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Vitamin C

This summer Cohan van Dijk headed to Tarifa in his van to train, take part in the Full Power Tarifa Big Air Kite League event and the Qatar Airways GKA Big Air World Championships, and do a video project – check out Vitamin C on YouTube. But as he discovered, the trip wasn’t just about kiting. It was also about the people he met and the friends he made, and it turned out that Tarifa had more than just exhilarating kite sessions in store for him…

WORDS: Cohan van Dijk & Lotta Jachalke
PHOTOS: Nomadicsea 

In the very south of Europe, with a view of Africa, there is a city ruled by the wind. On windless days, people cavort on the beach, stroll through the small alleys, and sit down with a drink in one of the countless cafes or bars. As soon as the wind comes up, the atmosphere in this small Spanish town changes – you see people (and dogs) with rain jackets and ski goggles making their way to the beach despite the insane winds. Kiters sit in the countless vans that stream into town, desperately searching for a free parking space in the narrow streets. You can feel the energy pulsing through their veins as they pump up their kites to hit up one of the best freestyle and Big Air spots in the world.

The season in Tarifa had begun. I couldn’t wait to spend the summer in this vibrant, lively city, and planned to stay as long as possible. To save money and be more flexible and spontaneous, I decided to live in my car. So one day, on a chilly morning in May, I packed my kite gear, got behind the steering wheel of my Volkswagen T4, and raced the 2500km from the Netherlands to the city at the tip of Europe. While I let cities, fields, mountains and lakes pass me by on my way, it was slowly getting warmer outside. Rap music blasted at full volume from the radio, and my van life had begun. When I arrived in Tarifa, I was anything but disappointed. The little Spanish town is known as the capital of wind with good reason. The Strait of Gibraltar accelerates the wind like a funnel, with Tarifa literally being embraced by the wind. About 40% of the time, it blows from the Mediterranean Sea towards the Atlantic Ocean. This warm strong wind coming from the east is called Levante. In the first few days, we were blessed with Poniente wind, which blows the remaining 60% of the time. Literally translated, the wind comes from where the sun sets, from the west. This one hits the whole beach in Tarifa onshore – perfect for freestyle.

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After a couple of days, I ran into Nomadicsea: two experienced surfers and professional photographers from Cape Town who have made it their mission to showcase their vision and love for extreme sports in epic short films. We hit it off right away and decided we could show the world a different version of Tarifa – a more natural view of life and the days we kiters get to experience here. Since I was saving money by sleeping in my van, I had the extra budget for this video project. The wind came up, so Nomadicsea and I gave the green light. Together with Stig Hoefnagel, my longtime teammate and partner in crime, I had a fun, playful freestyle session. Getting on the water that day, I felt again how unique kiting in Tarifa really is. The stoke on the water is awesome. Imagine a spot where you are repeatedly amazed because the best kiters in the world do one daring and complicated trick after another… Imagine being cheered on by these kiters as you push yourself to your limit and land new tricks… Imagine a thriving and supportive competition between all of the kiters. We all know each other, we are family. They help me bring out the best version of myself, both on the water and on land. When I came off the water that day, I had a huge smile on my face, as did my friends.

After a session like this, we usually end up at the Power House Café, one of my favorite places in Tarifa. It serves healthy and colorful dishes made with fresh ingredients: the perfect food to satisfy us hungry kiters. Once we settle down on the sofa in the restaurant or on the benches in the garden, we talk about the session and the sessions to come – what the conditions were like, what tricks we managed, and how we plan to improve next time. We give each other advice, laugh together about failed jumps, and dream of windy days in the future. That day, as we sat in the café enjoying a delicious cheesecake, Scott Barendsen, one of my close friends, nudged me: “Look Big C, the wind is going to increase hugely over the next few days. I see a Big Air session coming.” He held the forecast up to my face… It was a deep purple color with the knots shooting past 40… The strong offshore Levante was coming. I had butterflies in my stomach. It’s like seeing your girlfriend again after a long time: exciting and nerve-wracking.

Monday came and with it the wind. It whipped through the streets, shaking the windows and knocking over flower pots. The Big Air spot, Balneario, at the very corner of Tarifa, is pretty small. Even with just five kiters you have to watch out for each other. To give ourselves as much space as possible, Nomadicsea and I decided to do an early session. Arriving at the beach, the sand flew horizontally across the ground… Seagulls fought desperately against the gusts, gave up, and sought shelter between houses… The palm trees clung to their leaves… The perfect day to kite had arisen. As I pumped up my 7m Naish Pivot, a gust pulled me down the beach. Trying not to lose my balance, I dug my feet into the sand. In the distance, I noticed an anchored catamaran, probably waiting for the wind to die down. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad idea, I thought to myself. Exposed to the full force of the wind, my emotions were overflowing like the waves thunderously washing up on the beach, only to be swept back with force the next moment. On the one hand, I was nervous and briefly considered whether another day for filming would be safer. On the other hand, I was excited and hyped. I couldn’t wait to get out on the water and harness the power of these conditions. After my first jump, all doubts were literally blown away. Being in the air I tune out everything else – it is just me and my kite – nothing else seems to matter. I turned off my fear, and jumped higher and more confidently throughout the session. What a blast!

I wonder how many people feel insecure when they lose the ground under their feet? As a child, I certainly did. But as I gained more experience day by day, I realized that a path that takes me out of my comfort zone and confronts me with new challenges called to me magically. When my board loses contact with the water, I feel alive. It is a jump off this earth and into the world. Being high up in the air with the power of the wind, you feel small and reduced to a single point. But on the other hand, you become one with nature. You feel like you are embracing the world. There is nothing more that holds you. But nothing also means everything.

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As I lay in my van that evening, I felt infinitely happy and grateful for the time that I have been able to experience in this small Spanish town. Since my arrival, my living situation has pushed me out of my comfort zone more than once. Among other things, it has allowed me to meet many different people. If you live in a house or apartment, it might be a while before you leave it each day. It is convenient to have a lot of space and why not use it? Living in a car means getting by with much less space. As soon as you put on some water for a cup of coffee, you’re standing outside, in the real world. My only couch is the front seats, where – I assure you – it can get cramped and lonely in the long run. Being out in the world puts you in contact with a lot of people. And thereby, naturally, with the stories of these people and the real beauty of Tarifa. I realize how much I grow and get inspired through the conversations. I realize how people find satisfaction and purpose in the most diverse things. I realize how many ways there are to live life.

Tarifa is a place that brings people together, not only us kitesurfers, but people from all over the world. But especially for us kiters, it’s the perfect place to meet because it’s centrally located on the globe and, let’s face it, there’s pretty much always a wind blowing. But our time in Tarifa had to come to an end eventually. Slowly the kiters returned home and I, too, got behind my steering wheel. As I drove out of Tarifa, I looked in the rearview mirror of my car and saw the last rooftops of the small Spanish town I had been privileged to call home for the past few months slowly disappearing. In my mind I let the time pass in review. And realized that no one can take away the experiences and moments I had in the town between Levante and Poniente. It’s now a part of me.

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