Isa | Kitesurfing in Zanzibar
An introduction from World Mobile CEO, Micky Watkins
It’s a pleasure to present our new documentary series, The Power of Connection, that we shot in Zanzibar. This particular video series is close to my heart. Not only because it showcases Zanzibarians' with their finest talents and skills, but also because it highlights how connectivity allows people to take opportunity into their own hands.
As you may know, half the world is unconnected, and as we connect region to region, we will see millions of people unearthing talent and skills in abundance that have never been seen before. We believe everyone has the right to connectivity because we’re stronger connected. In story one, meet Zanzibarian kitesurfer and entrepreneur Ismael Abdilah or Isa for short. Explore how Isa went from fishing to flying, taught a new generation of locals to kitesurf, and found a deep sense of belonging through the sea.
Fishing is in our blood
Isa grew up on the beach of Paje, Zanzibar, in a Muslim fishermen family. He learned how to live off nature early by fishing, deer hunting or climbing for coconuts. He and his friends often spent days during the high tide playing football, swimming, and fishing. Even if it meant getting slapped for acting carelessly, it was worth it because it made him stronger.
Feeling like you’re really free
Typically locals didn’t kitesurf, because lessons were expensive. But that didn’t stop Isa from finding a resourceful way to learn. Through various connections, Isa managed to find an assistant job where he learned to examine and fix old kites that were no longer in use. A year later, he met Yasmina Boudinot, a Spanish woman who was on her way off the island. Before leaving, she gave Isa a lesson on the condition that he listened, and after one hour and even though he couldn’t hear a word she said, he got the hang of it. “It was October, you know, and [there] was really light wind. But everyone was on the beach clapping to me, like, ‘oh, he did it. He did it.’ because it was like really rare to see locals doing it.”
“As soon as you grab the kite you just feel the wind and you feel like you’re really free.”
Once he got the hang of it, he was ready to teach everyone. During the season, he spent six hours in the water catching every high tide he could. And even though most kitesurfers need at least ten years to learn tricks, it only took Isa three. “I could do crazy stuff because I was all the time in the water.” He said. Between teaching the other locals how to kitesurf and practising independently, Isa was always in the water, where he felt the freest. “On the reef, you can’t catch me. So I’m just out all the time.” Eventually, Isa fixed ten kites so that he could pick the right one depending on the wind.
The wind is our life
Now solely focused on kitesurfing, there was always something new to learn. And like a deep meditation, kitesurfing helped Isa forget life and focus on the light. After every session, you feel better than when you started, “You have like a huge smile, like happy, you know. So this is why I love kitesurfing.”
“Most of the people love to fly. They wish to have wings. Without wind, you can’t fly. I always pray, like please wind blow.”
But it’s not without injury. Over the years, Isa’s had some major falls, smashing his head and needing 12 stitches or cutting his leg, but that doesn’t slow him down. “You know, I have met different people with big injuries on their ribs. They break their ribs, their arms, you know, and say, OK, that’s just life. So I’m going to keep going.” Driven to become a freestyle champion and travel to South Africa to perform crazy tricks and continue teaching.
Bringing people together through kitesurfing
Before kitesurfing, Isa knew a lot of people but didn’t have many friends. Kitesurfing opened a whole new community of different people from all over the world. “It doesn’t matter how much money, how rich you are. You just feel the wind, and then, you’re happy.” And through online classes, he learned German, French, and a little Polish to better connect with his new global community.
In 2021, he opened his kitesurfing school, Sunshine Kite School, and started teaching all levels from beginners to advanced. As an added bonus, if the kids spoke English, he’d give them a free lesson. “They sleep there, eat there, everything free, and they know how to kite. And I feel happy that I have people close to me any time we’re going to go.” Since the more people he shares the sport with, the more fun they can have together.
OK, Google, how do I kitesurf?
Aside from learning new languages online, Isa learned how to freestyle kitesurf by watching Aaron Hadlow’s videos online and replicating his tricks. So Google became an endless resource, where he could find answers in minutes without having to spend money, “You just ask it, and you get it.” To help grow his business, he built a website for his kitesurfing school where customers can book lessons online and meet the team. He also actively posts on social media to build his online community, connect with his students, and answer their questions.
Hakuna Matata, no problem
So, why is it so essential to share kitesurfing with everyone? That’s just the Zanzibarian way. “Hakuna Matata, means no problem. We always help one another." Even if you don’t have somewhere to sleep or eat, “I can just go to people, and I can tell them who I am and what I need, and they can give me food and somewhere to sleep. We always share.” It’s not about where you’re from, who are you, or what religion you practice. In Zanzibar, everyone is willing to help.
Making kitesurfing local
In Zanzibar, it’s not uncommon to find super-talented people, but finding support is difficult. So Isa coaches his students to work hard so that they can compete on his behalf. Every low season he takes ten kids and teaches them how to kite. Now eight years later, Isa’s built a big team, trained 20 local instructors, and has one of the best kitesurfing schools in Paje, Zanzibar.
“I’m really happy because before you couldn’t see this kind of thing. No locals. And now you can see the locals doing great, crazy stuff. I’m really proud of that.”
For Isa, kitesurfing is more than a sport; it’s freedom. The wind is more than a breeze; it’s life. And when those two collide, it feels like home.