Sunday, February 16, 2014

Up in the air

Kalpitiya has drawn all manner of visitors to its pristine coast and quaint center throughout its vibrant history. Today, the large battalion of kitesurfers who frequently assemble here from a multitude of nations are as normal as the strong wind which intermittently, yet briefly, lifts them from a graceful glide along the water’s surface and releases them into the vastness of thin air.

On the day we arrive there are roughly 10 of them gathered at the central kitesurfing spot on the lagoon. With an eclectic blend of accents to match their multi-coloured kites, each of them is either engrossed in their spray-filled ride or making preparations for it. This particular group is attached to Kitesurfing Lanka, which is run jointly by Dilsiri Welikala and French national Leo Moret. Dilsiri was ensnared by Kalpitiya’s winds back in 2007 and since then has been a passionate proponent for both the sport and the region.

“Back then it was a weekend thing, there was no real industry. There were people testing kites when I came in but in terms of locals, I can say that I was probably one of the first to come in,” Dilsiri explains. In fact Dilsiri was so certain the sport would flourish that he left his job and came down to Kalpitiya, helping co-found Kitesurfing Lanka, which accommodates and offers lessons to those who wish to embrace the sport.

“We can do well at major competitions because kitesurfing is a lot about skill, and we can develop that with the conditions we have here,” he says.
Mischi Walter from Switzerland is the man who taught Dilsiri most of what he knows about the sport. Out of the group gathered near the water, Mischi is undisputedly the most laid-back. But then without a moment’s notice, “No, No, it doesn’t work that way,” he shouts jovially to a kitesurfer in a way that makes him seem strangely like a Sacha Baron Cohen caricature.

That sudden interruption during our interview best reflects the comical and stark contrast between Mischi’s generally easygoing nature and steadfast commitment toward kitesurfing. A Slovenian from Mischi’s coterie on the beach (who unsurprisingly adopted a Swahili name about the wind) told me that during the war, the Swiss national would be steering his kite across the water when mystified rebels would open fire in his general direction.

I never got the opportunity to verify these stories but watching Mischi go about his business, such tales are hard to debunk. He says that he first came to Kalpitiya in 2006 to visit family friends and was then smitten by the area’s perfect kite surfing conditions. From that point he has become somewhat of a permanent fixture at Kalpitiya and is credited with introducing the sport to a raft of eager students from across the globe.

Dilsiri says that Mischi and he are trying to organise the sport in the area as often people will just stray on to the beach and lagoon without proper approval or guidance and just start sailing with their kites. The sport is also giving back to the community. Previously, the monsoon season left Kalpitiya’s fishing community grounded without a continuous source of income. But with the arrival of kitesurfing to the region, locals are now drawing revenue off the sport by offering boat and rescue services. This symbiosis mirrors the relationship which exists between kite surfers and the wind which fuels their motion. And if it follows a similar course, then the surrounding community and the sport are sure to rise as spectacularly as kite surfing’s fun-loving and diverse practitioners. For more information log on to

Up in the air

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