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Chasing the light and embracing the wind

Words by Andrew Forbes

International Head Judge of the GKA Kiteboarding World Tour, and former Spanish, European and World Champion kiteboarder, Álvaro Onieva shares his passion for the wild Atlantic coastline of his native Andalucia.

Soaring and jumping, the high-flying acrobatics of Andalucia’s kiteboarders are always visually captivating, filling the horizon with colour and vibrancy against the alluring backdrop of north Africa’s mountains. This is often one of the signature sights one first encounters on the shoreline, bathed in the brilliant, dazzling light of the Costa de la Luz. 

Álvaro Onieva has soared to extraordinary heights in the thrilling sport of kiteboarding, winning National, European and World Championships in different disciplines of the sport. 

“Tarifa is where I feel completely at home. There’s a magic on the Costa de la Luz. The turquoise and aquamarine of the ocean, the warm golden hues of the sand, and the green of the pines are all amplified by the incredible light” explains Álvaro Onieva.  

His connection with the coast started in early life when he soon learnt to chase the wind, finding pleasure and excitement in the often-powerful Levante, or Poniente that gusts thought the Straits between Europe and Africa, accelerating and intensifying. Onieva has many happy childhood memories of time spent in Tarifa. “If the wind was strong, we would always head for the Costa de la Luz. My father loved windsurfing, so since I was very young, I have always been surrounded by boards, sails… and the wind.” 

Seeing the movement in the trees and the white caps on the sea would excite and motivate him and at 8 years old Onieva was already out on the water, perfecting his wind water sport techniques, beginning a lifelong love affair with the ocean, the wind, and the light of the Costa de la Luz.  

“I am now the Head Judge for the GKA Kiteboarding World Tour, as well as a mentor for other judges and I am instrumental in developing the sport with the help of sponsors. I love my job, but it often takes me across the globe, to kiteboarding destinations like Brazil and South Africa. When I am away from Tarifa I miss it, it’s like part of me is missing”. 

The Costa del Sol, from Málaga to Sotogrande is also ideally suited to water sports. “Typically, with the bigger sail of kiteboarding, you need less wind” explains Onieva, “so, I got more into this sport as I could often practice near my childhood home in Málaga, on the Costa del Sol.” 

Now 36, Onieva started his professional athletic career when he was 13 showing exceptional style and talent in kiteboarding, which combines the skills of classic surfing, windsurfing, and wakeboarding. It’s an extreme sport that has captured the imagination of new generations of athletes across the world, and Tarifa has emerged as the epicentre for kiteboarding.  A visit to this radiant coast almost feels incomplete without catching the sparkling spectacle of the acrobatics and gravity-defying antics of kitesurfers and kiteboarders filling the sky. 

The wild beauty of Andalucía’s Costa de la Luz is unique in Europe, a magnificent stretch of coast starting west of Sotogrande, running from Tarifa along the entire Atlantic shoreline of Cádiz province. Largely undeveloped, this coast of light is still untamed, home to extraordinary beaches, protected landscapes and remarkable historic sites including the fascinating Roman ruins of Baelo Claudia, an archaeological jewel north west of Tarifa. 

“Although it’s one of the world’s most exceptional destinations for water sports, there is so much more to discover and enjoy” explains Onieva. Over the years he has explored and navigated the area in his campervan, staying close to nature, relishing hiking, or touring on his mountain bike. 

“I also adore the charm of the towns here, like the old quarter of Tarifa. We need to continue to protect this special area and endeavour to live and grow our communities in harmony with nature.” 

Yet the water is where his passion lies, and especially with kiteboarding, the thrilling and visually captivating sport. Full of jaw-dropping aerial manoeuvres, kiteboarding has garnered a dedicated water sports enthusiasts who regularly make their pilgrimage to Tarifa for the perfect conditions and stunning natural setting. It is an incredible lifestyle, to be so connected with the elements, the wind, the sand of the beach, with nature – it’s meditative and exhilarating at the same time” explains Onieva. “The feeling is priceless. Tarifa is the world’s kiteboarding hotspot where we share experiences, develop techniques, and create new trends. I like to think of it as the ‘Silicon Valley’ of innovation in wind water sports. Tarifa attracts so much talent, and new trends are always emerging here, which are later adopted across the world. 

This passion for kiteboarding has led to extraordinary sporting success for Álvaro Onieva. After just a few years since starting his career as a teenager, he won the Spanish Championships on the Mediterranean coast in 2001 and was runner-up in the World Championships the same year in Fuerteventura. In 2002 he won the European Championships in Cornwall, UK and went on to win further national and international accolades and titles for more than a decade, innovating at the very top of the sport in different disciplines. Álvaro Onieva won the World Championships in 2007 in Sicily, Italy and again in 2014 he conquered the Kiteboarding World Championships in Sankt Peter-Ording, in Germany, for his creative style, and technical skill. 

“Now my work as a judge allows me to help develop the international judging panels, finding the talent that know all the manoeuvres, and emerging techniques. We need champions and experts who are up to date with the latest trends. I also help develop the competitions and their format – it’s an amazing sport to be involved with – there’s a real sense of camaraderie. As a champion myself I also collaborate with manufacturers of gear, boards, and kites. I am immersed in the technology that is coming through from the leading brands that support the kiteboarding community though coaching and sponsorship with partners like Cabrinha kites, and Dakine Wind gear. I still seek out opportunities to coach too, to share insights into the artistry, creativity, and technical excellence of the sport”. 

In his spare time, you can always find Álvaro Onieva in his happy place, on the Costa de la Luz, on his kiteboard, or trying out new water sport kit, whether it’s the latest e-foil or an innovative new SUP board. “There’s so much fun to be had out on the water. Tarifa is full of great schools for all types of sports so visitors can easily get a taste of the thrill of chasing the light and embracing the wind”. 
Information: Instagram: @alvaronieva 

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