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Going Nowhere

Combine three of the world’s most established and extreme kiteboarders with three of the world’s latest innovators on the foiling scene, pair this unlikely alliance with a select crew of media specialists, and send them all to the remote latitudes of Patagonia in search of wind and unridden water bodies… This whole trip with the North crew was one big experiment. Photographer Kyle Cabano talked us through the results.

PHOTOS: Kyle Cabano and Leo Hochgrassl
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Patagonia is one of those idealized locations that most people know very little about. Most of you probably think about the clothing brand when the name comes into conversation. While Yvon Chouinard and crew have done a dashing job at showcasing the nature and untouched beauty of this wonder of the world, that is not all there is to it.

In the middle of the southern South America continent, at the foot of the Andes mountains, lies an area so high above sea level that it is better known as an alpine destination with fantastic ski and snowboarding conditions during the winter months. With the help of some locals, we learned about the possibility of kiting here during the spring, and we went to investigate for ourselves. Traveling to an area where we know very little about the conditions always poses the question – what kind of riding can we expect? Add into the mix that we combined this trip with an assortment of kiters and wingers; we certainly were an odd bunch!

What we ended up finding was an ice-cold, water-logged wonderland. Rivers pour into the giant lake from all directions, with the winter snow melting away. There were breathtaking landscapes in every direction you looked, and to our surprise, the spots to ride and the wind quality were excellent.

For this trip to make sense, we must rewind to the beginning. The trip started for most of us in Saint Tropez, yes, the yachting hub, an unusual place for a kite trip to start. There was a DEFI wind kite race and exhibition in the southern Mediterranean waters of France, where we represented North and Mystic as pro team riders at the booth. The kiters were Jett Bradshaw, Graham Howes and Cohan van Dijk, and the wingfoilers were Bowien van der Linden, Fabian Muhmenthaler and Chucho Nunnot. Later on the trip, Nick Jacobsen would join us on the journey to Patagonia while Cohan left for Cape Town to train for the Red Bull King of the Air.

Saint Tropez was puzzling. We had a great time catching up as friends and athletes, and it was lovely to be able to see a new part of this versatile rock we call home, but this place was not the vibe. This part of the coastline offers excellent protection from the prevailing wind directions, making it a popular yacht destination. For this same reason, it would make it a terrible wind sports destination. The wind here was unsuitable for riding a twintip, but it allowed some foiling. Nonetheless, we filled our cups with wine and beer, filled our bellies with burgers and fries, and did what we were sent there to do. After all, things were about to change entirely in a few days.

Our flight from France to Argentina was a backbreaker. The mightiest leg of the journey was a single 18-hour flight from Istanbul to Buenos Aires. That is a whopping 18 hours without fresh air, sunshine, and movement. It was a sensory deprivation experiment that I did not enjoy one bit. But, we powered through, swollen ankles and all. After the time warp of the airport transit, we arrived in Buenos Aires one by one. In the first pack were the South Africans – myself, Jett and Graham – and as the days went on, the rest of our family rocked up. Leo Hochgrassl joined us as a videographer on the trip and arrived with Fabi. Nick Jacobsen – the one and only – joined us and came with Team Manager Alex Vliege. Chucho and Bowien joined us just one day before our flight into Patagonia.

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Buenos Aires is beautiful. I think I can generalize us kiters as people who do not feel most at home in a city. It is often a stark contrast to the natural playgrounds we seek – but this city was different. I found Buenos Aires gorgeous. In addition to being on the edge of the river/ ocean, Buenos Aires is well-kept, clean, and vibrant. Most importantly, the locals’ hospitality would give even the South Africans a run for their money.

Our trip was made possible by the Santa Tabla group, the Distributors for North and Mystic in Argentina and other South American regions. Santa Tabla welcomed us with open arms and organized the logistics behind the trip that was about to unfold. The night before we embarked on our flight to Patagonia, their crew hosted an opening party for their newly acquired kite spot on the banks of the famed Rio de la Plata, considered to be the widest river in the world with a maximum width of 220km, deeming it impossible to see from the one side of the river to the other. The opening party was amazing, starting in the afternoon sun, listening to some groovy beats, enjoying some drinks, and prepping for some tow-ups!

Due to a lack of wind, the riders could not hone their skills on the water for the crowd of enthusiastic fans, but luckily, Nick Jacobsen had a trick up his sleeve. His 11m Orbit paired up beautifully with a 30m rope for a textbook kiteloop board-off just as the sun touched the horizon with a crowd of frothing fans on the beach. All the while Nick was preparing for his stunt, many of the remaining team riders were queuing up for a stunt of their own – getting matching tattoos by a beautiful Argentinian artist doing flash tattoos at the party. A few of us got matching tattoos of the sun from the Argentinian flag, so the tone for the night, in fact, the trip, was set, and we were off to a banging start.

Getting the crew to the airport in the morning was like a scene from the popular reality show ’The Amazing Race’. The night’s festivities had gotten the better of most of us. Still, with the prospect of being in Patagonia by the afternoon in sight, we all dug into the reserves and made it to our flight on time. The flight from Buenos Aires to Bariloche was very short, and on arrival, we were wooed by the snow-capped mountains that encased us. It was springtime in Patagonia, and our local intel told us it would be 25 degrees Celsius outside and warm in the sun. This was not the case. It was freezing! It is no secret that it has been a year of unusual weather patterns globally. Out here in Patagonia, we were being delivered late-season frost. Instead of being fresh and springy, we dealt with temperatures in the -5 to 10-degree Celsius range throughout the week we were there, and the wind factor made for proper chilled-to-the-bone conditions.

Our first session was straight out of the airport after some lunch, and the best word to describe the arrival would be ‘sobering’. The icy chill caught us off guard; we were not dressed correctly for our first ice-therapy experience. We arrived at the edge of the Nahuel Huapi Lake to one of the regular session spots where some local crew had just come off the water. The wind appeared to be there, although very patchy and not too strong, which was disheartening. Nonetheless, the crew got amongst it and ended up having a good lightwind shred, with Graham having a great time on his 12m and twintip. At the same time, Nick did some foil kiting, and the wingfoilers certainly stole the show, proving just how great foiling is for tapping into these lighter winds and unfavorable water conditions.

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“Meanwhile, Nick and Graham were already halfway through their first rock jump…”

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On the second day of our trip, there was simply no wind. It was concerning as we had been sold a different story, which had rumored Big Air sessions and wind strengths up to 40 knots. In hindsight, it was one of the most needed off days we had all experienced. I felt recharged by it and was able to enjoy some alone time in the vast and expansive landscapes of the beautiful Patagonia. For the first time since leaving home two weeks prior, I found myself in a place of solitude, silence and reflection. Some of the crew went out on a fishing expedition in the afternoon. Nick lucked into a massive brown trout, about 4kg in weight, and we cooked the fish that evening while sharing stories and burning the fires to keep warm inside the cabin.

Day three of the trip was when we first tapped into the winds of Patagonia. The lake of Nahuel Huapi is massive and covers a whopping surface of 557 square kilometers! That is significantly larger than some entire countries. On day three, we travelled to the lake’s eastern banks, where the kiters and the foilers momentarily split paths. We had found a tributary river that looked like an absolute playground for kiting, although the shallow depth made it totally inappropriate for foiling. The kiters excitedly set up for their first powered session on their smaller kites with beaming smiles. Those crowns quickly turned into frowns as the riders, one by one, came to terms with the freezing cold water at this spot. The seasonal glacial melt formed the tributary river, which filled the lake here, and this spot in the lake was extra icy. The boys began navigating the spot before boosting over a pebbled spit into this tiny landing pan.

Meanwhile, the foilers had been activating the lake section just downwind from us. After some fun shots jamming in the river mouth, the kiters tacked downwind to join the foilers. The wind picked up as the afternoon went on, reaching around 30 knots, which lit up the face of Jett, who went out on his short lines to get some radical loops between the foilers who were hooking flips and riding the endless wind swells that make it to this cross-shore section of the lake. The quality of wind at this spot proved great, and the cold temperature ensured a solid wind density – perfect for wind sports.

On the fourth day of the trip, after a morning session at one of the nearby lakes, we had the opportunity to go out on a boat and session the islands scattered in the lake. Leaving from the convenience of our dock off the property, we set off on flat waters, being in a wind-protected peninsula, before slowly entering the lake’s main channel where the winds were a bit lighter than the morning and blowing around 20 knots. The wingfoilers decided to ride alongside the boats and come downwind to the islands. It is impressive to see how broad the wind range of these wings and foils is as they can get going in winds as light as 12 knots but still manage to ride on similar-sized equipment in wind speeds double the strength.

The vast expanses of this lake are jaw-dropping from the water perspective. Snow-draped mountain peaks scattered the horizon around us, and it all seemed a bit unreal. Launching the kites from our boats would be tricky, so the kiters did a James Bond boat exit, each loaded with a kite, bar, board and harness already on. Launching from that tiny little rock-strewn beach between the tall trees was a sight to behold. One by one, the Orbits were cast into the air, and the boys came out of that little bay doing micro-tacks of about 10m each. The kiters got acquainted with the lighter winds while scouting the island’s potential. At the same time, the foilers zoomed past the boat, busting some wicked flips and raileys.

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Meanwhile, Nick and Graham were already halfway through their first rock jump. They scaled a 10m high rock wall that was positioned downwind. It seemed most confusing to me, but they succeeded in jumping upwind, off the island, and landing below the lake while almost scraping the wall again. Around the island, we all started moving when we saw an even smaller island separated by a channel of water. First on the island was Nick, followed by Graham, who both made the hike up while steering their kites look so effortless. This island was about 15m high and made for a super fun feature for the kiters to jump from.

After an enjoyable and productive two days of wind, we retired to our lakeside cabin, for the next morning we had a very special trip planned. With so much late-season snow, it was suggested that we could go snowboarding. Although the snow season had officially ended, the legends from KitePatagonia arranged to open up a slope exclusively for our crew. Again, our morning began with a mighty drive around the lake – travelling north up the mountainous terrain for four hours to arrive at Cerro Chapelco ski resort. From the base of the mountain, we travelled as far as our 4×4 pick-ups could take us before loading up onto snowmobiles and blasting our way up into the snow-peaked altitudes of the mountain face. Some of the local and international crew were well-acquainted with the way of the snow. Still, for the South Africans in particular, this was a totally new experience.

The snowmobile taxied us up the mountain two by two, and it was a heck of a ride holding onto that iron pony as it accelerated up the slopes. From there, we were to traverse along a strip of snow bordered by exposed rock until we arrived at the refuge, a small glass-walled cabin amid the vast expanses of the mountain range. It was like an oasis in the desert, and the local crew had gone beyond the call of duty to accommodate us. There were buckets of beer planted all around, with seating, tables with snacks, and meat on the grill. It seemed larger than life, and we all felt like celebrities. The hospitality of local Patagonian people is at the next level. We all spent the afternoon on the slopes bombing the nearby hills caked in snow, sharing stories, bombing little ramps, and chilling out a bit after the days of traveling and ice-cold sessions down at the lake.  

Our sixth and final day of the trip started – you guessed it – with a long drive around the lake’s perimeter to arrive at what would become our favorite spot. After a day in the snow, with a fortune of solid sessions and media behind us, the tone of the trip had simmered down. We filled chartered boats with kite bags and crossed the 500m channel to arrive on a tiny island about the size of a tennis court. The island created a super fun little slick for the kiters to jam in; the wingfoilers got to work in the upwind area where the water was deeper, and the wind swells rolled in freely. Nick, being Nick, completely cleared the island, even though the wind strength and direction did not favor such a stunt, and the rest of the riders enjoyed an expression session. The crew on the beach enjoyed the grill-side view while sharing the stoke and catching up. 

The unlikely combination of foilers and kiters brought together a mix of athletes who would leave as friends. Trips like these do not happen often; when they do, they become cherished memories. The goal of this trip was not for training – it was an exploration into the unknown to see what might be possible – instead, this trip served the soul while encouraging us all to think outside the box and learn from each other. A massive thanks to the Santa Tabla crew for all the logistics and enthusiasm towards us, our Team Manager and friend Alex Vliege, who roped us all in and made this trip possible, and the local kite community who contributed to our expedition. I will be back soon…

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“The legends from KitePatagonia arranged to open up a slope exclusively for our crew…”

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