Kirsty Jones’ World Record Attempt

Kirsty Jones (below left, on a more relaxed day) was determined to kitesurf into the record books. Would she find triumph in the dark Atlantic, or, as everyone was predicting, disaster?

Nobody was hopeful when Kirsty Jones set out to break the world kitesurfing distance record by skimming across 140 miles from Lanzarote to Morocco. Killer sharks, giant waves or collapsing from exhaustion and drowning were always going to be potential snags, but on the day there just wasn’t enough wind, neither present nor forecast. Ignoring all advice, however, Kirsty headed into the blue: brave Welsh lass with a kite versus the Atlantic.

morocco25 year-old Kirsty grew up sailing and windsurfing in Pembrokeshire. When kitesurfing arrived, she became British Ladies Champion within a year. Now Female Kitesurf World Wave Champion, she lives in Lanzarote and makes a living by travelling the World’s most exotic spots and playing in the sea..

“It’s about the adrenaline, the freedom, the wildlife, the sense of escape,” Explains Jones, “And the variety! You can ride waves like a surfer, do tricks, or just go long-distance.”.

Long distance is least enjoyable, but the record attempt was to support two charities that Jones is deeply involved with: a Moroccan disabled charity called L’Adaph, and a windsurfing centre in Moroccan village Tarfaya started by Youths United.

It’s this ‘bridging’ aspect that makes the record. A kitesurfer has gone 170 miles, but he just went with the wind and stopped when he’d had enough. Kirsty’s 140 miles prescribed land-to-land itinerary would be more impressive, in the same way that Ellen MacArthur’s 27,000 mile world circumnavigation beats 28,000 miles up and down the Solent.”Before we went there they were just using the sea for food!” exclaims the incredulous Kirsty, adding that the record attempt “is all about bridging two continents, opening people’s eyes to a different culture so close by.”

So off she went, Waves board below her – designed not to sink so readily in light winds – 12m Flexifoil Iron Kite above. Sustenance was energy drink in a camel backpack, support was two Ribs (inflatable speedboats), packed with wheelchairs for L’Adaph and windsurfing equipment for Tarfaya..

“The wind was light and dropping.” Kirsty explained the day after the attempt. “I thought very early on that I’d have to give up. Then I saw two huge fins, too big for dolphins – they had to be sharks. The support boats were way behind, I was totally alone. I tried to steer away, but soon giant grey shapes were passing under the board… .

boudier1“Then the boats came up and told me they were pilot whales! I was pretty shaken, but 15 minutes later a huge pod of dolphins came leaping past, which was a good omen..

“Two hours in, the wind dropped even more. The board was sinking. It was so choppy that I got sea-sick. I was sick twice. It was horrible. I was feeling so ill I just wanted to lie down. I had 120 miles to go.

“I’d just decided to stop when I spotted a wind cloud a long way ahead. I kept on, and the wind picked up and some gannets started flying alongside. They’re lovely birds. I thought they must be my personal angles. The sun came out, the sea turned an amazing blue; it was really beautiful. But the support boats told me I was miles behind target – only halfway after five hours.

“My back was aching, my legs were really tired from going bang bang bang against the chop, my arms were hurting, and I could feel blisters growing everywhere. But, unless the wind dropped, I wasn’t going to stop.

boudier3“After 7 hours I was thinking: ‘I’m totally exhausted. I really need to see land.’ I began to fantasise I could smell tagine [a Moroccan dish] and started to get really hungry.

“Then I saw land! I was so happy. The guys on the boat started shouting encouragement – for the first time they realised I might do it..

“But it looked so far away! I was very uncomfortable and so much can happen that I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Then I started to recognise landmarks – I could see a shipwreck where I’d surfed a few times, and the castle on the beach, and it was like: ‘Wow! I know where I’m going!'”.

When Kirsty landed on the beach, the whole village of Tafaya ran to greet her. A bath would have been nice, but surfer Jones didn’t even have a shower. She drank gallons of sweet tea at a huge ceremony arranged by the locals, before lying in her sleeping bag on the Africa beach and drifting off immediately, a very tired record breaker.

For more on Kirsty, see www.kirstyjones.me.uk