Karel Dobbels on his love for kite surfing and the alluring azure of Greece

To discover your passion is a true blessing. Sangeetha Shinde catches up with Belgian entrepreneur Karel Dobbels to talk about his love for an uncommon sport that has informed his travels for the last 40 years.

As the song goes, “It started with a kiss” but for this one man, his passion started with a board. When he was a 9-year-old, a friend of his returned from the US with a skateboard that he got to try, and Karel Dobbels was hooked. Thus started a lifelong love affair with all things related to a board. With some convincing, his mother eventually bought the young lad his own board. Around that time, his father had just started windsurfing. It was the mid-seventies, and the concept was a nascent one. There was a lake close to home, and Karel would go with his father and paddle about on the boards as they were being rigged. And so he graduated from skateboards to surfboards early in life. However, despite his instant love for surfing his options were limited as he had to wait for weekends when his father was free and the wind conditions were suitable.  

He finally got his own board when he was 17 and that’s when the adventures began. “I went with a friend who had a car; I had access to two boards, so we pooled our resources and took off on a surfing holiday to the Netherlands. It was so much fun, and it was a taste of freedom, both as a surfer and a young man. Another time, a group of us went across to France where we just followed the wind and the waves.”

Karel recently started foiling, another new development in the sport that has opened up a world of other surfing opportunities

Windsurfing started gaining popularity across the world, and publications about the sport began to emerge. A young Karel pored over these magazines looking into the lives and lessons to be learned from the pioneers in the sport. He avidly followed the career of the incredible Robby Nash, a legendary cult figure in the surfing world. “I was really impressed with the fact that while he was brilliant at the sport he also came across as being a down-to-earth, accessible human being and this also inspired me. As the love for surfing grew across the world in the late eighties, innovations sprang up in the field. Boards started to get smaller and lighter and Karel took the opportunity to craft his own board, one that lives on in his impressive collection of gear to this day. Around that time he also joined a surf club in Northern Flanders in Belgium as he delved more into his passion and where he began to connect with others who were similarly driven by a love of surfing. Thus began a lifetime of travels that always ended where the land and sea met. Over the last decade, evolutions in the surfing world brought Karel to the exciting and flexible world of kitesurfing, and since then, there has been no looking back. 

THE TRAVEL BREAKLINE

For Karel, any holiday, any spare cash, meant an opportunity for a trip to someplace where he could surf. He has surfed all over the world – from his home country of Belgium to islands in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Cap Verde, Turkey, to mention just a few. “Each place has been different, but the beauty of this sport is that wherever you go, you can find your tribe,” he says, only his eyes giving away his enthusiasm. “The global community of surfers come from extremely diverse backgrounds, many of whom are very wealthy. But the wind, water, and sand are great levelers, and we all come together in equal balance, united by our pleasure in this activity. A good jump will earn you praise, and there’s always someone to help you kit out and help you with your gear. There’s a sense of kinship and camaraderie, no matter where you are or who is around and it’s beautiful.”

Karel recently started foiling, another new development in the sport that has opened up a world of other surfing opportunities where you can do a lot more with a lot less wind.

GOOD WAVES AND BAD

Karel has had unusual adventures in the pursuit of his passion. In Morocco, a sleepy local failed to catch the kite while landing and Karel fell in a heap onto an unsuspecting camel lying on the beach minding its own camel business. Needless to say, the camel was less than happy at this unexpected encounter. Karel recalls attempting to surf in India while on a business trip. “There aren’t many places to indulge this sport in India, and I found a kiting center in Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu. All attempts to get there proved fruitless and I was grumpy and irritable and impossible to be around as a result.”

But there were moments of great joy too. His recollections of Greece are happy ones as he could surf in his shorts with good wave conditions, in water that had been warmed by the golden Greek sun. One time he had an entire bay to himself, the wind conditions perfect for his board and kite. A huge fan of Greek food and the easy Greek way of life, he believes it is one of Europe’s best places for a getaway, be it for surfing, gastronomy, relaxation, or history and culture.

His annual trips to Sal in Cap Verde are something he looks forward to very much. “It’s a fantastic place to lose yourself in kiting. There’s year-round wind, the weather is beautiful, and traveling and staying there are not prohibitive. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a surfing destination.”

“However bad your day has been, if you can end it with a good surf or kiting session, or even dreaming about a surfing holiday, it will make you forget every bit of negativity. Flying on the water in the right conditions anywhere in the world is like sex. When it’s good, you just want more and more,” he says, raising an eyebrow cheekily.

CALL OF THE WIND

Karel has a sand bucket list of some distinction. There are many places he still wishes to visit. Unlike most surfing enthusiasts, he hasn’t done the big surfing destinations of the world as circumstances were not conducive to enable these big, expensive trips. He dreams of surfing holidays to Hawaii, South Africa, California and Australia, and is certain that these fantasy surf destinations will soon become a reality. “I’d like to give the UAE and Oman a whirl,” he says with one of his rare smiles. “I imagine the water would be wonderful in those parts.”

But until then, he has the Northern European winds and waters to fuel his passions. He deliberately lives close to two surf clubs so that when the weather conditions are right it’s not too far to the sea and the waves that bring him such joy. He waits for days and weather conditions that bring the sun and wind into his life and for those few hours where he is at one with the waves and his board. “You cannot know the joy, the thrill, the exultation unless you have experienced it,” says Karel, the intensity of his love for this sport written into every line, every nuance on his face. Perhaps Karel Dobbels can’t, but the creed that he and others like him live by was perhaps summed up most eloquently by that great Lebanese philosopher and mystic, Khalil Gibran, who said, “The breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life is in the wind.”

Erechtheum

GREECE – THE CRADLE OF CIVILIZATION

“Happy is the man, I thought, who, before dying, has the good fortune to sail the Aegean Sea.” ― Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek.

A land where the tradition of celebrating the strength, speed, and skill of humans first began, we have Greece to thank for giving us the mighty Olympics! The ancient Greeks loved competition, so every year, various city-states of Greece sent athletes to festivals of games held in honor of the gods. The most important and prestigious of them were the games held at Olympia to honor Zeus, the king of the gods.

The modern Olympic games began in 1896 (over a century ago!), which included running, long jump, shot put, javelin, boxing, pankration, and equestrian events.

Greece is a gorgeous destination that features on everyone’s travel bucket lists, from teens to honeymooners to old sweethearts all over the world.

LAND OF THE GODS

Across the globe, Greece is called the Land of the Gods for giving the world a plethora of powerful, ambiguous divine beings. It is known for its winsome water and perky people who call themselves Hellenes and their land, Hellas. The title ‘Greeks’ was given to the people of Greece by the Romans.

Temple of Olympian Zeus

Greece is famous for its stunning temples. In their time, they were considered the home of the deity it was dedicated to. Some famous temples in Greece are:

  • Temple of Olympian Zeus
  • Temple of Poseidon at Sounion
  • Temple of Zeus at Cyrene
  • Erechtheum (or The Erechtheion)
  • Temple of Apollo Epicurius

Split between the mainland and several islands, here are some unmissable spots:

SantoriniStunning Santorini is the most dramatic of all the Greek isles. It is best known for the West Coast cliff-top towns of Fira and Oia, which appear to hold over a deep, blue sea-filled caldera and are so picturesquely romantic that they feature as a backdrop of several destination weddings and movie locations.

Visiting Santorini is incomplete without sunbathing and swimming at the black volcanic sand beaches on the south and east coasts, visiting the archaeological site of Akrotiri, enjoying the sunrise and sunset of the island, wine tastings, walk out to Skaros rock, a boat tour of the volcano and Red beach.

There are several amazing resorts with incredible views like Katikies Santorini or Volcano view hotel Santorini. Do not forget to gorge on the Fava me Koukia, Tomato Keftedes, white eggplant, and Apochti.

It is illegal to wear high heels when you’re touring storied monuments like the Parthenon or Acropolis in Athens

Acropolis: The Acropolis is a rocky mound island considered the symbol of modern Athens, crowned by three magnificent temples, namely the Parthenos, Roman Forum-Kerameikos, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

 

Its most stunning attraction, the Acropolis Museum is one among Athens’ most-visited tourist attractions. It is designed by Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi, an ultra-modern glass and steel structure with light and airy exhibition spaces, built specifically to display ancient finds from the Acropolis.

Make sure to visit the Acropolis Museum restaurant, which boasts of both – fantastic food and a breath-taking view of Acropolis. Do not miss the famous delicacies, which include Saganaki, Mpakalotaverna, and Greek salad.

Crete: The largest of the Greek islands, Crete is famous for its majestic forts, food, and scenery. See the Spinalonga Island, take a dip at Seitan Limania Beach, visit the village of Loutro and wander through Chania.

If you’re wondering where to crash after a fulfilling day of excursions, Petousis Hotel and & suites, Atlantis Beach Hotel, Dom Boutique Hotel are among some of the best abodes here.

Greece has several other famous attractions such as Cordu, Skiathos, Zakynthos, Poros, and Skyros.

DEMOKRATIA AND OTHER SYSTEMS

Historians credit the Greek war of independence for the establishment of the nation and its multi-faceted culture. Beyond its azure beaches and the megalithic, otherworldly structures, Greece has given the world enduring gifts – that of democracy, philosophy, mythology, as well as significant contributions to medicine, history, biology, geometry, geography, physics, and arithmetic.

They also contributed to literary forms such as epic and lyric poetry, tragedy, comedy, and drama. In their pursuit of order, the Greeks managed to create a precedence of beauty that strongly influenced Western art.

A huge fan of Greek food and the easy Greek way of life, he believes it is one of Europe’s best places for a getaway

Greeks have a long tradition of investing in paideia (education), upheld as one of the highest societal values in the Greek and Hellenistic world. Greece has universal health care and is ranked by WHO as one of the best in the world, which reflects in their high life expectancy.

In 2015, Greece witnessed a tremendous economic collapse when it defaulted on its €1.6 billion debt owed to IMF (International Monetary Fund). Today, Greece has somewhat bounced back, supported by the service (80%) and industrial sectors (16%), and the agricultural sector (4%).

COVID’s impact was apparent since important Greek industries like tourism saw a sharp fall, although the removal of travel restrictions globally is expected to inject lifeblood back into the industry. 

Temple of Poseidon at Sounion-1

DON’TS WHEN IN GREECE

It is illegal to wear high heels when you’re touring storied monuments like the Parthenon or Acropolis in Athens.

The Greeks are a friendly lot; they kiss close friends on the cheek when they meet, share food from their plate, and treat dinner guests as loyalty. For the unfamiliar, don’t thrust your palm in front of someone’s face or give thumbs up, as it’s considered to be rude.

Greece is more than a tourist spot; its civilization has laid the foundation for our modern world. Keep your mind open as a blank book in Greece, and your understanding will be rewritten through your journey.

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