Aussie Exploration: Rodrigues

Words by: Ollie Jacobs
Photos by: Ollie Jacobs & Brenton Owens

Mauritius and the headline-grabbing Le Morne region provides the perfect cover to keep another island offering kiting perfection out of the headlines… Rodrigues is only a short flight away from Mauritius but feels like you’ve traveled back in time to a quieter world of kiting perfection. Australian kite journo Ollie Jacobs investigates…

“I come from a land down under,
Where beer does flow and men chunder
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover, yeah…”

Men At Work, 1980

Aussies and Kiwis… Our European settler ancestral roots belong to that of the once convicted, cast out from high tea society, banished to the land of plenty. Our thirst for the seadog life by the ocean is deeply ingrained, as is the lure of distant, exotic, remote lands.

As kitesurfers, this addiction to the exploration for the ultimate destination is intensified. Chasing the sun, wind and waves are what bonds every kiter, in all corners of the world.

Check the bank balance? Probably enough. Get time off work? Ahhh doesn’t matter, just quit and get a new job when I get back. Round up your mates, girlfriend, family, or failing that: solo traveling is good for the soul…

DJI 0009 Ollie J Lost At Sea Pic Brenton Owens 2 - Aussie Exploration: Rodrigues

Follow the Sun, Chase Wind, Find your Dream.
So with this attitude, I was off on another trip to Mauritius. The Mecca for kitesurfing has it all: warm water, incredible waves, wind, nightlife, and everything from 5-star resorts through to jungle cabins. If you’ve ever considered a trip here, don’t second guess it, just do it: it’s incredible. Traveling with my good friend and fellow photographer Brenton Owens, we were excited for the three weeks of pure kitesurfing and photography adventures. Excited to be returning to Mauritius but also excited for further explorations, we were heading out to a tiny province of Mauritius and a kiteboarding haven called Rodrigues.

Rodrigues is relatively unknown to the general kitesurfing community. Most kiters get to Mauritius and say “it can’t get any better than this” and, well, that’s true for most. But if you like adventure, if you want to get a taste of what Mauritius was like 20 years ago before the tourist boom and big resorts, clubs, and crowds, then jot down ‘Must do Rodrigues’ on your itinerary and you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise.

1390261 - Aussie Exploration: Rodrigues

Adventure Time
After a few days of kiting and partying at Le Morne, we set off to the Mauritius airport with a heap of kite and photography gear. Combining these two passions is beautiful but, Jesus, you end up traveling with a lot of equipment! Arriving a little late, we drove straight into the exit lane of Terminal 4, then the VIP section, and then parked in a sot labeled TAXIS ONLY. What a start… Sure enough, within seconds the security lady was over and told us to move on to a spot way over the other side of the airport. We had way too much gear to consider this seriously. When traveling, I can’t recall the number of times I’ve played full ‘dumb tourist’ mode and just smiled and blurted out “Gidday mate, we’re on walkabout from Australia!” Usually this gets me out of most hitches… But not this time, she was on the walkie-talkie to her boss and over he came, not looking too stoked. “Where are you going?” he demanded. “Rodrigues,” I said, and with that his face lit up, and he offered to help us unload our gear right there! Turns out he was from Rodrigues and was very happy these dumb Aussies were off to see his beautiful country…

Touch Down
We got picked up from the airport by local operator Andy Alberts. Andy is a long-time local and runs a kite school there. We emailed him a few days prior, and he hooked us up with a 4WD and accommodation for our first few days. On the way, he gave us a quick rundown of the island… Here are the key points:

  • The island is pretty small, you can drive from one side to the other in an hour. The roads are quite good, traffic is minimal (most locals walk everywhere or get the buses).
  • With a low population of about 40,000 crime is very low, and a happy, small community vibe prevails. Locals wave to you and speak predominantly French and Creole, with most also speaking some English.
  • Groceries and beer are cheap, accommodation varies significantly from very cheap to resort style. Restaurants are relatively inexpensive, around €10 for a meal.
  • The windy season is June to October with a predominantly south easterly direction lighting up one half of the main island to kiting. The main attraction for the kiting is the flatwater, crystal clear water lagoons and the beautiful small islands off the mainland. The wind is generally consistent and usually moderately windy at around 20 knots, with some screamer 30 knot days.
  • It does get chilly some days when it’s overcast, so take a good wetsuit top and reef boots if you’re learning as there can be some sharp coral.

1390640 Local Guide Marcus Pic Brenton Owens - Aussie Exploration: Rodrigues

Wave Hunting
Being predominantly wave kiters, we Googled ‘Rodrigues kitesurfing waves’ and found some info about a reef offshore that occasionally works for waves and wind. Andy said he would take us out there so off we went. A 30 minute boat trip on the local fishing boat and we were pleasantly surprised by 2-3 feet of swell wrapping mostly lefts into a channel around a small sand island. After a quick safety tutorial on the spot, and info on how sketchy this place was on the outgoing tide, Andy said we had two hours before it turned, so we pumped up and hit it. We had a great session with Brenton jumping in the water for a bit with his water housing and capturing some shots. We didn’t want to stop, but Andy gave us the ‘wrap it up’ hand signal as the tide was starting to drain out of the channel. I picked up Brenton from the water to tow him in and could see what Andy was saying. It took a good 10 minutes or so to drag Brenton into the lagoon with the outgoing tide now really starting to pump out. But all turned out well, we landed our kites in the lagoon – which Andy’s apprentice Marcus helped pack up – cracked some beers and cruised along the beautiful sandy islands full of birds and sea life galore. Perfect.

Close Call
The next day, Andy was busy helping to organize the upcoming Rodrigues International Kite Festival (RIKF) so, as we didn’t get any drone footage of the waves because we were too busy kiting, we decided to hook up with the boat guy and return to the waves for one more session.

It was much bigger than the previous day. Probably 3-5ft on the spot and 6-8 foot closeouts further down the reef. The wind was lighter but still felt ok. I was super keen to capture this on the drone, so myself and Marcus busted out to the reef, with Brenton firing up the drone. I felt like a kid racing into a candy store on the tack out. Good speed, stupidly clear water, and perfectly clean lines coming in over the reef. I changed my tack back towards the lagoon just to check the down-the-line power. It felt pretty light, but I seemed to be holding ground when I resumed my upwind tack. This was a warning sign right here, and within a few minutes the wind shifted from cross-off to full offshore. I saw a nice swell line coming in so tried to downloop my kite to pull me into it, but the wind just dropped. Probably to under 15 knots… Which was okay when it was cross-off but terrible news as it was now full offshore. I saw Marcus try the same and we tacked past each other, both with the same ‘oh shit’ look in our eyes. We were in trouble. The next 20 minutes or so we battled trying to get back in over the reef in the fading winds. But each upwind tack took us further out to sea, and the downward tack only horizontal to the reef which was now 500 meters or so away. Marcus hooted at me and pointed to a downwind channel a good two kilometers or so further down the reef, so I followed Marcus’s lead and started looping like mad to catch him up. Finally I started seeing the reef come up from out of the depths. I was getting close to the lagoon again and felt a hell of a lot better, but seeing 6 foot bombs exploding onto the reef sent butterflies to my guts. I waited for a set to go through and as the last pounder smashed into the reef I went as hard and fast as I could to get through. Another medium size set did rear up, but I timed it so that I turned into it and over it just as it was peaking and followed it in after it broke. I’d made it to the lagoon and the old fishing boat (which couldn’t have made it out the back to get me) swung by to pick me up! The beers tasted extra good that afternoon.

Opening shot maybe - Aussie Exploration: Rodrigues

Festival Time
The RIKF was about to start, and we wanted to be close to the action, so we moved to ‘La Belle Rodriguaise’ a cool little group of very comfy shacks right on the beach within walking distance of the comp. The nicest thing about this place is it has its own private beach with ample room to set up your kites on the grass and easy access to the large waist-deep lagoons. The first night here we stumbled across a super cool small beach bar called ‘Willies’. If you want to meet the local kite crew, then this is the place to visit, and we felt like we had arrived on Rodrigues.

The lagoon in front of ‘La Belle Rodriguaise’ has onshore winds, but if you can manage to tack right out to the outer reef there, you will find very smooth water, consistent wind, and sweet little kickers to boost on. Be careful, there are some shallow spots so check it out first, but on the high tide it’s pretty safe to go nuts and a lot of fun! From here we kited downwind and parked at the RIKF comp site. It’s a pretty cool setup with a bar, café and some kite schools right on the sand. Somehow I got roped into being a judge and was soon introduced to the other two judges, girl shredder champs Helena Brochocka, and Céline Rodenas. Well, these two lovely lasses who would whip my ass in any sort of kiting sat me down and gave me a super quick cram sesh on technical judging points as this isn’t my specialty. Then, now being a fully qualified judge, the comp got underway and was a pleasure to be part of. The standout in the lads was Simon Lamusse from Mauritius, and the girls were also ripping with an exciting final for them as a storm front came through picking up to a solid 25+ knots, smashing anyone attempting unhooked tricks. In the women’s, Girelda Jeeworth had traveled over especially for the competition in search of glory and scored well in both the freestyle and the race.

1400894 Pic Brenton Owens - Aussie Exploration: Rodrigues
DSC01300 Winner Simon Lamusse Pic Ollie J - Aussie Exploration: Rodrigues

Serious Party
After the comp was done and dusted it was party time, and the Rodrigians know how to throw a party! Sponsored by Rockstar energy drink, the party was right on the beach, with DJs, local dancers, reggae bands and BBQ tents. Oh did we mention it was a three day party? Yes, three days of good times! And a great way to meet many locals as I’m pretty sure the whole island attended. My favorite party night was getting some serious boogie time to a live 10-piece ‘seggae’ band. ‘Seggae’ is a combination of sega (traditional Mauritian music) and reggae. It’s basically a very upbeat version of reggae and the crowd there seemed to love it as much as we did!

With the comp finished the island settled back into its normal sleepy groove. We had some time to explore some more of the island’s kiting treats. This included a 35 kilometer downwinder with boat support from our accommodation to a beautiful sandy island where a BBQ awaited. We also ventured to an island inhabited only by cats (not the ones you want to stroke as they are more tiger than cat) which also had a fantastic swimming pool lagoon made for taking photos.

DSC00354 - Aussie Exploration: Rodrigues

Apart from the Kiting…
On the few days downtime where we had no wind, we had plenty of options with zip wiring, a giant freefall swing, super cool giant tortoise in a nature reserve, and some unique markets in the main town, Port Mathurin. So, if you’re looking for something different, a safe place where you can ride away from crowds and somewhere to really get involved in the local community and meet lots of rad locals, then move on from Mauritius and hit up Rodrigues next time you’re in the Indian Ocean.

This article originally appeared in TheKiteMag #28. To subscribe, go here.

Big Air Comp so use later - Aussie Exploration: Rodrigues

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