This story was written by Alex Fox and first appeared in our Volume 10 No. 1 issue in Spring of 2013 — now available online for free. Photos by Mo Lelii.
The ability to explore the unknown is one of the aspects of kiteboarding that has always intrigued me. Diving into a new spot, new environment, new culture, or new language often leaves me with an inexplicably special feeling. That is why my head cocked at a slight tilt when Ecuador was mentioned as a possible location for a photo shoot and demo tour. I had met the Ecuadorian distributor for Slingshot last year in Oregon and he had expressed an interest in having me visit for a demo, but Ecuador wasn’t a country I had heard much of anything about and I had absolutely zero knowledge of its kiting potential. This by itself sparked my excitement. I felt like it was time to head off the radar so I booked my ticket with no preconceived notions, no friends contributing their ideas or reservations, just a blank slate and an eager mind.
In Miami I met up with Mo Lelii, one of my really good friends who would be shooting photos during the trip. We have shot together a bunch in Florida, but we’ve never had the opportunity to travel abroad together. Needless to say we were beside ourselves with excitement. After a few high fives, mile high cervezas, and a couple of bad movies we touched down in Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, where upon arrival we were greeted by Javier, one of our host’s best friends. He quickly informed us of the two and a half hour car ride we had to our destination of the city of Manta, warned us about his driving, and told us to let him know if we ever felt frightened.
In my head I quickly dismissed this warning, deeming it as irrelevant seeing as how we love adventure. After a quick bite to eat and a coffee break we were off, but upon our first 85 mph speed bump jump I realized why Javier had warned up about his driving. What followed was more than two hours of pure terror as Mo and I exchanged anxious looks all the way to Manta. Manta is the largest port city in the country and, to my great delight, is one of the world’s largest exporters of tuna. Davo Hidalgo is the importer for Slingshot in Ecuador and owns one of the local kite schools. We arrived at Davo’s house around two in the morning so it was nice to grab some sleep and then get right to it in the morning. He had arranged a party and the demo schedule for the week so we were going to be rather occupied for the duration of our trip.
Meeting up with us were John Perreira, Andres Velasco, and Tibi Hurtado, just a few members of the Slingshot South America crew. I have been fortunate enough to spend quite a bit of time with these guys over the past year and having them join us on this trip was destined to make it a memorable one. As we left the posada and made our inaugural trip to the beach in Manta, we really got a chance to see all the city had to offer. Manta is a large city made up of a wide ranging variety of neighborhoods chaotically arranged together. There’s a bustling downtown district similar to what you’ll find in just about any big city, but the main attraction of Manta is the port. With what appeared to be a thousand ships, the harbor looked more like the Greek army in the Trojan war than a typical marina. Booming with tourists, street vendors, fishermen, sailors, and locals, this was the city’s epicenter.
About 20 minutes from our posada, along the outskirts of the city, was Santa Marianita, a local beach village with a few restaurants and kiteboarding schools. Davo owns the Ocean Freaks kite school which would serve as our base camp and stomping grounds for the next ten days.
I have frequented many kite schools in my travels. It kind of just comes with the territory I guess, but seldom have I encountered one like what I found in Ecuador. Davo’s spot overlooks one of the most scenic parts of Santa Marianita. With a great little beach break that consistently threw waist to chest high ramps at us right out in front and a decent little point break just downwind, it really is situated in one of the best places for kiting in Ecuador. Moreover, what was most appealing to me were the locals that call it home. With kids everywhere, Ecuador reassured me that kiting has a bright future. When I approached Davo about it, he sort of shrugged it off as if it was no big deal. To me this is one of the most rewarding things about traveling – finding people who are just as eager to spread the sport to the youth as I am.
On the weekend there were kids ranging from ten years old up to twenty, but the average age was around fifteen. Davo has taught kiteboarding to a huge number of local children, but the most amazing thing to me was that even though most of the kids didn’t have much of anything to call their own, Davo had found a way to outfit them with full-on kite setups. It was almost as if you traded a typical after-school soccer program with a kiteboarding team. Here was a whole entourage of teenage girls and guys socializing around kiteboarding just like it was the yearbook committee. It’s no secret that kiting’s average age is well above 30, so to have a beach filled with the next generation of kiteboarders who still couldn’t legally operate a car in the states was refreshing. The youth will always be the future and although sales are driven by the older generation it’s the kids that will be at the forefront of our sport no matter the discipline. It was a special feeling to see the future taking shape in a place as unlikely as Ecuador, yet there it was as strong as I’ve seen anywhere. As I took it all in I knew it hit home for Mo as well. He was just in awe of the whole first day. After a great day of shooting and getting acquainted, Mo and I went for a quick body surf and as the last burst of sun descended beyond the horizon, he smiled and said, “I could get used to this.” Me too Mo. Me too…
The next day delivered more of the same with perfect 12m weather and warm water. Having arrived late the night before, we took it easy and hit the water early in the morning and began shooting. Ecuador was amazingly scenic. Sitting next to the Pacific Ocean we frequently sighted sea turtles and, as the name of the city of Manta suggests, manta rays. Large rock bluffs cascading down into the pearly blue ocean made it a dream place to shoot, and again I found myself questioning why I had never heard of this place. I hadn’t seen Tibi and Andres since our trip to Venezuela almost a year ago so it was great to get back on the water with them followed by throwing back a few drinks and sitting down to plates of local seafood post session. Being a large exporter of tuna demonstrates Manta’s dedication to its seafood. With local dishes ranging from ceviche to paella it’s safe to say that we ate well. On our first night we had kept a low profile and had a mellow evening, but now John, the Slingshot importer from Venezuela, was ready to put some damage on the three bottles of Venezuelan rum he had showed up with. And damage we did. I awoke the next morning with vague memories of street fights, falling backwards out of a moving pickup (driven by Javier of course), and doing my best to ruin Mo’s relationship back home. It turns out this was just a typical night in Ecuador.
The following days went on like this relentlessly. Mornings began by shaking off the hangover and replacing it with the anxious jitters of a few cups of coffee. Then we hit the water with every day seeming better than the last at this perfect yet unknown location that delivered the conditions we all yearn for every day. With the consistent wind and even more consistent shore break, we started to really dial in our riding. Notable hammers were Tibi’s regular and switch crow mobes and Andres’s mute frontside fives. The locals were killing it as well with Pepe Agudo leading the charge blasting off the kickers with huge kiteloop threes and fives. The best sessions in Ecuador were when the whole Ocean Freaks crew hit the water with us. It is a complete cliché, but it truly is the people that make a trip, not the location, and I was constantly reminded of that on this journey.
Although I was partial to the perfect ramps right in front of Davo’s school we wanted to see all that Ecuador had to offer, so we also did quite a lot of exploring. Upwind and downwind of Santa Marianita were two beautiful point breaks both featuring some of the perfect left handed waves that have made South America famous. We also found a beautiful lagoon with butter-flat water and smooth consistent wind with a few downed tree branches that made for endless jibbing possibilities. Ecuador truly never relented in exceeding my expectations for offering some of the most diverse conditions in the world.
As the end of the trip neared we had one last hoorah. Davo had organized a music festival, a full day of kiteboarding demos, and a full night of dancing and partying with some old friends and a lot of new ones. As we danced and celebrated the end of an amazing trip Mo and I were filled not only with a sense of accomplishment but also the feeling that this wasn’t the last trip we would take together. A lot of people go on trips like this in search of something, whether that something is a wave, a certain type of condition, or something else, but this trip was different. For this trip I got on a plane with no expectations of what I would find. I think that is what made it so memorable. We went in looking for nothing yet found everything we could want. Sometimes it’s the most unlikely places that have the most impact on you; sometimes getting a little lost is the best possible way to find what you’re looking for.