The epic downwinder that no one told you about.
Updated: Apr 24, 2020
145km of flat water, waves, lagoons, secret camping, elephant spotting and not a soul in sight.
The She Flies team popped to Sri Lanka this May for a quick visit - it turned into 3 months. You have been warned.
As soon as we arrived, the welcome was warm and the country was mesmerising, so we got to it straight away and organised our first event, Kitesurfing in a Saree. The attendance and stoke for the day was incredible, the She Flies stamp was well and truly established and the community of female kiters in this spot was bubbling with excitement. We knew immediately that we needed to do more than the one planned She Flies Progression Kite Trip 2020.
Now, most people think of the famous 'Kalpitya' when talking of Sri Lankan Kitesurfing but those of us who have been know there are some hidden gems if you put some effort in: Vela, Kapalady and Dream Spot to name a few. In fact, this super helpful guide written by Grace at Extreme Nomads give you a great insight into what's on offer.
But at She Flies, our aim is to get women doing adventures they never knew they could do, and we knew Sri Lanka had more, even more, to offer….
145km of flat water, waves, lagoons, secret camping, elephant spotting and not a soul in sight.
Our pals started talking of a downwinder, it had been done before, but not this year, and this wasn't just a little downwinder, this was a true adventure. One that was longer, more adventurous and more exciting than any they'd heard of in the world. 145km in fact, 145km of flat water, waves, lagoons, secret camping, elephant spotting and not a soul in sight. We were listening.
Not the kind of girls to hang around; we got on board and a few weeks later, some long negotiations with the right contacts and some big senior officers in the Sri Lankan Navy, our partners and friends were ready to take us for a trial run.
This article is to tell you how it went and to let you into a secret, we are formally hosting it as our Adventure Edition Kite Trip next year.
"Our girls work together, looking challenge in the eye and giving it a wink"
Have you ever felt pride so strong that your cheeks ache from concealing your smug smile for days on end? Get ready for that. It's a challenge, of course, but if you're a comfortable independent rider, you can do it - trust us. She Flies is all about getting women to step out of their progression plateau and do something that they'll never forget, to lead others by strong example and share the stoke for women in extreme sports.
Join us and spend the rest of your days telling you friends how awesome you are.
Day 0: The all important briefing.
Our pal Keira set us down, got his maps out and put on his serious face. This is a challenge, he reminded us. He talked of the importance to follow the safety guidance, to understand the route, to consider each other and to be aware of the group as a whole. Well, he's a professional, of course!
"This is more than just a downwinder, it is an unbelievable cultural experience."
As he started drawing the route over the laminated maps, his serious face started to lag. His excitement and memories of last years trip came back to him and his smile was hard to hide. This is more than just a downwinder, it is an unbelievable cultural experience. Yes, this is a challenge, indeed, but it was one of the best challenges he's ever done. "You are going to love it" he ended with.
Whatever nerves were floating around during the briefing got lost as we all started catching each others eye, our smiles were infectious. The morning couldn't come soon enough.
Day 1: On the hunt for Elephants.
Having spent the week training; fitness, downwind practice and talks, we were ready bright and early and feeling strong. The boats were waiting for us as we arrived, piled into our true Sri Lankan flat back truck, we unloaded our equipment and did the final checks that we had it all.
One of the girls riding yelled out "oh my god you girls are incredible"
We arrived and set up our kit at our starting island - one of the aforementioned kite spots - as we started our team warm up, word got out of the mission we were about to start. The whoops and yells came from the water, wishes of good luck. One of the girls riding yelled out "oh my god you girls are incredible" - the pride began before we'd started, we just wished it wasn't too late to persuade this girl to come with us!
The first half of day 1 is crossing the National Park. It's a rough ride, possibly the hardest of the journey, it's a choppy terrain and the wind direction means there are elements that you can't change tack. The training we did prior helped to avoid any cramps and we were switching to and from heel to toe side to ease any over worked muscles.
...we may as well have been singing some version of The Circle Of Life as we glided through...
But the views….. Oh my. It's a National Park, you know the safaris you pay for and you drive in a jeep on well trodden tracks? This is the same place, but from the ocean. Untouched. There are no jeeps, there are no tracks, there are no people. Deep red cliffs, lush rainforest, countless eagles souring above our kites - we may as well have been singing some version of The Circle Of Life as we glided through (Note to self: There are no Lions in Sri Lanka).
Lunchtime came soon and we stopped off in a small fishing village within the park. The villagers greeted us with smiles, surprised eyes and open arms, all shyly interested in us and our kites, we set them safely back from the shoreline and were welcomed into our friends arranged home for our picnic. A beautiful spot under a purple flowering canopy providing shade for our tired bodies. It couldn't have been more relaxed.
...this small village is known for spotting Elephants...
Being a National Park, this small village is known for spotting Elephants at night so we kept our ears to the ground in case one made it a day trip. Sadly, no luck this time.
A relaxed lunch and a welcomed rest we were all set for the afternoon. Keira gave his second briefing of the day and our kites were up before we knew it.
This afternoon took us the towards our camp site, outside of the National Park where we would meet the support truck again. The route there was open ocean so we were expecting a rough ride. It was nothing of the sort.
The direction of the wind and the conditions of the swell bought long lines of perfect sets. Small waves that carried us perfectly down and cross wind. If you had the energy, they were little kickers for big jumps and if you wanted to take it easy it was a relaxing glide over the well formed waves. A beautiful treat from the mornings challenge.
It was a beautiful connection between us in the water and them on the land.
As we started to leave the National Park, we started to pass more and more Fisherman Villages. It was as if there was a car driving just a few kilometres ahead of us, informing the villagers of our immanent passing. As we came close to the villages, the locals were running to the shore line pointing to the sky, asking for a jump, a wave or a smile. The community was proud to see us visiting their once war torn, waters for pleasure and enjoyment. It was a beautiful connection between us in the water and them on the land.
As the sun was getting low, we arrived at the camp, we knew we were there as our guides up ahead started their freestyle tricks. We turned cross wind into a large flat water lagoon-type area, one that isn't mentioned on Kite Blogs or Books, one that was only for us. The evening was for us to ride and enjoy as long as we wanted. It was a tough internal battle between fatigue wanting you to stop and adrenaline wanting you to play. Everyone worked out their balance and before we knew it, we were settled around the smouldering fire, our tents set up and our tummies full from a delicious local meal prepared by our support vehicle and boat drivers.
That night, some tents remained empty as many chose to simply sleep under the stars.
Day 2: Arriving in paradise.
Any fatigue or muscle ache was forgotten as we woke to the sun rising, listening to the silence of Sri Lanka as our breakfast was being rustled up on the camping stove.
The flat water by our camp was waiting for those looking for a morning warm up, for everyone else we got going a little later. We had much less distance to travel today so we knew we had time to play on the water and just enjoy our location.
The day started with another morning heavy on that front leg but the waves we were blessed with were beautiful, again, it was easy to forget that muscle fatigue! The hardest part was avoiding treating the waves as huge kickers into big jumps, in an attempt to conserve energy. The journey today was a downwinder along the coast so you could choose from messing around in the shore break or staying back for the cleaner waves.
Never written about in kitesurfing guides, because only a handful of people have been there, it can only be described as a labyrinth of kitesurfing mecca.
After an hour of riding, we arrived in one of the best places I've ever kitesurfed (and I've travelled a lot). Never written about in kitesurfing guides, because only a handful of people have been there, it can only be described as a labyrinth of kitesurfing mecca. As you walk (or indeed, jump) over the 2 metre sandbank that separates the ocean to the lagoon, you sit on the edge and look at your route. The butter flat lagoon is filled with mangroves that create a maze of exploration. Down one alley, opens up to another lagoon, the other alley leads to a dead end. It was the most fun we had on the trip so far and we could have stayed for hours. The water is shallow so you have to watch out if you fall, and no big jumps if you're not confident but this is where we realised Keiras comment - 'This is more than just a downwinder, it is an unbelievable cultural experience.'
That afternoon was a combination of waving at fisherman and using the kickers in the shore break - now on a perfect cross wind tack so an easier ride. We were now nearing Mannar and the surprise from the fisherman was higher - how did we get here? Surely they didn't come through the National Park?
Ah, I just can't describe the stoke, the happiness, the pride we all had at this point. We felt incredible as we knew the trip was almost over.
We arrived in a fishing point in Mannar and after a quick show off to the local kids that met us there, we packed up our kites after letting the kids hold them for a quick photo. The afternoon was magic - a quick photo and we headed to our well deserved and luxury accommodation for the night.
The accommodation was just that, luxury. We had arrived in flat water, strong wind, secluded paradise, with accommodation that we had been dreaming of: second floor yoga decks looking out to a horizon of sandbanks, upper chill out area of lounge chairs and music, local chefs cooking up a Sri Lankan storm, wildlife everywhere, jungle flowers and tress, walks through secret foliage tunnels, vast sand dunes, no other building in site…. It felt like we had reached the end of the world - by kite.
Have we whet your appetite yet? Just trust us, it was incredible and we could have stayed forever.
Needless to say, we celebrated that night - a group full of pride. Next year couldn't come soon enough.