SURFING! The word conjures up images of Hawaii, California, Australia, sun, sea, sand, palm trees, bikini clad peroxide blondes, The Duke, the sixties, hippies, drugs, wild beach parties, Gidget, the Beach Boys....... and the list goes on and on. The sport of surfing originated in the south Pacific Islands hundreds of years ago as the sport of kings. Early explorers to the islands described the locals "surf bathing" on long planks fashioned from wood on which they would ride the waves lying, kneeling or standing. Today however, it has become a gigantic economic sports empire headed by the USA, Hawaii, Australia, South Africa and Brazil. Fortunately, the waves of the world are not restricted to these few countries, as perfect surfing waves break on reefs, river mouths, points, sand bars and beaches all over the world, including.....Jamaica???
The island of Jamaica, situated in the north western Caribbean Sea, seems an unlikely place for surfing to develop. Cut off from the large southward moving swells of the north Atlantic by it's larger neighbors Cuba and Hispaniola, Jamaica seems trapped in the middle of the tiny, tranquil, Caribbean Sea, with very little potential for receiving good surfing waves, except maybe for when a hurricane passes by, which could provide a good swell, or be all blown out, or even worse... blow the whole freakin' island away! However, under closer scrutiny we find that this is definitely not the case! The truth is... Jamaica is blessed with an eight month surf season with the remaining four months of flat time broken up into short one or two week spells. This provided the perfect raw material for the development of surfing in Jamaica. References of "surf bathing" being offered as a tourist attraction in Kingston go as far back as 1912 where the Jamaica Tourist Association Official Guide Book listed Myrtl Bank Hotel offering "...a launch leaves, when required, for surf bathing at the Palisadoes-- the narrow neck of land enclosing Kingston Harbour"!!!
Then, in the sixties, when young teenaged rebels were riding the waves of Malibu, Narabeen and Waikiki making surf history, Jamaica also had it's own brave young souls who were riding Boston and Wreck on home made boards fashioned from refrigerator foam laminated with resin and fiber glass drapery cloth with black electrical tape to make "racing stripes" manufactured up on Skyline drive at Wesley Powell's home (Excelsior Principal) where the young shapers almost poisoned themselves with resin and acetone fumes.
These young rebels included Cecil Ward, Steve Solomon, Dennis Pigott, Leighton "Pin Head' Powell and Tim "Apache" Chin Yee the late Paul Blades, whoes tomb stone in the Stony Hill Cemetery is shaped like a surfboard with the inscription "...HE USED TO RIDE THE CREST OF THE WAVE", the Martel brothers from USA, Gordon Cooper,Donnie Soutar, Steve Solomon, David "Puss" Langdon, Jack and Charlie Murray, Nigel Andrade, Terrence "Mush" Muschette, Robbie Epstien, Tony "Tugu" Lancaster, Herbie Sharp, Robin Samms, David Couch, and from Port Antonio Alfred "Junior" Kong who had "Royal Store and Eddie Chin from CC Bakery, where every local surfer would stop by after a boston session for some hot hard dough bread or a bun and cheese with a box milk.
Boston Beach in Portland, for decades well known by tourists for it's pristine white sand beach, crystal clear water and it's notorious "Jerk Pork", was Jamaica's first internationally recognized surf spot. Visitors to the famous beach witnessed local fishermen returning from sea and "surfing" their boats in on the powerful driving surf rolling into the cove and took the news back to eager ears. Surfers returned to ride the waves, dropping in and sliding left as the fat peak wedged off the outside rock, or charging the thick right on the other side of the tiny protected bay. When these surfers went home, sometimes they would leave their boards behind with locals like Riggley, Morton and Buju, Jamaica's first black surfers, and thus began the Jamaican surf story.
Since those early days, Jamaican surfing has evolved through a number of developmental stages. First there was the "before there were boards" era (pre 60's) when every one bodysurfed. Then there came the Longboard or "before there were leashes" era (60's) when you had to swim for your board after every wipeout. Next came the "Bungie chord" era (70's) when you had to look out for your recoiling board coming back at you. That gave way to the "multi-fin" era (80's) twins tri and quads, everytime you turned around the boards had more fins or wings or stings! Since then we have come to the current "High Tech" era (90's - present) with epoxy boards, deck pads and a million different fin systems.
Back in the 60's, the "Wreck" was the prime south coast surf spot. Situated on the Palisadoes peninsula, the Wreck got it's name from the poor unfortunate cargo vessel which misguidedly ran aground in the late 1950's, forming a groin-like set up, off which perfect 200 yard long lefts would mechanically peel to the beach.
Every one wanted to make that elusive ride that took you past 4 light posts on your way down the beach. In those days it was all fun. The locals shared waves with visiting surfers. Back then the boards were 10' long and weighed 30 pounds so locals like "Mush" would bury their boards on the beach on sunday evening and then go back out and dig them up again on friday evening and surf all weekend, camping on the beach till sunday when they would bury the boards again.
The decade of the 70's saw many new faces in Jamaican surfing. Out at Bull Bay surfing at Copa were "Billy" Wilmot, Douglas "Nix" Hutchinson, Pat Talbot and Ricky "Pearl" Mafood. From Kingston there was Sean Bourke, Randy Cargil, and Pedro Flora. The waves of choice being Lightbourne Corner, Lighthouse, Lollipop, Nine Mile, Salt Ponds, Roselle, Prospect, Holland Bay, Long Bay and Boston. But in the summer of '74, the discovery of the decade was made!
The now world famous "Zoo" was "discovered" when David Couch and Terry Muschett walked down to the rivermouth and stood slack jawed looking out at something that looked like it was supposed to be somewhere in Indonesia.... They paddled out for the first time. the clear water, spitting tubes, consistent dependable line-up with the easy go-out seemed too good to be true. How could these waves be peeling along right under our noses all these years and no one saw them?
The much steeper, shorter walls of the Zoo, forced local surfers to compress their manuvers and speed up turns. Tube riding became the primary focus and skills were honed to razor sharp perfection on the hollow river mouth barrel. This resulted in a brand new much more radical strain of Jamaican surfing.The Zoo Was the discovery of the decade!
The "discovery" of the Zoo right on our door step, prompted a whole new era of surf exploration on the island from the late 70's into the mid 80's. If the Zoo could have been right there all that time, what other jems may be out there waiting to be stumbled upon? Potential spots which had been identified years previously such as Prospect point, Morant River, Holland Bay, Orange Bay, Rio Grande, Swift River, Spanish River and Buff Bay were re-visited and many surfed for the first times.
By the 80's, more new faces had appeared on the scene. People like Piere Diaz, Niel-John Andrade, Julian and Nigel Benjamin, Robert Haughton, Mark Scott, Gary Gregg, Warren Marley, Eugene Miller, David Lee, Alton Smith and George Cousins. The newcomers surfed most of the established breaks and went on to popularize Peenie Wally and Shark Cove on the North Coast.
The final decade of the old millennium produced another crop of very talented "Tanned Jammies". The new and promising group is made up of a number of second generation Jamaican surfers. Billy Wilmot's Kids, Ishack, Inilek, Icah, Imani and Ivah or "The Rats" as they have come to be known, Tim Chinyee's boys, Daniel and Charles, and Jackie Murray's boys Justin and Scott. Other "freshers" included Drum Drummond, great grand son of Jamaican national hero Norman Manley, Yves Yearwood, Warren "Beegus" Bailey, Dwayne Walker, Jacquiann Lawton, Luke Williams, Andre Bowman, Joel Lawrence, Kenny Augier, Louis Matalon, David Lee, Alton Smith and Omar Atkinson. A few new spots were also ridden for the first time in the 90's such as Makka, Middle reef at Prospect and Yallahs River.
The 90's also saw the founding of the Jamaica Surfing Association, which since it's formation in 1999, has brought the sport to the attention of the general public, winning fans and encouraging participants through it's publicity drive and national contests. Sponsors such as Insight, Quashi, Ipath, Xtrak, Magma, Body Glove, Reef, OAM, Mailpak as well as Jamaica's Sports Development Foundation, have all come on board with the "Surf Lions" to promote the immage and vibe of Jamaica's authentic and unique surf culture.
The New Millennium is here and Jamaica has been represented at every World Surfing Games and World Junior Surfing Championships since 2002 as well as a number of Pan American Surfing Games. The JSA runs 2 local competition series, the three event National Junior Championships and the five event National Open Series.
Jamaica even hosts it's own annual international pro event, The Makka Pro, which is held at the Makka Surf Beach in Southaven in Yallahs Saint Thomas and has become one of the largest in the english speaking Caribbean and provides a stage from which to present Jamaican surfing.
New spots have been ridden and old ones lost. In the spate of hurricanes that have been unleasing their fury on the Caribbean recently, the world famous Zoo was annihilated by the torrential rains and thirty foot seas associated with 2004's Hurricane Ivan, but not before Billy Wilmot caught the largest wave in recorded Jamaican surf history. There is good news however for long boarders who had very few options in Jamaica prior to Ivan. The whole Palisadoes peninsula has come alive with countless spots begging for a 9'6" Robert August
New faces are constantly being seen in the line up. Every year aother crop of sizzling hot groms are killing it . Rippers like Boston's Shane Simmonds, Lloyd Jacks, Ackeam Taylor, Oshane Usher, Michael Panton and Bull Bay's Ackeam Phillips, Eneson Lightbourn, Garren Pryce, Armani Green, Shama Beckford and Ivah Wilmot .
Jamaica has its lady surfers too. Imani Wilmot, Jacquiann Lawton-Yearwood, Natalie Zenny, Elim and Esther Beckford are all regular fixtures at local contests as well as at free-surf sessions. Now a sport that was not even thought to exist in Jamaica has clawed it's way to the surface and every day new and exciting developments unfold.
The JSA has even begun efforts to introduce surfing to Jamaica's schools with Yallahs High in Saint Thomas, which began by acquireing three surfboards in 2008, became the first school on the island to take on offering surfing as an extra curricular activity.
The full potential of Jamaica's surf is still to be realized. Jamaica has had a long and rich surfing history which is still being drafted today by the young bloods of the Jamaican surfing fraternity who will lead the charge into the next era of Jamaican wave riding!
~ ~ ~ ~ To be continued ~ ~ ~ ~