WORDS AND PHOTOS BY PAUL MENTA
Over my 20 years of being a sponsored kiteboarder I’ve met some amazing people, traveled around the world and learned so much. To celebrate this milestone I went back in time to Cuba.
I kitesurfed to Cuba back in 2001 and I can tell you sailing there this time was much easier. Sailing on an old topsail boat, the Scooner Wolf made it more epic as besides kite gear we had her loaded down with my legal rum which I make in Key West. This was a bucket list trip; as I will be the first rum-runner to Cuba.
Upon arrival I got us through customs with rum and kite gear. My friend Roberto picked us up in his 1953 Buick and away we went on a misson to get wind. The first area we went to was Playa del Estes, where we met up with local kiter Jesus with cubakitevillage. com and did a downwinder. This was a great way to see the whole North Coast. Some other locals joined us for a session as Jesus hit Handlepasses and Loops. They all cheered him on and tried what we were doing. Kites were somewhat new and any repairs done to them were far better than I ever have seen. Wages in Cuba are humble but the people are rich with life, friendliness and stoke. Jesus told us about lot of other spots that have a range of flatwater, waves and even where to kite in Havana. Best bet is to have these guys guide you as you won’t waste time. Cuban short cuts are not for gringos and driving at night is dangerous. The cost of a driver is the same price as renting a car. After kiting all day we hit Bodega del Medio, Ernest Hemingway’s place for mojitos. I brought the Key West rum and the mojitos flowed. They were so happy that they took me behind the bar and taught me their mojito secrets. We hit a small place to eat called
Havana 61 and left with full bellies, kite happy heads and only spent 15 dollars.
We road tripped all night to the eastern part of Cuba; watching out for cattle on the highways and horses going the wrong way. We made it to Caibarien, Cuba to meet Reninier Munguia; a local kiter, dive master and teacher to all locals who want to try kiteboarding for free. This area is all fisherman and was really hit hard by Hurricane Irma. The crazy thing was that as beat-up as things were, they welcomed us like family, and I realized they actually had so much more than we did. As we waited for the wind to come up, we swapped stories and had some pork that was amazing. Of course with some of their rum and mine.
We walked through town and saw people who can fix anything (and I mean anything), like broken kites from 2007. The local art and vibe was really great and we went out to a Cayo (island key) that was pretty remote, and not like your normal secure all-inclusive. We took turns doing tricks, switching kites, trying new things, and just having a real soulful session until sunset. The sun went down and we went back to our hostel where Jauni the owner and his son showed me how they were making the night’s dish. The food was amazing, with soups, beans, fish, rice, plantains and so much more.
A lot of the spots we rode with Reninier worked for the different wind conditions. These are all secret spots. Going on your own you will never see the charm and camaraderie of the locals, plus they know where to kite each day.
As we were leaving I left a kite and so did my wife, plus a foil board. Kites were for the women and kids to learn on, and the foil was to hopefully see one of these kids in the 2024 Olympics as they are good! We headed way out west past Vinales to find the real famous pina colada in that area, but found a cigar farmer Benito who loved rum and liked to tell stories of the area and where the winds blow best. We laughed the whole time, rolled cigars, drank his local two dollar rum and learned more about this area and the local traditions and foods. The kiting worked there on the third day and it was just as magical as the cigar farmer said.
Last night of the trip Roberto’s father cooked cuban BBQ for us and that was the best meal I had all across the island.
Did I leave a lot out? Of course. You need to go on your own adventure. We sailed back healthy from the food we ate and our livers were just fine from all the rum. Sailing to Cuba was stepping back in time to the 1950’s we didn’t have all the touristy conveniences, but I think we had it better and cheaper. It was always safe. We brought home so many stories we could write a book.
On top of all that, the wind is great November through April and it’s warm. Hook up with the guys at cubakitevillage.com or contact me at paulmenta.com and I will give you all the hook ups.
Here’s to another 20 years of kiteboarding. I can’t wait to meet you somewhere out there!