chill Island has some sense of theatre. It’s been raining for days, with hulking duvets of cloud bellying down over the Atlantic Ocean. But the very morning I arrange to meet four kitesurfers on Keel beach, the clouds part like stage curtains. A blue sky is revealed, full of little fluffy clouds and blinding shards of sunshine. We’re in business. “You see the colours here?” says François Colussi of Pure Magic, a lodge and activity centre set beneath the broody Slievemore Mountain nearby. “That’s why I love this place! Go to Dahab in Egypt, and you’ll get perfect conditions, but the landscape is plain. Here, you feel like you’re in National Geographic magazine. You can literally have dolphins jumping beside you.” Alongside Colussi, Kieran Sammon and Eoin O’Connell are breaking out their kit, pumping inflatable edges on grass kept trim by the island’s sheep. They wax their boards. They pull on their harnesses. They launch their kites into the wind and walk them towards the waves. For a couple of hours, it’s as if there’s a flock of exotic birds cruising above Keel Bay. Kitesurfing does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a whip-fast, adrenaline-fuelled sport, in which riders use kites of various specs and sizes to harness the power of the wind (in plentiful supply off the Atlantic Coast, as well as other locations such as Dublin Bay, Kerry and Wexford’s Hook Peninsula) to propel themselves across the water on kiteboards. There are various disciplines, ranging from course racing to wave-riding, but basically it involves a body-contorting combination of surfing, paragliding, windsurfing and gymnastics. “This is half of one per cent of what is possible,” Colussi says, brushing a wing of wet, salty hair
Previous pages, François Colussi makes waves; above, a rider gallops along Keel beach.
from his brow. His sky-blue Renault 4 van, decorated with go-faster strips and a graphic of a surfing sheep, is parked up on the stones. “It’s like driving without petrol.” Today’s wind is not the best, he says. You could have fooled me – watching the guys go at it is like macho poetry-in-motion. At times, they seem to caress the waves, riding them like skateboarders. At others, they rocket along in straight lines (kitesurfers have been clocked doing over 50 knots). They’ll whip round, slicing crescents of spray off the lips of their waves, before leaping over the rim, or shooting back down to start all over again. And yes, at
times, they become croppers in the great Atlantic washing machine. “We used to curse the wind, now we welcome it,” says Dea Birkett, an author who lives locally. She’s one of several passers-by drawn into the spectacle, stepping onto Keel’s smooth stones to watch the frenzy of kites flitting back and forth. “Ten years ago we’d never heard of kitesurfing. Now we look out our windows and see the huge kites and think yippee! I think it’s fabulous that the natural assets of Achill, wind and waves and the world’s most beautiful beaches, are going to be used and seen around the world.” Has she tried it? (Pure Magic