Written by Josie West during her travels in January 2021.
Even now, there are ongoing perceptions of Africa being dangerous - don't travel alone, watch out for theft, corruption - you name it, there's a story. It makes me sad. Imagine, this whole continent written off because of the fear factor. Kind of like when we convince ourselves that extreme sports are dangerous, the fear factor can stop us from trying.
But if you're reading this, I imagine you're a woman who knows some small risks are worth taking.
What these perceptions are missing is the warmth of Africa that really does span a continent. And Kitesurfing in Diani Beach, Kenya? Well, it's a pretty perfect example of that African warmth with thanks to H2o Extreme Sports run by Kathi and Boris.
Having spent time in East Africa, South Africa and a couple of stops in the North, this was my first time in Kenya. Of course, you arrive with a little anxiety. Those stories you hear don't fail to alert event the most confident of female travellers. It didn't take long to feel at ease and it's important for me to share the beauty of this place for the counter argument.
The set up the guys have at h2o is spot on. Three isolated business; accommodation, food & a kite school, all in one place, the only problem is that it's easy to step in and feel very hesitant to step out.
If I travel in the mindset of She Flies, I consider one element higher than any; the welcome. Of course the conditions, the safety, the location are all important but having travelled to hundreds of Kitesurf Schools, Wakeboard Parks and Surf Schools around the world, the very first thing I anticipate is the welcome of the people that run it, work within it and the guests that gravitate towards it. All of those things combined create one of two welcomes; Warm, or Cold.
When I jumped in a Tuk Tuk and arrived at the grand entrance of Kenyaways (the accommodation), walked through Salty Squid (the restaurant) and was greeted with the views from H2o Extreme (the kite school), it was clear as day the welcome I - and any other newcomer - could expect to receive. Warmer than warm.
Kathi runs the show here. Following her German genes, she is on it. She's got respect from her team of instructors, the boys helping on the beach and even Boris the owner and also her partner knows she's in charge. What is different to many schools is that she is the one to welcome you. Running a kite school is no easy feat but she is the face that smiles when you get there, gives you the safety information and makes sure you're set up with storage, lessons or just some advice.
It's clear Kathi and Boris choose their instructors wisely, not a single one sit's with arrogance or animosity, they sit with a smile and openness that really let you in, they'll remember your name and they do things safely. What's more, I was astonished to see a 3:1 female to male ratio, and apparently it's intentional. I like that.
The wind kicks in usually late morning or early afternoon so you can hang out until then. And you really can just watch the hours pass by sitting, staring at the ocean. I found myself just sitting, watching kitesurfers or sipping on cocktails if I wanted a treat. It really is a little slice of paradise as you wait for mother nature to do her thing. More information on that later...
The wind builds as the day goes on and the water is beautiful. I have to say I was hesitant to pick Kenya as I want flatter than flat. Like a Greece flat or an offshore slice of butter. You don't get that here. More often than not you get our old friend "chop". That being said, if the tides are right you can have some pretty incredible 'flat-ish' water and honestly, I got over my chop hesitation from day 1.
For the average rider, the conditions are beautiful, it's only if you're trying to push some unhooking magic tricks and you want something to blame that you would consider the water choppy. There's also sand banks hanging around and a reef with waves so if you're up for an explore, you'll find what you're looking for.
The water is tidal but not so much that it stops you riding when it's out and the sun is hot so cream up ladies.
The Kitesurf set up
Depending on your budget, you can kite from your doorstep or walk a little while. I stayed on the main Diani road which is situated about 5 minute walk from the beach and you would do better to associate yourself with a school to store your kit every day, that's where h2o Extreme comes in.
If you stay on the beach, you might be doubling the cost of your stay but my oh my you wake up to a sunrise sent from heaven and you can sit, drink a coconut with sandy toes and wait for the wind to kick in. It couldn't be a more perfect set up.
The team at h2o Extreme include the boys on the beach, you'll know who they are as they're smart in their polo shirts and they help pump, launch, land, laugh and congratulate you as they're always watching. If you're lucky they'll also come and save you kilometres down the beach when they realise you really can't foil and you're struggling to 'get home'.
KENYA KITE CUP
What's more, these guys give a great contribution to the local environment and community through the Kenya Kite Cup. The concept is simple, a charity Kitesurf Competition for all abilities. This year, for the first time, it was hosted at the beautiful Nomads just a short tuk tuk drive up the road.
If you're keen to one day compete, this is the place to practice. The community is supportive, the competition is light and the representation of women entering needs to increase. If you want to hear more about that, I"ll be writing it up one I've competed at the weekend. Watch this space!
For most, it's easy to fly to Mombasa which sit's just up the coast from Diani Beach and just down the coast from Wutamu. These are the spots you'll be heading for but you can also take a local airline from Nairobi to Ukunda Airstrip which lands you right in Diani.
Choose your level of adventure from a local bus (Matatu) to a private taxi but with your Kite kit and if you've never travelled Matatu, I'd suggest you treat yourself to a very cheap taxi of about 20 EUR and have a go on a Matatu at a later date! Save yourself some hassle by contacting your accommodation provider to send you a driver and they'll be waiting for you at the airport with your name in lights. Easy.
Air BnB is your friend here. You can choose a spot on the sea front with beautiful views, or a spot on the main road for a bit more room for budget and an easy 10 minute walk every morning. There are hostels, Backpackers Diani Beach and hotels like Kenyaways right on the front but really, the beauty is in those you find on Air BnB. Be careful to check there are many reviews and the place has a few years of operating and you'll be sure to find something really beautiful within your price range.
For more specific advise on accommodation, head to H2o Extreme website.
Places to eat
If you start doing a bit of research, you'll find the same results. Although there are tons of places to eat incredible sea food or local cuisine, these ones take the biscuit:
Colobus Shade // For a local sea food platter. Phone ahead and tell them you're coming as they'll need to update the fisherman with the order!
Nomads // A bit of luxury on the sea front, this is the same spot that the Kenya Kite Cup is held and it has views to die for. Sushi is the dish that will melt in your mouth but the pizzas are also on top.
Salty Squid // Hidden just behind H2o Extreme and with views through the palms, Salty Squid has a delicious menu and amazing staff. It's one not to miss and if you're hanging out there everyday, it's hard to stay away for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
KOKKOS // Set right by the supermarket, the lack of views is made up by the taste of the coffee. This is the local ex-pat hang out to get some work done, drink some coffee and laze over breakfast. If you're heading to the supermarket or the bank, leave some time to pop in.
I had better mention the other spot, Watamu. They say it's windier up there, I'm yet to find out. It's apparently a little less built up, a little more rural but some superb conditions too. It's not far and I'll head up there to the highly recommended Tribe Watersports run by Ben from the UK before I update this post with some more info.
The coast of Diani is long, there are spots all the way along it and you can find a few schools dotted along the coast.