Report by Grace Austin
The KTA has been waiting a long time for this week, and it finally came. The Myanmar Wave Rider’s Cup was about to kick off the new season. Groups of riders and organizers alike traveled from all over Asia (some even from as far as the US and Europe) to be here in Ngwe Saung for the event. It wasn’t an easy journey with Myanmar being fairly off the beaten track. For some it involved two or three flights and for all one ‘hell’ of a road journey.
This event though was many people’s first look at Myanmar, and in the countdown leading up to it everyone was getting pretty curious about what the location will be like. So in the end that road trip itself was an adventure and an insight into Myanmar life, as you journeyed ever on. But at the end of the day, kiters are simple creatures, right? Once the minimum requirements of beach, warmth, waves and of course wind are met – it’s smooth sailing.
Even though Myanmar is very much up and coming in the backpacking community and the hordes of travel blogs that are hyping it up to be the new off-the-beaten-track location, the country’s ins and outs still aren’t too widely broadcasted, compared with other heavily documented parts of South East Asia. That’s part of what was making people so excited for this event – that shadow of mystery.
The first thing I noticed when we got off the plane was how beautifully dressed everybody in the airport was. Bright orange, pink, turquoise and yellow saris, dresses, shawls, all delicately embroidered. Babies eyes rimmed with black kohl, women’s faces smeared with expressive strokes of gold make up.
Taxi, Myanmar style…
Life on the road
We drove in the fading evening light, deeper and deeper into the jungle. Our driver estimated a five hour trip from the airport to the beach. 6 hours in, we stopped for the second time – this time not for an intentional rest, but because most of the road in front of us was blocked by a broken down bus. Standing on the roadside, dancing around a campfire, bottles of beer in hand was none other than the rest of our KTA battalion. As it happened, their bus had left Yangon airport about four hours before ours, but had broken down two thirds of the way through the trip. Although they had been reassured every half an hour that the replacement bus was coming ‘in half an hour’, by the eighth time they were told that the faith was starting to shake.
In the end it was some 14 hours after the entirety of the group left Yangon airport that we all arrived at the Ngwe Saung Yacht Club. Regardless of the early hour of the morning, it appeared almost everyone who was already at the resort had stayed up to meet the bus. The moment we pulled in is a memory I’m sure I’ll look back on, even 40 KTA events from now and though I imagine it will get lost in countless other memories yet to be created – it will surely be one of the best. Everyone inside the lobby of the resort swarmed up to the edge of the bus, where we poured out one by one, shattered and dishevelled after the journey of doom. People ran for their friends, some they hadn’t seen for months or years, and others that had only been separated since the airport- it didn’t matter.
Military style bridges still connect the main highways
What a feeling, travelling to a place so unfamiliar and finding familiarity in the people around you. But despite how alien you might feel, you are perfectly at home with all the other kite surfers that were now colonising the Myanmar beaches for the next few days. Maybe it’s a community of old friends, new friends, people you know by reputation or some you’ve never met- it won’t matter. Anything that can bring together this many people, from such different walks of life, well it must be something pretty special. Here’s to the first event of the season, the Myanmar Wave Rider’s Cup.
All the competitors adding their prayers for the event
The Myanmar Wave Rider Cup and KTA Race Open kicked off proper, with a formal opening dinner and welcoming speeches from the Minister of Hotels & Tourisms, Mr Htay Aung and our host at Ngwe Saung and GM for the MYF, Phone Kyaw Moe Myint. The event opening was also the end of the Buddhist Lent, which gave all us new faces to Myanmar a nice link into tradition as the skies filled with lanterns and fireworks to mark the Full Moon of Thadingyut.
Early morning on Ngwe Saung beach – the calm before the storm
The next morning the sun rose just before 6 o’clock, within minutes the ‘glamper’ tents became furnaces, so no choice but to get up and start the day. By 7.30 the KTA team were down on the beach for the morning flag raising ceremony, where we were lined up army style and taught a couple of Myanmar military calls for ourselves- as good a start to the day as any.
Travelling Buddhist Monk blesses the Myanmar Wave Rider Cup
A quick skipper’s meeting was closely followed by the first round of SUP. Don’t let the smiling faces fool you though, the gloves were off right from the start. Big breakers at the shoreline caused more than a couple wipe outs, but the riders powered through and created an awesome start to proceedings.
With the wind still holding off on us, a lot of the kiters were hanging out poolside in the hopes of finding something to do. But, when the radios went off announcing the arrival of 11 knots of wind, the chilling session was quickly replaced by running. Kites were pumped in record time as the wind crept up to 13 knots, we thought we had beaten the odds and the Formula racer’s headed out to tackle the course around the little island just offshore.
So close, and yet so far…
Only a short few minutes into the race the rain started to fall and within seconds, we were hit with a full on tropical storm. The kites on the water went down one by one as we watched the number on the wind reader drop. The judges huddled under a leaky roof on the beach discussing whether or not the race could still be considered “active” with a pile of kites down on the water. Forced to call it a day, we packed it in, as the rescue boats headed out to bring all the kiters back to shore. Everyone though had had their first taste and remained determined, after all tomorrow is another day.
KTA team still smiling
Dark moments after the tropical storm
Time to run for cover!
Bugger, the pattern was repeated on day two!
The kiters were frustrated, but the SUP racers had a killer of an event. Hardcore paddling on the outward legs, followed by sweet sets of clean waves, to fire you back home or dump you on your head if you did not keep your cool and your balance in tack. So all was not lost and as many of the KTA kiters are ‘Jacks of all trades’ when it comes to the water, no one was beach bound for very long.
Introducing the local kids to the sport
The wind that there was however, did allow the R300 windsurfers to make their mark on the event, in an all locally fought out affair. With ‘scores on the door’ now for both the windsurfers and the SUP racers, the pressure was on for the weather and the kiters to link up and complete the full slate of action and the first ever Myanmar kiteboard event.
Getting impatient with the wind
There is no music more beautiful to a kite surfers ears, than waking up to the sound of wind whistling through the windows. Though the past couple of days had left us all wondering if this would be the first KTA event ever with no wind, our doubts were blown away by the 20 knots that hit Ngwe Saung Beach on Saturday morning. Everyone was out pumping before they even had time to open their eyes, fearing that the wind could be swallowed in a storm at any second. Miraculously, it held out. Giving the Myanmar Wave Rider’s Cup its full-blown kiter debut, as the Formula and TT classes battle it out throughout the day.
For Myanmar kiteboarding is completely new and it was reflected by the unusual lack of ‘local riders’. However, local talent was uncovered in the depths of the KTA team itself and Zeyar Win (known to us all as Wit) from Mawlamyine, who had travelled back to Myanmar to teach on the KTA Kite Kids programme Witt was soon talked into swapping his crew shirt for a riders vest by his countrymen, to become Myanmar’s first kite racer. So ok, even though Wit did not shake the top riders off the podium, he certainly provided something for the local crowds to shout about and that is really the point after all.
Wit, Myanmar's sole pro kiteboarder in full teaching flow
The Myanmar Media
In the end though our usual suspects took up the top slots, picking up where they had left off last season. Topping the kiting for the men was Yo Narapitchit Pudla from Thailand, Asia’s top ranked kite racer, who was joined as he often is by Kathrin Borgwardt from Germany, who looks set to control another season in women’s division.
In the Formula class the Thai riders dominated things as they met the challenges set on the open water course, providing some high speed action that first time local viewers were blown away by. The TT class as always, made the visual impact as the fleet hit the stat line at speed. Racing on a reaching course, the kiters blasted towards the beach line, with riders and spectators alike enjoying the various battles that unfolded.
And while our two KTA champions held their nerve, it was good to see other riders reminding them they might not stay on top forever. Filippo rider Jay Ortiz and Thailand’s Sirwichai Chaengla locked horns with Yo, in their fight to join him on the podium. While for the women it was great to see Germany’s Anke Brandt back on Asia water, as she tussled with Thailand’s top lady Fon Benyapa Jantawan, for their podium slots with Kathrin.
New faces also made their mark, with Vietnam back at the KTA, in the form of Lai Hoang Phu and Dinh Xuan Tuong. Giovanni Anghini from Italy was also in his first event along with the youngest rider, a 12 yrs old Brit living in Singapore, Robert James, who soon found his racing feet and for sure will be making his mark in the future.
Last rays of the day at Nqwe Saung
Undoubtedly, a spirit of determination could be felt from the front runners of the race, but with this mix the overwhelming feeling at the event was not one of competition, but community. This is what sets the KTA apart, really. It’s not a tour that puffs up the egos, but rather a lifestyle tour, a tour for the riders, every rider. It’s about the guy who picked up a twintip three months ago and wants to be a part of something, it’s about the rider who wins every year in a row, but feels no superiority to the newbie. It’s about the feeling we have when everyone comes off the water after a tough day and instead of post mortem discussions, all anyone wants to discuss is where to go for a cold beer. No elitism, no crash protesting or redress hearings, no exclusivity… Just real kiting, a beautiful beach in an even more beautiful country and a community of some of the best people Asia has to offer.
My first KTA event- I feel as if I have been let in on the World’s best kept secret.
For all things KTA and the latest info on the KTA X-Champs – www.kiteboardtour.asia
Myanmar Wave Rider Cup – Final Results
Top 3 positions from each discipline
Kiteboard TT Class
Men // Women
1. Yo Narapitchit Pudla (THA) // Kathrin Borgwardt (GER)
2. Jay Ortiz (PHL) // Fon Benyapa Jantawan (THA)
3. Sirwichai Chaengla (THA) // Anke Brandt (GER)
Kiteboard Formula Class
Men // Women
1. Yo Narapitchit Pudla (THA) // Kathrin Borgwardt (GER)
2. Chanon Phrakaew (THA) // Anke Brandt (GER)
3. Sirawit Phrakaew (THA) // Fon Benyapa Jantawan (THA)
Men // Women
1. Thet Ko Ko (MMR) // Sandar Thet Hnn (MMR)
2. Bo Bo Lwin (MMR) // Kathrin Borgwardt (GER)
3. Min Min (MMR) // Anke Brandt (GER)
Youth Boys // Youth Girls
1. Bo Bo Lwin (MMR) // May Thazin Kyaw (MMR)
2. Thaw Thu Hoo (MMR) // May Myar Thu (MMR)
3. Zew Hiet Lwin (MMR) // Shue Yamin (MMR)
1. Khun Aung Thein (MMR)
2. Shwe Ya Min (MMR)
3. Thiha Naing (MMR)
Event Sponsors: Bangkok Bank, Ooredoo, Mastech, MPRL, Myint & Associates, Krispy Kremes, Tberg, IEM Co Ltd, Toto
Brand Sponsors: Cabrinha, Starboards
International Supporters: Aethic, BBtakin, LiP Sunglasses, Maelstorm, Panasonic
Media Sponsors: Cloudstringers, Myanmar Times