Zack Buchan & Ross Walters
- In a nutshell: A world first – a supported kitesurfing expedition from Ponto d’Ouro to Durban.
- Risk of death by misadventure: Reasonably high. The main risks were shark attacks, getting stranded miles off shore when the wind dropped, and getting stuck in big surf over rocks with erratic winds. If either had dropped a kite in those conditions and was unable to relaunch there was a serious risk of drowning and getting pounded on the rocks.
- The adventurers: Zack Buchan; age 36. Ross Walters; age 35. Both from Durban.
- Previous big adventures: Zack Buchan; skied the last degree to the South Pole, 2012. Ross Walters; none.
- Length of expedition: 430km
- Duration: 2 weeks
- Highlights: ‘Riding the point break created by the wreck of the Jolly Rabino, just south of Cape St Lucia’; ‘seeing a massive shark fin while bobbing in the water, about a kilometre and a half out to sea’
“The first two hours of day two were insane, with big flat inside sections, crystal clear water and some really good waves. It was definitely one of the best kiting experiences of my life”
Sponsors: The Unlimited, Kitesports Africa, Dew Water
Two kitesurfing buddies sat on the beach in Durban on the 28th of August, having just completed a 430km kitesurfing adventure from Mozambique to Durban, the first of its kind. The Unlimited Kitesurfing Expedition started out as the brainchild of Zack Buchan and Ross Walters. Zack had completed a trek to the South Pole in January 2012 and it had whetted his appetite for an expedition.
“When we got back to the base at Union Glacier, two guys came in having just kited across Antarctica via the Pole, and as a kitesurfer with a newly discovered thirst for adventure, I was immediately interested in mounting an expedition of my own” said Zack. On his return he hooked up with kitesurfing buddy, Ross Walters, and planned a historical kitesurfing adventure from Ponto Do Ouro in southern Mozambique back to their home town of Durban. Ross explained their thinking. ‘When Zack and I started to hatch the plan, we decided early on that the objective of the trip was primarily to have an adventure, and have fun. Record breaking was never part of the plan, taking in some of the most beautiful coastline on the continent, and spending time doing something we love always was.
Kiting has evolved into such a diverse sport that it seemed unlikely that a couple of fairly average guys in their mid thirties would find themselves at the forefront of a new category in the sport, adventure kiting. But that’s what we did! We’re incredibly lucky as kite surfers to live where we do; warm water, nice waves and most importantly, very few restrictions. There is no way you could try do something like this in most of Europe for example, where kiting is often banned on most beaches.
The fact that most of the coastline had never been kited, held a lot of appeal for us and for our sponsors. With relatively little organising we got permission to cross the international border and kite through the spectacular iSimangaliso marine reserve – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.’
The pair relied on backing from a ground support team, with organisational help from The Unlimited, a Durban-based financial services company, which sponsored the adventure. Equipment for the expedition included a GPS tracking device usually used on raptors, various communication devices and, of course, kites and boards for different wind conditions.
The quest got under way on Tuesday 14 August when the two set off from Ponto Do Ouro, and almost immediately had a run-in with a shark, bringing home to them the danger of the expedition. With excellent conditions, they flew through to Sodwana Bay on the first day completing an 87-km first leg.
The following day they continued from Sodwana Bay and made good progress down one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in South Africa, completing a distance of 67km before beaching at Cape Vidal.
“The first two hours of day two were insane, with big flat inside sections, crystal clear water and some really good waves.
It was definitely one of the best kiting experiences of my life” said Zack. Ross agreed. ‘The iSimangaliso Marine Reserve runs for about 200km, from the border with Mozambique to Cape St Lucia, and with the exception of Sodwana Bay and Cape Vidal, is pretty much uninhabited. This part of the coast is truly wild, with high dunes covered in beautiful lush bush and big sweeping bays with rocky points and sandy beaches. The ocean is full of life. At one stage we got within 20m of a large humpback whale and her calf and saw lots of turtle, which seemed totally unperturbed, and often had whole schools of flying fish soaring out the water around us.
But no trip like this is ever plain sailing. That night a cold front came from the south so we put our feet up for a couple of days in Cape Vidal and enjoyed some cold beer and fine food from our dads, the support crew.
The cold front passed and we got back on the water aiming for Richards Bay. A real highlight of the day was stopping off for lunch at the Jolly Rabino, and old ship that ran aground on the beach just south of Cape St Lucia. The wreck is fairly inaccessible from the land and forms a nice point break, so we got to ride some great waves on a very unique landmark.
As we headed further south after lunch the angle of the coastline changed and the wind was very inconsistent, becoming a cross offshore, and very bumpy as it came off the dunes. In the space of under two hours it went from gusting 35 knots to nothing. We ended up coming in 20km short of our goal, with my kite falling out the sky in some seriously pitchy surf. I took a few solid waves on the head and was getting seriously zapped by the SharkShield on my board so I jettisoned my board and kite and started a heavy swim in. I got seriously worked again by the shore break and eventually got spat up on the beach, only to discover that my board had ended up going through my kite in the shore break.
From there it got even more challenging. We had to really start hunting for the wind, and often ended up going very far out to sea trying to stay in clean wind. We must have been well over three kilometres off shore at times. I worked out that often the wind seemed to work in narrow bands, almost like an invisible street, with little or no wind on either side. The trick seems to be to recognise when you are in a bit of lousy air and get out of it. When doing this kind of kiting in light winds, you have to use your imagination and try to visualise what the wind is doing so my experience of flying hang gliders helped.
We had a few hard days kiting but covered little distance and then ended up getting stuck in Mtunzini for over a week. Highlights there included seeing a massive shark fin while I was bobbing in the water, about 1.5km out to sea. I was very grateful for my SharkShield then, and the occasional electrical shocks became a reassuring comfort.
The week off gave us a chance to rest up, and explore the area. Our bodies were taking a bit of flack. Zack's knee was poked, my ankle was creaking and both our livers had shrivelled up in fear. After a couple of botched attempts to get out of there, the wind finally gave us a bit of break, so we snivelled out, on marginal wind, and managed to get 20km further down the coast. The wind completely died again and I ended up having another long swim in to Amatikulu. Once again the pulsing shock of my SharkShield was a great comfort, though I cursed and swore every time I got zapped. After a good 15-minute swim I eventually managed to drag myself up the beach, where Zack gave me the news that our support vehicle had broken down. We managed to lug ourselves and our gear up the main road and were rewarded by an angel who took pity on us by buying us quarts of cold beer. So the afternoon was spent on the side of the road waiting for a recovery vehicle, getting hammered in the sun. As they say in classics, 'all’s well that ends well’.
A couple of days later, we got another weather window, so with a mere 110km to go, we pumped up, swam our kites across the Amatikulu lagoon, and jumped in the sea with a steady 17 knots at our backs. The ocean was beautiful, with smooth clean water, and we started making good progress, averaging about 27km per hour. Crossing the Tugela River mouth was spectacular and the coastline started to change thereafter. The shore became quite rocky, with more towns and buildings as we headed south.
As we passed Umhloti, with about 35km to go, we were joined out on the water by a group of our kiting mates. We were feeling super confident and really enjoying the last day of our epic adventure. Just as Durban came into to view, and we could almost taste the beer at the finish, the wind died again. Kites started falling out sky and Zack and most of our mates had to swim into shore. Talk about frustration. We had less than 20km to go and our mates, family and the press were waiting for us at the finish. Luckily we managed to borrow a couple 14-metre kites and a late puff of wind came though so we headed out again. The sun was going down as we crossed Durban Bay, but our spirits soared. It looked as if we might just make it. We rounded the piers and the crowd on the beach in front of the Dew Catcher gave us a great welcome.
In total we spent six days on the water, but due to wind issues they were spread out over nearly two weeks. Turns out that August wasn't such a windy month after all!’