Kiteboarding St. Martin
Photos : Tracy Kraft
In spite of its crystal-turquoise waters and consistent sideshore trades, Orient Beach, St. Martin, isn’t widely known as a kiteboarding destination. Rather, it has international renown as a “naturist” paradise, or, in more common terms “nude beach”. However, team riders assured us that it had great riding potential, so we set out to conquer the unclothed masses, or at least ignore them and get some sick riding done.
Dano See, our head tester, came directly from China with factory-fresh 2006 gear in tow. He met me at the airport in a massive Renault Traffic passenger van, courtesy of Jumbo Car Rental in Sandy Ground. At first sight, it appeared this massive vehicle would be sufficient to shuttle our entire crew around the island, but a closer look revealed a van packed floor-to-ceiling with kites, boards and accessories.
Our first stop was for supplies – a couple of six packs and some water for good measure. Dano and I had a full 12 hours to kill before the rest of the team arrived and we planned to use our time wisely, in typical Canadian/Australian fashion.
From Philipsburg on the Dutch side, we crossed the border into French St. Martin, traveling through the capital Marigot, past Grand Case to our destination of Orient Bay on the eastern side of the island. Then, back around Grand Case, through Marigot again, and back to Philipsburg. Ok, we were lost in our first hour on the island. After passing the airport for the 3rd time, we were confident that we had found the right road, or rather the right direction of the road… 3 hours later, we finally pulled into Orient Bay.
In spite of its small size, it’s easy to get lost on St. Martin.
Our home base, the Palm Court Hotel, stood 500 meters from the beach, right around the corner from the tiny village of Orient Bay. Cecile Lucidarme, the hotel manager, was quick to point out how easily accessible everything was – once you’ve settled into your room, you don’t really need to drive anywhere, as restaurants, shops and, of course, the beach are all situated within a few minutes walk.
Exhausted after 23 hours of travel, I decided a swim was necessary. Road pops in hand, Dano and I headed down to the beach.
Orient Beach is a spectacular sight – miles of glistening, perfectly smooth white sand giving way to the most incredible turquoise water. Small outlying islands form a break wall that shelters the inner beach from rough water – making it an ideal learning spot for kiteboarders, as well as a great place to swim, sail or act like an idiot on a jet ski. A popular day trip for cruise ship passengers, the beach is full of chairs and umbrellas for rent - for between $6-$8 you can relax in the shade whilst sipping cocktails and watching the entertaining beach scene. Planted firmly on our beach chairs, we stared in awe at the first group of naked dudes that walked past – and they kept coming, in between clothed groups - singles, and couples, families strangely resembling aliens.
Interesting naked people fact #1:
Don’t expect to be perving on a parade of Pamela Anderson-esque hotties and David Beckham look-alikes. Most of the textile-free beachgoers are close to retirement age – imagine your grandparents without their clothes on.
Midway between Orient Bay Village and clothing-free Club Orient is the CNS (Club Nathalie Simon) Orient Beach. Run by French transplant Manu, this centre is the main kiting spot in the area, offering a comprehensive lesson program. We set up camp at CNS – which is where you’ll find most of the local kiteboarders – it’s definitely the hub for the local scene. The wireless network was a great benefit to us, as we’re a bunch of geeks.
One of the great things about St. Martin is the relatively mellow kite scene. Unlike the popular and crowded beaches of many Caribbean kite spots, Orient Beach has a small scene made up of friendly locals, and tons of space to ride. We were anxious to shoot the then top-secret Crossbow kite, and the lack of kiters on the water made this spot a great choice.
Beach traffic is another story. There are lots of people in various stages of dress strolling up and down Orient Beach – the kite launching area at CNS is marked, but be very wary of launching and landing, as beachgoers are quite oblivious to what’s going on around them.
Crew arrives, no wind in sight
The rest of the group arrived the next day, anxious to bust the gear out of the van and get on the water. The forecast looked promising, so we decided to rig and wait around for something to happen. Damien and Pete took the Crossbow 12’s out – in the light breeze they were the only kites on the water. The conditions never materialized that first day, so we packed it in and cruised through the beach bars for happy hour. There are string of beach bars along Orient Beach, each one goes off on a specific night of the week and caters to a particular crowd. We checked out the scene at Bikini Bar (Tuesdays) and Kon Tiki (Sunday). Lots of dancing, drinking and a young European party crowd – as in Europe, things don’t get going until late, show up after 10pm for the best crowds.
The next day our crew assembled at Le Fish Bar for a traditional French breakfast of strong coffee and croissants – the pace on Orient Beach is very slow, so our anxious group was usually the first to arrive at the restaurant each morning. The forecast showed no wind, but there was a swell, and we piled into CNS’s zodiac to surf a break just off Tintamarre Island. Since the waves are only accessible by boat, we had a great, uncrowded spot to surf. After a few hours, we headed to Pinel Island where we were treated to a massive lunch at the island’s outdoor restaurant. After lunch we caught a few more waves, then headed back to Orient Beach to see if there was any late day wind. Nothing. But, the forecast for the next day showed promise, so we had an early night and planned to hit it early the next morning.
Interesting naked people fact #2:
For some reason, nude doesn’t work well for the fitness-minded naturist. Expect to see a fair share of runners wearing nothing but socks and running shoes. Running. Ah, the freedom.
We were all up at sunrise to check the wind - , always one of the first guys out, got out on the water on a 12 Crossbow – he seemed to be having a good time, and was certainly causing a ruckus on the beach, as small groups of clothed and un-clothed people stopped to check him out. Manu took Tracy out to Green Cay, where she could shoot the guys from a different perspective. Although the wind was pretty light, Pete, Andre, Damien, Susi, Dano and Gianni managed to get some moves down for the cameras, riding until the wind shut down.
We decided to check another spot – Le Galion a few minutes south. This bay was incredible – absolutely glassy, shallow water, with a small swell at the southernmost point. It looked like an ideal place to shoot, but it would have to be an early morning call, as the beach fills up with families by mid-morning, making launching and landing a bit sketchy.
With the intention of meeting at Le Galion for a dawn session, we went our separate ways for the rest of the day – re-grouping at CNS that evening for a few drinks.
I had picked up a cooler in Marigot, and filled it with ice and Carib. 3 days into the trip, I quickly discovered that at $10.75 per case, beer was cheaper than water, and we should drink more of it, to keep hydrated. Sitting around the deserted CNS clubhouse that evening, a few of us managed to get through 2 cases of hydration before dinner. With a sunrise call at the beach the next morning, Le Galion was going to be pretty ugly.
Wind Sacrifice – it works!
If you’re planning a major session, make sure you drink copious amounts of alcohol the night before. You are practically guaranteed epic conditions the next morning.
This is exactly what happened after our beach beverage-fest – right on cue at sunrise, the wind kicked in and everyone was scrambling to get out on the water. A floating dock not far from shore looked like a great spot for our photographer to capture the action, but proved to be more dangerous than anything. Pete pulled a tweaked indy, nearly taking Dre out on his landing, and then Dano ate shit, tangled his lines and had to walk back to the beach. He was picking splinters out of his butt for the next week. Sucker. Meanwhile, down by the fishpond, Gianni and Damien were busting tantrums with one-handed down loops.
With a full day of shooting under our belts, we decided to hit the town hard, heading a few minutes up the road to Grand Case. Tuesday nights the main street is closed off to traffic, pedestrians, vendors and marching calypso bands dominate the narrow road. After grabbing a bite from a local barbeque stand, a few of the group headed into Philipsburg to check out some real action and piled into the overstuffed van for the drive.
The following day didn’t live up to its promise of wind, so Susi, Tracy and I drove into Philipsburg to shop and gawk at duty-free hungry tourists. Steaming hot and filled with people, there isn’t much unique Dutch culture left in this town – a couple of hours were enough for us. On the way back to Orient Bay, we stopped at Ma Dou Dou rum shop in Cul-de-Sac. A riotous mix of colorful bottles filled with homemade rum punch – this tiny retail outlet is a great spot to shop for gifts.
Upon arriving back at the Palm Court, we were greeted by the Orient Bay Gendarmes…none of whom spoke a word of English. In my best Franglais, I tried to figure out who they were looking for and why. “Les garcons” was all they would tell me, and I came to realize that “les garcons” were Dano and his apprentices Damien and Gianni, the three who were on their way to Phillipsburg the evening before. With no luck finding them in their rooms, I headed down to the beach in the police truck looking for the kids. Sure enough, they were out on the water, doing flips off the floating trampolines. The interchange that ensued was comical, to say the least. The police were smoking cigarettes and speaking entirely in French, while the lads continued to drink their beers, attempting to understand the foreign language. Eventually, they realized there had been a misunderstanding, so everyone piled into the police truck, and headed back to the hotel, laughing hysterically. The police enjoyed hanging out with our crew, and wound up in an impromptu photo shoot with handcuffs, and other interesting props. Bizarre.
The next day we decided to do a bit of sightseeing, and check the conditions on other parts of the island. Cruised into Marigot for the afternoon to check out the market and have lunch at the harbor. Not as overrun by tourists as Phillipsburg, Marigot has a distinctly French personality – offering plenty of shopping and great places to eat. The traffic is outrageous – the two-lane highway is congested from noon until after 5pm, most days.
After a stop at Supermarche Match to stock up on more Carib, saucisson secs, cheese and baguette, we headed back to Orient Beach for late afternoon cocktails. Rum punch, flavored or not, is a popular libation at all beachfront bars – many will offer samples of various flavors…and sell you a bottle if you like it. For around $10, you can take home a delicious concoction of chocolate, coconut or fruit-flavored rum.
There all plenty of small shops along the beach, selling local handicrafts and interesting beach attire – like most St. Martin retailers, the shopkeepers on the beach are open to a bit of haggling – you can often pay less than the sticker price for most merchandise.
Interesting naked people fact #3:
No shirt, no shoes, no service does NOT apply on Orient Beach. The many small shops on the beach have staff in various stages of undress, often wearing no more than a string of beads around the waist. Thankfully, restaurant wait staff is fully clothed.
Thursday was windy enough to ride, and the crew headed out from Orient Beach on C02’s, Revolvers and Crossbows. Back at the CNS, Manu was taking a few students out for a kite lesson. CNS offers a great lesson program, where beginners are taken by zodiac out to deserted Green Cay so that they can learn to launch and body-drag away from beach and boat traffic. Manu and his instructors will guide the student from the zodiac while body-dragging and getting started with a board, stopping to relaunch, and pick them up if they need assistance. This teaching method takes the fear out of learning, as there is always someone nearby to help if things go awry.
On no-wind days, there is a multitude of things to keep you occupied. Aside from heading to Marigot or Philipsburg, you can head to nearby Pinel Island via boats that run from Cul de Sac or some of the watersport concessions, including CNS, on Orient Beach – they will drop off and return at a set time to pick you up. There are some beautiful sandy beaches on the island, so bring shoes and hike to the 2 deserted beaches on the opposite side. There is a restaurant, snack bar and gift shop (island style) on the island. Pinel is often called St Martin’s best kept secret and has always been popular with locals. Further out is Tintamarre - a natural reserve, meaning that it's beauty has remained untouched. Manu was eager for us to try the natural mud baths that Tintamarre is known for, but we never got a chance in between sessions, hence, no mud for our crew.
St. Martin has a lot to offer for kitesurfers and their families. The best time for wind is January to April, like most Caribbean destinations. User-friendly conditions, natural beauty and an evolved cultural atmosphere make French St. Martin an excellent choice for vacations. In spite of the constant parade of textile-free beachgoers, Orient Beach maintains a family-friendly atmosphere, with swimming conditions suitable for children. Parasailing, Hobie Cat and traditional sailboat rentals are all available on the beach. The hotels in Orient Bay are well situated and the village has all your needs – from groceries to swimsuits, and plenty of great restaurants.
St. Martin facts
The smallest island in the world to be partitioned between two different nations, St. Martin/St. Maarten has been shared by the French and the Dutch in a spirit of neighborly cooperation for almost 350 years.
The borders are barely noticeable, and you can cross back and forth without ever realizing you are entering a new country. In spite of this, each side has managed to retain much of the distinctiveness of its own national culture. The French side tends to focus on comfort and elegance, with its secluded beaches and focus on hedonism and gastronomie. Small cafés and charming bistros add a decidedly Gaelic and cosmopolitan flair to the place. On the whole the atmosphere remains very relaxed.
On the other hand, St. Maarten with its busy cruise port and bustling commercial district has long been an active center for trade and tourism. More developed and much more informal, it is very Dutch in flavor and still has strong ties with fellow compatriots in the other Netherlands Antilles. Between the two different cultures on the island, travelers will be able to find just about every kind of activity they might want for a perfect holiday in the sun.
Located midway through the Caribbean island chain, St. Martin is sunny and warm year-round, averaging 82 degrees Fahrenheit in summer and just 2 degrees cooler in winter. The island is buffeted by cooling trade winds that keep things temperate all year long, and make the island an excellent bet for watersports. Average annual rainfall comes to about 45 inches, most of which occurs around late summer and early fall.
The French capital – approximately ½ hour drive from Orient Beach. French flavor, lots of shopping and fine dining. Large grocery stores and pharmacies with reasonable prices. Each Wednesday and Saturday there is a market at the harbor featuring local handicrafts, souvenirs. On Saturday’s it features a farmers market with local produce.
The highest point of St. Martin at 424m offers you a superb view of the French side of the island. Pic paradis can be reached by foot at the Rambaud road or from French quarter.
Five minutes from Orient Beach – this typical Caribbean town has the nearest ATM, Pharmacy and better-stocked grocery stores than Orient Bay Village
The Butterfly farm is a unique place to visit. Numerous natural habitats allow you to see the butterflies in different stages of their lifespan. Butterflies from all parts of the world can be found here, along with interesting facts on the species. A great family activity.
Dutch capital – main port for the island, usually has between 2-6 cruise ships in port. Duty free mecca of electronics stores, liquor shops and perfume outlets. Casinos, large hotels and the ubiquitous “gentlemen’s clubs” all make Phillipsburg the quintessential tourist town.
Check out nearby St. Barth’s and Anguilla – ferries from Phillipsburg run daily.
Currency: On the French side of the island, the main currency is the Euro – but most restaurants accept US dollars, at a very favorable rate. On the Dutch side, Netherlands Guilders and US dollars are accepted. If you use an ATM machine on the French side – you can only withdraw Euros. However, the Dutch side has ATM’s that dispense both Guilders and US dollars.
Driving: Left hand drive. Watch out for potholes and cyclists, motorbikes and goats! Maps are fairly reliable, but it is quite easy to veer off track, as the signage is sometimes confusing. Traffic around Marigot from 2pm to 6pm travels at a snail’s pace. Make sure you’ve got a good mix of music to pass the time with.
Water: Generally safe to drink, but we stuck to bottled water just in case.
Language: French on the French side, Dutch on the Dutch side, although there is much more English spoken there. In the larger areas on the French side, like Marigot, there is plenty of English spoken. However, smaller places like the restaurants in Orient Bay are predominantly French speaking.
Internet: there are a fair amount of WiFi hotspots and internet cafés on St. Martin. The CNS Orient Beach had a wireless that allowed us to check our emails right on the beach.
Phones: expensive from your hotel, and most of our US and European cell phones didn’t work. You can buy card from a phone dealer, but service is sketchy.
CNS Orient Beach
BEST TIME OF YEAR FOR WIND:
The best months for wind are January thru July, but the off months can also be good; they are just less dependable. Late summer and early fall are hurricane season, and St. Martin is quiet during these months.
American Airlines has flights from Miami, New York and Los Angeles, as does United. Smaller airlines fly from other Caribbean islands for under $300US, also many flights available from San Juan – only 1.5 hours by plane.
Many thanks to Cecile and Manu of CNS & Palm Court Hotel for their hospitality; Eric Benjamin of Jumbo Car Sandy Ground for transportation; Tap 5 Pizza for the Shawarma.
HOTEL PALM COURT
C5 parc de la baie orientale
97150 Saint Martin
Tel : France 05 90 87 41 94
Europe 00 590 590 87 41 94
USA 00 11 590 590 87 41 94
Fax : 05 90 29 41 30
JUMBO CAR Sandy Ground
Route de Sandy Ground (a coté du pont)
97150 Sandy Ground
Tel: 05 90 87 88 25
Fax: 05 90 87 98 38
CNS ST. MARTIN Orient Bay
Tél: 05 90 29 41 57
Cel 06 90 36 27 36
Fax05 90 29 41 30
Live webcam http://cns-sxm.axiscam.net/