Words by Craig Cunningham Photos by Tahnee Pierog
When you think of Cuba, kiteboarding probably isn’t the first thing that pops in to your head. It’s a place with a Communist past, which has kept the country quiet but strong and unbelievably beautiful. Cuba is an archipelago of islands located in the northern Caribbean where the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean all blend together. Cuba, just like its neighbours, has crystal-clear water, sandy white beaches and luscious palm trees. Being just south of the Bahamas and west of the Dominican Republic, Cuba has no shortage of windy months and spots to go kiteboarding!
Canadian and European kiteboarders have been traveling to Cuba for years. With quick and low-cost flights, getting there is simple and mostly stress-free. You can either book a fairly cheap to medium-priced all-inclusive resort, or head out on your own, moving from resort to resort. Their isn’t anywhere to rent or repair kiteboarding gear, though, so make sure you bring your repair kit and all your kites!
Scooters are a popular mode of transportation and are super cheap to rent for the day. I usually enjoy veering off the beaten path, but with Cuba being a Communist country it’s kind of hard to do (not impossible though) with all of the major cities being quite a distance from the beaches and resorts and most of the roads not being named it’s never as simple as just following your GPS. I came to kiteboard though! So I did a lot of exploring up and down the coast, sneaking into other resorts, riding at their beaches and grabbing some food and drinks from the restaurants. Then I would do a downwinder back to my place looking for secret spots along the way. Depending on the tide you could really find some sick places to ride. My favourite spot from this trip was right behind this amazing point in one of the Cayos, which offered up some of the most butter-flat water I’ve ever kited on. Two good friends and myself had the spot all to ourselves. There is no shortage of these hidden spots with a little effort for adventure!
My visit to Cuba was focused on the Cayo Island area of Cayo Guillermo which is part of the Ciego de Avila province. After we arrived at the airport in the mainland, we hopped on a 45 minute ride in this 1950’s old-school hippie bus down a single dirt road headed towards the ocean. You have to stop at a few checkpoints and cross a bridge onto the island. The Cubans are not allowed across the bridge into the resort/tourist area unless they are working. It’s crazy how these people live so close to a paradise that they cannot fully enjoy. That being said the Cubans are some of the happiest and most helpful people I have ever met.
1. Pick a coconut – The beaches are lined with coconut trees… pick one, crack it open and sip on the fresh juice after a nice long session.
2. Smoke a Cohiba – The most famous cigars in the world, made right here in Cuba.
3. Speedboat ride through the mangroves – If you have a day or two without wind this will get your adrenaline going.
3. Swim with the dolphins – So much fun.
4. Rent a scooter and explore the neighbouring resorts – So you can do some exploring and check out where to stay next year.
5. Downwinders – Rent a scooter take it upwind and kite back.
6. Horseback ride with seafood dinner combo – Sounds lame but it’s actually a lot of fun. Plus you will score some points with your girlfriend.
7. During low tide take a walk into the ocean and you’ll find plenty of stranded sea creatures – Pick up a huge star fish. More points with the girlfriend.
8. Bring old T-shirts, hats, watches to trade/give to locals – The locals really appreciative anything you can offer.
9. Go fishing – It’s world-class.
10. Snorkel around the reef – The second largest reef in the world. So check it out. You’ll be happy you did.
Trash your kite or yourself on the reef.
Go without getting proper vaccinations from your doctor.
Drink the tap water.
CUBA KITEBOARDING LOCATIONS
1. Marina Palace, Varadero. Will work in any wind direction. Small chop and flatwater if you tuck in behind the end of the point.
2. 53rd Street, Varadero. ENE/NE/N/NW, choppy but downwinders are possible for up to 25 km!
3. Cayo Coco Beach. W/NW/N/NE/E, mostly small chop with a few flat spots.
4. Cayo Guillermo Beach. N/NE/E/SE, small chop with some flatwater spots depending on tide.
5. Find your own spot! Lots of undiscovered location in this archipelago!
Closest Airport CCC(Cayo Coco) / VRA(Varadero)
Best Winds Northern shore: November-April
Best Surf Southern shore: September-January
Average Kite Size 10-12 m
Cost Factor Low/Med
Local Tourism cuba-cayoguillermo.net, cuba-cayococo.net, cuba-cayococo.net, gocuba.ca, varaderohotelbookings.com
Local Schools Communist/private: During my visit there was a school out of the Sol Melia Cayo Guillermo Hotel but it has recently been shut down by the government.
Local Scene The kite scene is a very friendly, laid-back island atmosphere. Varadero is busier then the Cayos but you will always have lots of room! Bring any old gear, magazines or videos as the locals have no access to any of this.
Access Issues None. The government is happy to support tourism in their country. Be respectful of swimmers and other beach users.
Wind Forecast Resources windguru.com
Wind Generally NE/N/NW frontal winds throughout the winter months. With NE 14-20 knots being the most common. Thermals kick in for the summer months out of the SE but aren’t very aggressive.
Accommodations/Food In the Cayos there are numerous all-inclusive type deals which makes it easy for a quick week getaway. In Varadero you have a little more choice as to restaurants bars ect. Here you can go into town and leave the resort-type atmosphere and bounce from place to place.
Hazards The reef! It took out my new kite.
Ability Level Beginner, intermediate and advanced
Fear Factor Reef at low tide
Cayo Guillermo along with the other Cayo Islands, Cayo Coco, Cayo Santa Maria and Cayo Romano offer up some of the best kiteboarding conditions in the country. Another fun spot is Varadero. It is the most popular spot for kiteboarding and has great conditions that are easily on par with the Cayos. Cuba is not a small country though and I’m sure their are lots of epic spots still to be explored, spots that have been ridden that we don’t even know about and spots that we may never get a chance to see because of the Communism. All in all Cuba is and isn’t what I expected, with so much more left unexplored. Some form of change is likely on the horizon, but with that I hope Cuba can maintain its natural beauty and heritage. I’m curious to know what’s going to happen in the next years for Cuba, but I do know I will be heading back soon!