While the wind is an inconvenience for most people, a kitesurfer’s heart skips a beat.
Wind is something that you like or dislike but you are never indifferent about it in Saaremaa. For many islanders, the part of the weather report that deals with wind, its speed and direction is the most important and the first thing their eyes look for in the morning are the treetops and whether they are bent.
Saaremaa is the windiest part of Estonia and the windiest month on record was measured on the Sõrve Peninsula in December of 1989 when the monthly average came to 11.9 metres per second. The annual average wind speed is 6 metres per second in Sõrve. The winter months tend to be windier and the summer more tranquil. Most often, the wind is from the southwest.
While the wind is an inconvenience for most people, a kitesurfer’s heart skips a beat when the wind is rustling the leaves and breaks out into song once the treetops start swaying. It might seem peculiar but many surfers adjust their lives to follow the wind. A windy day means going out on the sea, while a quiet one affords the opportunity to do other things. Sõru resident and kite surfer of 20 years Kaur Filippov is not ashamed to admit that the wind dictates his family’s rhythm. “It is a way of life,” Kaur says of kitesurfing, adding that it has gone beyond being a hobby and is now practiced by every member of the family. While he no longer rushes off to the beach after every gust, Filippov admits that situations where he was unable to go out on the sea on a windy day used to be torture back in the early days. Luckily, this is one addiction that does not require rehabilitation. “The wind gives you new energy and cleanses,” Kaur says of the call that affects him and dozens of other islanders.
Saaremaa Rural Municipality Mayor Mikk Tuisk also has a bad case of the surf bug and even joined fellow kitesurfers on a trip to Latvia in 2020. Estonia’s southern neighbour is not far, with Courland lying just 30 kilometres from Sõrve.
The wind is only half of what makes Saaremaa a perfect location for surfing. The other is the island itself where a more suitable beach is never more than an hour’s drive away should the conditions be tranquil in a particular bay. Not to mention the Sõrve Peninsula the two coastlines of which lie just a few kilometres apart. You can just pack up your things and head to the other side of the peninsula should the wind change.
It pays to keep one’s eyes peeled on a windy summer day in Saaremaa in the hope of spotting dozens of brightly coloured kites on the horizon. A real Song Festival* as Estonians would put it.
Saaremaa is becoming an increasingly popular surfing destination for tourists. Surfers from the mainland are willing to spend ten hours driving and taking the ferry just to spend a few hours enjoying the wind in Saaremaa.
And once the commute becomes troublesome, one can easily find a summer cottage or even a permanent home on the island. While it might seem incredible, people have moved to Saaremaa to be able to go surfing more often and waste less time. After all, working does not always depend on one’s physical location in the modern world. “When at sea, you feel the might of nature while perceiving your own smallness and weakness,” Kaur Filippov says. The wind and sea teach respect and being able to recognize one’s limits, even though surfers still tend to test those limits from time to time.
But surfers are not the only ones fond of the wind. There are others who take joy in hearing the wind or feeling its caress. Sailors, whose traditions on the island go way back and who outnumber surfing fans in Saaremaa, include world champions and circumnavigators of the globe.
The phrase “Song Festival” is often used to refer to situations where many people who engage in the same activity come together.
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