The gypsy kiter

The gypsy kiter

By Arabi Tobi

Photography by George Haddad

Kitesurfing

Kitesurfing is a growing sport that takes place in waterfront towns all over the world.

It looks easy and fun from pictures and videos. All that’s seemingly needed for the sport is a breaking wave, a board and a passion for adventures.

But it’s a lot more than that as George Haddad unravels his life as a kite surfer, after travelling to different countries in almost every continent of the world pursuing his love for watersports.

“Kitesurfing is very expressive, it’s basically automatic. I can adapt to any situation I’m in, even when teaching it, I can adapt to my students’ persona, their mentality which is very important as an instructor,” Georges said.

“It’s very psychological also, you can’t just stick to the written rules, you have to adapt to situations and people you’re teaching.”

History books say that kites were used 2800 years ago in China. Kites were then used for messaging, for measuring distances, testing the wind, lifting people into the air, signalling and even communication for military operations. Not for transportation or kitesurfing though. Kites were also shaped into all kind of figures and animals for religious and festival use.

According to kitesurfersblog.com, in the 1800s a kite was first used to pull a vehicle, that first step towards kitesurfing was taken by George Pocock. He used four lines to steer his kite, in the same way we do today. The carts and boats driven by kites were able to go upwind, and in 1903 Samuel Cody managed to sail over the English Channel in a boat pulled by a kite.

The beginning

Born to Lebanese parents, George grew up in Lagos, Nigeria and delved into watersports from a very young age.

“I’ve been into sports since I was a kid, I started with Skateboarding in Nigeria, and then in school in Switzerland I started snowboarding, continued snowboarding when I went back to Lebanon and then I went back to Nigeria,” he recalled.

Georges’ rundown of his early life seemed to have defined the traveller’s personality he grew up to have.

With travelling parents moving around different countries, as a kid, adjusting easily in new environments did not seem as much of a surprise.

George has continuously traveled all over the world.

“I was only one year old when we moved to Nigeria. We moved because of the civil war in Lebanon, my parents had met previously in Nigeria,” he said.

“They got married there and then they went back to Lebanon before the war started and they were forced to move back to Nigeria.”

Gorge’s love for travelling did not limit him to Nigeria only, though he did spend half of his life in Lagos, even taking time to learn Pidgin English. He spent most of his life jumping country to country.

 “I lived in Nigeria for fifteen years, finished from The American International School back in Lagos. My parents then sent me to school in Switzerland, and then to college in the UK before I moved back to Lebanon with most of my family,” he said.

“I stayed another fifteen to sixteen years in Lebanon after college in the UK before moving back to Nigeria for a few years.

“I tried to open my own business there, but I wasn’t very happy there at that time so I moved back to Lebanon, stayed for another nine years.

“The last five or six years, I’ve been living in a different country each year. Last year I was in Cape Town, and now I find myself back here in the Middle East, in Jordan.”

The learning mystery

The growing access to information and knowledge that allows learning a trade, sport or game has seemed easy with the help of online instructors, YouTube videos, training centres and more, as long as there are the dedication and the equipment needed.

However, a little over a decade ago when there wasn’t easy access to the internet or training centers for watersports, it is almost impossible to learn a sport as risky as kitesurfing.

In a place like Nigeria, in the early 2000s, there were no watersports schools let alone kite surfers on the beaches.

George unravels the mystery of how he self-learnt the sport in the unlikeliest of places.

“In 2003, I taught myself Kitesurfing because as at that time there was no such thing as Youtube, Online instructors or Kitesurfing schools in Nigeria,” George expressed.

“The reason I started Kitesurfing was because I used to spend a lot of time at the beach on the weekends and I used to get bored as there were no real activities, and then one day I saw a kid with a big kite on the beach. It snapped in my head immediately, KITESURFING!

“I can’t remember where I had seen or heard Kitesurfing before that day but it just came into my mind and then the same night, I did a lot of research on Kitesurfing and ordered my first equipment along with an instruction DVD.”

George kitesurfing in Aqaba.

The love of the sport

We love sports because while they can be defined by rules and regulations, they allow us to be free in a way that could never be described. We love sports for the endorphins and the sweat and the smiles, and even for the blood and the tears.

But is this love enough to give all our lives to?

Understanding the risks of going on the sea to ride the waves for the love of the sport, there must have been lots of other parts to it that has kept Georges going strong as a surfer for most of his life.

“Kitesurfing is just the ultimate freedom. It’s an amazing lifestyle, though it’s not easy, because you hardly make ends meet as an instructor,” he said.

“Kitesurfing became my lifestyle. It’s more than just work.

 “I dream about kitesurfing every night, maybe not every night, but many, especially when I’ve not kitesurfed in a while.”

This love has led him to become a kitesurfing instructor and eventually open up his own kitesurfing school in Lebanon.

“I Kite surfed in Lagos for a while and continued in Lebanon before I opened a small school there to teach Kitesurfing with a friend of mine,” he said.

“I got my first International teaching certificate in Lebanon, and for me, that was like my ticket to the world, as I had always wanted to travel and visit places out of the Middle East.”

For Gorge, Kitesurfing was more than just a sport, it was a meditative state, a tool for him to reach his ultimate joy.

 “… when you’re kitesurfing, it’s like meditating because it’s just you, the wind, the water and nothing else,” he said.

“You get free of everything else, your problems, you don’t think of anything apart from just being there at the moment and time.

“Apart from Kitesurfing, I do Wakeboarding, Wake surfing, S.U.P, Foil Boarding, I do a bit of climbing, Mountain biking and I really love hiking also.”

The kitesurfing instructor

Many athletes today learn a sport; win a medal, two or a few more and then it becomes recreational. Many others go ahead to become teachers of the sport.

Every kite surfer starts as a novice with a desire to learn this water sport, and they need to seek the professional guidance of a kitesurfing instructor.

Expert kite surfers go on to become kitesurfing instructors. Kitesurfing is second nature to them.

After George’s love of the sport moved him to become an instructor, he started moving again to surf in other places.

His love for kitesurfing led him to become an instructor.

“I went a bit around Asia for Kitesurfing. I went to Sri Lanka three times; I went to Thailand, Vietnam and a few other places,” he said.

“I kept going to Cape town (South Africa) and Lebanon in between for a bit of work.”

The life of a kitesurfing instructor is no easy task though. Gorge described the hardships of living his nomadic life.

“Most kitesurfing instructors make enough money to just live simply and buy the next plane ticket to their next destination. But for me, I wanted to take it further than being just an instructor. “

“Right now, I’m a level two instructor, though I should be at level three. To move up the ranks I need to register all the students I have and count the hours, but a lot of people I’ve instructed, I don’t count, I don’t add the hours and then my moving up slows down.

“I’m currently at level two, and then in a bit, I’ll get to level three before becoming a trainer and actually train others to become kitesurfing instructors and then I maybe can move up to become an examiner.

“There aren’t many examiners in the world, just a handful of them, maybe just seven or eight.”

Gorge is determined about pursuing his career in kitesurfing. Currently, Gorge is managing a kitesurfing school in Jordan and hopefully, would set his own school again in the future.

 “There is a new watersport school I manage here in Jordan, and they’ve hired me because of my experience,” he said.

“I’m basically helping them set up the school and eventually my end plan is to set up my own Kitesurf School though I’m still searching for an ideal spot for my school.”

The dangers

When we are scared, our hearts pump faster, the body produces sweat and the muscles of the body tense up as we get ready to run from potential danger. This creates the feeling of excitement, which is one of the things that attracts people to action sports. But new research shows that there are benefits beyond the immediate buzz.

When the media published about kitesurfing it is mostly when a bad accident happens. This gives kitesurfing a negative image and a reputation as being dangerous and extreme.

George emphasized the risks of being a kitesurfer.

“I’ve had a few experiences in the sea where I’ve seen my life flashing in front me and I said That’s it! This is how I’m going,” he said.

“Sometimes, you have a small fall and then waves crash over you and the wind howls, blowing you all over the place. You see your life flashing in front of you at times like this.

“The scariest thought that goes through my mind when Kitesurfing is coming across a big Shark.

 “I think the real dangers of Kitesurfing are when you go out in conditions you’re not supposed to go out in, like in big storms or too strong wind conditions.”

The crossroad

Our feelings are ever changing and ever flowing, as are our thoughts, beliefs and interests. When asked from George what comes next in his life, he explained how he’d love to take a break from the life as a traveler and try something new.

“As a traveller, you go to a place for a month or just a bit more before moving to the next, but kitesurfing has made me able to live in a particular country for at least six months or a year before moving somewhere else,” he said.

“I’d love to take a different path, have my own school which does not need me being an examiner, maybe have a beach lodge too and a combination of things.”

That said, Gorge stated the hardships trying to settle down with only kitesurfing to count on.

 “Having a Kitesurfing school is a risky business. Already we don’t get the wind needed for kitesurfing every season, so you might have one bad season and you don’t make any money at all,”

“Now I’d like to stay somewhere I find comfortable, find a partner who’s interested in the same things as me, not necessarily a kite surfer, but someone that just likes to live the free kind of life without really pushing towards making a lot of money, but would live a comfortable life with me and run a business together.”

The now and knowing your identity

Having been to various countries, George is currently an instructor in Jordan, based in Aqaba, where he works for H&S Watersports Academy. He stated his gratitude in working at the school and his love for the good reception he has gotten from the people.

 “I didn’t even know there was kitesurfing in Jordan. I came here and I’ve seen that it does have potential, not only for Kitesurfing but for all Watersports, but it would definitely take a few years to get there,” he said.

“[The school] has proved to be an amazing place amongst my employers, co-workers and the good condition of the place location itself. 

“…social-wise though, it can get a bit lonely here in Aqaba as there’s not a lot of people I can relate to and get along with.”

We often categorize ourselves in terms of other people and groups. We may however, to a lesser or greater degree, define ourselves internally, with limited reference to others.

When asked about his identity, Georges sunders from the cliché human desire to be a part of, but rather a part of an island.

“I don’t consider myself Arab, I don’t consider myself African, at the same time I do consider myself Arab and I do consider myself African because I was born in Lebanon, and because I grew up in Africa,” he said.

“I guess I can call myself a person of the world. The world is my home.”

George, the gypsy kitesurfer.

About Gorge

George has been teaching kite surfing for over seven years. He also manages schools and is a photographer, among many other skills he has picked up along the years. He taught himself how to kite surf in 2003 using only an instructional dvd and the help of a few village kids in West Africa!

In addition, George also has his own blog talking about his life as a travelling kitesurfer. Check out his blog here!

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