It’s hard to explain the time I spent in Madagascar without invoking the biggest travel cliché of the 20th century—Fantasy Island. Yes, the late ‘70s TV show where the dwarf-sized little person welcomes guests to a luxury island where all of their craziest wishes were granted. That distortion of reality pretty much describes my trip with the F-One team to the island of Nosy Ankao in northern Madagascar.
Magazine editors aren’t typically invited to brand photoshoots. Though we often get the invite to sales-oriented dealer meetings, rarely are we gifted access to the exclusive athlete-driven trip. However, in a promotional photo junket arrangement, the F-One team had finagled a two week stay at a private luxury island for the purpose of collecting their marketing imagery for this year’s product launch and given the big product releases, company owner Raphael Salles invited myself along with fellow magazine editor, Rou Chater, to experience the new lineup along with the athletes.
We flew into Madagascar’s capital city, Antananarivo, then took a puddle jumper two hours north to Antsiranana. It is at this point that most kiteboarders take a boat or a taxi to one of the nearby kitesurf lodges, however, this is where our trip took a bizarre kiteboarding twist of fortune.
Instead, we walked back into the airport’s private aviation gate and loaded our team of 12 into two sleek jet helicopters. Belted in with inflatable life vests and sound-canceling headsets, the aluminum flying machines launched into vertical takeoff and accelerated into the 28-knot southerly trade wind, dodged around the coastal mountain range and headed south along Madagascar’s northeastern coast.
Small but quite capable to handle the gusty wind, the two choppers leapfrogged back and forth, and from the large bulbous windows and low altitude flight, we sucked in the rural Madagascar landscape. To our right, large barren volcanic mountains rose in the distance and below us, we watched remote villages and rice paddy operations thrive in lush river valleys, amidst complete isolation—all without power lines or paved roads. We are told the Malagasy people have deforested much of the region over the past century so they could provide firewood and heat for themselves, leaving much of the hilly red clay dotted land with nothing but low-lying scrub and the occasion clump of trees. We floated over tiny fishing camps embedded in mangroves and watched fishermen traverse the inlets and open waters in dugout wooden canoes with square makeshift sails called pirogues.
We eyed sections of coastline for waves as the relentless 30-knot winds pushed healthy windswell towards the north, often wrapping around island points and lonely sandbars, promising for both kitesurfing and foilsurfing yet fantastically remote and logistically technical. I quickly become convinced that the helicopter approach is the only way to start a kiteboarding adventure… To read the entire article, become a subscriber of Tkb Magazine.