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Cabarete 2004

After the previous successful trips to the Caribbean resorts of Margarita and Barbados, the usual group minus Jon White who had a prior commitment (congratulations and best wishes to Jon and Tracey on their marriage), decided to check out the island of Dominican Republic. We booked a 2 week holiday to CABARETE or El Paradiso as we would like to call it, flying from Gatwick to Puerta Plata on 4th July (8 hour flight time and 5 hours time difference), through Olympic Holidays. The cost of £465 included flight, accommodation, transfer and superb breakfast. Cabarete is located 20km East of Puerta Plata International airport so has a short transfer time of approximately 30 mins.

We stayed at the Tropical Casa Laguna Hotel situated in the heart of Cabarete town, a hotel with excellent facilities; swimming pools, air-con, cable TV and caters for the entire family. Every day there were activities and parties of various sorts, which we missed due to windsurfing or hitting the town.

Cabarete has only one main road through it buzzing with coffee houses, bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, bakeries and of course windsurf/kitesurf shops, and the hotel is situated across this busy road. However, if you stroll across the road down a side street past the cafés, you suddenly emerge to one of the most perfect views you can ever imagine – a wide beach with palm trees swaying in the wind, turquoise blue sky and sea, flat water in the foreground and breaking waves in the distant, windsurfers and kite surfers bombing up and down and a whole host of beachfront bars and restaurants – a very happening water sports venue!

The Cabarete Bay is about a mile long and is split 1/3 for kiteboarders on the left and 2/3 for windsurfers upwind and to the right of the beach. There is also a separate kitesurf beach well out of reach from us windsurfers!

The beach has a number of centres including Bic Centre, CNS, Fanatic, Happy and Club Mistral, but we opted for Vela from our previous good experience in Margarita. We just e-mailed them from UK and booked up for 13 days, which worked out at ~£200. Vela is one of the original windsurfing Centres in Cabarete and offers Neil Pryde sails and JP, F2 and Starboards. It was also only a 5-minute walk from the hotel and provided an excellent service as expected. Jens, the owner is an experienced wave sailor gave excellent daily clinics and Irish Mickey, German Thore and French Francoise all kept us well amused. The local boys or the “tricksters” were very helpful carrying the kit back and of course the Friday evening BBQ organised by the centre was a must!

The reason why Cabarete has attracted numerous World Cup events, the likes of Robby Naish, Dunkerbeck and many more professionals, us and lots of Europeans, Australians, Americans, Canadians, some have decided to stay for a while, is the combination of consistent winds, flat water, chop and waves, no shorties all year round and of course the laid back and always smiling locals (oh and did I fail to mention the local rum and Presedente beer?).

The wind is normally light in the morning (OK for large formula boards or for tidying up your basic skills) and the trade winds and thermals kick-in in the afternoon from ~2pm to ~6pm. The wind blows from right to left looking out from the beach, with some shadow close to the shore due to the “C” shaped bay. This region is also flat, but as you move out the chop increases until you hit the reef about ½ a mile out which tends to create some awesome waves. The reef also has strong currents due to the tidal effect and as the wind and water get pushed shallower, it makes water starts tricky.

The waves were unusually high this month; it is normally December/January when you get the bigger conditions. The wind is best in the summer with force 4 and above for >80% of the days according to one source. We had 9 good days out of 13 and a good day for me ranges from using 5m up to 6.5m sails.

Cabarete is the main resort for wind and kite surfers, with a separate surfers beach nearby as well – Encuentro Beach. however Dominican Republic also caters for non-wind/kite surfers: Day trips can easily be organised for canyoning, scuba diving, visiting the sea life centre where you can swim with Dolphins, motocrossing, mountain biking, white water rafting and for the exciting few – golf. We were told that the first 20 seconds of Jurassic Park was filmed in the Dominic Republic. And therefore, we decided to take a day off, rest our blisters, take in the scenery and snorkel around “Paradise Island” which is a small island (<50m diameter) of white sand, a few huts to shelter from the sun, surrounded by coral reef and all sorts of fish life. This was an absolutely beautiful experience and as memorable. The trip also included a boat ride through the Mangroves and a typical local feast.

Photo of "Paradise Island" Photo of fish whilst snorkeling

And now for the “worst” part of the holidays! Occasionally it clouded over and rained. Whenever this happened, the thermal effect halted and so did the wind (4 days of low winds were due to this effect). Also, the electricity on the island was very temperamental and would go off regularly every day and as the water systems used electrical pumps, it meant that water flow in the loos would also be affected – sometimes the tap water came out brown – definitely bottled water for brushing your teeth!

Although the food was excellent and fairly priced, there were a couple of restaurants that made us literally “run” for our Immodium tablets!! The one to avoid was “Ho-la-la” a French type restaurant, although ones to recommend include “La Casita” for an excellent “Balti” of shrimps in garlic butter, “Cabarete Blue” – a bit pricey but top class steaks and the “Jose O’Shady’s” Irish bar for general English type food, although give the Guinness a miss unless you’re absolutely loaded!

The Irish bar was also our favourite with live acoustic guitar and drum kit performances from Russell whose song library was almost limitless and played any song we desired. Bar “Lax” was a very chill-out bar with hanging chairs and a Chinese style low table/straw mat for sitting on the sand. And for the more lively of us, there were the “Bambu” and “Onno’s” bars/clubs which started to rock after 1 am with a mix of lively music and dancing including around the poles (although be aware of the foam party on Saturday night, which is basically being shampooed from a local fire engine and is not nice for your eyes!!).

I guess you’re interested to know exactly what happened in the waves? Well, I had been going through the waves and just riding the small ones back all week without any serious plunges and my confidence was getting higher each day. On the last day, perhaps the windiest and waviest one, I decided to take on one of the bigger waves, which from the trough looked above mast high – not a thing to do on your first real wave holiday! I was powered up on a 91litre JP Freewave and with a brand new 5.2m Neil Pryde sail and planing back towards the beach. I caught the wave and started backside riding it, climbing close to the peak and then turning sharply to go down the steep bit. Unfortunately, the wave broke and the white water quickly gained on me before I could go completely down the wall. It just clipped the back of my fin and in an instant plucked out the kit completely – like a force 10 gust had just hit. When I managed to bob up, there was only enough time for a quick breath before another wave pounded down. Before I could realise where I was the current, wind and waves had taken my kit away and close to the shallower end of the reef famous for its Urchins. I started to panic, but luckily saw an Italian chap I had met earlier in the week who stopped over and calmed me down, both of us trying to survive the waves. Winston, the local Vela tricks guru had seen somebody crash out from the beach and blasted towards us as soon as possible. He chucked me his kit, which I managed to water start and get out asap, whilst he swam after my kit which by now was some 20m away. Lets say I was pretty shaken up, but did manage to get on the water again after a short rest – but this time not as far as the waves!

Fred out of a dodgy carve.photo of fred's dodgy gybe

Even though I had to go through this ordeal, stomach bugs, occasional black outs and brown coloured water, myself and everybody in the group thought that on balance the variation in windsurfing conditions, buzzing nightlife, excellent hotel complex, great food and drinks, low flight costs, friendly locals and the excellent windsurf centre made Cabarete the “best” windsurf place we’ve been to, even better than Barbados and everybody agreed that we would return. Again, as usual every body improved, in particular handling the choppier and wavey conditions and I was windsurfing without a buoyancy aid for the first time ever (no wet suit for extra buoyancy either!) - I just need to work on my swimming skills now! And more importantly no kit was broken and nobody got rescued apart from me that is!! Bring on Maui’s Jaws next time!

Fred Hussain

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