The island of Föhr – an adaptive kiteboarding Spotguide

The watersports school of Nieblum on the island of Föhr is basically the mother of all adaptive kiteboarding schools. A short overview.

Deutsch: Sitkite-Spotguide Nieblum auf Föhr

Nieblum on Föhr (pronunciation like ‚fur‘) … a village not too many will know on an island not too many will know. Depending on the tide some might be rubbing their eyes in disbelieve during the ferry ride from mainland. Where you normally would expect the sea to be, the ferry seems to be floating over sand. Apart from some puddles of water and the shipping channel, the sandy landscape stretches until the horizon.

On the island, after a ten minutes car ride it starts to rumble underneath the tires. Welcome to Nieblum. It’s like travelling through time where the sight of horse-drawn carriages wouldn’t surprise. On a cobbled road we pass by old, thatched houses. An astonishing amount of cyclists run in these tree-lined streets. Many of those bikers don’t seem very experienced or sure in what they are doing so we automatically drive slowly.  It’s busy at the fruit and veg stall at the small local supermarket. It appears as if the daily shopping is more social event than necessary duty. The people are chatting enthusiasticly about all the world and his brother.

Don’t fear the shellback

The wooden hut of the school with surfboards in front.
The wooden shacks of the school.

We for now don’t chat along but head to the beach straight away – to the watersports school of Nieblum. Behind the dike, about 2 kilometres out of town, one can spot some wooden shacks with plenty of wind- and kitesurfing gear. Thanks to a boardwalk it’s easy to reach the reception of the school with a wheelchair. There is not much going on yet. Two or three people sit in front of the shack by a round table, drink coffee and chat. It turns out to be the staff enjoying the lull before the storm. It is still early in the morning and low tide, so it’ll take while for the summerly hustle to start.

A man sits in kiteboarding seat on land.
Hücki testing the 1. kite-seat (originally a waterski seat)

At sight of the newcomer one of the group gets up and greets with a short ‚Moin‚. It’s Dirk Hückstädt, the owner of the school – voice and looks match perfectly. A shellback with a three-day beard and a sand paper voice – not related to Joe Cocker. Dirk aka Hücki runs the family business since not quite 20 years and is one the founding fathers of adaptive kiteboarding. Currently there probably is barely anyone around with more experience in teaching sitkiteboarding than him.

Notwithstanding the first rough impression, the ice is broken right away. After making some space on the table for the wheelchair and offering a cappuccino from the fancy new coffee maker, Hücki calmly starts to explain the upcoming kiteboarding lessons. That he tends to digress a little is not held against him by anyone. On the contrary, you can hear a pin drop when Hücki starts to drift away from subject as he is a brilliant storyteller who also knows how to use the stylistic device of exaggeration perfectly. An hour later after having clarified the most important details, the first lesson can begin. First step is dry practice. This makes sense twice because first of all there is no water yet and secondly the handling of the kite has to be flawless before entering the sea.

Crunchy tides

It takes a little getting used to Föhr being a tidal spot. When the wind is blowing with constant 20 knots without any water in sight it feels strange at first. After all you are at the sea – at least theoretically. Once this local peculiarity is processed, one begins to see its advantages and might slowly get an idea of where the locals get their character from. Those stand out with their chilled but straight nature. It’s hard to really annoy a ‚Föhrer‘ … but possible. Anyway, you’ll always know where you stand.

Bei Ebbe wird's mit Kiten schwierig.
On low tide kiteboarding might become difficult.

Hardcore kite- & windsurfing freaks, who only ever have one thing on their mind (the other ‚one‘), better adjust their attitude a little to really enjoy the stay.  In ideal circumstances watersports is just one piece of the puzzle. The other piece would be leaning back. This works best by simply slowing down the pace and coddle oneself as well as possible … without feeling guilty. Icecream, waffles, barbecue, beer, chilling on the beach … to hell with the perfect figure. Those extra calories surely burn during the next session. Of course you can also do sports on land. To non-walkers I’d recommend bringing a handbike. With more than 2oo kilometres bicycle tracks¹ and a maximum altitude of 13,2 meters², the green island is perfect for cycling. Also horseback riding, tennis and golf are great options to kill some time.

A person with red helmet sits in an adapted kitebuggy. Behind him on the axle of the buggy stands a man to help with the steering.
During the first buggy-rides Hücki helps to steer.

Nonetheless you can enjoy low tide with a kite just as well. Cruising with a kite buggy over mudflats and through puddles is really fun … and leaves it’s marks. Sand everywhere … this becomes noticeable when the next meal is crunchier than it should be. Thanks to an adapted buggy with hand steering, also wheelchair users can enjoy some sandblasting and at the same learn a lot for kitesurfing in the water.

Another advantage of the strong tides: Föhr is perfect for couples and families. It’s even possible to get the water rat to leave the beach without becoming twitchy as soon as the wind picks up even just a little bit. No water, no kiteboarding. A 100% crisis-proof. The sea sets the rules.

Adaptive kiteboarding

2 wheelchair-users on a ramp on the beach.
The participants of Roll’n’Fly 2007 on the way back to the school.

But let’s get back to kiteboarding. How does the procedure for an adaptive kiteboarding session look like? As soon as you are squeezed into the wetsuit, you pass the dunes on the wooden boardwalk until you reach the beach. At the end of the boardwalk you then change into a kitebuggy which is used as mobility device to get to the edge of the sea. Although the security boat is always on stand by, Hücki mostly teaches on foot. Due to the little water depth at the beach of Nieblum, this method turned out to be the most efficient. To guarantee the best possible safety all the same, the training system is adjusted to the local conditions.

Adaptive kiteboarder on the boar din the sea with a kite. The instructor is behind him to help with the balance.
Stabilization for the first waterstarts.

For bodydragging the instructor connects himself to the harness of the student with the goal to give stability and safety. Also during the first attempts with the board Hücki holds on to the seat and lets himself drag along. Only when the student shows sufficient capability steering the kite and the conditions allow fast intervention he lets go. Having reached this point, there is only one goal: Riding as far as possible. Orgasmic.

Cold shower

The time you take after the session to change and shower depends on the weather. On a nice day you can dilly-dally and let the sun shine on your belly. With cold, rainy weather though you better hurry up or even free yourself from the second skin under the warm shower of the hotel. You can always come back to the beach afterwards to chat and listen to some more stories of Hücki before it is time for bed – or the ‚Olympic‘, the hippest (because only) dance club on the island.

Open door to an accessible toilett
The spacious bathroom on the beach.

Some of might already have asked themselves about the infrastructure for rolling folk. As already mentioned the school provides a good network of wooden boardwalks to facilitate wheelchair users to get around atop of sand and marram grass. A little aside of the school, close to the parking lot of the beach, there is an accessible bathroom. To shower you’ll have to make do with one of the outdoor showers and a plastic chair. It’s recommendable to savour the first couple of seconds after opening the tap as the water (warmed up by the sun) cools down pretty fast. Refreshment guaranteed. Now you also know why it’s preferable to shower on warm days.

Although I hopefully managed to point out what a hidden jewel this North Frisian island is, I would like to clarify again, what …
… why would I? ‚Jewel‘ should have said it all. If you haven’t noticed yet how worthwhile a journey to Föhr would be, I can’t help you anyway. With this said it only remains for me to say goodbye with a typical Frisian Moin, Moin.

Spot-characteristics Nieblum:

Season:
The school generally opens from Easter until October. For temperature reasons though I’d recommend wheelchair users to plan their stay between summer and early autumn. Also it makes sense to get in touch with the school before the journey. This way the school can create the necessary time- & human resources to execute the course.

Wind:
Main wind direction is west – in Nieblum this means wind from right. Apart from northern winds every direction is ridable. Although now and then it does pump with 6 and above, on Föhr you usually can count on moderate winds between 4 and 5.

Local specifics and dangers:
The most notable peculiarity of Föhr is it’s dependence on the tides. Roughly 3 hours before and 2 hours after high tide the spot is ridable. Over all the beach of Nieblum is a very safe spot – little current, little traffic, moderate winds. The only thing to look out for is the groin which at high tide even hides underneath the surface. A flag on the tip of the groin helps with the orientation. Otherwise it’s recommendable to avoid the shipping channel which is located pretty far out in the sea.³

Adaptive kiteboarding gear:

Four empty sitkite-boards on the sand next to the ramp that leads to the beach.
The fleet of the school.

As a matter of course the watersports school in Nieblum also has sitkite boards. Although those might not be a 100% state of the art anymore, they are well-tended and absolutely adequate to learn seated kiteboarding. And between ourselves: Those infected by the kiteboarding-fever will sooner or later need their own, well adjusted gear anyway.

Accessible accommodation:
Only about 500 meters away from the school you will find the guesthouse Gästehaus Osterheide where you can choose between 4 accessible holiday apartments.

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References (german):
¹ siehe www.foehr.de
² siehe wikipedia.org
³ vergl. nws-foehr.de und surfspot.de

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