Whilst many a talented Asian rider goes largely undocumented the world over, there is one name that always seems to ricochet across the globe. ‘Yo’ Narapichit Pudla of Thailand. This five times Asian champion is a well-known character on many kiteboarding circuits; from the Thai national scene, to the KTA Asia regional competitions, IKA World championship racing and even a PKRA freestyle appearance or two. Yo has become perhaps the best known of the Asian riders and one who is fairly comfortable up on the podium in a range of disciplines. Known across Asia as an outstanding talent in both freestyle and racing, Yo has once again found a way to push his boundaries as a kiter. In a sort of evolutionary fashion he has recently undertaken a variety of long distance kite feats, but it is the latest of which that is grabbing the headlines, as Yo has become the first person to cross the Gulf of Thailand by kite – a feat he achieved on December 19th 2016.
The Gulf of Thailand (formerly the Gulf of Siam) is a shallow inlet in the western part of the South China and Eastern Archipelagic Seas, in the western Pacific Ocean. The gulf is around 800 km long and up to 560 km wide, surrounded on the north, west and southwest by Thailand with Cambodia and Vietnam on the northeast. The South China Sea is to the southeast.
Yo’s plan to make the crossing was borne from a variety of combining forces, however one of the main motivations came from the passing of the late King: His Majesty Rama IX of Thailand – King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
As of October 2016 much of Thailand has been in a state of mourning for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who deeply influenced the core of Thai society and whose death rocked the country.
A lesser known fact about the beloved king was that he was an accomplished sailor and sailboat designer. He won a gold medal for sailing in the Fourth Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games in 1967, together with HRH Princess Ubol Ratana, with whom he tied for points and was prolific in small boat design, producing several designs in the International Enterprise, OK, and Moth classes.
However, it was on April 19, 1966, King Bhumibol sailed the Gulf of Thailand from Hua Hin to Toey Ngam Harbour in Sattahip, covering the 110 km in a 17-hour journey single handed on the “Vega 1”, an OK Class dinghy he built himself. This was the journey that would inspire Yo and allow him to pay a special homage to the King by crossing the Gulf himself – but this time on a kite.
The straight distance for Yo’s chosen route was just over 112km across and he envisaged this would take around three to four hours with good conditions, and up to eight hours in less favourable winds. The crossing would run from Ban Nam Mao beach, Najomtien, Chonburi on the east side of the Gulf to Samroiyod beach, Prachuap Khiri Khan on the west side. Yo would be making the crossing of the Gulf on his own with just a safety boat in tow, keeping it nice and straightforward and simple. The feat took place just days after the Thai nationals, where Yo was again predictably successful, topping the podium once again.
The Gulf of Thailand Challenge began on the morning of the 19th December with the wind slowly moving onshore at the starting point on Ban Nam Mao beach, with Yo taking time to collect his thoughts and offer his respects to the King as he knelt and offered a small pray for success, in front of a banner outlining the King’s sailing success those years earlier.
It was difficult to predict what conditions Yo would face out in the Gulf, but with a steady 13 knots he left land on his 11m Ozone EdgeV8 and took off on the blue water, made even more blue than usual thanks to the clear skies and a bright sunny day. Impressively, it wasn’t until two hours into the journey that his legs first began to feel tired, but like a true pioneer he powered through and eventually all feelings of tiredness fell away.
Yo was blasting towards the mid-Gulf point and it became clear that the “weather gods” were on his side, with the winds remaining steady and the sea state friendly. Yo even had time to relax and mess around in the boat wake for a touch of Gulf surfing action!
However, while the weather gods were giving the thumbs up other demons were to come into play and with Yo still hours away from his final destination, the safety boat ran into some serious engine difficulties and ground to a halt. It seems that fate had dealt the Challenge a crippling blow, but being now well on his way across the Gulf, Yo was determined to finish what he started and he decided he had to continue his odyssey alone. But as ‘fortune favours the brave’ luck soon stepped back in and the ‘not so’ safety boat was safely rescued and taken on tow by a passing Thai fishing boat.
The fishing boat however would not be able to keep pace with a kiteboarder, especially one towing a crippled support boat, so the final section would indeed be a true solo open water challenge.
“For three hours I didn’t see any land at all,” Yo reported. “Only me, my kite, board, sea water, sky and some fish”.
Then finally with only half an hour to go, Yo had land in his sights. The steady wind though was by now dropping, forcing him to abandon his original target landing site and kite further downwind than originally intended. In the end Yo ended up landing at Samroiyod beach at the edge of the Khao Sam Roi Yot Marine National Park a touch further south, but not too far off the intended mark.
The Gulf of Thailand Challenge had been successfully achieved in a time of four hours five minutes and 51 seconds and thanks to the wonders of modern tech, a cameraman was even able to make it in time for Yo’s triumphant landing.
We asked Yo before his crossing if he was at all nervous, but received an assured “no” and he certainly undertook the journey with an air of calm and confidence, even when his support team fell to the wayside. After all he was more prepared perhaps than anyone could be, considering another of the inspirations for this crossing was triggered by a team expedition only a few weeks before – Yo and Co’s ‘Off the Knots’ Challenge team.
‘Off the Knots’ began as a simple idea thrown about between friends over a few beers one night – as the greatest ideas often are. The concept was to complete a long distance kite journey of 1000 km from Pak Nam Pran (the well-known location for several KTA competitions) down along the coast of Thailand as far as the Golok River on the Malaysian border. After three weeks of thorough preparation the crew set off – however due to some unfavourable wind conditions off the southern coast they were unable to finish the journey. This one has still to be revisited and defeated, that’s a story for another time, but perhaps not one that is that far into the future.
With the Gulf of Thailand crossing completed, Yo is ready to get right back on track with his Off the Knots team, all of whom hope to redo the journey in its entirety in January 2017 when the Southeast Asian rain season eases off.
In terms of the future for Yo, he says the most important thing is to stay motivated. Staying on top of your game is one thing, but if you can’t evolve as a kiter you’ll stagnate – for Yo, it’s all about going the distance, and distance seems to be firmly his new motivation.
For those of you that are interested to see how that pans out, you can follow the next adventure with Yo and the ‘Off the Knots’ team on www.offtheknots.com
*Feature image: © Huw Penson