Kiteboarding at Kite Beach, near Cabarete, Dominican Republic. First-timers start with a training kite on the beach.|
Kiteboarding at Kite Beach, near Cabarete, Dominican Republic. First-timers start with a training kite on the beach.
By RUSS JUSKALIAN
FROM shore, David flashed a thumbs up: the signal for me to go ahead. I pulled down on the control bar attached to the harness on my waist, and the 20-foot-wide kite emblazoned with a dragon arced across the sky. Instantly, a jolt was transmitted through the lines that connected the kite to the harness, and I shot across the water.
The author prepares to start from the water, using the kite to lift him onto the board.
Moments before, as I bobbed in the clear, warm sea off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, a thought came to mind: Wouldn’t it be more relaxing to lie on the beach with a cold Presidente beer? The thought was replaced by exhilaration as I surfed under kite power for a few seconds before tumbling into the water with an anticlimactic splash.
“That was really good for your first time,” said David Santos, my Dominican kiteboard instructor. “But you need to fly the kite more aggressively or you will lose power and sink.”
I noted the advice, but was thrilled at having, even fleetingly, stood up on the board. I had signed up for three days of beginner lessons, figuring that if John Kerry could master the sport, it shouldn’t be too difficult for me to learn. (Apparently, I had underestimated Senator Kerry.)
Kiteboarding (or kitesurfing) is one of the fastest growing of the so-called extreme sports, expanding from a few pioneering — or crazy, depending on one’s perspective — enthusiasts in the mid-1990s to over half a million active riders worldwide, a number John Bryja, editor of SBC Kiteboard Magazine, says is based on industry estimates.
The basic concept involves using a kite to pull a rider over the water on a small board, but experienced kiteboarders are able to do all sorts of wakeboard-inspired tricks by using the kite to whip themselves up 30 or more feet into the air. Early kiteboarders used improvised equipment — homemade kites, water skis, experimental boards hacked together from other sports — with limited safety features, and pieced together the mechanics of riding by trial and crash.
“There was a lot of garage experimentation going on,” Mr. Bryja said when I called to ask him about the history of the sport. Today, he said, kiteboarders can spend up to $2,000 on a full setup available from over 30 equipment manufacturers, and learn the sport from experienced riders who teach a standardized progression of skills.
Kite Beach, between the villages of Cabarete and Sosúa, on the northern shore of the Dominican Republic, is a particularly good place to learn, and, because of the competition among dozens of kiteboarding schools, the price is right. I paid $298 for my private lessons from a company called Kitexcite when I visited last month with my girlfriend. We based ourselves in Sosúa, about eight miles from Kite Beach.
On Kite Beach — a wide, quarter-mile stretch of pale yellow sand with an offshore reef that makes for gentle water conditions — the wind blows in the right direction (cross-onshore) at the right speed (more than 10 knots) more days of the year (around 300 on average) than almost anywhere else in the world.
Unfortunately, the day I arrived was an exception.
So instead of learning the basics, I sat in an uva de playa, or sea-grape, tree munching on acidic purple fruit with Power (whose real name is Anelby Acevedo Polanco, though nobody calls him that), waiting for a breeze that never arrived.
The wind didn’t pick up the next day either. When I arrived on the third day, Power greeted me with a smile. “Today the wind is good,” he said.
“But it’s the same as yesterday,” I replied, looking at a flag that barely flickered in a light breeze.
“It is coming, man. Don’t worry.”
Twenty minutes later, as if someone had flipped a switch, the wind hit with an audible whoosh, and soon the beach was swarming with kiteboarders. One by one, I watched as the more experienced of the pack launched themselves directly from the sand by swooping their fluorescent kites over the water and gently lifting themselves 5 to 10 feet in the air before skimming out to sea.
I started, as all first-timers do, with a small training kite on the beach. David told me to imagine I was at the center of a clock, with the lines of the kite pointing like a clock’s hands at 9 to my left, 12 overhead, and 3 to my right. Moving the kite slowly through these positions, along the edge of what kiteboarders call the “wind window,” produced almost no power. Speeding up the exercise produced enough power to make me lose my footing, even though the kite had a wingspan of only about two feet. With a real kiteboarding kite, 20 feet across or wider, the force of the wind in the kite would be enough to flick me into the air, or pull me smoothly atop the water.
After about a half-hour of this, I graduated to the real thing: a full-size, four-line kite, connected to a harness around my waist via a trapeze-style control bar. David acted as an anchor by holding onto the harness. This four-line design hasn’t changed much since the 1820s, when an English inventor named George Pocock, author of “The Aeropleustic Art or Navigation in the Air by the Use of Kites, or Buoyant Sails,” patented, and drove, a kite-drawn carriage he called the Charvolant.
By early afternoon, I’d progressed from dragging myself along the water with the kite, without the board, to being able to launch myself for 50-foot runs. I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until a dark line of storm clouds peaked over the horizon. I made my way back to the beach, and, famished, found an open-air restaurant and wolfed down rice, beans and stewed chicken, before heading back to Sosúa.
My girlfriend, Steffi, and I spent much of that evening sitting under the stars, drinking Brugal rum and listening to heavy waves slam against the jagged volcanic rock that makes up much of the coastline.
By the second day of lessons, Power started supervising my rides, with me running downwind, zigzagging my way toward confident control of the kite.
After my lesson, I walked the beach to Cabarete, a laid-back village lined with beach bars, seafood restaurants and palm trees. I spent the late afternoon on Playa Cabarete, floating in the turquoise water, and eating grilled spiny lobster and shrimp at La Casita de Don Alfredo, a beachside restaurant known as Papy’s. At night, Cabarete’s lounge chairs give way to outdoor restaurants, with paper lanterns casting warm tungsten hues under a canopy of palms.
On the final day of lessons, the wind blew smooth and strong. With a few pointers from David and Power, I was finally able to ride upwind for a while by linking together a couple of turns and keeping the board on its edge. I’d still eventually end up downwind, and managed a few spectacular crashes, but I felt comfortable weaving among the more experienced riders. I even had the confidence to control the kite with one hand for a few seconds, waving triumphantly to Steffi, who was watching from the beach.
That night, I tossed around the idea of taking a kiteboarding kit back to Brooklyn, imagining myself riding offshore at Fort Tilden, or down Long Island’s South Shore from Jones Beach. “You still crash a lot,” Steffi said, skeptical.
She did have a point: A few more lessons in the tropics might not be such a terrible idea.
IF YOU GO
There’s no shortage of kiteboarding schools and instructors in the area, but signing up in advance will ensure you a space and, perhaps, a discount. I took lessons at Kitexcite (Kite Beach Hotel, Carretera Sosúa, Kite Beach, Cabarete; 829-962-4556; kitexcite.com). Beginner kiteboarding lessons were recently listed at $299, for eight hours (spread over three days) if booked in advance.
WHERE TO STAY
The town of Cabarete is where most of the dining, night life and shopping take place. Kite Beach is a five-minute taxi ride, or 40-minute walk on the beach. ActiveCabarete.com has a centralized listing of hotel, condo and apartment rentals in the area, along with maps and photos.
The Kite Beach Hotel (Carretera Sosúa, Kite Beach, Cabarete; 809-571-0878; kitebeachhotel.com), right on Kite Beach, has simple standard rooms with air-conditioning starting at $50. Two-bedroom apartments with a large veranda start at $130 a night. Prices include breakfast and all taxes, and vary with the season. Amenities include a pool and a beachside restaurant with Wi-Fi.
Hotel Cabarete Palm Beach Condos (Cabarete Beach; cabaretecondos.com; 877-240-5605) is on the beach in central Cabarete. Two-bedroom furnished apartments with full kitchen and veranda start at $86 to $165 a night, depending on the time of year. The hotel has a pool and free Internet.
WHERE TO EAT
Once the sun sets, restaurants and bars appear on the beach in Cabarete — ranging from fold-out tables to upscale lounge-style affairs. For instance, La Casita de Don Alfredo (also known as Papy’s), along the middle of the main beach in Cabarete, has wonderful grilled seafood, particularly the prawns (about 850 pesos, or $24 at 36 pesos to the dollar).
Sandros is a small, open-air lunch spot centrally located on the main road in Cabarete, where a local family serves inexpensive Dominican fare like mangú, stewed chicken, rice and beans. Come here for no-frills, authentic atmosphere.
Affordable Caribben: Dominican Repiblic
By SETH KUGEL
The Dominican Republic has gone resort-crazy in the last decade and that’s not good news for budget travelers — or those who like a touch of Dominican culture with their suntan. Most low-key beach towns are hours from any airport, often over dilapidated roads. But there are bright exceptions: the adjacent towns of Sosúa and Cabarete, on the island’s north coast. The Puerto Plata airport — with direct flights from New York City and Miami — is just five minutes from Sosúa, a diving town originally settled by Jewish refugees, and 15 minutes from Cabarete, the country’s windsurfing capital.
Seth Kugel for The New York Times
La Casita de Don Alfredo is a tables-in-the-sand restaurant in Cabarete, in the Dominican Republic.
Where to Stay
Cabarete and Sosúa have a wide range of choices, but luxury is the exception. For a weeklong rental at low prices, you can’t go wrong with Cabarete Palm Beach Condos (Cabarete Beach; 877-240-5605; www.cabaretecondos.com), a quiet beachfront condo that offers spacious, two-bedroom apartments starting at $80 a night in the off-season and $140 in the high season (not including taxes). The apartments are smartly decorated and have full kitchens and private patios. Beachfront restaurants and bars are nearby — or with the money you save, hire a Dominican cook for a traditional home-cooked dinner.
The white-washed, over-the-top Italianate design of the Piergiorgio Palace Hotel in Sosúa (Calle La Puntilla No. 1; 809-571-2626; www.piergiorgiopalace.com) wears its gaudiness well, especially for the price: $95 a night, $115 for an ocean view (taxes included). Though a few blocks from the town and beach, it feels isolated enough that you might not leave. The resort, after all, features a clear blue pool, a good Italian restaurant and endless terraces and nooks overlooking the bay. And the rooms, though not chic, are pleasant and clean.
Where to Eat
When you’re daydreaming on the beach, it’s easy to forget how beautiful and bucolic the tropical interior can be. Blue Moon Retreat (Sabaneta-Moca Highway, Jamao al Norte; 809-757-0614, www.bluemoonretreat.net), perched on a hilltop overlooking lush hills, is an Indian restaurant with a Caribbean twist. Dinner, $20 a person prix fixe, is a tropical dream of chutneys, Caribbean-style tandoori chicken (with garlic and oregano, without yogurt) and pakora fritters. Call ahead: the restaurant usually doesn’t open unless eight or more have reserved. It’s also a beautiful place to stay overnight — for $50 — if you don’t mind a thin mattress and rustic accommodations.
For cheap eats along Cabarete beach, head to La Casita de Don Alfredo (Cabarete Beach; 809-986-3750), a k a Papi’s, a tables-on-the-sand restaurant famous for whole shrimps served in a cast-iron pan with a cream sauce, for 750 pesos, or about $21 at 36 pesos to the dollar. Finish dinner by 11 p.m., though, before the dance music starts blaring from the club next door, utterly ruining the sand-in-your-toes tranquillity.
There are also plenty of tasty shacks on Sosúa Beach. Mofongo King, toward the middle of the beach with a bright aqua-blue roof, serves an excellent version of its namesake dish, a mound of fried, mashed plantains mixed with pork crackling or chicken (around 200 pesos).
There are long, picturesque beaches in both Cabarete and Sosúa, but they’re also commercial, with lots of places to eat ranging from beach shacks to fancy lounges. For a quiet beach with nothing but beige sand, a handful of beach chairs and water in several gradations of blue, walk a few blocks east to Playa Alicia, an idyllic cove with a few palm trees and a lazy feel at the end of quiet Calle Dr. Rosen.
Where to Party
Colmados are what Dominicans call the local grocery stores, which come nighttime, double as neighborhood hangouts. El Flow (Calle Pedro Clisante No. 34; Sosúa) is like a colmado without the groceries, serving cheap beer and rum (both from 50 pesos) to a boisterous, informal crowd of Dominicans along with some tourists trying their best to dance to the blasting merengue and bachata music. Lax (Cabarete Beach; 829-915-4842), by contrast, is for tourists — tourists, that is, looking to trade in the corny beachfront clubs for a more relaxed, loungey feel.
What to Do
This is a water sports country. Here’s how it breaks down: Sosúa is for divers and snorkelers, with lots of dive sites teeming with brightly colored fish that are quickly reachable by boat. A 90-minute snorkeling trip with Northern Coast Diving (Calle Pedro Clisante No. 8; 809-571-1028; northerncoastdiving.com), staffed by easygoing, friendly English speakers, goes for $29.
But the bigger action is in Cabarete, where windsurfing rules. Several outfitters, including Cabarete Windsports Club (Cabarete Beach; 809-571-0784; cabaretewindsportsclub.com) offer rental equipment, which goes for about $65 a day including a lesson. What time of day you go will depend upon your skill level. Winds get strong in the early to midafternoon, especially in the winter.
What to Buy
Gift shops in Sosúa seem to specialize in schlock — gaudy paintings of Caribbean sunsets, for example. But a few places do offer tasteful and wholly Dominican wares including Patrick’s Silversmithy (Calle Pedro Clisante No. 3; 809-571-2121), run by Patrick Fagg, a British expat who has been in Sosúa for 35 years. He makes earrings, bracelets and charms out of silver, as well as local larimar and amber. Earrings start at about $15. You can also get great Dominican cigars at Cafe Cubano (Calle Pedro Clisante No. 27, Sosúa; 809-571-3493) for 100 to 1,000 pesos.
How to Get There
JetBlue and Continental fly nonstop from the New York City area to Gregorio Luperón International Airport in Puerto Plata. Round-trip fares start at around $400, according to a recent Web search. There are also nonstop flights from Miami (American) and several airlines fly to Santiago, which is about 30 miles away.