(updated in 2016)
The island of Bonaire is located in the south of the Caribbean (about 90km from the coast of Venezuela -- see the map). There are no large hotels or resorts, and just few weekly direct flights from the US. There are no luxurious beaches and not many tourist attractions. So, only people who know exactly what they are looking for come here for vacation. These are divers and windsurfers.
The wind is blowing like from a fan -- steady, in the same direction and strong enough for plaining - most of the time form December to April (check yourself). The wind consistency has one disadvantage; if for some ungodly reason the wind would die down, it may be for a couple of weeks. I was unfortunate to witness such a lull in April 2013, with barely plaining conditions only 3 days out of 12. Typically, from April to November, you can go on plane 40-70% of days, albeit some of these will be with a large 8.0 sail. On the positive note, with 8.0 it will be very flat and smooth ride!
Although hurricanes always pass much further to the North, they would disrupt the wind pattern for a few days. In rare occasions, a hurricane may veer closer to the island and people start panicking, like it happened in Sep 2016. However, this only happens once in half a century.
The sea water and air temperature here are consistently the same through the day and night -- from 26C in winter to 29C in the summer, -- you can leave your wet suite at home. Because of the dry wind daytime heat is bearable (better than in Mexico or the Dominican Republic). Just be careful with the sun exposure -- you can quickly get a sunburn regardless of the season.
Windsurfers sail at Lac Bay - a large shallow lagoon in the south-west part of the island.
This mile-wide bay is well protected from ocean ways by the reef, therefore there is always flat water. At best times, it's waist-deep, sandy bottom, no sharp objects. Water is clean like in brochures; if you drop a coin you can pick it up without a problem. You may safely windsurf bare feet; just be aware that some rental boards have a very smooth deck. Those, who up to the challenge can get out through the channel and ride the waves.
There are two surf stations located side by side - Jibe City и Bonaire Windsurf Place. Both offer good set of rentals, instruction, as well as everything else -- both for windsurfers and their buddies: shadow, beach chairs, reasonably priced and decent food, washrooms and showers. There are no rescue boats -- because the wind is always blowing on-shore and beginners can walk back from any point of the bay.
In 2016 I preferred to rent at the Windsurf Place, for three reasons. First, their price included insurance. Second, they would allow to set aside your favorite board for the day, nobody would take it. Finally, their boards selection is way better.
The only hotel located beside the windsurf rentals is Sorbonne Beach Resort. Its a bit too expensive for its class. The resort is small, not much to do there and nothing close by; you will still need a rental car. And once you have a car, you can pick a much better place for the same price. Or go cheaper For those who like to snorkel, Sorbonne Beach isn't the best place either. The reef is too far away. It stays about waist deep for longer than most people are willing to walk. I would recommend renting a sea side apartment on the leeward shore in Belnem - just ten minute drive from Lac Bay.
In the morning while the sun isn't hot we would step off the deck into the crystal clear water and enjoy swimming and snorkeling. In the evening we would have a dinner at the terrace watching the sun set. Just be ware of local tiny mosquitoes, with their 'happy hour' after the sunset. Using some repellent is strongly advised. Bites can be effectively treated with a piece of aloe (or whatever you can find in he pharmacy).
The island of Bonaire is special to us as the most relaxing and peaceful place we have ever visited. You won't see armed patrols nor metal detectors. You likely won't see a single police (other than at the airport) during the entire vacation. Not much traffic, no traffic lights and I haven't seen a stop sign (although they say there's a couple). It takes 10 minutes to cross the island. Tap water is officially drinkable. The sea water is sparkling clean even in the port - a lot of fishes and crabs around there and zero litter. The underwater life is protected by the state; there are a lot of restrictions for divers. For example, diving gloves and anchors are banned. The environment laws are indeed enforced -- we saw the patrolling park wardens.
Like at the majority of Caribbean islands, the high season at Bonaire lasts from December to April. During that time come cruise ships, at moments doubling the population of the island. But night entertainment is virtually non-existent, perhaps because tired divers and windsurfers drop to the bed early!
Overall there is not much to see. Locals will recommend Cargill sea
salt mines (impressive!), and also slave hats from the long forgotten
times (curious to take a look, but so what?). Nature
enthusiasts can drive a 4x4 in the national park watching wild
donkeys, cactuses, goats and flamingo, and that's about it!
How I got there
It all started with the Intuition trailer at YouTube. I liked it, and decided to buy the INtuition Jibing DVD. Albeit pricey, it became the best training DVD in my collection. I've learned quite a few things using the DVD, and eventually decided it's time for one of the Guy's clinics. Crossing the ocean just for a 4-day training course didn't appeal to me; the only remaining and reasonable choice left was Corpus Christi, Texas. Flat water, relatively close to Canada and not so hot in the end of March. Last, but not the least was my longtime desire to check this place, as it was a favorite winter spot for a few guys from our lake.
Flight, Car and Accommodation
Worldwinds surf station is located in the national park at the North Padre Island, in the middle of nowhere; the only way to get there is by car. San Antonio and Houston airports are 2.5 and 4 hours drive. There are many windsurfers who bring a camp trailer and settle beside the surf station -- right on the beach. The remaining folks stay in hotels or condos, which at North Padre Island start from $100 per night. You can save about half of that by staying at the mainland. but I would recommend checking the hotel and the area around it. One guy in our group found his car at the hotel parking lot with all four tires slashed.
Food is good and inexpensive. I was staying far away at the budget Travelodge by the airport, and enjoyed a good seafood dinner with a glass of wine for just $11. So if you come just for few days, you don't really need a room with kitchen -- it's probably not worth it.
At the national park gate you will have to part with $30 for the park pass. You and your vehicle will be photographed every time you enter and exit the area. They say it's homeland security or some other agency fighting illegal trafficking or something. But as a good side effect, since the installation of the cameras, it became quite safe leaving valuables in the car while windsurfing.
Worldwinds is located on the shore of the intercostal lagoon. The side-off-shore winds create ideal flat water conditions. The island itself is low and doesn't disturb the wind -- even close to the shore.
All rentals were brand new or in a very good condition. I was very impressed by the shop service; they were always ready to help, and didn't try to sell something I didn't really need (i.e. insurance). It was my first time when repair price list was part of the rental agreement, with all prices being quite reasonable.
Entry was sand, but very shallow. We would pull the board (even with a short fin) for about 50 yards before being able to sail. Most of the lagoon is about breast-deep, with muddy bottom. There are some sharp shells, therefore it's better to wear booties.
On the down side, the place lacks food service and running water. The closest diner is about 20 minute drive. The shop has a modest shower from collected rain water.
During most of the clinic, the wind was weak; it got to 20+ knots only on the last day. At any other time I would have been disappointed, but for the training purposes the wind was there enough all right. It was warm, and I had to use my wet suite only once, when the wind picked up.
The group of 20 trainees represented all ages and various skill levels. The training setting was driven by wind (of the lack of it).
Morning session would start at 9:30; we would spend a couple of hours practicing moves on the beach. Working in pairs was really great as we were able to point each other's mistakes and have some rest in between. One morning was dedicated to video review. After quick lunch we would go out to practice the same moves on the water. Guy would either do video recording, or sail around, demonstrating and correcting mistakes. The off-shore wind was a blessing for video recording, as windsurfers weren't hidden behind the sail.
The training agenda was extensive. It included equipment selection and tune-up, stance, harness, straps, beach start and water start, non-plaining and plaining jibe and tack. Everything was first done in separate steps on-shore. There were explanations (i.e. why this way but not the other, typical mistakes and consequences). For example, what happens if you outhaul too much, etc.
The training would wrap up at 6pm, and by 7:30 most of the group would gather at some restaurant for a dinner. One night the majority went for horse back riding followed by a traditional Texan barbeque. We even tasted a rattle snake (plenty of those beasts around!). Back at the hotel at 10 - just in time for a quick shower and bed.
Guy's clinic is exhausting but was worth it. Regardless of the level, I believe everyone had fun, made progress and learned a lot for the future.
I liked friendly company, training pace and style. The large group size and the multitude of similar questions helped to cover the subject from all possible angles. Video recording followed by the next day review was an eye-opening, too.
We were a bit frustrated by the weak wind, but on the other hand, it gave us opportunity to spend more time with the instructor, and also practice in the mild wind. On the downside, I would note the lack of organized lunches, and a dedicated photographer.
Summarizing, in those 4 days I've learned more than in all previous
lessons all together. I would definitely do it again!
It'd been two years since my clinic with Guy Cribb, and I was ready for more training. Clinic format is preferable because it's full day of quality instruction; and the location had to be our vacation destination Bonaire. ABK was the only option matching all requirements.
As I had already mentioned here, getting to Bonaire usually takes a full day - unless you happen to live in Houston, New York, Amsterdam or Dusseldorf. The good news, United added a couple of weekly flights, and improved the timing of the Houston flight (no red-eye any more). The result is more options and lower prices - at least for now.
Upon the arrival everything went as smooth as usual. 10 minute paperwork at rentals and 5 minute drive to the seaside apartment. The clinic started on the following day.
5 days of training
General gathering would start at 9:30, and shortly after we would split into smaller groups, by our levels and desired objectives. 4 groups, each had an instructor, 4-6 windsurfers in each group. 30-40 minutes of theory at the beach, then on the water practice till noon. The instructor would stand in the water and we would go around trying required elements.
The afternoon part would got from 14:00 to 17:00 (again theory, then practice and videotaping. At 17:20 video reviews with Andy comments.
The majority of us rented equipment at Jibe City. Too bad, there were no special discounts for our group - all prices as published on the web site. The instructor would recommend sizes for the session; I would pick a board; the sail would be delivered to the water.
Despite the size of the group, there was no problem to change the board or sail. Boards were Fanatic, JP, Exoset TWIX, sails mostly Severne Gator. Occasionally the instructor would tune the set (moving the mast foot or adding downhall).
Interestingly enough, every school has its unique approach training standard moves. For example, getting on the plane would go like harness-acceleration-foot straps. In plaining jibe entry the rear foot gets almost parallel to the board (not across). Steering while plaining using weight shift rather than by carving the board... I guess there are many ways to train your body right moves, and eventually it'd get there, given enough practice and feedback.
The shallow water would discourage large (freeride) fins; some people even bring their own fins. There are few knee-deep corals, and many sandbanks. Therefore, going fast is risky, especially without rental insurance, which is $60 a week. On the positive side, less efforts to get back on board and easier to learn.
Windsurfing 4-5 hours a day, for five days in a row is challenging. The majority of us didn't practice since fall. Adapting from -20C to +28C also takes its toll. Muscles sore, blisters burning. One doctor in our group shared a trick about blisters - by using surgical gloves underneath windsurfing ones. It helped me a lot - much better than the duct tape.
About results. Everyone ended up with some personal achievements. I finally got a feeling of MFP (mast foot pressure), learned to control the board by tiptoes, and started enjoying fast plaining. Got a good idea about plaining jibe entry, now time to practice exit :-)
Summarizing, ABK school is a great experience and worth its price. I will definitely join them again.