Guest Post by Betti Menzel from Kiteboarding
Pros & Cons for kitesurfing in Djerba, Tunisia
+ High probability of wind
+ Shallow and flat water for beginners, intermediates and freestyle riders
+ Less than 3 hours from Germany/Europe
+ Affordable prices in the local area (supermarkets, restaurants)
+ Good leisure activities for the mornings: Visits to Djerbahood or Houmt Souk, Quad rides, SUP, camel rides, Yoga, Golfing, Excursions to the Blue lagoon and other points of interest.
– 20-minutes-drive to the kite spot
– During summer on light-wind days a lot of seaweed in the water
– Not suitable for anyone expecting perfect high-class service. The hotel opened 18 years ago, catering mostly to families and is working with Kiteworldwide only since last year
– No thriving nightlife like in Brazilor the Dominican Republic. Drinking alcohol in public is prohibited in Tunisia which means you are only allowed to drink alcohol in beach bars which serving drinks. There are also the two night clubs named Texas and Cyclone in the immediate vicinity of the hotel, which also serve alcohol, one of them with a nice outdoor area.
General information for Djerba, Tunisia (wind, water temperature and water condition)
When to go – Best wind in Djerba, Tunisia : March – November
The season starts in March and ends in mid od January, but you’ll find the best wind between march to may and oktober- december. During June-September the wind usually starts in the afternoon due to thermal currents . If you want to look at the forecast and/or the actual wind, use the wind station Dauphins in Windguru or Windy.
Water temperature in Djerba, Tunisia
Warm through June to september no wetsuit needed. October to May you need a shorty or 3/2 full wetsuit.
Wind speed/kite sizes for Djerba, Tunisia:
Anything from 0 – 30kts, but ranges between 12 and 20 kts are more probable, so pack your bigger kites.
Water Condition: flat, choppy, waves (depending on the spot)
Yes and No. Let’s put it this way: Djerba is the ideal beginner’s spot because you have the whole of the lagoon to stand in. There are some rare days/weeks during summer, when the water level and the wind strength result in an unusually high seaweed density. In such cases, it gets tricky for beginners who regularly drop their kite. The seaweed gets trapped in the lines and makes the kite too heavy for relaunch. This does not usually happen in strong winds (above 20 kts), which push more water into the lagoon preventing the seaweed from floating directly below the surface.
This feature is a foretaste of what is to come in the English version of the Kiteboarding Magazin, coming soon! You can download the app here.
Ashraf and I make our way through a fish market of the Tunisian Island of Djerba, the stench wafting through the air, as the fish are displayed on counters of stone, rather than on ice. While I wonder about their durability, the first fisherman shouts his offer and proudly presents today’s catch. We quickly stroll along, through small alleys where traders offer spices, traditional clothing, pottery, leather goods, carpets and souvenirs. One street is full of jewelry shops. “Most sellers in this street are Jews,” Ashraf explains. “Christians, Jews and Muslims live together peacefully on Djerba.”
Behind the next corner lays the Place d’Alégrie, men of different ages are sitting in the shade of old trees and drink coffee or chilled drinks. Local women walk through the streets, but none sits down in the café. “There are tea rooms and cafés for men only, the prices are lower there than in the mixed cafes,” explains the 27-year-old. He was born and raised on Djerba. On the way to his favorite restaurant, we pass by his elementary school and meet some of his childhood friends, he is well known in this little town. In
Ashraf’s favorite restaurant* the traditional Tunisian food Kafteji, consisting of egg, vegetables and the spicy sauce Harissa, tastes so good that I can’t believe we pay only three dinars in the end – the equivalent of one euro. Afterwards, we visit the local celebrity Mohamed Khacha in his small shop. In a mixture of French, English and German, the 71-year-old tells us excitedly about his successes – the German Ambassador has already paid his shop a visit as has his French counterpart. Then he shows us features about him in various magazines his daughter Amel waits modestly in the background and smiles. She went to school with Ashraf, and the two greet each other at a distance. For 55 years, her father Mohamed has made basketry out of palm leaves, and he is the only one on Djerba who still uses this special technique.
After listening to his stories for a while, we continue our way through the winding streets, until we suddenly plunge into another world as we enter Ashraf’s regular café “Wannabe”**. The clothing style of the locals here could easily blend into the trendy areas of New York or Berlin, modern music resounds in the background.
The menu cards are old vinyl records, and you can choose from an array of milk shakes, Mojitos and Caipirinhas, albeit without alcohol. Few restaurants have a license to serve alcohol on Djerba, drinking in public is prohibited and during Ramadan it’s hard to even buy alcoholic beverages. Ashraf comes to his café every day before and after work, he lives only a few steps away. Over an iced tea with mint leaves, the young Tunisian talks about his dream: “I want to travel. So far, I have always been on Djerba. It’s nice here, but I want to get to know more of the world. I am interested in China and Greece because of their exciting history. For once in my life I would also like to see snow“.
He works at the kite station on Djerba and started kitesurfing two months ago. “After the revolution, my handball team was dissolved; no money left for it. Now I have found a new sport in kiting. After the terrorist attacks in El-Kantaoui I lost my job the very next day and was unemployed for a year and a half”, explains Ashraf, whoese job it is now to start and land the kites at the beach. “Now we notice that the country is recovering and the tourists are coming back,” he adds.
Tarek Missaoui, the owner of the Kiteworldwide Village on Djerba, has also noticed an improvement of the economic situation in Tunisia, in former times it was quite hard for the inhabitants of the island: “2015 was very bad for us and in the ensuing years the country suffered a lot,” explains the native Tunisian, who grew up in Paris and still works there twice a month as an emergency doctor and saves lives. The attack on Sousse beach, which killed 39 people and the 21 losses in the Bardo National Museum in Tunis, led to a sharp decline in overall tourism. “There was no more work,” confirms the owner of the hotel Ashrafs’ experiences. “But in Europe there are attacks and I personally feel much safer on Djerba than in the metro of Paris,” said the hotel owner. Ashraf and Tarek are modern Tunisians with an open worldview.
Overall, however, the differences between Europe and North Africa are still big: “The history of Tunisia with its colonization and dictatorship means that people here do not have the freedom that we enjoy in Europe. But things are changing in Tunisia now, too,” says Tarek. The revolution in Tunisia began in 2010 after the street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi out of protest set himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid and the news about it spread rapidly in social media, which played a crucial role in the Tunisian Revolution and the Arab Spring. The nationwide protests ended in 2011 after the election of the Constituent Assembly of Democracy provided a legal basis. “We still have a long way to go,” says Tarek Missouri. “It takes time.” There have been attacks again in June 2019, but far away from Djerba, in Tunis, and, so far, the tourism has not been affected.
As I walk through Erriadh, a tiny old village on the island, I hardly see any tourists. Here, the walls of the houses were embellished by local and international artists with 250 works of street art as part of the art project “Djerbahood” that was initiated in 2015 to attract more visitors. Organized by Mehdi Ben Cheikh, this event threw a positive light on the village. Many initially skeptical residents soon asked for their house walls to be painted by well-known street artists such as Swoon, who is famous in the art world for paper cutouts and life-size wheatpaste prints. Why is it so empty in this beautiful art quarter?
“Many tourists often do not leave their hotel,” says Tarek. “This is bad for the local economy and a pity for the tourists who are missing out on our culture!” There are many good restaurants, such as the Essofra which we visit in Houmt Souk. It is decorated with old Tunisian tools and utensils and serves excellent local food.
“The best thing is, to just go out and explore the area yourself!” Tarek advises travelers. He opened his hotel Amphora Menzel, now called Kiteworldwide Village, 18 years ago. 2019 looks like it’s going to be the best year for him in a long time. The country, which has a population of around 11 million inhabitants, is expected to receive nine million tourists this year. In the first quarter of 2019 the number of tourists arriving was over 17 percent higher than in the same period of the previous year, according to the Tunisian Ministry of Tourism.
Kite camp on Djerba: Do what you can’t!
Kiteworldwide’s kite station opened in May 2019, about a month before my arrival. It was built by the five-time German champion Linus Erdmann, who faced some interesting challenges constructing the place: Despite Djerba being the largest island in North Africa, there was no hardware store nearby to buy screws, for example… So, Linus had to use whatever was available or drive to the nearest second-hand dealer. The result is something to be proud of: there is a kite storage right next to the kite spot, comfortable loungers, a tent as a shade dispenser, a coffee machine, an outdoor shower and toilets.
At lunchtime, guests are offered traditional Tunisian food for 20 dinars (about 6 euros) on the beach. “Actually, I’m a sponsored athlete and get paid for videos and photos, in this case, however, I was more of a handyman than a kiter. That was an interesting experience for me,” says the Core rider. Also, during the Kite Buddy Camp, which took place from 7 th to 14th of June, he was on site with us and offered the guests a helping hand both on and off the water.
The Kite Buddy Camp is taking place for the second time; the premiere was in Cape Verde. Dorian Cieloch, aka Kite Buddy, is Germany’s most successful kite YouTuber. In his camps he invites participants to work on their kitesurfing skills. His philosophy is “Do what you can’t” – and he lives up to that himself. One nice afternoon on Djerba, for example, he tries to land the Railey to blind with a little help of Linus Erdmann. 20 failed attempts later, the „Kite Buddy“ leaves the water with a smile, more experience and a new video for his youtube channel. Today it did not work with the new trick, but very soon it will for sure.
As the Kite Buddy Camp is taking place on the island for the first time, not everything runs smoothly. Thrice, participants have been either left behind at home or in the restaurant, simply because no one checked whether everyone was on the bus. There is no official program due to the fact that it gets adapted to the wind conditions to maximise the time on the water. What happens the next day is decided relatively spontaneous and the info does not always reach all participants. The food is delicious, but not very varied, the breakfast is already gone at 9 o’clock, although, officially, it runs until 10 o’clock. Admittedly, these are just details, but those who book at Kiteworldwide usually expect a high level of service. With small improvements, this can be solved in no time, so that even demanding guests get their money’s worth.
Kiting on Djerba: Shallow water as far as the eye can reach
What really matters on this trip is, of course, kitesurfing. It hardly gets any better than on Djerba. The wind comes mostly from the Northeast or Southeast and is thermally supported. It usually starts in the afternoon and often blows all night. The wind probability is high: The season starts in March and goes on till November; between June and August guests can expect wind almost every day. Large kites should be brought in the luggage, but sometimes smaller ones are needed as well. If you do not have the right equipment, you can rent it on site.
Kitesurfing in the lagoon on Djerba
The lagoon is huge and offers enough space for thousand kiters, usually you only see couple of a dozen. The best part is the shallow water, which makes the lagoon the perfect area for beginners. On the other side of the kite station there is an old castle, which can be reached in about 20 minutes by kite with the appropriate wind direction. It’s not only an idyllic spot for excursions, but also a good location for freestylers, as the water behind is flat as a mirror. If you want, you can also ride into the open sea to train your wave skills.
The seaweed in the lagoon on Djerba
The lagoon is perfect for beginners, intermediates and advanced riders, the only drawback: the seaweed. In unfortunate circumstances, there may be an increased occurrence of seaweed on Djerba. Especially with very low water levels and very light wind, the seaweed is pushed to the surface and causes problems especially for beginners. If you drop your kite, you will not have much time to get it out of the water before the lines are full of the „green monsters“. The seaweed makes the kite so heavy that you can’t relaunch it anymore.
Therefore the “Walk of Shame” looks a little different on Djerba than usual: You carry your bar to the beach, where you are greeted by laughter and condolences. Then many helping hands support you to get the seaweed from the lines, which can take up to half an hour. In stronger winds, however, more water is pushed into the lagoon, the water level is higher, so the seaweed doesn’t drift to the surface.
The driving time to the spot is about 20-25 minutes from the hotel. What sounds like a downside, also has positive aspects: The bus rides were the best occasions for the Kite Buddy Camp participants to chat. We learn that Dorian used to be a security guard and worked the night shift where he washed his car with water bottles in the blind spot of the cameras, or jogged around in the parking lot to get his workout done. We find out that Anne who works as a kite instructor holds a PhD in law and takes a break from her job as a lawyer. Daniel is a professional fire fighter with lots of stories to tell. Sven who is tattooed on every inch of his body except his face was previously a bouncer at Berlin’s hardest door, the “Berghain”. There are lawyers, photographers, artists, office workers, car mechanics, bouncers, students, firefighters and managers, each with a different life story, all with a common passion. The Kite Buddy Camp and kitesurfing connect all of us!
When the bus breaks down one evening after the kite session, we are fortunate that our group is so diverse and a car mechanic is on board who takes matters in hand: After his analysis, it turns out that the missing cover of the cooling water tank is the problem as the water evaporates and the engine overheats as a consequence. He fills up the water tank and replaces the missing lid with duct tape. This design provides sufficient cooling for ten minutes driving, then the bus has to stop again. Without further ado, the problem is solved this time with a piece of wood, which is beaten into the opening with the help of a stone – a solution that only MacGyver could have thought of! We make it back to the hotel!
Final words on kitesurfing on Djerba, Tunisia
From a kiting point of view, our week on Djerba is perfect: we have wind every day, we get to test the latest material of several kite brands, sign in to film and video editing workshops, enjoy yoga sessions in the morning and sit together at the pool in the evening. The participants get tips and tricks from Dorian and can kitesurf every day. Even the cameraman gets a free kite lesson and is excited about the sport!
On my last day, as I leave the kite spot, I pause to take one last look back at the station. A kiter is just coming ashore, while Ashraf waits at the beach, ready to land the kite, his dream of snow ever-present in the back of his mind.
* Ruelles de Souk 20, Houmt el Souk
** Be Who You Wannabe, not what others want to see: Rue Sidi Ezzitouni
*** Fondouk La Vannerie, Atelier de Nattes, Khacha Mohamed; Fondouk Bouchaddakh, Houmt Souk, Djerba, Tunisia
Update: in an interview with Linus Erdmann in October 2019 he told us that the issues with the breakfast are resolved. Also they found a solution for days with seaweed. Beginners get a special service: The kite is carried into the water for them until the point where there is no seaweed anymore. In that way, they can practice in a normal way without any problems when dropping the kite.
Photo Credit: Betti Menzel, Mickael DoCouto
This guest post is written by Betti Menzel, freelance editor for the German Kiteboarding Magazin, established in 2000. On her trip to the Tunesian island of Djerba she discovered an endless kite lagoon, immerged in the local culture and learned fascinating life stories like the one of the hotel owner who, twice a month, saves lifes in Paris.