Day 1 — Counting the hour long drive from Santa Cruz to SFO airport, the travel time to Mauritius lasted just under 30 hours. This probably explains why I am the only American checking into a 5-star beachside resort filled with a mix of European vacationers, surprisingly few of them kiteboarders. It’s windy on the water, side to sideoff with waves wrapping around the far off reef just under the horizon. To the naked eye it looks waist high or smaller, but through cognitive machinations, the distance and comparative size of the kites makes me think it’s head high or better.
We were told to bring no equipment and that was great in terms of transit, but due to our own creative scheduling we landed one day before Raphael Salles, his F-One team, and most importantly, all the 2016 equipment we were supposed to ride. It is 8am with a full day of wind and waves before us, but we are stranded on the beach with nothing but our boardshorts. My travel partner is the U.S. F-One distributor, Nico Ostermann. He speaks French and knows the hotel manager and these things bring us deep into the back-end labyrinth of the resort to some unused rooms that double as Raphael’s secret equipment stash. Like kids in a candy store, we make off with control bars, Manera harnesses, Mitu pro model boards and a collection of 2016 Bandit prototypes. We head straight to the beach to shake off the ugly feeling of extended travel.
It was good. I spent the entire day on “Manawa,” a left with side to slight sideoff direction. It’s a gentle and forgiving wave, great for adapting to a new paradigm; riding backside for the first time in port tack conditions. Some of my new friends are strapped, most are dropping in way out on the shoulder, and that’s probably what I should be doing, but the top of the reef has good shape, before it slows and then reforms in a second bowl. I understand the wave, but I don’t understand the timing of my kite or the proper use of my toeside rail in screwfoot mode. I drop in frontside going left a couple times; as a regular footer, I’ve never forced myself to ride switch because the wretched and awkward stance is like what I imagine it would feel like to try to surf while having a stroke. I don’t have the patience to go back to square one.
Day 2 — I finally learn what all-inclusive means. Unlimited lattes, bottomless cups of beer and endless trips to the buffet court. The F-One team arrives – they are a big family and they are stoked. Nico and I are still the only guests present, so we help with the initial unpacking of an army’s worth of SUP and kite gear. It’s like Christmas for about ten minutes, but then it begins to resemble factory work – unboxing, applying pads, endless screwdriving of straps, handles, and fins. I know this monotonous gig well from the magazine’s freeride and light wind gear tests. Raphael tells Nico and I to go kite; we kindly oblige.
Day 3 — The rest of the dealers arrive. This is the meeting where English is spoken, so UK, Germany, Poland, Russia, China, Capetown, and Australia are in the house. It’s a fun group — they all know each other from the past, and meeting the F-One staffers and athletes in person is fun: Great people! The swell is dying and the wind is slated for later so we start the day with a SUP session. It’s been awhile for me and I grab a 8’2″ Anakao. It’s a safe size, forgiving for my weight but still fun in the waist high right they call “little reef” (finally a right!) I test out a mouth mount from SP-Gadgets – it’s great for holding a GoPro hands free and I drop in behind my new friends, trying to get some fun photos of the crew. I recognize Mica Fernandez from the pictures that frequently land on my desk, except he’s totally not as he seemed. In every picture I’ve seen of Mica, he’s boosting old school tricks, but here in person he’s tearing apart both left and rights with the aggressive confidence of a seasoned surfer. I’m totally blown away, and when I finally have the rapport to ask, (he speaks French, I speak English) he tells me he rides airstyle because no-one else on the team wants to. Turns out he rips at just about everything.
We kite later that day, it’s in the mid teens, and I take out a 2016 Bandit 11m. Like always, I’m surprised by how nimble and quick turning the kite is with such a small bar – I like this, my hands are always close in anyways, less is more in the surf. Mitu joins and we swap waves at Manawa into the evening. I watch and learn.
Day 4 — This day is a complete black out – I spend the entire day in bed with fever and muscle aches. Later I’m told it rained all day and there was no wind – for all I know that could have been a lie of compassion.
Day 5 — We start the day with dealer meetings. Going into this trip my fear is that this junket is something like a thinly veiled timeshare vacation where they lock you in a room and pound you with sales talk – not so. We spend the mornings learning about the features of the gear. Raphael tells the story behind each product’s evolution and distributors pitch hardball questions. Raphael’s frank and blunt honesty is refreshing and his commitment to developing the best in performance and quality is readily apparent.
Day 6 — The morning meeting is all about Manera wetsuits. Raphael’s son Julien is driving the R&D behind this brand. I learn about their investment in 3D pattern technology and how that changes the R&D game. We learn about the OEM world of wetsuit production and learn how Manera is anything but an off the shelf design. Salles tells us about the materials and features of the suits and his conviction of doing it their own way with an unwavering commitment to delivering the best products possible.
Day 7 — Everything is a blur, but by now I’ve ridden everything. The distributors are especially excited about the Diablo foil kite and the new foilboard. The Diablo goes upwind like no other kite which explains why it’s taking the racing world by storm, but it’s also a great freeride option for super light wind. Nailing duck tacks with this kite is a trip because it flies so far over your head during the transition. The grass in front of our hotel rooms is littered with product, by far my go to quiver is a 9m Bandit and the 5’10” Mitu surfboard. The other surfboard I like is called The Signature. It’s a quad which holds speed and likes drawn out turns on the face, but Mitu’s board is the top to bottom weapon for snapping off the lips, inspiring confidence under the lip yet breaking loose when needed. Later that day Mitu and I head out to One Eye and I snap some GoPro clips of him using the S2-Gadgets selfie stick. (Click on Instagram box below for video)
Day 8 — The final day with building swell and tons of sunshine. The entire posse of distributors head to One Eye and the talent level of these guys is surprisingly high. I trade tacks with Mitu, Raphael, Mica, and Raphael’s son Julien along with all the other distributors. I get clobbered a couple times, and watch as Mitu skillfully finds the hollow sections for short cover-ups. After a full day of kiting, Nico and I grab a van back to the airport and my only regret for this trip is that I didn’t get to hang with this crew longer.