Riding the Wind: Kite Boarding in Bahía Salinas
By Gabriela Díaz
Some people only acknowledge ‘wind’ as that pesky force of nature that messes up their hair on the way to work. But there exists another, adrenaline-thirsty breed of human with heart beats calibrated to the speed of the wind – and when it blows just right, these folks are likely to be seen bolting to the nearest body of water. These are kite surfers, and they have found their own windy slice of paradise in the laidback, northern Guanacaste town of Salinas Bay.
Located less than a two hour drive from the town of Liberia near the Nicaraguan border, Bahía Salinas is home to two beaches that exhibit the perfect combination of elements to practice this sport: Playa Copal and Playa Papaturro. The trade winds gather strength as they pass over Lake Nicaragua and through volcanic mountain ranges, unloading their fury on Salinas, making this bay the windiest spot between Mexico and Colombia – and one of the top 10 windiest places in the world, according to kite boarding instructor and Salinas resident Nicola Bertoldi.
Peak kite boarding season extends from November to May, with excellent winds guaranteed almost every day. The rest of the year, the serene bay offers uncrowded, stunningly beautiful white sand beaches and the type of peace generated exclusively from isolation in a natural setting. So far, Bahía Salinas had managed to avoid mass development, and retains the pristine charm that most Costa Rican beach towns enjoyed some 15 years ago. However, a massive luxury resort project will be completed there within the next few years.
“I love the air of freedom you breathe here. I always feel like I’m on an island,” said Nicola. “Whenever I come from La Cruz and see the view below – it’s spectacular...I always stop to look even after 10 years of living here. The sand is white, the ocean is clean there’s never anybody here because these beaches are not very popular.”
Costa Rican kite boarding champion Melissa Gil mentions Playa Copal as one of the two best spots to practice the sport in the country. She said she prefers boarding in Salinas than in Lake Arenal, because Copal provides a wide open space to pump air into your kite, raise it upward and soar along incredibly consistent winds.
Melissa, who became world kite boarding speed champion in 2009 and still holds the speed record in the United States, explained that this sport never gets dull because it offers limitless possibilities – including riding waves, performing tricks, jumping, freestyling and even sailing across long distances.
“During the most perfect sessions you forget everything – you can spend hours out there and every wave will be different, the ocean becomes a giant playground,” she said.
Both Melissa and Nicola agree that anyone – from children to seniors – can learn this sport; and, that contrary to popular belief, it is surprisingly easy. While balance and coordination are helpful, superhuman strength is not required to control a kite. However, Nicola and Melissa are adamant that instruction is absolutely necessary to avoid injury.
After a couple of lessons most people are kite boarding like a champ; people commonly learn to jump after only two weeks of practice. So if the winds are calling, follow them straight to Bahia Salinas.