Kiteboarding, foilboarding and windsurfing in Penang

If you’re a wind junkie and wondering what the kiteboarding, foilboarding and windsurfing is like in Penang, I’m going to cover everything you need to know, including wind and water conditions, launches, how to join our kite crew, and hazards to avoid. I’ll also give you an overview of other location to ride in Malaysia and Southeast Asia.

John and I are longtime kiteboarders and kitesurfers, so when we moved to Penang, we were determined to keep chasing the wind and waves. The good news: there are a couple good places to kite in Penang, and we’ve got a great kite community here with 7 very friendly riders, and we’re happy to welcome more to our crew. For windsurfers with big sails, there are nice beach launches and storage facilities at local swim clubs. The bad news: it’s only sporadically windy, and when it is, it’s usually pretty light.

Here’s everything you need to know:

Overview

To ride in Penang, you’re going to need light wind skills, a giant wing and board (or better yet, a foilboard) – and some patience.

If you’re moving to Penang and you’re an experienced kiter, foilboarder or windsurfer, can you ride here? Sure, but just not very often.

If you’re a visitor, is it worth it to lug your gear to Penang with the hope of riding here? Probably not, unless you’ll be staying for a few months and have a flexible schedule that allows you to take “board meetings” at a moment’s notice.

Is Penang a good place to learn to kite? In my opinion, no.

Because of the light, variable wind and some other factors we’ll cover below, Penang kiting is most suitable for intermediate to experienced riders. In my opinion as a former kiteboarding instructor and having kited here for several years now, I don’t think it’s a good place for beginner kiters. And there aren’t any lessons or places to rent gear anyway. But neighboring countries have some great kite schools and safe beaches with good conditions for learning – skip to the end of the story for a list of them.

Kiting off of Tanjung Bungah Beach

Wind conditions and “seasons” in Penang

I’m going to go long here, because if you’re as much as a kite addict as we are, you’re going to want to know the wind details.

We tend to get the most number of rideable days (which I characterize as 8 knots or more, with at least 1-2 hours of wind) from mid/late January through April. Legendary local rider, Terence, who was the first person to kite Penang, describes this as “thermal season.” The wind is usually northwest and often averages around 9-11 knots, with a rare day of 15+ here and there. As for the frequency of windy days, it’s pretty sporadic. For example, from January through April 2018, we got 20 days on the water. 17% of days were kiteable.

In Penang, you can get a random breezy day almost any time of the year, and there are also weeks without wind. The first windless period is from May to mid/late June.

Around late June to September, Penang gets some southwest wind days, usually averaging 9-11 knots. It’s very hit and miss. This is usually when desperation sets in and the 20m kites come out.

September through November are usually dead. But sometimes even a blind squirrel finds a nut, so when we get surprised by a windy day, we dance on the beach like lunatics (okay, “we” means just me.) At the end of December, we sometimes get a north wind blowing for a few days.

On good days, we’ll get a couple of hours of riding. Sometimes the wind drops off pretty fast, resulting in a bit of a swim in – or if you’re lucky, a tow from a jet ski.

Storm winds are not usually rideable here since the wind picks up fast and is sometimes 25+ knots, and dies in a flash. But on a handful of days, we can get lucky and get a bit of not-too-chaotic storm winds.

That’s the world famous Terence on the left – the godfather of kiteboarding in Penang and wind forecasting guru.

What size board and kites/sails to most people ride?

As a light rider, I can have a great time on my foilboard and 9m kite in 8 knots of wind. John (who weighs about 75kg/165lb) is always on his foilboard and 13m kite. The twintippers in our crew are usually riding big boards and kites ranging from 12-20m. Windsurfers are always on giant sails, and big floaty boards that can withstand lots of hula dancing in light wind.

Kite/windsurf spots

There are three main places to kite and windsurf: two are on Penang island in Tanjung Bungah, and the other is Pantai Bersih on the mainland in Butterworth. The kite/windsurfing beaches are big enough for launching and are lined with pretty palm trees, but often also with trash.

Tanjung Bungah Beach is where most of us kite during the northwest wind days since it’s side-on (and many of us live here), although you can also kite at Pantai Bersih on those days as well. Windsurfers generally launch from either Penang Swim Club or the Chinese Swim Club, which are just around the corner from Tanjung Bungah Beach. There’s a wind shadow there during northwest days, so it’s not usually suitable for kite launching.

Tanjung Bungah Beach

That’s Boon on the left – you’re going to want to know him! He’s part of our kite crew and a super nice guy. He also co-owns the jetski/parasailing place on Tanjung Bungah Beach. His crew kindly fishes us all out of the water when the wind dies on us while riding.

Pantai Bersih is the best place to kite during southwest wind, as the wind is side-on and the fetch is pretty clean (unlike the beach). Depending on tides, we either launch right off the beach, or from the big grassy area beside the food courts.

It may not be the cleanest beach, but Pantai Bersih gets some of the cleanest wind in Penang, making it a good place to kite.

At Pantai Berish, when the wind is right and the tide is high (eating the beach), we’ll sometimes use the huge grassy area as a launch spot.

Note: don’t leave spare boards/kites on the beach, unless someone is watching it for you. A board was recently stolen off the beach in Pantai Bersih while one of our kite crew members was out riding.

The water

The ocean here is flat and extremely warm (like bathtub hot). Since we’re from Northern California where we had to wear wetsuits year-round, being able to kite without one is an absolute joy – I’m ruined for life and can never go back to kiting in a 4mm wetsuit. Sometimes there are lots of jellyfish in the water that can create painful, angry red whip-like burns on the skin, so most of us wear lycra from neck to toe to protect ourselves. But who doesn’t want to look like a sexy piece of seaweed?

Supermodel/kiter Rainer (on the right) is modeling the latest in haute couture jellyfish-proof kiting attire.

Waves

There really aren’t any surfable waves since ocean swell is blocked by the land mass of Sumatra. A few days per year when the tides and breeze align in just the right way, there are some ankle-biters off Pulau Tikkus island for a few hours that perhaps could be ridden by a mouse on a long board. But on the upside, there are good wave riding spots that are a short flight away – Bali, Sumatra, the Mentawai Islands, just to name a few.

The Penang kiteboarding community

If you’re a kiter living in Penang, we’d love to welcome you into our kiteboarding community! We have a super fun crew and we’re all friends, which makes it even more fun when we’re out on the water together. Leave a comment below if you’d like to join our WhatsApp group, and we’ll plan a meet-up on the next windy day.

Nearby kite vacation spots and their seasons

So much for traveling light

Kuantan and Cherating, Malaysia
There’s a great group of wind junkies living and riding in the Kuantan/Cherating area – you can find them on Facebook at this link. Most of the kiting happens at Balok Beach, which is a very long, wide beach. We kited there during monsoon season a couple years back and rode in gusty, 30 knot storm winds, which was not great quality wind but we got some huge jumps! On normal windy days, it’s usually blowing under 15 knots. When there are waves in Balok, they’re not very rideable – you might get one turn on a shore-break wave before it gives you a beat-down. But there’s a very pretty, peeling wave at Cherating. There’s also a kite school in Cherating.
Windy season/when to go:
December – February is monsoon season with the strongest winds, but it’s sporadic (although more frequent than Penang). One of our friends reckons he kites about 25% of the days during monsoon season. There are random windy days the rest of the year.

Bali/Lombok, Indonesia
Some of the best kitesurfing in the area is found at Sanur, Bali, and there are also other great kiting spots around Bali and Lombok.
Windy season/when to go: 
May – September. The most reliably windy months are June-August.

(See below for additional list of great kite locations in SE Asia.)

Scouting for waves and wind with our Indo kite crew

Where to learn how to kite

In my opinion, Penang is not a suitable or safe place to learn to kiteboard – I’ll explain why below. But first, I’ll list some great places to learn how to kite in SE Asia (all with trustworthy kite schools and good conditions):

Boracay, Philippines
Click here to read a story I wrote all about it when my friend Rainer and I went there so he could learn how to kite.
Windy season/when to go:
October – February

Rainer learned how to kite in a few days in Boracay – he was a superstar!

Phuket, Thailand
The kite schools claim year-round wind in Phuket, but every time I’ve been there, it’s been hit and miss. So if you plan to learn there, plan to stay a bit longer to account for no-wind days.
Windy season/when to go:
Peak season is usually from November until April at Chalong Bay. From May until October (the wet season), the kiting is at Nai Yang beach (near the international airport).

Pranburi, Thailand
Located in the gulf of Thailand, the 10km long beach and steady wind at Pranburi are perfect for learning how to kite.
Windy season/when to go:
November – mid-January have the strongest winds. February – May features steady thermal winds.

Banda Aceh, Indonesia
There are a couple kite schools here, and good conditions for learning. But accommodations are pretty basic and spartan, and nightlife is non-existent. We stay at Yudi’s Place – it’s okay, and walking distance to the beach. Our friends Maurice and Joanne run a great kite school right on the beach called Seabreeze Kite Club.
Windy season/when to go: May-October

Banda Aceh kiteboarding at Seabreeze Kite Club

We stay at Yudi’s Place, which is basic but comfortable. Some rooms have AC.

Mui Ne, Vietnam 
There are several schools up and down the beach. Our friend Trang runs a large kite school called Windchimes, and they have instructors who teach in several languages.
Windy season/when to go:
mid/late October – early March

As for Penang, here’s why I think it’s bad for beginners and an unsuitable place to learn to kite:

  1. Beginners need stronger and more consistent winds than we have here in Penang.
  2. Learners can’t relaunch their kites due to light wind.
  3. The wind is too sporadic, so it’s tough to schedule practice sessions.
  4. Sometimes there are lots of jellyfish (which is not good for learners since they spend a lot of time in the water).
  5. There aren’t any kite schools or places to rent gear.

So do yourself a favor and learn to kite in another location that has stronger, more consistent wind and great schools. You’ll get more time on the water, you’ll learn faster, and you’ll maximize fun while minimizing frustration. Then when you’ve got your skills down, come and ride with us in Penang!

Come kite with us!

If you’re a kiter living in Penang, drop me a line and I’ll introduce you to the rest of the kite crew. We’re always happy to share the stoke with fellow wind junkies!

 

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