Interest in kitesurfing soars in sun-bathed Phan Rang

Most peoplewould associate the small coastal town of Phan Rang with scenic beaches, agorgeous coastline and sweet grapes.

Butincreasingly, more are beginning to link it with kitesurfing, a relatively newsport that is fast catching on.

The town andits vicinity in south central Vietnam are actually the windiest andsunniest part of the country, creating an arid, almost desert-like landscape,complete with cacti and parched earth. It is not too far from tourist hotspotMui Ne, which has a similar climate and is a long-established kitesurfingdestination.

It was fromMui Ne that the first adventurous kitesurfers ventured up about 10 years ago.

Phan Rangkitesurfing pioneer and national surfing athlete Phi Hoang was one of theintrepid ones who explored the area 10 years ago.

Hoang hadbeen working for a water sports company for a few years in Mui Ne, hishometown, teaching people how to kitesurf.

“In2009, I decided to explore Phan Rang for two weeks on a motorbike to see if itwas a good place for kitesurfing. I loved the strong winds, how it was sosunny, the clear water and the beautiful nature,” he said.

“Ichecked out the tides and area around My Hoa Bay and found it an ideal placefor kitesurfing.”

My Hoa Bayis about 30 minutes or 16km northeast of downtown Phan Rang and comprises abroad, elongated lagoon with shallow waters and winds reaching up to 35 knots(65 kph) during the high season, which lasts roughly from November to March.

A few monthsafter his initial sojourn, Hoang brought a bunch of friends from Mui Ne to PhanRang to kitesurf. He was looking forward to it and all the elements seemed tobe aligned: “The sun was out, the weather was warm, the winds were verystrong but there was no water.”

He becamefrantic.

“I wasworried and quickly asked the nearby villagers. They told me about the tidesand even lent me a book on it. They said ‘Don’t worry, the tide will come inagain’ and so we waited for about two hours. It came back; I was so relieved,and we had a great time kitesurfing after that.”

After thatinitial, memorable experience, he decided to organize kitesurfing tour groupsfrom Mui Ne to Phan Rang and would lead four to five big groups every season.

They wouldstay in the city and bring their own equipment from Mui Ne. His customers lovedthe tour, but many asked him to set up a permanent base in the Phan Rang area.

With suchregular feedback, he seriously considered it and in 2014 decided to take theplunge, buying a 3,000-sqm plot of land in My Hoa Bay and setting up the PhiKite School, the first of its kind there. The rest as they say is history.

From aninitial small hut just to shelter students in September, he had to quicklyexpand it within two months. From 25-30 daily memberships over the four-fivemonth high season in 2014-15, the numbers doubled in 2016 and again in 2017 ashe built accommodation on the premises.

He currentlyhas 18 rooms, a new restaurant and bar, and business is booming, Hoang said.

The growing Phan Rang kitesurfing scene also gotSon Huy and his friend, Englishman Jef Newell, a veteran kitesurfing managerwith nine years’ experience in Mui Ne, hooked.

Whilehelping his family run their Anh Duong Hotel in the city, he once saw someKorean guests kitesurfing at the main Binh Son beach.

Theywere doing all sorts of stunts. “I thought it was cool and wanted tolearn. They were kind enough to teach me, and I really enjoyed it and thought‘This is such a great sport!’”

Hesoon became quite an expert and was meeting a lot of people through it. Thatmade him consider setting up a kitesurfing school.

InFebruary 2016 the Kiteboard Tour Asia (KTA2016), a professional freestylekitesurfing competition, organized an event in Phan Rang.

Itcame as a big boost to the local kitesurfing scene, and caused many people,including Son and Jef, to take notice.

Thenext year Huy decided to set up a school and worked with Jef to launch it. Aspart of the initial launch, they organized a ‘Big Air’ competition in February2017.

Jefsaid: “When you do an event like the KTA 2016, it’s more difficult toattract people to join because of the competitiveness of it. We wanted to makeours more of a fun event and charged just VDN100,000 to participate.”

Sonsaid they wanted to just have a competition based on how high the kitesurferscould jump. The highest level was about 24m.

Theevent was a success, boosting awareness of the sport and the center. Now thePhan Rang Kite Center is one of four schools offering lessons and equipment intown.

Theircenter also has accommodation and a restaurant. “We are already fullybooked during the Christmas season and we expect Tet (Lunar New Year) tobe busy too,” Jef said.

Theduo are juggling expansion plans to double the number of rooms for rent and Sonexpects guest numbers to double this high season.

Theycurrently have 10 rooms. On a good day during the high season, when the weatherand tide conditions are good, they usually get around 100 kitesurfers.

Mostof their customers are foreigners, from countries like Britain, Germany, theNetherlands, China, Korea, and Russia. A small number are Vietnamese fromlarger cities like Ho Chi Minh City.

Thisis also the general profile of Phan Rang kitesurfers.

Atthe Phan Rang Kite Center, they get skilled kitesurfers who bring their ownequipment and are looking for membership, newbies seeking lessons and peoplewho are experienced and want to rent equipment.

Thingsare looking up for the kite schools and their outlook is certainly upbeat.

“Ihope and think this sports business will grow more,” Hoang said.

“Everyyear I see more customers coming and kitesurfing is growing in popularity inmany countries. I’m happy to see more kitesurfing schools and think there’sroom for growth in Phan Rang.

“Aswe see more development, there will be more jobs.”

Thesesentiments are shared by Jef and Son. With the sport rapidly growing and beingfun and social, they say it gives their Phan Rang colleagues a chance to doanother kind of work, learn English and meet people from all over the world.

Inaddition, the sport is environmentally-friendly and can be seen as part of agrowing global trend in eco-tourism. Phan Rang’s bountiful, scenic naturecertainly complements that.

Otherlarger factors have also come into play.

Withthe expansion in 2017 of Cam Ranh Airport, located about an hour away, and thegrowth in the number of international flights, the number of foreign customershas increased and is set to grow.

TheNinh Thuan Province government is also intent on promoting tourism in theprovince and has been supportive of kitesurfing development.

Source: VN Express