Kitesurfers are a brilliant bunch of people. Learning this sport takes passion, drive, and commitment – even a beginner kitesurfer has achieved something truly impressive! Imagine taking what is a hobby for most and taking it to the next level. That’s what Sarah Lord has accomplished. She is not only a talented kitesurfer and instructor but one of the foremost faces in the development of kitesurfing in Qatar.
This up-and-coming kite destination, with sea, wind, and sun, offers some of the best kitesurfing conditions you can find. Sarah Lord grew up here, and she wants to share it with you.
Twenty years ago, when Lord first heard of the sport, kitesurfing was an obscure activity. Now, it’s one of the fastest-growing sports in the world.
“The first time I rode on the board, I was hooked… It was exhilarating, riding on the board for the first time,” says Lord. “It’s a weird feeling because it’s quite adrenaline-fuelled, but you’re also at one with nature. It’s a really nice combination of adrenaline and pure relaxation. You feel free. You forget about everything.”
Lord has dedicated years to teaching kitesurfing to Qataris. The country has perfect kitesurfing conditions, she says, and she wants to tell the world. What are those conditions? Qatar is a peninsula surrounded by open sea. There’s a fresh, consistent north wind that comes straight off the ocean. Perfect kite-flying weather. “And the weather is a huge pull,” Lord adds. “From November to July, we have a long stretch of one perfect season.”
Kitesurfing has always been more than a hobby for Lord. The sport ties together her life-long connection to the water with her memories of her father. Lord’s parents moved to the Middle East in the 1970s and settled in Qatar when Lord was a toddler. Her father was a keen windsurfer, and her strongest childhood memories are of sitting perched on his board out in the ocean.
“Every day after school, it was just routine. He’d pick us up from school, and we’d head straight to the beach,” remembers Lord. “He’d take me out on the water because there was no one to look after me on the shore.” “In those days, there wasn’t much here,” she says. “The whole coast was a beach.”
In the early 2000s, when the sport was just taking off, Lord’s father had just got ‘wind’ of it. “He said to me, ‘I’ve seen this thing called kitesurfing. We’ve got to try it.'” Shortly after that, he passed away. “So I had to do it,” says Lord.
By then, in her early twenties, Lord learned to kitesurf in the most dangerous way possible: she taught herself. “Back then,” says Lord, “using whatever I could find on the internet, and with very dangerous and tatty equipment, it took me about a month. But I got there in the end.” Now, with the latest safety technology and qualified instructors, there’s no need to take that risk; You can become a safe and independent kitesurfer after just a few lessons.
Like many of us in the kitesurfing community, she became addicted. She spent her days as a schoolteacher watching the breeze in the trees through the window, counting down the minutes until she could get out on the water. Before long, she quit her job and moved to Mauritius to become a qualified instructor. She then spent years working as an instructor, following the kitesurfing season around the world in Mauritius, Philippines, Egypt, and Indonesia.
A decade ago, after years of travelling, Sarah finally returned to Qatar. “I have roots here,” says Lord. “It’s where I’ve had the best experiences of my life and reached the biggest milestones. Went to school, learned kitesurfing… it’s a magnet.”
On her return, Lord was tasked with setting up a national kitesurfing team, practising in Fuwairit, a pristine beach 95 km north of Doha. “It was hard to convince people to travel that far at first. But the Qatari community is very close-knit. Once we had one guy, he brought his brother, who brought his cousin, who brought their friends, and it just grew and grew.”
Within a few years, Qatar hosted the continental championships, then the world racing championships and was developing an Olympic team. Lord is proud to have trained Qataris to compete in these events – particularly women. “Traditionally, here, Qatari women aren’t into adrenaline sports”, she says. “It was quite a leap for these ladies to come to the beach and start learning.” Even now, the sport is very male-dominated. “There’s a misconception that you have to be strong,” says Lord. “Which is wrong. It’s more technical. You can see a lot of young kids doing it.”
Now, kitesurfing has become one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. And despite hosting international championships, Qatar is still a relatively small spot on the map for kitesurfers. “The place is a big secret, but it’s growing every day,” says Lord.
To Lord, Qatar is the best-kept secret in the kitesurfing world. That’s why she’s chosen her favourite kitesurfing spot in the world, Fuwairit, a pristine beach 95 km north of Doha, for her biggest project yet.
“We’re putting together something that will cater for all kitesurfers, from complete beginners to professionals,” says Lord. “It’ll be a fully serviced kite centre welcoming anybody and everybody, experience or no experience, on whatever budget.”
To read more about this undiscovered location, check out the latest issue of IKSURFMAG, where our Publisher, Rou Chater, details his experience of Finding Gold in the Desert.
By Crystal VenessEditor at IKSURFMAG, Crystal Veness hails from Canada but is based in South Africa. When she isn't busy kitesurfing or reporting on the latest industry news for the mag, she is kicking back somewhere at a windy kite beach or working on creative media projects.