The Alluring Isle of Aruba
By Paul Lang
Originally Published in the August 2009 issue of The Kiteboarder Magazine
“ Can you take any time off work next week?” The Kiteboarder’s publisher, Marina Chang, asked me out of the blue over the phone. “I can get you on a press trip to Aruba, all expenses paid, but you have to leave in a few days.” Soon after getting the OK from my day job, I was on the phone with Karl at Vela booking my flight. I would be joining a small group of travel writers who were going to learn to kiteboard while in Aruba. A short few days later, I was on a plane heading to the Southern Caribbean.
Aruba is a small island, only about 20 miles long by six miles wide. Most people imagine lush tropical vegetation when they think of Caribbean islands, but Aruba is far enough south to be out of the hurricane belt, meaning that the island does not receive much rain. The vegetation on Aruba consists of not much more than hearty shrubs and cactus, but I didn’t travel here to check out the interesting flora. I came here for the wind. After checking into the hotel, I immediately went down to the beach and jumped into the warm water. Being from California, I very rarely get to be in the ocean without a wetsuit, and the 80° Caribbean water was a special treat. Aruba is famous for its white sand beaches, and the sand at the Fisherman’s Huts, the kite spot adjacent to the large hotels (known simply as the high rises), extends for about 150 yards from the beach under waist-deep water. The wind here blows almost straight offshore, but the flat, shallow, warm water and consistently windy conditions make it a great spot to ride.
After a quick rinse in the hotel room, I was off to meet the rest of the press group and our hosts at the Marriott hotel for cocktails and dinner. As it turned out, not only was I the only kiteboarder on this trip, but I was also the only male. I had been sent to the Caribbean to hang out with a group of female travel writers. For dinner, we headed to Papiamento, which has been owned by the same family for almost 30 years and served up one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.
The next morning, the group met at Dare 2 Fly (the kiteboarding portion of Vela Resorts) to begin the lessons. The group’s instructors, Mike, Ties, and Darwin got the group started with practice kites and then headed out into the shallow water to practice flying and relaunching small inflatable kites. I took a few pictures, and then borrowed a kite and board (the only gear I had brought was my harness) and got out on the water at Fisherman’s Huts. I was way overpowered on a 12, and I immediately found out that the wind on this side of Aruba is gusty. The wind isn’t so gusty as to make riding unpleasant, but it’s definitely noticeable. The offshore winds at Fisherman’s Huts make the water very calm and it’s a great spot to either ride fast and jump as high as you can or to work on whatever skills you want to perfect. 11 am came up quickly, so it was time for us to get off the water (see inset). While the rest of the writers headed off to get massages, Ties and I went off to kite at Arashi, just a few miles down the coast.
The wind at Arashi also blows offshore, so you need to have access to a rescue boat if you plan to kite here. To get there, I followed Ties’s directions: “Put up your kite and go right until you get to the end of the island.” Sounded easy enough to me. On the way to Arashi, I passed a large snorkel tour catamaran and the entire boat erupted in cheers when I boosted a large jump just downwind of the boat. Ties, who was following in a small rescue boat, zipped over to the catamaran, picked up a rum and coke and brought it out to me. I knew you were supposed to drink rum in the Caribbean, but I didn’t realize that meant people brought it out to you while kiting. At Arashi, Ties beached the boat and we kited until we couldn’t go anymore. The wind had come up and we were lit on 8s. We packed up the gear and headed back to the hotel, stopping at a different snorkel tour boat on the way for another round of rum and cokes.
The next morning, the press group’s lessons resumed, with all of the participants getting a chance to get some experience body dragging. It was exciting for me to see kiteboarding used as a way to promote tourism to a group of travel writers and it became very apparent to me just how far the equipment in this sport has come in the last few years. If you had tried to use kiteboarding to promote a travel destination only five years ago, you would have done nothing except scare people away, and now it’s possible to give someone an enjoyable taste of what the sport is like in just a few quick lessons. After the morning lessons, I again split from the group to do some more kiting, this time at Boca Grande, located at the opposite end of the island.
I piled into the beat-up Vela truck with Darwin, Ties, and Monique and rambled across the island. Even though Boca Grande was at the complete opposite end of Aruba, it still only took us about 40 minutes to get there. Boca shows a completely different side of Aruba, as the entire windward coast of the island is largely undeveloped. The scenery here is beautiful and, for the most part, unspoiled. The wind here is much steadier than the other side of the island, but you have to be able to ride carefully and with control as the wind direction is almost straight onshore. Conditions here are great for boosting off large chop or getting one turn on the mixed-up waves. We kited here until just before sunset, and then made our way back to the Marriott.
Back at the hotel, I quickly changed clothes and joined the rest of the group for a final meal at Simply Fish, a restaurant that sets up nightly on the sand in front of the hotel. After dinner, I met up with Ties and a few other local kiters and headed to Paddocks, a bar in downtown Oranjestad. Aruba, being a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, is full of Dutch college students, and it seems they all party at Paddocks. I partied way later than I should have, and after saying goodbye to the new friends I had made, caught a cab back to the hotel, packed my bags, and had just enough time to catch about an hour of sleep before I had to get up to catch my early morning flight.
Standing in line at the airport, I was exhausted and hung over, but sad to be leaving Aruba after such a short trip. Aruba is a beautiful island with a surplus of amenities for tourists and is full of some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. If you are looking for a place to take the family for a relaxing vacation where you can get some kiting in as well, take a look at Aruba. The warm water, warm winds, and warm people have me already scheming about how I can get back down there for another visit.
Conditions: Windsurfers have known about Aruba’s dependable wind for years. You can expect to ride in Aruba year round, with October and November being the lightest months. The rest of the year, you can expect wind in the upper teens to low twenties almost every single day. Many locals only own one kite, with a 10 being the most common size. On the leeward side of the island (near the large resorts), the wind can be gusty due to the offshore winds. No wetsuits are needed here, but you should wear a t-shirt or rashguard and plenty of sunscreen when you ride as the sun can be very bright.
Currency: The local currency is the Aruban Florin, but U.S. Dollars are also widely accepted. The Florin’s value is tied to the dollar, and the rate is 1.79 Florins to $1 US. Major credit cards are also accepted just about everywhere.
Language: The official languages are Dutch and Papiamento, but English is also widely spoken.
Getting There: Aruba is an incredibly easy place to get to, with daily flights to many U.S. cities from Queen Beatrix International Airport (AUA). Aruba is only a 2.5 hour flight from Miami.
Food: Aruba caters to tourists, and there are many great places to eat on the island. If you want to treat your significant other to an amazing and romantic meal, make a reservation at Papiamento (papiamentorestaurant.com).
Schools: Aruba has a number of schools located at the Fisherman’s Huts, which are adjacent to the Marriott Hotel. Because of the offshore winds, you should contact a school and arrange for boat support if you are going to kite on the leeward side of the island, even if you are an experienced kiter.
Lodging: Aruba is home to many hotels and resorts. The Marriott is closest to the Fisherman’s Huts and you can walk onto the sand in front of the hotel to kite while the rest of the family lounges at the resort. For travel packages including accommodations, lessons, and/or boat support, contact Vela at 1-800-223-5443 or velawindsurf.com.
Originally Published in the August 2009 issue of The Kiteboarder Magazine