Give me Dakhla Attitude

I’d like to say that I was as carefree as the cat I spied in the Casablanca transit lounge prior to my connecting flight, skirting languidly but curiously under the filled rows of seats, much to the bemusement or indifference of my fellow transitionists. But truth is, I wasn’t.

Besides wondering how a cat came to be loose in an international air transport lounge, on my mind were two things… predominantly the emails that were coming in each time I connected to a patch of free airport WiFi, promising a backlog of work as I started my vacation, but also whether the check-in assistant for my airline had put the right tags on my luggage when leaving London (having mistakenly entered the wrong details on her first try).

C’est la vie. Luckily, any worries and concerns I had were negated by the fact that I was heading to Dakhla Attitude, a hotel/beach club/kite resort on the far, Atlantic fringe of the Moroccan Sahara. I’d already heard many good things about the place, and the promise of perfect kite conditions (as well as satiating my ongoing obsession with the desert and warm, inviting climates) far outweighed the worry of pressing emails or having to live for a week in just the clothes I was traveling in (thick, black, and warm, having just left near-freezing London – never an ideal outfit for the desert).

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And so, as I disembarked onto the Dakhla airport tarmac in the warm, late evening air (which carried with it that familiar, pungent smell of seaweed, affirming I was only yards from the mid-Atlantic) and made my way through the airport arrivals lobby and into the entrance hall, not only did I find my luggage waiting, but there was Driss, the one-man Dakhla Attitude welcoming committee, holding aloft the iconic Dakhla Attitude sign of a one-clawed crab. He was wearing a smile, and was quick with the handshake.

On board the bus with my fellow, newly-arrived DA guests, we gunned the desert roads through the night and toward the camp, the scrubby dunes glowing in the bright moonlight. I could tell the others on the bus were probably as strung out as I from the flights… But it’s amazing how the spirit of adventure trumps any post-flight discombobulation, every time.

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The late-night welcome at reception was again warm and friendly, frankly unexpected at such a late hour and helped no end by the fact that the receptionist was bilingual. In fact, apparently trilingual. Or maybe even quadlingual… as are, it turned out, most of the many staff here. My French is (and this cannot be overstated) inconceivably shameful, underlined by the fact that I live in the country next door to France.

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Moon rise over the camp as I arrived

We were invited to drink warm, sweet mint tea, placed courteously on the counter for our arrival. I came to learn that touches like this at Dakhla Attitude are not uncommon.

With help to carry my luggage, I was shown to my quarters in the Dragon Camp, rising rows of aesthetically-fitting terraced lodges which, in the daylight, look almost as if they were hewn from the sandstone cliff in which they sit snugly, at the head of the somewhat ominous sounding but excellently dramatic ‘Point of the Dragon’ peninsula.

I unpacked, put my laptop on charge, and sat quiet with the window open, looking out into a desert night. Things were peaceful, with barely a breeze of wind, and although the heat was not oppressive, the proximity of the lagoon right at the foot of the camp – which I’d noticed as one long shimmer under the moonlight on the drive in – gave a coolness to the slack air. I showered, and slept, and in my dreams were weather systems, and wind, and anticipation of what the daylight would bring…

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Room with a view: looking south and east over the tidal lagoon from the top of Dragon Camp.

At around 6am on the first morning, I awoke to the breeze, my curtains gently undulating as the rising sun set about warming the land, birthing thermals which would fast evolve into the day’s wind. Swallows and the native Cricket Longtails were excitable within the restless air, and set about their prolonged morning songs. I sat up and looked out of the window, and beheld a hue of reds, oranges, pinks and purples… it’s hard to beat a desert sunrise.

Surrounding the shore is the lagoon, an expanse of clear, powder blue water, with the iconic White Dune on the eastern shores in the far, far distance, something I’d first noticed when checking the #dakhlaattitude hashtag prior to my flight over.

And below my window, Dakhla Attitude itself: a camp/hotel that I would soon discover (and hope to relate here) that is tailored to the fun-loving, water activity enthusiast, but welcoming to all, whether young, old, from near or far, skilled or unskilled, water fan or sun worshipper.

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Desert sunlight: my kit would dry in a matter of minutes. 

After a quick shower (you are politely reminded here that, despite the array of facilities on offer, this is still the desert, which naturally comes with desert limitations and desert charms, neither of which are mutually exclusive) I dressed (boardies, tee, flip-flops… bring a selection of these and you’re pretty much set for your stay), and wandered down for breakfast.

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The meals here are in what’s probably best described as a communal style. A table is set out at the head of a large room which is bedecked at the edges and center with dining tables and comfortable, cushion-laden seating and depending on the time of day (there are three meals a day here, all included within the price) the table is loaded up with freshly cooked delights, generally of a Moroccan style. Highlights for me? The Kofte lamb, the barbecued chicken, the peppered tomatoes… too much to mention in truth. The fish tagine I had? When I say the slow cooked fish just fell from the bones, I mean it. Delicious. And you’re invited to take your fill. And as anyone who knows me knows, I never need telling twice when it comes to food… Took my fill I most certainly did.

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The restaurant/communal dining area

There’s an extensive menu from which you can also order meals should you feel hungry outside of the meal times. All reasonably priced, with fresh seafood a specialty. I intended to order from this, but the communal feasts never gave me even the smallest window of hunger throughout my stay.

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Next door to the restaurant and somewhere I’d find myself heading to a lot through my time there is the Pink Flamingo club (its name a tribute to the flocks of flamingos that can often be seen resting up in the shallower spots of the lagoon to the east). Another large space that is filled with comfortable seating, the Pink Flamingo is usually overseen by its larger-than-life chief barman, Hakim, AKA Hakim Mojito. Super friendly, loves his karaoke, and you can probably guess what his cocktail specialty is…

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Both the restaurant and the Pink Flamingo are the epicenters of the inclusive satellite WiFi. Occasionally slow, but always available. Again, you’re in the desert. To have WiFi at all out here should not be taken for granted. There’s also Foosball, table tennis, volleyball, slack lining, all in or around the bar. Basically the perfect place to hang out in between sessions. Me? I attacked emails: work was a pleasure when you’re on comfortable seating, next to a bar, on the edge of the desert, post-kite…

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Slacklining. Way harder than it looks…

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It was a tough week…

Following a leisurely breakfast in the shade of the restaurant veranda and with the wind coming up as the heat of the day increases, it’s time to visit the Rihfly Dakhla Sports Center, the only IKO affiliated kitesurfing center in Dakhla, and conveniently positioned around the corner from the hotel, on a slipway that faces directly onto the lagoon, with great 180 degree visibility. This is your muster spot for all things kite, windsurf and surf… supremely well-stocked with all the kit you’ll need, whether beginner or pro. Two safety boats remain in the water while the center is open, and on hand are the many highly experienced instructors and advisors, who are all IKO or VDWS certified.

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Rihfly Dakhla Sports Center at high tide

Stocked with the latest Cabrinha equipment, the kiteboard kit range is certainly comprehensive. From 3m learner kites to something a pro could grab in substitute of their own should they fancy mixing it up, it’s all here. The in-house instructors (at least one of whom – Larbi – is a pro rider himself as 2015 Moroccan freestyle champion, sponsored by Cabrinha Morocco and Mystic Morocco) are all super friendly and extremely good at what they do… These instructors are as professional as it gets, multi-lingual, and with a choice of lessons to suit depending on your previous experience (if any), you can tailor any learning specifically to your requirements. Whilst I was there I saw many non-kiters scooting across the lagoon under a 12m kite with a smile on their face by the end of the week.

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Second from left: Hakim Mojito // Second from right: Larbi

In the back of the center there’s a classroom for theory lessons… nothing is taken for granted here, and the first lessons you’ll receive are wind theory and safety. In fact, your personal safety is paramount here, and all precautions are taken (and should the very, very rare situation warrant it, I’m told the Dakhla hospital comes highly rated!). The tidal lagoon on which it’s based is called Dragon Beach, and is approximately 4kms long by 2.5 – 4kms wide, dependent on the state of tide, and with only the south end feeding in from the Atlantic (which is much further down the channel) it’s a supremely safe spot to kite. Out on the lagoon, and the conditions are ideal. The sand dunes and sandstone cliffs on the west and east sides of the lagoon create their own highly reliable wind channel, with the winds running from north to south, and as the knots increase with the heat of the day, so too does the buzz around the sports center.

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The comfort of having a shore opposite cannot be understated if you’re still a little uncomfortable with the idea of open ocean kiting (myself), and knowing that you’ll never be out of sight of the center is also reassuring. Although on perfect days it can get a little busy, this is no Tarifa. There are still spaces you can get to and pretty much carve away by yourself until you’re exhausted/satiated. Not least, bizarrely, the north and far end of the lagoon, which receives consistent wind and yet doesn’t seem to get too crowded, despite the proximity of a couple of other kite centers. Beginners should note though that this is out of sight of Dakhla Attitude, and one for intermediates/advanced riders only.

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But no matter where you choose to kite, there’s plenty of space for all, and everyone seems to get on with everyone, with all levels of skill in harmonious pursuit of wind and fun. In fact it’s not unusual to catch a learner body dragging their way through the shallows, and see a world class pro pulling handle passes just a few meters further out.

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Speaking of which, Dakhla Attitude also hosts many kitecamps with visiting pro riders, where beginners can get valuable inspiration, and established riders can get trick-tips and advanced riding techniques from those who are paid to do it professionally. Visiting riders have included Keahi de Aboitiz, Youri Zoon, Annabel Van Westerop, Nick Jacobsen, Alberto Rondina, Liam Whaley, Annelous Lammerts and many more…

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The White Dune

The sports center also offers many off-camp excursions for the adventurous, such as a downwinder to the iconic White Dune, complete with a guide and a safety boat; a visit to the ‘Speed Spot’ to the east, where adrenaline-junkies with an eye for the power zone can head to get their kicks; or, if the wind hasn’t quite come up yet, maybe a surf trip to one of the many epic wave spots this area has to offer. For a nominal fee, you can sign yourself up to these excursions, and the rest is taken care of.

On one morning when, contrary to the forecast the wind hadn’t quite shown up, a surf trip was organised to Arish, a spot about 40 minutes up the coast from DA. 8 of us including an instructor piled into the camp’s 4×4 jalopy and headed north. It was my first real chance to see the desert, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Nomadic locals camped up by the sides of the road; camel herds with their stick-wielding herdsman; long, dramatic desert landscapes that literally do not seem to end… it’s as beautiful as you‘d imagine it would be.

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And the surf spot itself was nothing less than perfect. Only small that day at about 3ft+, but long, long right handers reeling down a point break on the edge of a channel used by local fishermen to launch and land their boats. Long enough, in fact, that you’d end your ride and jog back up to the point to save a hefty paddle. That long. Gotta love spots like that. Despite varying levels of experience, not one of us left without a grin on our face. And when we got back to Dakhla Attitude, that forecasted wind had arrived, so it was straight back out onto the water…

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A sub-editor at play…

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Dakhla Attitude Hotel Manager Janie Demeestere, clearly loving her first ever surf…

Out front of Rihfly sport center is a vibrant, busy spot for most of the day, with kiters (most staying on site but some visiting from elsewhere) milling in and around the center. When you’ve had your fill of wind on the lagoon, you can go and practise your ramp and slider skills over at the cable park, a popular and relatively new addition to the hotel that’s located just across from the Pink Flamingo club. I spent a lot of time over here, the view across to the edge of Africa itself is most pronounced at this spot… a great backdrop as you’re riding. Should you need any equipment during your stay, Dakhla Attitude has it’s own on-site surf store, brim-full of the latest kit, clothing, accessories and more. If you’re on a lesson package, there are special deals available, and you can also organize test runs of gear you’re intending to buy, and all arranged with the signature friendliness that you’ll fast get used to.

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Dakhla Attitude Cable Park

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View to the east, and to Africa…

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The Dakhla Attitude surf shop: well stocked.

And should you feel a little thirsty post-kite, I recommend the Dakhla Attitude beach bar, conveniently located right next door to the sports center. This is the spot where the weekly beach party is held, complete with a fully stacked beach bonfire. Alternatively, get yourself booked in to a massage at the hotel spa. I can but only dream of getting a massage that good again…

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Post-kite cocktail? Rude not to…

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The Dakhla Attitude Spa. 

A huge part of the charm of Dakhla Attitude is the simple but stylish layout of the place. It’s testament to the work put in by those who had the vision in the first place that Dakhla Attitude has become one of the most popular kite resorts in the world, and for a range of good reasons is the regular host of several high profile competitions, not least the annual World Tour stop.

The man who undeniably has had the most vision-become-reality is Klaus Warkentin, the General Manager of Dakhla Attitude who has spent the last 5 years of his life turning what was the butt-end of a sand dune into a world-class water sport resort. I spent some time talking with Klaus one evening, and it was made clear that what I saw before me was part of an ongoing and evolving project. “It was so brown. So, so brown…” responded Klaus, after I asked him about the early days of Dakhla Attitude (and evident in photos I saw of the place following my trip). Adding the cable park was also Klaus’s idea, and one that had not been an easy call… “Yeah I took a gamble there,” said Klaus. “I felt it would work but it was far from certain. Luckily it paid off!”

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Far left: Klaus, General Manager of Dakhla Attitude

The VIP bungalows, the yoga tent, the spa… all were ideas that Klaus felt could only raise the profile and attraction of Dakhla Attitude. And it has, unquestionably. One thing that’s immediately visible at DA is the broad spectrum of clientele in attendance… let alone the fact that there are nationalities from literally all over the world present, but there are many families, groups, and solo travelers giving kiteboarding a go for the first time, through to seasoned, hardcore kite veterans who remember the early days of Dakhla Attitude when it was, essentially, a cluster of tents with a distinctly ‘wild west’ feel about it.

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What I hadn’t realised, which became clearer as I sat talking with Klaus, was the progressiveness of the resort. From an ecological standpoint, there are few centers which take their environment as seriously as DA does. Take water: drinking water in the desert is a huge logistical challenge, and one that DA faced head on. Dakhla Attitude treats its water via a reverse osmosis process, so that you can fill up your drinking water canteen or bottle from the restaurant or bar at any time, and therefore not have to purchase plastic water bottles – the scourge of the seas. They’re also encouraging the town in the building of desalination plants to further lessen the reliance on imported drinking water.

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Klaus was also quick to realise that it was important to engage with the local residents of Dakhla town, often whose only interaction with the hotels’ international visitors would be between transit to and from the airport, or perhaps on one of the visits to Dakhla town that the hotel offers. So now, at the weekends, schoolchildren from Dakhla (along with their parents) are invited up to the camp to see it for themselves, to play, hang out and even learn how to kite. Klaus sees it as an investment too – he hopes that when these children see and experience it for themselves, some will take on a more active role in promoting the sport and water activity tourism within the region in general.

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Enquiring what was next for Dakhla Attitude (Klaus is not one to rest on his laurels – he’s also Cabrinha’s chief Moroccan representative) and he talks of plans for a kids club within the resort, one where the children are taught the basics of wind, waves and environmental awareness in a fun and engaging way, giving them a solid foundation of basic knowledge before they get to their first kite lesson. Great news for visiting families.

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My days at Dakhla Attitude seemed to slip by too fast. My week there straddled the split between high and low seasons, but you wouldn’t know it… the wind was as perfect, the sun as hot and the water as warm as the days preceding. And there were many special moments that still stand out in my mind – the hundreds of giant dragonflies that soar around the appropriately named Dragon Camp; the ‘fiddler’ crabs, the males distinct with their one giant white claw, that wander the shores after dark and who also get to grace the Dakhla Attitude logo as mentioned earlier; the huge full moon that I sat and watched one night, with a beer in hand, from one of the giant beanbags next to the cable park.

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Watching the sun slip into the Atlantic beyond the Dakhla peninsula. Not something you get bored of…

My week at Dakhla Attitude was certainly a special one. It’s hard to translate a distinctly different environment to those who haven’t seen or felt anything like it, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the place to anyone considering a kiteboarding vacation, with or without family or friends. I visited alone, and yet, come the end of my week-long stay, I had a lot of new friends, and it felt like every member of staff knew my name. And that’s testament to the genuine, honest friendliness of those who work at Dakhla Attitude: if indeed it has an ‘attitude’, it’s one of welcoming graciousness, a relaxed and warm temperament, and an absolute lust for the life they live.

I was sad to leave, but I made a pact to myself to return. I know the winds, warmth, waves, and that distinct Dakhla Attitude will be waiting.

Words: Cai Waggett
Images: Cai Waggett / Eric Bussing / Dakhla Attitude

WEB: dakhla-attitude.ma
FACEBOOK: facebook.com/dakhlaattitude

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