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How kitesurfing in remote Colombia changed a boy. There is also a village.


They come from all over the world to this remote part of Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Two of them are from India. Two of them are from Switzerland. One is from the Netherlands. Another is from Seattle. They all hope to receive instruction at the place where professional kitesurfer Beto Gomez first learned the sport.

The La Guajira Peninsula is great for kitesurfing. Mr. Gomez’s hometown of Punta La Bella has nearly a thousand residents and has a desert terrain, a nine-month wind season and gentle waves.

So for five days this year, amateur kitesurfers, attracted by Mr. Gomez’s social media and online competitions, came to take his lessons.

“In India, we are really cheering for him,” said Shyam Rao, 33, who arrived with his wife.

Kiteboarding, the sport of using kites to propel riders through the water and air, is not native to this part of the world or to the Wayuu tribe, the largest indigenous people in Colombia. Jurisdiction that area.

About twenty years ago it was started by visiting foreigners or Arijuna, A term in the Wayuu indigenous language, which includes Colombians who are not Wayuu.

Leaders in the community fought to protect their land and traditions, but not everyone embraced the movement that brought growth and change.

But kitesurfing has certainly turned Cabo de la Vela into a burgeoning destination.Mr Gomez’s family has found a source of income beyond the usual fishing or crafts in one of Colombia’s poorest and malnourished regions area. Mr Gomez, 24, won a ticket and became the only person in the world professional Wayuu kitesurfer.

“Kiteboarding has been a gift to us because it opened doors for our town; it allowed me to go away and fly around the world,” Mr Gomez said from the kitesurfing school he co-owns with his brother . “I hope other people here do the same. “

Mr Gomez was 7 years old when he first saw kitesurfing. He watched in awe as visiting kitesurfers soared through the air.

“We had a sentiment of, ‘Wow, here’s something new and we want to learn it,'” he said. But he realized “we’ll never learn it because it’s not for us.”

Mr. Gomez’s mother, Margarita Epieyu, said Cabo de la Vela was much smaller at the time, made up of about six extended families. How the Yu community is organized.

Mr. Gomez said tour buses might come every other month just for a quick trip to the beach.

To survive, his father delivers water, his mother sells traditional Wayuu bags and hammocks, and he peddles bracelets. His family often eats one meal a day, usually fish donated by community fishermen.

“There’s no tourism here,” said Ms. Epiew, 49, “so there are no jobs here.”

But that started to change in 2009, when Colombian kitesurfing instructor Martin Vega led students from a kitesurfing school near Barranquilla. “The wind was perfect,” he said.

Mr. Vega and a friend soon decided to stay. They established the town’s first kitesurfing school on land owned by local Wayuu residents.

One day, he said, a boy took an interest in a visiting kitesurfer and caught up with his car. Mr Gomez’s older brother Nelson has earned tips helping tourists and learned the basics of water navigation.

Mr. Vega soon met Beto Gomez, then 10 years old. Under Mr. Vega’s supervision, and with their mother’s permission, the boys trained after school and on weekends – if their homework and chores were completed.

“We’re like fish,” said 25-year-old Nelson Gomez. “We can come in at 9am and leave at 6pm”

Mr. Vega, 41, added, “The idea was to have local people come and help us, come and learn, and that’s what happened.”

Nelson Gomez was a natural talent but his career ended when he suffered a serious leg injury while training in Brazil in 2017. However, Beto Gomez developed his abilities. At 13, he finished second in his first competition — a regional competition three hours away.

“This was my first connection with the world, with a city, with escalators, elevators, traffic lights,” said Mr. Gomez, who learned English from tourists.

Three years later, Mr. Gomez won his first competition, and in 2017, relying on donations, he left Colombia for the first time to compete in the Dominican Republic.

He said that every time he left, the Wayu authorities, the group of elders who govern Cabo de la Villa, had to get permission because the rule was “we have no contact with the outside world.”

But when he went to Brazil to compete at age 18, Wayuu elders rejected his request to stay as a kitesurfing instructor. He did it anyway.

As punishment, he said he was told to stay away for two years.

His mother married young and later divorced Gomez’s father. She said she defended her son and encouraged her children to pursue “opportunities I didn’t have.”

Mr. Gomez said his mother “always wanted us to follow our dreams and live a life away from here.” She also urged them to go to college and date non-Wayo people.

He followed her advice, moved to Argentina in 2020 after attending a tournament there, and fell in love with an Argentinian woman. In March, his mother, who had never flown before, flew with him from Bogota to visit his home in Argentina.

As kitesurfing took off in Point La Bella, more tourists, restaurants, hotels and money poured in. Some Wayuyu welcome the changes, but others are wary.

“In Cabo, there’s very little negative impact,” said Edwin Salgado, 29, who owns a kitesurfing school. “This is not mass tourism and Wayuu culture can still be felt and represented.”

Ms Epiew, who receives a monthly income from her son’s career, said seven of her 10 children were now kitesurfing.

“Even though people may not want it, kitesurfing has changed Cabo,” she said.

But some residents say more tourists mean more alcohol, drugs, parties and outside influence.

Beto’s father, Elba Gomez, 73, said the Wayuu consider Cabo de le Vela a holy site because they believe souls rest there. If they allow outsiders to “invade” they will “eventually lose our territory,” said Aunty, a member of the Wayu authorities.

Wayuu authorities said in a statement there was “chaos” and the people were “unfriendly to their culture and territory”. 2018 crackdownexpelled foreign business owners because it believed the businesses should be run by Wayuyu people.

Mr Vega is one of two foreign owners of the kitesurfing school. (Four schools remain today.) He sold the school to the Gomez brothers, and he and his wife moved to the city of Riohacha, three hours away. It would be easier to raise their first child there and open a new school nearby, he said.

“I certainly respect this community, its customs and its rules,” Mr. Gomez said. “It will change one day and I want to be a part of that process because it changed my life.”

Mr. Gomez returns to his home in Punta Bella every winter to visit family, provide free kitesurfing lessons to local children, and hold paid camps.

Mr. Gomez’s mother recently cooked a dinner of roasted goat and tortillas for paying guests.

The family dressed in traditional clothing and Mr Gomez and his sisters danced around a campfire and explained their culture and language. Mr Gomez said he would always promote his Wayuu heritage, whether competing in Argentina or around the world.

“I want to promote Cabo more so people can come visit and enjoy our culture,” he said, “instead of changing us and doing what’s done everywhere, colonizing.”

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