San Blas – The Rider Experience

Words by: Francesca Nimmo

“San Blas? Where is that?” “Islands off Panama? Never heard of them”, were examples of the responses I got when I told people where I was going kitesurfing. With increasingly more spots being discovered and more companies setting up kitesurfing holidays, we are getting spoiled for choice. For me, I wanted something remote, unexplored and a bit of an adventure; to be able to combine kitesurfing and travelling. Finding new spots is part of the magic of the sport and I would love to have the confidence to do this alone, however my knowledge and skills are still lacking, so a company seemed like the best option.

The trip to the San Blas islands certainly didn’t disappoint!

FullSizeRender 17 795x530 - San Blas - The Rider Experience

After the flight, across from Europe, the remainder of the journey started in Panama where ten of us met for a pre-trip briefing and dinner in the charming old town of Panama City.

The following morning we gathered bleary eyed before dawn to load an incredible amount of kit onto the waiting 4 by 4sbefore piling into the two now- heavily- laden vehicles to begin the long, winding, hair-raising drive over the mountains and through the jungle to the Caribbean Sea. We stopped, almost suddenly, at a clearing made at an unassuming bend in the Carthy river. This river is sacred to the Kuna, the San Blas people.

From here, our vast amounts of kit were loaded into passenger boats to be expertly navigated out of the river mouth, narrowly avoiding the numerous sandbars built up amongst the driftwood graveyard, safely making it to open sea and onwards to our catamaran (Name?) , home for the week. Starving after the road trip we tucked into a hearty breakfast on board Mambo Diablo, anchored off the Port of Carti ,the most populated islands of the group. A steady wind was blowing as we weighed anchor and set sail for the Holindase Islands, on the outer reaches of the collection of 367 islands that make up the San Blas.

With the odd dolphin joining us on our journey, we arrived at what can only be described as a postcard setting, palm-studded golden sand islands surrounded by a collage of turquoise and aquamarine waters, best of all, just in time for a sunset session. The islands are surrounded by reef, providing the perfect buttery smooth water. for me, being relatively new to the sport, the conditions could not have been more perfect! Our abilities ranged on the trip, but with water and spots like this all week and no other surfers, kiters or swimmers about, the space and setting was a kite-surfer’s paradise regardless of ability.

Starting day one in a perfect kitesurfing paradise is hard to beat, but every day continued to deliver incredible wind, waters, wildlife, sunrises and sunsets, not to mention the insane culinary skills of our skipper and host, who served up fresh ceviche, lobster and octopus to supplement our already incredible meals.

The winds in the San Blas tend to blow strongest in the mornings, taper off towards lunchtime then pick up again for the afternoon. So, with this in mind, we took to getting up in time for sunrise to make the most of the wind, starting off with a 9 and often using a 12 by midmorning. I had brought out my 12 and 9 but The Rider Experience, the company I booked with, can also provide kites, so I did on occasion use their Core 15 kite and absolutely fell in love with it!

Each spot had its own unique character and you could do this trip several times over and still be kiting a new spot every day! The beauty of this trip is the flexibility to move kitespots as often or a little as you like, with most sails between Islands being no more than an hour or so(not to mention of course that you also get some wonderful cat sailing). Waking up to this incredible desert island scenery and a steady wind every morning really was living the dream!

Generally we launched from the islands, which were as a rule uninhabited (only 1 in 10 islands of the San Blas are populated). The boat was never anchored far, so for those wanting a break from the ache in their arms and every other part of their body, Brendan, the Kitesurf instructor and Spot guide for our trip, was on hand to ferry us to and from the boats whenever needed. The Mambo Diablo provided a perfect viewing platform when taking a break to watch everyone nailing their tricks or whoop at their epic crashes!

For me one of the highlights was kiting amongst the manta rays in the shallows surrounding the islands; on a few occasions, they literally leapt and hit my legs as I kited by! Seeing them glide smoothly below the turquoise waters as you took to the air was an unforgettable sight!

Learning to jump well was very much one of the objectives of the trip for me, and in those perfect waters with expert advice from Brendan and Andy on hand it no longer seemed such a difficult thing to achieve.

Indeed, this was perhaps one of the easiest places to learn and the stunning surroundings enhanced the experience.

By the end of most days everyone was aching with sore muscles they barely knew they had, so we would wind down at sunset with a few beers and the obligatory desert island campfire!

On the last day of the trip the wind played dead, and not even the 15 could be tempted to fly. Ironically this bought a few sighs of relief from my companions on the trip, not used to the daily rigour of kiting day in day out! So kayaks snorkels and SUPS went out in force and the day was slightly slower paced. A great way to end a fantastic trip.

I could babble on endlessly about the trip, needless to say it went too quickly but the memories and friendships will last a lifetime!

The Rider Experience operate out of Panama. A stay at the Panama kitesurfing guesthouse at Punta Chame and a week on the catamaran in the San Blas Islands will set you back around $1750. Flights from the UK are not direct (usually one stop) and cost between £450 and £600 if booked in advance

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