Canadian Pro does Dakhla – Life on Tour

WITH REECE MYERSCOUGH / PHOTOS BY JAY WALLACE 

What’s it like to compete on the kitesurfing strapless freestyle and surf Would Tour? With most of the tour on the other side of the world, the experience for Canadian and American pro riders can be a little intimidating, expensive and full of cultural unknowns. Vancouver Island’s Reece Myerscough is the top-ranked North American male rider on the tour this year. He shares his first-hand account from his trip to Dakhla, Morocco. 

I arrived in Dakhla with photographers Jay Wallace and Andrew Irwin six days before the second GKA Wave and Strapless Tour event of the year. We showed up early to shoot wave footage for Ocean Rodeo as well as get some time on the water at the event site to prepare for my heats. Dakhla Town lies at the southern tip of the Dakhla Peninsula in Morocco and is surrounded by a multitude of wave and flatwater kite spots. The town is small and there are multiple military bases located around it to ensure the oil pipelines that run through Western Sahara remain in Moroccan hands. Don’t bother bringing your drone to film some kiting, not only are drones highly illegal in Morocco, you may unknowingly fly your drone over a military outpost (as we did), which has the potential to end badly. Despite all this, the wind and surf are awesome! I spent two weeks in Dakhla and kited for four hours a day on average. Dakhla is always windy, and that’s good because there isn’t much else to do or see other than kiteboarding. 

Although Dakhla is in the Sahara Desert, it was surprisingly cold. It was overcast in the mornings and 15 degrees with the clouds burning off most afternoons and the temperature rising to around 20 degrees. The water temperature was also surprisingly cold. I brought a 2 mm wetsuit with short sleeves because I was expecting desert bath water, but I was uncomfortably cold, especially when submerged in the water surfing. Next time I’m bringing a 3 mm full body wetsuit. The bottom is mostly sandy but there are some rocks that are sharp in the launching areas and lots of the riders had a hard time walking. I wore thin reef boots the entire time and my feet were fine. 

The cabins at Westpoint Dakhla Hotel.The GKA Kite-Surf World Tour event in Dakhla was hosted by West Point Dakhla Hotel, which is conveniently located right on the water at a right-hand point break called West Point. The most common wind direction at West Point is sideshore to side-offshore which is ideal for wave riding. It has a sandy bottom but there are several rocks scattered about that can be an issue on low tide. West Point peels down the side of a small, flat, rocky plateau that is about five meters above sea level. The plateau is just high enough to stop the wind from touching the surface of the water leaving the waves glassy, and just low enough that it doesn’t affect the wind the kite is flying in. It seems like it would be the ultimate kitesurfing setup, except for the West Point Dakhla Hotel that was built right on the point directly upwind of the surf break. The hotel casts a wind shadow over the peak of the wave that makes the entire first half of the wave almost impossible to keep kites flying. 

A ten-minute drive from the West Point Dakhla Hotel, at the very Southern tip of the Dakhla Peninsula, is a small fishing village called La Sarga. La Sarga has a right hand point break with a sandy bottom and perfect side-offshore wind conditions for wave riding. During the first three days I arrived in Dakhla, we were lucky to score head-high set waves at La Sarga in 20-25 knots. I was having leg-burner rides that were over 400 meters long and lasting up to one minute and thirty seconds. Unlike West Point there are no structures blocking the wind (yet), so the steady offshore wind grooms the wave face, leaving them buttery smooth, perfect for sinking your rail into. The conditions at La Sarga were so good that I kited it for a total of 15 hours in three days. La Sarga provided some of the nicest kiting conditions I have ever had; I didn’t even know that such perfect waves existed for kitesurfing. 

It was a good warm up for the event riding La Sarga with all the best kite surfers in world. Mainly it’s nice when everyone knows what is going on and there is no one dropping in or cutting people off, but I was also able to learn tons about riding side-offshore waves from watching. I have to make the most of these epic offshore conditions when I get them because it’s a completely new kite flying technique for me in the waves. We have epic wave spots on Vancouver Island but they are mainly side-onshore wind conditions which require more kite movement to prevent luffing the kite over. If you send the kite too much in side-offshore wind conditions, the kite will just rip you right off the back of the wave, so it takes a little adjustment to figure out. 

Warming up in the West Point beach break the evening before the contest. Lighter winds had most riders on 11 and 12 meter kites.

The GKA Morocco event was held at West Point when the wind and waves were stronger, but most of the heats were run at a little wedgy beach break section about 300 meters downwind of West Point. The wind was less gusty down the beach because it’s farther from the hotel wind shadow, and the wave picks up short period wind swell better than West Point. The epic conditions that we scored earlier in the week significantly dropped for the event. The sets were shoulder high, and most people ended up riding 10 or 12 meter kites in their heats. Due to the smaller waves, the heats were scored as 60 per cent waves and 40 per cent freestyle. When your heat score is almost evenly split up between waves and freestyle, there is no downtime. If I’m not riding a wave, I’m throwing down some freestyle moves to rack up the points while waiting for sets. The heats were 15 minutes long and they went by quickly, so you had to be on the top of your game both on the water and off or it was easy to miss your heat. The event was run over the span of two days in double elimination format. So, if you lose a heat on the first day of competition, you get a second chance to win the event on day two, but it’s a lot of extra work to win your way up the ladder on the second day. 

Slashing a small wave at West Point.

All my heats were run at the beach break downwind from West Point. In the single elimination round on the first day my first heat was in round two and the wind was light. I was on a 12 meter, but the swell had some decent size if you could get on the set waves. I ended up winning my round two heat getting one decent wave score and backing it up with a couple freestyle moves. I ended up unknowingly cracking my fin on a hard carve near the end of the heat. 

Winning in round two set me up against Mitu Monteiro in round three which was exciting because he was the defending champ from last year’s event. I was sitting on the beach eating a sandwich and waiting for my heat while watching Mitu warm up when someone ran up to me and asked “Isn’t that your heat? Mitu is out there!” That’s when I realized that Mitu wasn’t warming up, and I only had five minutes left in my heat. I was already changed so I launched my kite and got on the water as quickly as possible. I caught a decent-sized wave right away, but unfortunately my cracked fin from the previous heat buckled and snapped on the first turn which ended whatever slim chance of a comeback I had. So obviously, I got knocked out of the single elimination in round three. Luckily, I had a second chance the next day. 

In the second chance, double elimination round, I won my second heat of the year in round three which put me up against Ralph Boelen in round four. The wind was a little stronger than the first day, so I was lit on my 10 meter in the gusts but the swell had dwindled significantly overnight. There were very few set waves coming through the lineup and due to how gusty the wind was, it was difficult to get back upwind to the peak. I had one nice wave right after the start horn and I ended up in the bottom third of the competition area for the rest of the 15-minute heat. No sets came through for a good 7-8 minutes after that, so I spent the rest of the heat doing freestyle and smacking any little lump of wave that came my direction down in the bottom corner. Even though I couldn’t back up my first wave with another good one, I had my best heat of the season so far. Unfortunately, Ralph had a good heat as well and he ended up getting the jump on me by 0.4 of a point ending my event in round four! 

Dakhla was awesome to visit, but by the end of the trip I was ready for a cheeseburger. After two weeks in the desert I was sore, over tired from kiting too much,  and ready to come home.