Back in 2004, Boards Magazine was THE one to read. And I wrote an article for their travel series on Aruba. This is a recreation of that article with some extra photos added since I don't have  the magazine space constraints here.



I haven't changed a bit - although the kit has. I must have annoyed the editor, because he labelled this 'Your humble scribe'. Well, Lords don't do humble!



The sea is that lovely turquoise blue with bath-water warm. You're blasting in perfect 5m wind under the Caribbean sun, half a mile out from a postcard white beach as you gently swerve round someone standing on a step ladder. Uhh? Yes, apparently defying the laws of physics there is someone on the top few rungs of a ladder and they’ve got a professional looking video camera in their hand. Welcome to Aruba and the weekly Vela-Vision video - and by the way you are one of the stars!


Aruba is a Caribbean island, close to Venezuela, much beloved of Americans and yet an apparent mystery to most Britons. The climate is so boring, everyday is warm, sunny and with a thermally enhanced Tradewind, 5-6m weather is the norm. I've scored 100% planing wind in the 60 days I've been there. It's a windsurfing paradise, but almost no-one comes from Britain!


Unsurprisingly, Aruba is also home to a number of good windsurfing centres and it is at one of these, Vela, that professional photographer (and windsurfer) Tové Rees takes to the water every Thursday to catch the windsurfers and kitesurfers, both hot locals and visiting holiday-makers. And by windsurfing party time at the Mumba Bar that night, it's been edited into a top class professional video, full of humour and set to some really rocking tracks. You can buy a copy as a great holiday souvenir, your personal moment of glory amidst a sea of windsurfing action. I have my first duck gybe on my latest copy, without which my (former) friends back home would never have believed I'd done one.......


In the 3 years I’ve been going to Aruba, I’ve met almost no windsurfers from the UK – why is this? Well the first reason has to be accessibility. Until recently there were no direct flights leaving only two choices. You could fly to Miami, battle the US immigration queues and then take the short 2 hour hop to Aruba. Or you could get to Amsterdam and fly directly taking about 9 hours. Aruba is independent with its own government under the Dutch Monarchy, so the links with Holland are naturally very strong. With so little competition, flights tended to be expensive. However travel has got a bit easier recently with First Choice offering holidays (but not flights on their own) direct from Gatwick July to October. Incidentally June/July is the windiest time on Aruba, it’s not quite so good in other months, but this is relative and you’re unlikely to be disappointed.


The second reason for so few of us going seems to be ignorance. When I tell people my tan came from Aruba it’s often clear they don’t quite know where Aruba is. The island is a top destination for Americans and Canadians, but it really isn’t marketed to us in Europe. So this article is here to tell you what ‘they’ don’t seem to want you to know – that’s it’s a fabulous location for windsurfing with or without the family.


Aruba is a small island, just 19 miles by 5 with the prevailing Trade Winds blowing onto the relatively barren and rocky north shore. The southern shore in contrast is developed, but not overly so, and enjoys thermally boosted winds cross-off shore. Variations in wind direction are small, resulting in the famous Divi trees leaning to the south-west. Winds are lighter in the mornings, ideal for beginners and strengthen in the afternoons. The temperature is an almost constant 28 degrees but the breeze means it never feels too hot or muggy.


The main windsurfing location and the site of the annual Aruba High Winds Events is Fisherman’s Huts on Malmok Beach, located just to the north of the hotel district. The largely sandy bottom shelves very gently providing an ideal location to learn with an expanse of beautifully coloured warm waist deep water. The other magic ingredient is the reef, which runs out to sea at right angles to the shore. It has a number of clearly marked channels which are safe to blast through, but provides a known shallow area and in effect a ‘get back’ to shore route for your walk of shame if the offshore wind defeats you. The result is that most people go for their moves as they approach the reef knowing that if they crash it will be into waist deep water for an easy restart or a rest. There is a little coral about so most people wear boots, but if you’re careful you can easily go barefoot like the locals.


The windsurfing area divides into three parts. Confident windsurfers go out past the reef and enjoy the strongest winds, 1-2 feet chop and of course showing off to the passing tourist catamarans. Those polishing their moves or just happy to blast will stay in the middle taking advantage of the shallow water at the reef and enjoying a drink at the oasis. This is a water tank grafted onto two old boards providing beautifully chilled water without the bother of going back to the shore. Every warm water location should have one! Beginners (try to) keep to the wide shallows between the shore and the oasis where the wind is also at its lightest.


Windsurfing in the Caribbean can be hard work. You have to be careful about sun protection, long days out on the water can take their toll on hands and dehydration has also to be avoided. So going in for a break at lunchtime is a vital part of your day’s ‘work’. At Vela it’s really nice to be able to tie up your board at the board park without having to carry it up the beach. I really must see if my local club at Newtownards could arrange one of these!



The flat water conditions are perfect for working on moves, although it can be a little off-putting to watch the locals whiz past you, do a perfect spock and then realise that you’ve been shown up by a 12 year old. They really do start ‘em young in Aruba and they are seriously good! There are other locations, notably Boca Grande for experienced wave sailors, but you’ll need a car to get there. Most people love the reliable conditions at Fisherman’s Huts so much they just don’t bother. A few very experienced local sailors (including the Olympic windsurfing team) sail the windward north of the island, but looking at those rocks and waves pounding down on them, you would certainly need to know what you were doing and have a good rescue cover!


So this is an ideal location, wind you count on, sailing until you drop, blasting from the ship wreck, through the reef and down to the start of the hotels where the holes in the wind start to appear. Surely nothing could spoil this idyll? Well, actually, something might be about to do just that in the wind-killing shape of a new hotel. The ground upwind of the Huts is barren, helping provide smooth thermally accelerated wind. And there are strong rumours that the government is going to allow a new and large hotel to be built there. Although for years they have marketed the island to America as a windsurfing paradise, they also believe that the island needs a 5 star hotel. The sums show that the income from 350 high rollers far outweighs that from a few hundred windsurfers. Something like this happened some years ago when the Marriot was built. The Aruba High Winds event and the windsurf centres (and even the fisherman’s huts) were transplanted further up the coast and so relatively little harm was done. This time however there is nowhere further to move to. It could be that Aruba’s days as a top windsurfing destination are numbered. It’s not all cut and dried, but if you want to go then do it in the next year or so. And check the websites to see what is happening.


For now there are four excellent windsurf centres in the beach, all offering good kit for hire, lessons and rescue cover. I’ve used Aruba Board Sails (F2, owned by the JP who also runs the High Winds Event) and Vela which is mostly JP and North. I’ve ended up sticking with Vela because of the better atmosphere. Maybe it’s coming from Ireland, but I like my windsurfing with a crowd so you can compare stories, swap moves and crashes. Vela is excellently run by Francois Guay with a great team of instructors. In addition they have their own area of the beach with loungers and sun umbrellas reserved soley for windsurfers. It makes for excellent company, including for non windsurfing partners. On Thursdays, Tové Rees comes out with her boat, video camera and of course the infamous ladder. For 2 hours the guests and the locals perform, knowing that their best moves and worst crashes will all be in that evening’s video. I’ve collected a video from each of the 3 years I’ve been there, as well as an excellent momento, there’s something enjoyable or masochistic about having your every blunder and triumph shown in front of all of your new friends at the bar.


OK, so the windsurfing and company are great. But what is the island like and what is it like for partners and families? Firstly the island is relaxing, its motto (on every car number plate) is ‘One Happy Island’. All the islands say something like this but Aruba really takes it to an art form. It’s a small place, only 80,000 people so the generally good quality roads aren’t too crowded, no-one is in a huge hurry and everyone is genuinely friendly. There’s little crime too, after all where would you go with your stolen goods? And the police actually patrol the beaches on ‘police quads’ – more an excuse to chat up the girls I think. It’s so relaxed, that we were unable to go on a (45 minute) helicopter tour of the island because the international airport ran out of fuel (for helicopters, not for jets!)


This is an amazing photograph! I took it at the Aruba High Winds event where the winner of the ladies section was crowned Queen of the Island. Look carefully, this is a 12 year old Sara Quita - now  the most successful female windsurder in the world.

There are some parts of the world with the same laid back, timeless quality, but Aruba does it combined with first class accommodation and facilities. Its prime market is the USA and Americans don’t generally slum it. So expect clean toilets that work, great drinking water, English spoken everywhere and good service at restaurants. Also Oranjestad, the capital and just about the only sizeable town, is a cruise ship stop. The result is some pretty high class shops. These are the only jewellers shops I’ve gone into with my wife where they immediately offered me drinks including vodka and rum – mind you it could have been to help me get over the shock of the prices….


Aruba doesn’t have any theme parks for kids. There is a tiger in a shopping  mall where you can go in and be photographed patting it, my kids tried it but sadly didn’t get eaten. There are cinemas, air conditioned and showing the latest films, with what looked like Spanish subtitles. The Natural Bridge is a rock formation in the form of a bridge and there’s also a lighthouse and golf course at the top of the island. The factory where they make Aloe is worth a visit as it is the remains of the island’s only gold mine. The windward side of the island is undeveloped and most of it requires the hire of a four by four or a quad to see it, although the best way is on one of the organised horse rides.


So it’s mainly a beach holiday, but oh what beaches. There are plenty including Malmok where you’ll windsurf and they are as you imagine Caribbean beaches to be – white and perfect. As well as windsurfing of course there are plenty of other water related activities. We dive each year, the coral isn’t as colourful as some other islands like St Lucia or Antigua, but there is an abundance of wrecks to explore and plenty of trips to see them. There are catamaran trips round the island, fishing boats to hire, Hobbie cats and even a submarine trip.


Accommodation is plentiful and of a high standard – thanks again to those Americans. We stay in a resort complex, choosing to hire a car right through for convenience. But there are plenty of windsurf orientated places within walking distance of the Huts. Two I’d particularly mention are Aruba Beach House run by Doris and Awalt (a windsurfer himself) where the accommodation is partially indoors and partially outside – cook on the veranda while watching the surf. And the Boardwalk which is in a small complex which includes a windsurfing shop, what more could you want? Both have pools, are 200 yards from the beach and are used mostly by windsurfers. If you don’t want to bother with a car it’s really not a problem. There is a good cheap bus service to the Huts and taxis are reasonable too.


Eating out is a pleasure. It is possible to find cheaper places to eat, but again thanks to our American cousins there is an abundance of really good, especially fish, restaurants although at about the price you’d pay in a good restaurant at home. Let me illustrate with a few examples. Iguanna Joe’s is in the centre of town, within earshot of the clubs but set on a balcony overlooking the harbour and serving fish, steak and great ribs. Madame Jeannettes provides fabulous food in a restaurant set in a sort of ground floor tree hut. It makes for poor air-conditioning since there are bits of trees growing through the restaurant, but the local guitarists playing in the background make up for it.


Chez Mathilde is the fanciest place in Aruba, French cuisine at its best in a converted colonial house complete with (black) doorman in white top hat and tails. My daughter’s 17th birthday cost me the price of a good sail there, but boy was it worth it.


For the ultimate fill up, don’t eat for a couple of days and then go to Amazonia or Texas de Brazil. These are Brazilian steak houses where 14 different types of meat just keep coming and being loaded onto your plate. They even give you a sort of table-top traffic light which you can put to red when your health starts to be endangered. But once recovered, you can risk putting it to green again. Be warned, these restaurants can seriously affect the size of sail you need! And finally at Arawak Garden you will find three excellent restaurants, Salt and Pepper (tapas), Tango (steak with live tango dancing) and Fish and More. Of course if you really are terminally sad, there are two McDonalds on the island!


I was there this year when the Aruba High Winds Event was being held, perfect for me to try out my new digital camera. Taty Frans (and his brother Choco) were the best known competitors, but the real story is the crop of youngsters from Aruba and nearby islands. The moves they were pulling off were just amazing as some of my photos show. Their enthusiasm, great sense of fun and clear love of the sport just shone through.


So that’s Aruba, well kept secret and now threatened windsurfing destination. Everything you could possibly want for a great holiday with the possible exception of a good pint of Guinness. Now get out there and enjoy it before the developers ruin it for us all!





All water is drinkable and tastes great

Drive on the right, European style driving rules (like Holland)

European GSM phones work here

Credit cards are no problem

Local currency is Florins, but US Dollars are accepted everywhere

Electricity is 110 V AC, 60 Hz using USA style plugs

5 hours behind the UK

Mosquito and other bites are rare

Modern airconditioned airport, very un-Caribbean-like!