It took me a few moments to unfold myself from the six-hour mini-van ride we had taken, against our will, from Dalat to Mui Ne. I will recount this story in full someday in the future, perhaps when I get around to writing that “Bus Rides from a Vietnamese Hell” post I’ve been working on.
But this isn’t a post about being trapped in a speeding box of boiling steel, it’s about the beautiful coastal town of Mui Ne. So. After ditching the mini-van and massaging our limbs back into functioning body parts, we practically sprinted down to the beach, to be met with the surreal sight of a ruggedly beautiful ocean punctuated by hundreds of colorful kitesurfers dancing with the wind.
Mui Ne is most famous for this; its watersports. Kitesurfing, windsurfing, regular old surfing… you can find it all in Mui Ne. And when you need to dry out, there is a stunning coastline to explore, filled with famously beautiful sand dunes, a mystical “fairy” spring, and mountain top temples. And for once, it’s a fairly simple place to navigate: just one long road stretched out across the beach. When heading to a restaurant or bar you only need to know if it’s North or South of your digs.
On the day of our arrival, we were eager to find out more about kitesurfing. Recharged by the sound of the ocean, we set out along the beach to do some research. We approached the first guy we saw with long-hair and a rash vest. “Hey! Do you know anything about…” He didn’t even stop walking, just tapped his watch. “I’m late.”
We were off to a good start. At the first two shops we walked into, we encountered similar friendliness. “Didn’t you read the brochure?” sighed one instructor when we politely inquired about start time.
Our positive first impression was beginning to sour. Worse, it didn’t seem like kitesurfing was in the cards for us. The course takes at least three days and is on-par with doing an Open Water Scuba Certification, investment-wise (about $360USD). At our last stop on the surf-shop tour of Mui Ne beach, we met with a decently friendly woman who suggested an alternative: windsurfing. As opposed to the days of lessons it takes to merely stand upright while kitesurfing, typical humans can stand up after an hour or so of windsurfing attempts. I say “typical humans,” because experts agree that I am one of the least sports-ready/physically fit people to walk the Earth. So I wasn’t really planning on standing up on anything other than dry land. But I handed over my $99USD for two hours of instruction and two hours of bonus rental anyway.
Our choice was met with disdain at the local watering hole that night. We quickly learned that the kitesurfers were the snowboarders of the ocean, coolness wise, and by choosing to go windsurfing we were the equivalent of those renting inner tubes to inch down the bunny hill in overly puffy snow pants.
We arrived the morning of our lessons filled with hope and excitement, which was knocked on its side as quickly as our balance in the choppy morning water. You know what you can’t see, when you are watching expert windsurfers cutting through the water so seemingly effortlessly? Those sails are heavy, and every time one goes down, you’ve got to pick that bad boy back up.
Unfortunately, our instructors were pretty difficult to understand, language and accent wise. After maybe 10 minutes of practice and another half-hour with hands-on instruction in the water, the instructor swam back to shore to “teach” from there. I found myself spending a lot of the second hour sitting on the board, resting my sore arm muscles and trying to remember if Shark Week ever covered any attacks on unsuspecting backpackers off the coast of Vietnam.
Mark and I agreed that while we were glad we tried it, it just wasn’t our thing. After two hours I didn’t have even one second of thinking, “Wow! This is what it’s all about!” Just to demonstrate how “meh” we felt… we almost didn’t go back for our two hours of free rental! Knowing what cheapskates we are, that is a pretty big deal.
Of course we came to our frugal senses and showed up the next day. There were some miscommunications and frustrations that had me nearly quitting for the 127th time, but just as I was claiming I was going to stay on the beach and “take photos,” Mark managed to drag me out for one last go. I don’t know what it was; the conditions, our improved skill set, or the thought of wasting what could have bought us 100 banana shakes, but something finally clicked.
While it wasn’t much, I finally did get a few moments of that whole, “Yes! This is what it’s about!” feeling. Standing strong and using the wind and your own strength to propel and cut through the ocean waters- it was a great sensation. I do think that windsurfing is a hobby I’d have to put a lot more into to get a lot more out of… and I’m not really ready for that investment. But hey, I tried it, and now I know it’s not for me. On the other hand, I am thrilled to have added kitesurfing to my bucket list and I look forward to spending a week trying to master it sometime in the future.
And now, for your viewing pleasure, a 33 second humorously sound-tracked clip of us embarrassing ourselves on the water:
Edited to Add: I’m sorry to end on a somber note, but I can’t get this out of my mind. As we were paying on our second day, I noticed members of the staff were all wearing black arm bands. When I asked about it, I was met with a heartbreaking tale. The day before (as in, the day of our lessons) a Danish girl traveling with her best friend was lost at sea while kitesurfing. When she was discovered missing the staff tried to look for her on jet skis, but it was too late; she was assumed dead. She hadn’t been wearing a lifejacket. I know it doesn’t look cool (see: above photos) and it doesn’t make for the best tan lines, but when you are learning a new water sport in a foreign country with relaxed safety standards, look out for yourself. There are no lifeguards, no coastguard, and no emergency alerts out here. Don’t send your best friend home with your coffin. I hope that by posting this, someday one of you reading this will make a better decision. Accidents can happen anytime, but you can do a lot to prevent them from ending so tragically.
Just wear the stupid life jacket, and even the silly helmet. It helps for mid-lesson floating breaks, too.