Photo: Andre Magarao / CrazyFly Kiteboarding
When… / if… anyone is ever able to travel properly again, the Turks and Caicos in the British West Indies offers super-mellow kiting for ten months a year and a perfect natural environment to rebalance your senses after the most frustrating of years spent cooped up
WORDS: Jim Gaunt
The Turks and Caicos got to grips with locking out the early Covid-19 infections at the start of the pandemic and went on to welcome a steady stream of travellers with negative tests in 2020; outdoors folk who were otherwise climbing the walls back home. We spoke to Kabir Jaffe, owner of Villa Esencia, who also happens to have a long international career as a self-development trainer. He believes, “When it comes to retreating to a safe place with plenty of space surrounded by nature, there possibly isn’t anywhere better for the average level of kiter to escape the upheaval.” Where kiting is concerned, most of the beachfront action is based around Long Bay on the eastern shore of the island of Providenciales (Provo). Kabir, himself a keen kite foiler, describes a location that could administer the ideal shot of relaxing calm; a perfect antidote to the anxiety coursing our veins into the start of this year. “This is mellow kiting.” he re-iterated a few times when I called to research the current situation out there. Look at the images, unless you crave King of the Air conditions, it’s hard not to be drawn in. “The water is shallow, remaining waist to chest deep and sandy under-foot up to two-and-a-half miles out. The wind is warm, steady and, while strong enough to kite, is gentle enough for families to enjoy being on the beach at the same time.” Long Bay beach is the rustic relation to the glitzier Grace Bay, just five minutes drive away on the north shore. You’ll find several low rise accommodation options along Long Bay beach with plenty of space in between locations, with most backing right onto the waterline. Partners and children play safely on the beach, finding shade under a tiki hut or swimming / paddling in the warm shallows as kiters cruise back-and-forth. While never getting busy, this is the more popular location for kiters and their families to stay.
Foiling freedom / Photo: Andre Magarao / CrazyFly
Deep enough and yet shallow enough! / Photo: Andre Magarao / CrazyFly
There are no rocks or undulations of depth in the sea bed, so although the water is mostly waist or chest-deep at Long Bay, it stays deep enough for foiling without the worry of hitting coral heads or such like. If you’re looking to relax on and off the water and completely de-stress, this is the place. Long Bay feels a world away from Grace Bay, which is famed in travel magazines for its beautiful beach. If the mostly offshore winds at Grace Bay don’t put you off, perhaps the seven and 12 story hotels on the shoreline might. The appeal, however, will likely be the wide range of bars and restaurants. If you get the urge to venture out for dinner or drinks (remember those activities?!) just hop over to the north shore and then retreat back to the quiet side at Long Bay once you’re done.
The name ‘Turk’ was a common synonym for ‘pirate’ as these islands were a favoured base for buccaneers in the 1600s and 1700s, but there’s now far more kiteboarding action rather than piracy on these high seas. ‘Caicos’ refers to the fact that this is an archipelago in the Atlantic – just 575 miles southeast of Miami, Florida.
Sam Light / Photo: Jason Lee
Sam Light / Photo: Jason Lee
Lapping at Long Bay / Photo: Villa Esencia
Roaming / Photo: Andre Magarao / CrazyFly Kiteboarding
THE MELLOW KITING
Unobstructed for miles around, there are 41 islands and cays to discover while enjoying some of the smoothest winds you could hope to find. The absence of gusts will only aid your progression. You’ll usually be riding your ten to 17 metre kites with your twin-tip, so this is often bigger kite riding; which many kiters find ideal. While this can generally be a more expensive location to reside than some other Caribbean destinations, the conditions are undoubtably more consistent, with a ten month wind season and a phenomenal 90% average of kite-able days in that time (depending on your gear of course). Long Bay beach is a three mile long, soft, white sand strip with water conditions that are suited to all levels of kiter. Most of the kiting is focused at the far east end of Long Bay beach where the winds are side-onshore, the beach is wide and the water is shallow enough to add confidence. Most people go from the public launch near Shore Club down to Sea la Vie. Competent riders will have a blast cruising the many inlets and cays dotted around Long Bay and it’s a dreamy freestyle spot too, especially at low tide. Access to the water is also very easy and this is where most of the schools and centres are. If you’ll be taking your foil gear, check in with the local schools for the best high tide times. Finally, one more option to note for Long Bay is the superb option of a downwinder; Long Bay to Bugaloos on the south side of the island – which is a very picturesque journey, passing some very nice homes and rustic shoreline. It takes about an hour and at the end you can hit Bugaloos restaurant for lunch. Either organise for a friend to pick you up or get a taxi back (note that taxis on the island can be pricey).
Cay exploration / Photo: Andre Magarao / CrazyFly Kiteboarding
Cay exploration / Photo: Andre Magarao / CrazyFly
Grace Bay is a popular tourist location with many luxury resorts, shopping and nightlife options. For kiteboarding much of the beach is in a big wind shadow in the prevailing east / southeast directions. If you venture far enough west along the north shore you’ll start to get to good winds again where it’s possible to ride straight off the beach. Conditions can line up in the winter months for down-the-line wave riding in northeast wind and Grace Bay regularly gets fun, manageable surf out on the reef. You’ll need to be experienced to ride over there though because the prevailing wind blows lighter and offshore. Also look out for a restaurant and bar called Da Conch Shack as you can also kite right off their beach!
As you can imagine from looking at the images in this feature, there are countless special ‘secret’ spots just a short boat ride away, such as up by Dellis Cay, north east of the Long Beach area, or even closer you’ll find Half Moon Bay or Water Cay. Northeast of Grace Bay, more adventurous kiters looking for waves can try Emerald Point’s Leeward beach in north-northeasterly winds. The reef is about half a mile out and is fun, but be careful at lower tides when the sharp coral reef starts to stick up. Check with kite shops for the best reef spots to kite. If wind from the left isn’t your thing, head to the lagoon at Blue Hills in the northwest of the island where it blows cross-on from the right. Close to the airport, Five Cays is another great spot and it’s one of the three main settlements on the island, so there are nearby bars and restaurants for post session refreshments. A half-hour drive from Long Bay will bring you to NorthWest point where you’ll find deep waters, the potential for waves and a unique environment with coral heads and great snorkelling. Be aware of stronger currents and winds in this area, though. Chalk Sound is another beautiful, white sand, shallow water area with small islands that are fun to jump over. Finally, between North Island and Parrot Key (also a good celebrity spotting locale!) there’s an excellent downwinder, from North Island to Provo. Definitely organise to go with a boat again, but this is a gorgeous environment, with mangroves, flat waters, small islands and plenty more super-fun terrains. Kabir says it took him four hours to do 50 miles. His legs were shot, but his smile was a mile wide.
Photo: Big Blue Collective
If you’re looking for the best waves, a boat charter is a must and Kite Provo and Big Blue offer these. You can do wave adventures with these companies with and without a boat and there are a lot of spots to hit through the entire archipelago. Do go with a guide though rather than hunting waves on your own, as the barrier reef is mostly far offshore, so for these spots having a boat is a necessary safety. As a rough idea you might expect to pay around US$1,000 for a boat for a day’s downwinder, but if you split that with eight or ten people, or join another group already going, then the cost can shrink considerably per rider for what will be a lifetime memory. It’s usually possible to book up with a day or two’s notice, but obviously the earlier you can book the better. As with everything on these islands, don’t stress, they’ll find a way to get you out there!
DIVING AND OTHER WATERSPORTS
The Caicos Banks are the extensively shallow waters that are found in the Turks and Caicos Archipelago. Reach the edge of the banks and ‘The Wall’ drops away to the deep ocean floor, immediately and vertically. Located close to Provo it’s an incredible place to dive, as Kabir explains. “Imagine an 8,000 foot pillar coming straight up from the sea floor and on the top is this beautifully flat area. The Turks Archipelago is perched on top of that and at its deepest is only around 30 to 60 feet, then all of a sudden you go over the edge and there’s an 8,000 foot drop. It's an amazing feeling. You might dive 150 feet down, but you’ll see it’s packed with stunning coral and all manner of species that grow on ‘The Wall.’” Generally, the ocean environment around the islands is relatively safe for most young and old family members. There are plenty of places in Long Bay and Grace Bay to hire SUPs for a few hours while some resorts also hire their Hobie cats out to the public, too. Big Blue Collective and Kite Provo are your recommended contacts for a range of activities.
Images above: Villa Esencia, Long Bay Beach
A SHORT HISTORY AND SHARP DEVELOPMENT
It’s quite hard to believe that Long Bay only really started to grow in popularity about seven years ago, in a large part due to kiting families who prefer the rustic charm. In fact, before the 70s, there were just 200 people on Providenciales. The introduction of an airport really shifted the focus away from Grand Turk which, although today still holds the seat of government, is largely the more forgotten island. The Turks themselves didn’t have a deep history before Club Med apparently negotiated a deal to acquire a beachfront plot at Grace Bay in return for building an airport in the mid-60s. The British established sugar and salt plantations and, when slavery was abolished in 1864, a lot of the plantations were abandoned and the slaves were left behind. For a long time people struggled with just basic provisions. A good indication being that the first car didn’t arrive here until around 1967. Kabir has lived on Providenciales since 1998 and explained that, although development on the island was historically slow compared to other Caribbean islands, it suddenly shot up since the 80s. “This more recent development of infrastructure really helped us when Hurricane Irma hit in 2017. It was the largest hurricane to have hit the northern hemisphere with 200mph winds. Of course there were telephone poles down and some of the older houses were damaged, but most infrastructure went up here after the 70s when the authorities adopted Miami-Dade building codes – the strongest building codes in the world due to the amount of hurricanes they get over there in Florida.” The majority of people who visit Turks and Caicos do so to unwind and relax. There are enough historical sights and natural attractions to keep holiday makers who can’t sit still occupied for a few hours each day. For kiters and their families, it’s the direct access to the beach, the safe, warm, shoreline waters and the winds that keep big kite riders / foil boarders happy while their families enjoy the refreshing pace of the breeze on the beach. Most people self-cater in their villas / apartments and there’s now also Graceway Gourmet – a large, upmarket supermarket that caters even for the most difficult of dietary requirements. So turn up, make yourself at home and relax! Should anyone get ill or have an accident, there’s also a very modern hospital facility on the island; another benefit of the more recent infrastructural development on Provo. As a last piece of info – we mentioned a ten month season; the two months to avoid are the traditional hurricane months of mid-August to mid-October, but even then there are plenty of wind days. Peak wind season is the winter, January to April, but outside of those times you’ll still score plenty of time on the water and relaxing weather. Did we mention the mellow kiteboarding...?
Find more accommodation, school and flight information in the KW online Turks & Caicos Travel Guide here.