CAPTION: Travel is work, officer...

Mark Shinn, for the 86th time, at your column scribbling service, dishing up the 2021 travel tips, of which there are only a few...

WORDS: Mark Shinn / PHOTOS: Robert Hajduk / Shinn

For most of us travel is an integral part of our kiteboarding life. Few are lucky enough to actually live at their favourite spot and even fewer find themselves near a location that works year-round, day in, day out, in all weather patterns and seasons. Come to think of it, if anyone knows of such a spot, please let me know as I’m still open to a relocation! For most riders the travel restrictions imposed on our freedom over the last 12 months, both internationally and domestically, have been some of the toughest measures to accept. A travel ban directly translates into a complete kiteboarding ban for some people. Let’s face it: had we been presented with that 13 months ago, it would have been laughable at best. I’m assuming if you’re reading this that kiteboarding must be an important part of your life. I probably speak for us all when I say it’s not the restoration of our kiteboarding travels that is my first concern, but instead the safe-guarding of lives and peoples’ health. Of course, the two go hand-in-hand and, when public health concerns finally become more under control, we can expect our personal freedoms to steadily be restored. What can we honestly expect, though? When the magic date arrives and international travel is once again allowed, will there be anything left to visit and will the (almost certain) lingering restrictions and controls make it even worth it? With no small amount of luck I live in one of the least restricted countries (Poland) and was still able to travel a fair amount in the last 12 months.

I should state right now that ALL my travel has been work related and at no point did I break any of the rules in place. In many cases I don’t agree with the principles behind the COVID restrictions, but I DO believe in the rule of law and strongly feel that there is a time and a place to make our feelings known. Doing so WHILST breaking the law is neither the time nor the place.

Yes, when I travel it involves going kiteboarding, but as developing kiteboarding equipment is my job and the water in my home country has been frozen for the last three months, I think I have adequate reasons to declare it ‘work’. For many people the statement that kiteboarding can be ‘work’ draws a wry smile and in a lot of cases I would be inclined to agree, but it’s not all laughter, smiles and caipirinhas. I regularly travel alone with upwards of 200 kilos of excess luggage and, with airports banning entry to anyone but passengers right now, the days of having a helper to get the gear to the check-in area are gone.

On the tools in Tenerife. Foils don’t test themselves, you know...

On the tools in Tenerife. Foils don’t test themselves, you know...

You’d think in these trying times that travellers would be vigilant, but I’ve lost count of the number of times that people in front of me have suddenly come to a stand still for no apparent reason, failing to notice the guy with six board bags piled high on a trolley with no way for stopping directly behind them. Testing trips are normally fairly stressful affairs anyway when foreign travel is involved. Time is limited and the wind never guaranteed, no matter how good the forecast was when you booked the tickets last minute. It would be a brave tester that passes up even an hour on the water in the first days of a trip which, when added to the stress of travelling (and very often the odd beer after a full day’s riding), means tiredness quickly becomes a factor. Let’s not pretend I have the hardest job in the world, but it’s not purely the fun and games you may imagine, either.

But enough about luxury tiredness! What can we expect when we return to international travel? Clearly it’s not going to be a swift return to the glory days of 2019 at the flip of a switch.

Countries will unlock at different times and the harsh reality of our world is that many of the more exotic kiteboarding destinations are also some of the poorer countries in the world. The distribution of vaccines (pretty much THE key element to the world opening up again) could be years away. We can also expect far less choice in flights and airports. We’ve become used to the convenience of low cost and charter flights in regional airports, but with many routes now closed, only travel from the major hubs looks possible in the coming months, if not years. I also have a sneaky suspicion that some low cost carriers will be looking to re-coup some of their loses, so my advice is read EVERYTHING on the website TWICE and pre book EVERYTHING you want or need on the flight. The nasty surprises we’ve seen in the past could be nothing compared to what’s still to come: “21kg bag, sir? Yes, that’s overweight, you’ll have to pay 1% of the plane’s value I’m afraid!”. Even during the limited travelling I have done so far this year, it’s noticeable that destinations seem to fall into different categories. The popular locations where people live (Tarifa or El Medano in Tenerife, for example) seem to have been hit less hard, whereas the dedicated holiday destinations (such as some locations in Egypt) have been almost shut down. I suspect it will take a long time for these resorts to recover. It’s not just about the flights and kiteboarding centres. As so many of the local inhabitants are entirely reliant on the tourism trade for income, much of the local workforce will have been laid off and new employees will eventually need to be recruited and trained. It’s a sad sign of the times that, while we may be complaining at the lack of travel opportunities, many people less fortunate than ourselves have lost their livelihood and ability to support their loved ones. In the long run we will undoubtably return to some kind of normality, but I am not expecting it in the coming months. Travel if you can and support the kite community, otherwise there won’t be much left. Spring has, however, firmly sprung through much of the northern hemisphere, so I advise you all to enjoy your local spots to the fullest. It’s time to brush up on core skills and wipe away the winter storage dust. 2021 is on!

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