Kiteboarding Chile: Embalse el Yeso
Sometimes, you go to a kiting spot because the wind always blows…
Sometimes because that wind is super steady or there is flat water or waves or simply because that is the only kiteboarding spot you have…
However, sometimes you go because it’s new and adventurous and beautiful and humbling and…for lack of a better description…epic. Embalse el Yeso.
All that I knew of this place was that, 1) it’s really cold there and 2) I had seen a picture of it on a friend’s facebook and it just looked like a paradise.
So on a Sunday morning, three of us met early (ish) and headed out from Santiago. If you looked at the distance on the map, it looks very close. In a world with perfect roads, maybe it would take us 45 minutes? Well, take that 45 minutes and add an hour (maybe more). To get there, you drive through and area called Maipo. It’s a charming place, full of spots to stop for trekking, horseback riding, white water rafting…whatever you want really. If I could say nothing else about this spot, the drive there is incredibly beautiful (fortunately, that isn’t all I have to say). The last 22 kilometers to the spot is on a dirt road. It makes the time slower and by the time you are reaching the end, you will find yourself wondering if there really is a lake up there.
Once we did arrive, we drove to the far end of the lake where there is a mud flat. This creates a longer fetch for the wind to stabilize and it is much better than setting up on rockers farther up the lake.
I’m from Florida…it’s flat…Completely flat….and the water has this clear turquoise/blue color….and it’s warm and coconut palms are a familiar sight. I am constantly impressed by Chile’s rocky coast with towering cliffs and powerful waves. It’s just so
raw and wild and novel (albeit, I wish it were warmer!). This spot, however, was the most beautiful place I have ever ridden (and probably one of the most breathtaking places I have been).
The lake is nestled high in the Andes, well above the tree line. Not much higher than the surface of the lake are the snow capped mountain tops. The water was a shocking blue color. It wasn´t like the tropical blues you see in Florida… but the kind of blue that only comes from the cold.
When I finally got int the water, it took my breath in a way that only cold water really can. I have a thick wetsuit, but it didn´t seem to do much to keep out those icy tendrils. My suggestions? Be prepared if you ride this spot. I had a 5/6 mm wetsuit, booties, gloves and hood and was still cold.
I wish I could say that this is a spot anyone could go to because it is so beautiful, but it’s not. The wind blows onshore at the launch spot. The wind is being funneled in
through the mountains, so not only is it strong and gusty, but it can shift pretty quickly. Several times I was on the water when the wind died for a minute or two and then came back after the shift (even stronger than before).
Riding upwind is a necessary skill for this spot as you need to be comfortable in a sketchy situation. The farther out you go into the lake, the stronger the wind.
I went out about 400 meters, but didn´t go farther than that from the launch spot. The wind was so unstable because of the direction shifts that I was not comfortable with the idea of doing a self rescue if needed in water that was so cold. Hypothermia is a real risk in that situation.
Despite the cold and gusty wind, it was awe-inspiring to ride there. You truly feel small riding in between towering mountain tops. The vibrantly blue water beneath is breathtaking. I would highly recommend a trip.