Cabrinha team rider Polly Crathorne has a love for unconventional kite destinations. We interviewed her about her trip to the Rood of the World Regatta in Tajikistan and were impressed by the insights she shared. Read the full interview below!
Hi Polly, you went on a kite trip to Tajikistan last year! Most people could not even point this out on a map. What was the reason for your trip?
This was my third visit to Tajikistan for Roof of the World Regatta, the highest altitude regatta in the world. My destination was Lake Karakul. It lies 13,000 feet up in the wilds of the Pamir Mountains.
Was accessing this remote area difficult?
This area is tricky when it comes to access. We entered from neighbouring Kyrgyzstan on the pothole-ridden road over the Kyzl-Art mountain pass (14,050 ft). We had to wait for hours on both the Tajik and Kyrgyz sides of the border as formalities in the four offices – customs, drugs, police and army – were dragged out and my kite bags scrutinized.
What are the conditions like for kiting?
The conditions here are unlike any other kitesurfing destination I have visited. The air density is approx. 65% compared to sea level; which makes breathing a chore. Frozen for eight months of the year and fed by glacial melt water in the summer, water temperatures are something to contend with. Unpredictable winds also make it a challenge. There is often just a small window of howling wind that tends to drop off at a moments notice. That said the views are spectacular in this wide-open basin, with towering snow-capped mountains like 23,400ft Peak Lenin for a backdrop.
Are there lots of people who kite and what was the reaction of the locals seeing you on the water?
Due to fears over border closures, foreign office warnings and restrictions on international visas, just a handful of kiters have made it to each event. This year, I was the only kitesurfer!
Karakul has just one village on its shores. The local people here think I am crazy for wanting to go in the lake. It is very rare to go in the water, most residents are unable to swim, no-one fishes and of course there are tales of a monster in the deep. Following the collapse of the USSR that once controlled the country, the villagers were left with no electricity, running water and other infrastructures that we take for granted in the 21st Century. Vegetation does not grow at these altitudes, so food is scarce and most families rely on nomadic herding of goat, cattle and yak.
The first time I visited, the people of Karakul had not seen anything like kitesurfing before. It has been great to be able to take a few Cabrinha Spark trainer kites with me each visit since and teach the school children how to fly. Although, they were keener to use them for kite-fighting, the brutal sport made famous in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Who took the images of you? What was it like working with a team from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan?
Rustem Ilyasow from Kyrgyzstan was the official photographer for the trip. He bravely flew his new drone for the first time over the 230m deep and 32mile wide lake. He was with an excellent team from Bishkek who ran community events with the school children. We flew kites, played volleyball and played the traditional game of buzkashi (a child-friendly version, without the headless calf).
What was your highlight of the trip?
In previous years, we held the regatta next to the shore. Since this year, I was the race director, the safety officer and the only kiter, I deemed it ok to attempt a crossing of the lake with no boat support. Conditions were tougher than I imagined and the wind dropped to almost nothing. Arriving back on the shore after kiting across the lake was unexpectedly emotional. As I drew nearer to the landing spot, the villagers lined the beach, cheering “Polly, Polly, Polly”. It was so surreal.
Do you have any other special kite expeditions lined up and what kite destination is on your bucket list?
I am so am grateful to have had several kiting adventures unusual and wild locations. But I would love to explore some more high altitude and arctic destinations.
How is your summer going and what are your plans for the next year?
After a winter season of skiing, snowkiting and paragliding in Switzerland, I started the summer with a trip to flat-water paradise, Pro Kite Alby Rondina in Sicily. The team here are awesome, so generous with their time and advice.
From September, I am pleased to be starting a teaching role with the World Class Kiteboarding Academy. The first semester will take place in Brazil and Peru. I am looking forward to being inspired by the next generation of super kiters (whilst trying to teach them Geography).
What is your current Cabrinha set up?
FX and X Caliber 138 – a match made in heaven.