Surfski Malta – a brief visit

Living in Oslo gives you many fine seasons and waters to paddle. There’s nothing  wrong with gliding between fragrant pineclad rock islands on a misty winter morning on the Oslo Fiord but recently I’ve begun discovering and visiting surfski destinations around the world.

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Paddling in Oslo goes a long way

In my time off I´ve been freelancing a bit for Getty Images as a travel photographer. Photography is a great vessel to get you going to the next country, village, valley, tribe and now I’ve begun combining it with surfski travel, which has the added benefit of letting me meet many more wonderful people.

Travel

A recent photography / surfski trip to Namibia & South Africa

I did a small piece on a surfski trip to Tarifa some time back (Surfski Center Tarifa Review), and am still trying to get my experiences in Southern Africa, particularly the Millers Run in Fish Hoek down on paper. Meanwhile a logistical blunder left me in Oslo without family or car but with my four last summer holiday-days free. So I started thinking about the surfski schools I knew of but hadn´t been to – Zolt in Hawai’i sounds great like Sydney, Kaua´i and maybe Perth do (tip me on other places please!) But four days is no fortnight so I remembered having heard about Surfski Malta, got in contact with the manager and operator Christoffer Camilleri who was quick to help me out on short notice and in the middle of the peak season.

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“So you´re going to Malta” the immigration police said, “now which country would that be located in” (sorry Malta).

Malta

Not the biggest country, but not to be overlooked

Malta is a country and a huge travel destination blending terrific weather with a really confusing history involving Roman, Arabic, German, Aragon, Spanish, French and British rule, not to forget the Knights of St. John and independency , all this has produced a unique culture, architecture, and cuisine. Interesting and unlike anything I’ve seen in Europe. But this falls outside the scope of this article and I will just suffice to recommend a closer look at Malta and its very friendly people.
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Valletta, Capital of Malta

Back to the surfski trip. It was thursday July 24th and I got around to packing while Norway had woken up to total terror alert investigating apparent threats from extremists, live broadcast of a press conference hosted by the Norwegian Police Security Service, police choppers overhead our house and armed police stationed at focal points such as the Central Station in Oslo, the intl. airport Gardermoen and the Ferry terminal to Copenhagen. Or in other words the three transportation hubs we’d use to get the family to Denmark and me to Malta. No sweat though and we were off.

Surfski Malta was opened in 2013 and is Nelo country. It´s not exactly a school as such like Tarifa or the paddling School in Fish Hoek, nor does it claim to be. Rather it´s a surf ski rental that’ll give you good advice, take care of accomodation too. But with new investments it looks like things are moving towards a more complete package for all types of surfskiers , more on this later.

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The dedicated founder of Surfski Malta Christoffer Camilleri is President of the Malta Canoe Racing Club, has repeatedly been the K1 national champion of Malta since 2004 and has been competing in World Championships and World Cups for several years with outstanding results.

Some years back a visitor from South Africa saw Chris in his K1 in Malta and having seen the sea around Malta promised to ship a surfski – the very first ski ever in Malta. This happened to be an ancient and thus tippy Epic V10 fitting Chris perfectly and now he was sold. So in 2013 Chris went ahead and got hold of a line of brand new Nelo Skis. The choice was Nelo Vintage and Ocean L/XL, fast beautifully colorful  and  sleek designs but at a price – stability.

Nelo Ocean Ski    Nelo Vintage

My blue Nelo Ocean Ski and my green Nelo Vintage

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 My black V14 

For those who haven’t owned one and coming from one that has owned and paddled all three – the Epic V14 is sort of equal to the Nelo Vintage and pretty stable compared to the Nelo Ocean Ski. They´re fast and beautiful but they´re not for everybody or even most bodies. They´re high performance skis what have very little initial stability and less secondary stability. They´re not like the outrageously unstable beautiful Nelo 560Ski though. Bear in mind though that this comes from an intermediate surfski paddler.

But the Ocean Skis at Surfski Malta are being supplemented by no less than 11 of the very stable Nelo Viper 55 Ski. I´ve had two Viper 55 Skis and they´re sort of comparable to Fenn XT and Epic V8 by a stretch. Rounder and faster than the V8 less so than XT.

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My Viper55 Ski in action in Norwegian mid winter

This will leave intermediate paddlers with a choice of upgrading to an Nelo Ocean Ski or downgrading to a Viper from the Swordfish/Evo II/V10/etc. they likely have back home as Nelo hasn´t got anything in this  segment yet. But the Viper is actually pretty fast and surfs very well with a proper surf rudder, so the choice makes good sense to further Surfski Malta as a surfski destination for both beginners and advanced paddlers. I guess that most guests at Surfski Center Tarifa paddle something faster at home than the V8 very commonly used in Tarifa, and in the same way I actually think a Viper 55 Ski will be the right choice for most recreational skiers visiting Surfski Malta, even if we might prefer something more intermediate if we were at home.

A few intermediate boats that I guess 90% of recreational surfskiers would be happy in when paddling at home in known conditions:

 

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My Think EVO II & my Epic V10 

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My Fenn Swordfish and Eirik Verås Larsen coaching

Malta as a paddlers destination has a bit of the same Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality as a Viper 55 ski vs. an Ocean ski. You´ve got the huge bays an inlets of the North East. Vast crystal clear bodies of quiet water fitting an intermediate paddler in an Ocean Ski. But if you venture outside the bays you´re in the Mediterranean Proper and you will have rapidly changing conditions,  big rolling waves on quiet days and breaking downwind on others, it´ll be perfect for an intermediate paddler in a Viper 55 Ski.

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Matthew Schembri & Christoffer Camilleri on a windy day

Chris has cleverly set up two surfski Centres in Malta. One operating mainly in the winter (October to April) in western Mellieha Bay and one downtown in St. Julians at the end of the prevailing downwind in winter peak season (above).

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21km downwind route from western Mellieha Bay to St. Julians

It was summer during my visit so I stayed next door to the St. Julian base. The hotels here are fine tourism machines, but just next door you´ll find charming old fishing boat houses built by the old boat launches and now home to Christoffers St. Julian boats.

It´s a wonderful feeling strolling along the old boat launches at seven in the morning next to colorful fishing boats floating on inviting crystal clear waters.

Surfski shack MaltaSurfski Malta St. Julians

10580116_10152350408753978_8302268844176231100_n  Maltese street

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While setting up your boat at the shack you´ll no doubt meet old fisherman Xavier who is back from a long night of terribly bad fishing which he´ll be glad to elaborate on. He has been in place since 1959 and his cockney accented gloomy fishing reports are a quite cool reminder of the colourful history this country has to offer.

Paddling in MaltaMorning paddle in St. Julians

Just three steps from the boat shack is the Mediterranean and you´ll launch your ski from here. Wiggle your way between colorful wooden Maltese fishing boats and enter the bay of St. Julians. Surrounded by medieval and baroque palaces and churches plus many not so medieval chain hotels, you can stare at the blue bottom 10 meters down. The bay is in wide open connection with the ocen and thus only protected in some wind directions, which is why you might experience placid water become a rolling tub in no time. It´s a touristy place for sure, but it does have it´s own considerable charm to be paddling downtown between ancient spires and old grumpy fishermen.

stjulianSt. Julian’s 

As of now Surfski Malta is a surfski rental that can also fix your accommodation without any fuss plus offer paddling advice, but it’s not a surfski school as such. You can come to train in fine boats and good conditions, but need to know what you´re doing in a surfski as there´s no one coaching you or paddling with you. To be perfectly honest I as an intermediate paddler with only 4 years of experience had no option what so ever to venture outside the bay into the open ocean without something a bit more similar to a Swordfish/modern stable V10/EVO II and without company knowledgeable about local currents, reefs, traffic, winds and runs etc. Recently though Chris has invested in a powerfull dingy stored in St. Julian’s, showing that the business plan of Surfski Malta is evolving and that in near future guided paddle trips / runs will be a part of the product line.

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Limestone arc – the Azure Window – Gozo Island

Surfski Malta just opened up in October 2013 and has already got a decent fleet and many followers on FaceBook. They held quite a few races during that short time, and many more are planned, check out their FaceBook site for the cool race reports. I believe that Surfski Malta has a great potential for beginners/intermediate paddlers as well when they take delivery of the New Viper 55 Skis and wrap a bit of a tuition package around the really fine product they actually have – slick skis, warm water year round mixed with Maltese nature, culture and cuisine. It’s a strong start and I’d be interested in visiting again later to try the downwind from Mellieha to Valletta.

I find it very interesting that more and more surfski operators are popping up. Christoffer Camilleri is very dedicated, knowledgeable and very helpful person. I have no doubt that with time this will emerge as a leading surfski destination with it´s very own twist.

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Mellieha Bay, photo by Surfski Malta

You can read more about Christoffer in his own words here Christoffer Camilleri

And about Surfski Malta here

August 2014
Sune Wendelboe

 

Review of MOCKE Deluxe Paddle Bag

Background for getting the bag

Travelling with your paddle can be a risky way to treat a +500$ purchase. But travelling without your own paddle can challenge your trip even more. Your paddle is a primary source of stability, speed and comfort and therefore it’s one thing you’ll want to bring when travelling.

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My 7yo finds the bag cool and would like to trade his school bag for one

In April I went to Fish Hoek to join the Mocke Paddling School. The conditions in Fish Hoek in April tend to be either very placid or very wild. I was lucky. It was wild, and got wilder every day and by far much wilder than ever back home in Oslo.

The first day there I had to train surf entry and exit. Something that doesn’t exist where I normally paddle. I sat in different boats like Bluefin, Swordfish and V8s, all quite or very stable boats. But I borrowed a paddle that felt and was a bit different from my normal tool which is an Epic Mid Wing. Not much different and that’s the point, because although nearly similar it moved a bit differently  in the water. So the subconscious body/paddle language that normally works to keep me upright and above the water didn’t work like normal or at least spoke with a very weird dialect. Learning new stuff was really fun and challenging, but unnecessarily included re-learning how best to shift from power to brace with this paddle etc. This is no excuse for the photo below though…

surf training

 Give me my own paddle!
Paddling in Fish Hoek    surf training 1

In new waters there are many variables to take into account and removing the paddle from the variables and adding it to the constants will make your paddling much more enjoyable. I promised myself that I’d bring my paddle on my next trip at the risk of breaking it in the process. Luckily it didn’t have to be that way.

Returning from South Africa I checked out some of the MOCKE paddling gear on their web pages and saw a paddle bag. I ordered the paddle bag and took hold of it before my next trip. I didn’t want to check in two bags and was pleased to see that my life jacket and most clothes for the new trip could easily fit in the  generous compartments.

Real world test

I was going for a few days of paddling at a relatively new surfski venue – Surfski Malta (more about this in a weeks time) – and decided to check in my MOCKE bag and nothing else.

The bag has two compartments besides the paddle compartment. Called wet and dry which makes sense. The bag seems durable and well made. It’s not cowhide or Vuitton, it’s durable and water resistant. The flights were three different airlines Oslo-Barcelona-Malta-Zürich-Oslo so the bag would be manhandled plenty. Thunderstorms had cut out normal baggage handling upon return to Oslo and loads of summer holiday bags were piled wide and high at Oslo Airport putting them all through a tough test.

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The paddle bag and everything in it survived all the transfers and handling nicely. Many many years ago I worked night shifts in an airport handling cargo, and although I expect things to have improved a lot I’m still not to keen on putting expensive fragile stuff in the checked baggage.

It has got padding, and a  bit of extra padding would be my wish for the next generation. But to be honest the bag is good enough that I just ordered a second for my other paddle. The bag has no unnecessary features but lots of nice details like hidden shoulder straps, right amount of pockets, durable and cool design. A functional product.

 

Wet compartment

Wet compartment – room for travel essentials

Like the rest of the MOCKE gear many thoughts were built into the product. Dawid Mocke has a fine video of this and the different details.

Surfski Center Tarifa, a quick review

V10 Double Boyan & Jens

A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit Surfski Center Tarifa. I knew that it was one of Europe´s leading surfski destinations, but as the sport is small up here, what did this even mean?

A short video I made trying to capture the feel of surfskiing in Tarifa

It was December and ice was forming on my home waters – the Oslo Fiord. Meanwhile in Southern Spain, not far from the major hub of Malaga,  the temperature was at a comfortable Scandinavian summer level.

The drive from Malaga to Tarifa via Ronda was winding roads making their way across Andalucian mountains and through small white washed villages. While  daylight at noon back in Norway was at the same level as at midnight in June – Spain was pure autumn wrapped in soft golden sunlight

 

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Ronda1

Tarifa is the southernmost point on the European continent and lies south of parts of Africa. As you drive nearer winds pick up, hundreds of windmills dot the landscape. The oceanic climate that makes winters warm also generates the wind that drives much of Tarifa’s tourism industry. As you descent from the coastal ranges into the plains surrounding Tarifa you see the gentle sweep of the bays on both sides of Tarifa and get a feel of the powerful winds and begin to understand why the surfski centre is located here.

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On arrival in Tarifa I was greeted by Boyan Zlatarev who runs the place and who is an expert surfskier.

Now the Straits of Gibraltar is quite an intimidating place and a quick look on Wind Guru can make you wonder what it would be like drifting all the way to Rio de Janeiro. But any hesitation just evaporated as Boyan went through the theory, security drills and checks before paddling.

As not many surfski paddlers come with any certification Boyan took me out in the V10 Double to assert skills. If you get this opportunity – take it. The ride was fast, bumpy, fun and gives you a feeling of the fast conditions in Tarifa.

V10 Double 2       dw4

V10 DoubleBoyan in the front bucket 

Customer

Another happy downwind student, Jens H. Bond, in the double with Boyan Zlatarev

Next up was downwind in a V8. Where many people frown a bit at the thought of paddling a V8, Surfski Center Tarifa uses it widely even though they have the entire range at disposal at the Centre. The V8 – the surfing machine – is very stable and catches runs easily.  On one occasion when we were 4 sort of intermediate paddlers going downwind – one chose a faster boat and was instantly passed by three happy V8 paddlers.

The V8 is a great platform to learn downwind and technique from as you don´t have to worry about stability. Stability before ability as Oscar Chalupsky puts it.

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While you sit in a stable V8 and feel like king of the world, Boyan will – typical for him – tell you to get out of the bucket into large breaking waves and far from shore. When you try to remount he will go “that looks like your comfortable side, try the other one…” and then “ok, but try it again until it´s one fluid motion”.

V8

When the driver parked the surfski van 17m further than necessary from the howling shoreline Boyan was there again with a piece of friendly advice on parking vs. carrying a light surfski in strong winds. Safety before fun and respect for the equipment that will take you across the bay in howling winds – that´s Boyan – this focus on safety and detail might come from paddling a potentially dangerous body of water everyday. We can all learn from this and in the end it makes you feel very safe as a paddling student and it lets all paddlers at the centre enjoy the fun much more knowing that all precautions have been taken.

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Tarifa has great many combinations of wind directions and currents. This produces quite a challenge but when combined with the knowledge found at the surf ski centre it also produces  new and exciting paddling opportunities every single day.

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Tarifa has the right conditions and Boyan has the right skills, huge knowledge about local runs and is a very dedicated teacher. If you come with an open mind you´ll enjoy personal instructions and will be able to take home a lot of very useful knowledge no matter what your pre-school paddling level was. Great value for money.

Basically I had a great time in Tarifa and warmly recommend it to paddlers of all vessels and levels of experience. I learnt a lot and will be back in a few months.

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-Sune Wendelboe,  July 2014

All images © 2013 Sune Wendelboe.

 

Find much more information on  Surfski Centre Tarifa’s own website:

Surfski Centre Tarifa

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