel, especially at this time of year. Some stay for one or two months to windsurf and kite surf. It is very cold in Russia and Europe now so it is a good time to relax and play in a warm place like Mui Ne," she said.

Water sports come to Mui Ne

Pascal Lefebvre reckons there are few really good places for water sports in the world, and Mui Ne is one of them. "The first time I came to Mui Ne I was surprised by the strong wind, nice sunshine and warm weather, plus the coconut trees. Here the water is clean and the sea is flat enough for surfing. And especially there are the sand dunes where the strong heat generates lots of wind at Mui Ne Beach," he said.

It's certainly more pleasant to windsurf at Mui Ne than on the coast of Normandy, where the Frenchman hails from. Back home in France, the sea is cold and Pascal must don a wetsuit when he ventures into the water.

Pascal moved to Mui Ne 15 years ago to train staff for the Novotel Phan Thiet Hotel. That assignment completed, he stayed put and became the food & beverage manager of the Novotel, the first five-star hotel in the area.

The Norman was captivated by Mui Ne at first sight and could easily see the potential for windsurfing thanks to the flat beach and relatively strong and consistent wind. He looked around town and was surprised to learn that none of the locals could supply him with the gear he needed. There was no beach club or water sports shop at that time.

After his stint in the hotel trade, Pascal met and married the Vietnamese proprietor of a hotel in Mui Ne. Then, nine years ago, the couple opened Jibe's Beach Club to teach windsurfing, kite surfing, sailing and other water sports.

The club's chief instructor is Matt Kwantes, a veteran snowboarder who took up kite surfing in Japan in 2000. This is his eighth season as chief instructor at Jibe's. "Water sport such as kite surfing is good for the mind and helps me learn more about the ocean and the way nature (wind, currents, sea creatures) behaves," Matt said.

We moved on to interview the ten or so swimwear-clad students of Matt's kite surfing class. They came from France, Russia, Australia and Japan and were sitting under the coconut trees in front of the beach, reviewing the principles of kite surfing before taking to the water.

"For my New Year holiday I will stay one more day in Mui Ne so I want to do something healthy," said tall and muscular Patrick Davis from Japan.

"Kite surfing lifts my spirits. Water sport is the kind of sport where you use the power of nature. So it is very important to have a good teacher and proper class. Matt Kwantes teaches us well," Patrick said before rushing off to join an advanced class at another beach.

When he was in Canada, Patrick was also a snowboarder. He finds the movements of kite surfing and snowboarding to be similar, but the snow is cold whereas Mui Ne is warm. Another difference is that he doesn't have to wear sunglasses out on the sea, so his vision is not impaired.

Another member of Matt's class was Fanny Vallentin, a young Parisian woman who is working in Beijing as an engineer. "Here we are taught to be careful and keep an eye on what's happening around us (on the water and on the beach) because the kite can crash and hurt people", Fanny said.

"I get so excited when I can push my bum out of the water. Kite surfing gives more sensation, the sensation on the water and while gliding above the water is very nice and different than on land. The more you learn, the more sensation you feel," she said.

After six hours of class and some time on the water, Fanny still found it hard to control the kite but still managed to stay up for a decent time. She said she would practice on the lake when she returned to Beijing.

"There are not so many good spots for kite surfing in the world. In China, there are some but the beaches are way too crowded," Fanny said.

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