Kiteboarders storm Mui Ne

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 A competitor showing the trick during Kiteboard Tour Asia in Mui Ne last week

The 2010-2011 Kiteboard Tour Asia has stormed its way from Cesme in Turkey to China's Hainan and in to Mui Ne.

The third leg of the tour was held from January 12 to 16 to coincide with the windiest time of the year at this sandy cape on the lower central coast.

It's the second season of the trans-Asia tour, whose Vietnamese component was held almost directly off the Sankara Beach Lounge and Restaurant, one of the sponsors of the event, at 78 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street.

"This time there are 70 competitors from 23 countries," tour organizer Neil Godbold told Thanh Nien Weekly during the contest.

"The strongest contingents come from Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong and here in Vietnam." The host country fielded seven contestants.

The four days of competition included course racing and freestyle for men and women in separate categories. There were also Twin Tips speed contests open to everyone, not just the tour contestants.

With warm weather all through the year and a stiff breeze blowing offshore from the enormous sand dunes, Mui Ne is ideal for kite boarding.

Add to this the decent waves that roll in from the East Sea, and it's easy to see why Mui Ne is more challenging for kite surfers than the flat seas of the Philippines, Hong Kong and Thailand.

From the first day of competition, holidaymakers crowded Mui Ne Beach to watch kites boarders riding the crests and dips of the large waves.

Fun in the sun

Unlike other venues where the atmosphere is tense, the young riders at Mui Ne were not there merely to compete.

THE SPORT

Kite boarding or kite surfing uses the wind to pull a rider through the water on a small surfboard or kiteboard. The sport was introduced to Vietnam by Pascal Lefebvre, who opened Mui Ne's first water sports shop nine years ago and now owns Jibe's Beach Club.

Already Mui Ne has more than two dozen kiteboarding schools run and taught by expats and Vietnamese. What was a quiet fishing village not so long ago has become a mecca for windsurfers and kiteboarders.


Japanese competitor Hiro Nakano won the first prize of Freestyle for men

For Ken Nacor from the Philippines, who came second in the men's freestyle and won the first Twin Tips prize, it was his third visit to Mui Ne.

"I love the food here, especially Pho and Vietnamese coffee. And the kiteboarding is very challenging because of the strong waves and varying conditions, which makes for a good competition," Ken said.

Deivis Maciulis agreed. "It is not easy to land back on the water here so it is a very exciting place for kite boarding."

The Lithuanian said he was most impressed with the Vietnamese riders Kinn (Nguyen Ngoc Kim) and his brother, and described them as "progressive."

"They are fast and full of energy," added Paulina Lutmina, who works at a kiteboarding school in Russia.

Teacher-student reunion

There were some surprising reunions between contestants from Asia and Europe, the two continents where kite boarding has caught on the most.

Tour organizer Willy Kerr came to Mui Ne four years ago to learn kite boarding.

"I am back to the cradle of my career. I learned kite boarding from Hai Tran, the first Vietnamese kite surfing teacher to be certified by the IKO (International Kiteboarding Organization). He could not believe it when I returned to organize this competition," the slim, tanned Irishman said.

Since his first lesson in Mui Ne, Willy has gone on to own three kite boarding schools in Thailand. He organized the first tour with his business partner Neil Godbold, an English kite boarding instructor based in Hong Kong.

By chance, Neil had been Hai Tran's teacher years earlier.

"Tran is a very diligent and motivated kite boarding instructor," Neil said about his erstwhile student, who now runs the Vietnam Kiteboarding School in Mui Ne and oversees its four Vietnamese and four expat instructors.

The calm before the storm

When the wind refused to blow for the first three days, the contestants spent time playing volley ball on the beach and talking shop with friends and fellow competitors.

"We are all waiting for the wind to pick up. It's so hard to race without it," said Neil Godbold as he sipped coffee in the shade outside the Sankara Beach Lounge and Restaurant.

It was a case of Mother Nature saving the best for last when the wind strengthened on the fourth day and blew strongly from morning until evening, dispelling the riders' frustration and allowing them to show their skills.

In the end, it was Hiro Nakano from Japan who won the men's freestyle ahead of Ken Nacor. In the women's course racing, Kathrin Borgwardt from Germany outpaced Aya Oshima from Japan to win the first prize.

Because of the varying conditions at Mui Ne, Kathrin had brought along several kites ranging from seven to 12 meters.

To the German lass, competition is not everything; she likes to take time out to discover the local history, scenery and culture.

During her stay, Kathrin managed to take in one of the region's famous Champa towers and enjoy the local cooking. "I think Vietnamese food is the best in Asia because of all the herbs," she said.

In Neil Godbold's opinion, the most consistent of the male contestants was Heikki Gross from Estonia.

With local favorite and Vietnam's top rider from last year's tour, Lai Hong Phi, bowing out early as he struggled with recent injuries, Neil said it was up to Nguyen Ngoc Kim to carry the torch for Vietnam, which he accomplished with a range of old and new school moves as he progressed through the heats.

Next stop for the 2010/2011 tour is Thailand from February 16 to 20, followed by the Philippines from March 8 to 12 and Korea from April 15 to 19.

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