Kitesurfing is what the Egyptian resort of El Gouna is all about. Located just south of budget airline hub Hurghada, this little cookie-cutter town may not have the sort of history you'll find across the desert in Luxor and Aswan, but that's probably a good thing, since anyone hoping to take anything away from a week’s worth of lessons will need to spend every waking hour down by the sea, grappling with mother nature’s gusty wrath and invariably getting very wet and salty.
The sport was first introduced to the country by travelling Europeans in the 1990s, and has since found a devoted following among the hundreds of Egyptians who work in the resort. Two of them, Nemo and Momo – instructors at Red Sea Zone, where I took my training – are first and third in the country's national rankings and, when kitesurfing makes its debut as an Olympic sport at Rio 2016, they're hoping to put together Egypt's first Olympic team. Also in the running ('but only if he does some practice', says Nemo) is Cosha, my instructor.
Getting to grips
Cosha learned to kite-surf seven years ago. He loves it and can't see why anyone else wouldn't, meaning my look of disappointment doesn't go down well as, still on dry land, we spend 20 minutes unravelling lines, pinning bits of string to the kite and adjusting harnesses. Then, right on the beach, he gets the kite flying, hands it to me and instructs me to move it about above my head. I'm told that nobody gets on a board for at least three days. Instead, the time is spent nailing the basics, repeatedly moving the kite to 12 o'clock (above your head), then three o'clock, then back to 12, then to nine, then to 11, and so on.
As it turns out, though, this is taxing enough. The wind is unpredictable and, just as I'm starting to feel I've got the whole thing sussed, it drags me, head first, into the sea, bouncing me along the surface on my face until I emerge, legs spread, struggling in the water like a five-year-old. 'I thought you'd catch me,' I wail at Cosha, after emptying my mouth of salty sea water. He shakes his head in disbelief. 'Catch you? That’s the funniest thing I've ever heard.' This continues for two more days.
Making a splash
As well as plenty of patience, then, aspiring kitesurfers also require extremely thick skin. Landing face-first in the water, at speed, hurts – and not just physically. You'll also need to get used to buff Europeans racing past on immaculate, stylish boards, doing flips and chuckling at your ineptitude. Like surfing, this is a serious sport, with the trainees exiled to a section of the beach nobody else wants.
And that's where I am on day four – now in the water, but still struggling to take in the overwhelming array of instructions needed to keep upright. 'Look at the kite, look at the bar, look at the board, look at the kite, why are you looking at the board? Pull now, that’s right pull, why are you pulling?Push, push now!' Splash. In my eyes, I'm slowly getting there. Cosha clearly thinks otherwise.
Reaping the rewards (sort of)
Cosha is honest when he says you need a good week of training before you've any hope of being stable on a board, and while my efforts to prove him wrong are in vain, a handful of other, more athletically endowed newbies in the group manage to pull it off. And judging by their elation, a few seconds without eating ocean is a hugely rewarding experience, rendering them suddenly eager and, as the sun dips toward the horizon, reluctant to call it a day. On the bus to the airport, some are even looking into UK surf spots to hone their skills, as I sit nursing my bruised ego after an abysmal performance that everyone is too polite to mention.
As well as the physical perils involved with getting into kitesurfing, anyone aspiring towards for a spot on Team GB in 2016 should also be warned that it's not cheap. Aside from the hotels and flights – the UK has some surfable spots, but they’re largely remote, not to mention freezing cold – the equipment alone can cost upwards of £3,000, and training in El Gouna is hundreds of pounds a week.
There are 17 hotels in El Gouna, three of them international brands, so choice isn't really a problem. Most of the nightlife is based around the marina and downtown, and most of the hotels are within taxi or tuk tuk distance from them. The Movenpick is as good a choice as any, featuring its own private beach, a spa and – of course – comprehensive water sports facilities. After the revolution of 2011, business is slowly picking up again, but still below previous highs, so off-peak – in the exceptionally hot summer, for example – there are deals to be had.
EasyJet flies to Hurghada from London Gatwick, with return fares starting at £171.