The Caribbean islands offer some of the best surfing in the world.
Why plenty of them are packing their boards and heading for the islands of the Caribbean?
The search for the perfect wave has taken surfers all around the world. But Caribbean has always been a favorite travel destination for the snowboard surfers from the Northeastern US states, the Caribbean has been gaining international notoriety as a major surf destination in the past 5 years.
For the people who live in US, The Caribbean is definitely one of the easiest surf trips to make. A short flight from the East Coast gets you away from the snow, and into the warm trade winds of the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Dominican or Barbados.
The awesome thing about the Caribbean is that it truly has something for everyone; it’s a great place for beginners, experts and couples looking for a romantic getaway. Each island offers gentle beach breaks for beginners, and tubing reef breaks for the more experienced surfer.
Top Surfing Destinations in the Caribbean
The most renowned centers for surfing in the Caribbean are Puerto Rico in the north, Barbados in the east (both of these already stage professional competitions), and Tobago in the south; exotic names like Rincón, Bathsheba and Mount Irvine have become familiar to the international surfing community. There are also lesser known and even secret locations in other islands, including Tortola, St Thomas, Cuba, St Lucia and Martinique.
It’s not that the Caribbean is just like Hawaii, though if you’re looking for really big waves you don’t have to look further than Puerto Rico‘s north coast when there’s a good swell. What makes the Caribbean a world-class surfing destination in its own right is the huge range of conditions you can find along its 2,000-mile chain of islands. Every island has its own “breaks” or surf spots, from sandy beaches to coral reefs, point breaks and rock bottoms, and many of the most exciting spots are still barely explored.
The prime time for surfing in the Caribbean is from November to April, when cold-weather fronts moving along the eastern seaboard of the United States produce ocean swells which spread over a thousand miles; almost every island in the Caribbean feels the resulting waves.
That is usually when the visitors come calling. But locals are also on the lookout during the hurricane season from June to November, when an errant tropical depression can also whip up the water; and some places are blessed with good waves year-round, like Barbados’s Tropicana or the Bathsheba “Soup Bowl”.
For U.S. citizens, Puerto Rico is the most easily accessible surfer’s island, since it is a U.S. territory and no passport is required for visitors. Puerto Rico has hundreds of reefs, points, and beaches for surfing, making it a great place for family travel, especially because it is a densely populated tourist area.
The east coast towns of Aguadilla and Rincon are the most popular destinations for surfers — Rincon has some of the biggest and best waves in the Caribbean, and is home to the acclaimed Rincon Surf School. Some of the region’s biggest waves can be found at places like Tres Palmas, Table Rock and Gas Chambers.
The waters of the island’s Atlantic coast, with some of the deepest ocean in the world not far offshore, have been the arena for two World Championships in the last 20 years. The first was in 1968, when Caribbean surfing was still in its formative stages and the professionals and amateurs from 15 participating countries used heavy and cumbersome “long boards” at Rincón, where the waves can be really huge.
But by 1988, surfing was riding a crest of popularity, and a whole new generation of wave junkies had been spawned. They understood the excitement and danger, the oneness with nature, which good surfing demands. And competitors were pulling off truly breathtaking stunts on their sleek, colorful, lightweight boards.
There were 26 countries involved in that World Championship at Aguadilla on Puerto Rico’s north-western tip. Two breaks were used, Wilderness and the aptly named Surfer’s Beach; at the end of the two-week event the Australians were crowned world champions in the team category and a Brazilian named Fabio Govia took the individual title.
That contest showed how far surfing in Puerto Rico had come since the day back in the late 1950’s when islanders were fascinated to see a couple of young American businessmen doff their suits, pick up their boards and take to the water to ride the waves. Today there are over 15,000 surfers in Puerto Rico, backed by a surf-information network which provides daily reports on conditions around the coast.
The vibrant Puerto Rico Surfing Federation (PRSF) is presided over by a non-surfer, Guy Ashton, a 52-year-old university lecturer and former national lawn tennis champion. Ashton got involved in the organization of surfing seven years ago when his son, Juan, went to the beach, saw some guys shredding the waves, and told his father he wanted to try it. These days, 23-year-old Juan Ashton is one of the finest surfers ever to come out of Puerto Rico; he competes as a professional on the east coast of the United States, where he sometimes meets up with 27-year-old compatriot Alberto Licha, a leading big-wave surfer.
Meanwhile, back home, Ashton senior is serving his second stint as president of the PRSF, whose 1,500 members belong to eight surfing districts, each area holding an annual competition leading up to the national finals. The sport is organized on an island-wide basis for all age-groups, including school-age children.
Barbados, a hundred miles east of the main Caribbean chain in the Atlantic, is one of the world’s youngest countries, more accustomed to producing international cricketers; but it has already produced top-class surfers who rank high on the international stage.
Barbados is a great place for surfers who are looking to share in a vibe with the local surf scene. Barbados is known for hosting people from all over the world for surf contests and conventions. On the northwestern point of Barbados lies Duppies, a surf beach especially known for its easy-going atmosphere, small crowds and local color.
On the east coast, the Soup Bowl (near the town of Bathsheba) is more popular, and has hosted international longboard competitions. On the south coast — where the Atlantic and Pacific meet — you’ll find Silver Sands Beach and Brian Talma, Barbados’ famous “Action Man.” Talma’s de Action Beach Shop is a great place to learn to surf (or kitesurf or windsurf), as is Boosy’s Surf School on the aptly named Surfer’s Bay.
Alan Burke, who has been flying his country’s blue and yellow flag on the east coast circuit of the ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) Tour in the United States, retains his amateur status; his compatriot Mark Holder has gained a reputation as the most flamboyant surfer in the region. Both were members of the Barbados team which competed at the 1992 World Surfing Championships last September in La Canau on the south-west coast of France.
That squad was coached by James Blades, the president of the Barbados Surfing Association, which has established the Sprite Caribbean Cup as the main event for amateur surfers outside the World Championship. Blades is fiercely proud of the quality of the Bajan surfers; in 1991 his countrymen defeated both the United States and Brazil, two of the world’s biggest surfing nations, before losing to then world champions Australia by just three points in the final round of the Cup.
That event was held at Bathsheba on Barbados’s east coast, which is one of the most surf-rich spots on earth, with steep offshore slopes and very large waves fuelled by the Atlantic swells rolling ashore on a rocky reef. Bathsheba, known as the “Soup Bowl” because of the shape of these big, peeling swells, has some of the most powerful waves in the Caribbean and has often been compared to the birthplace of surfing, Hawaii.
Surfing at Bathsheba can be absolutely perfect, with a world class challenge in the awesome power of the swell. But Barbados is just overloaded with breaks, according to Blades, who rattles off a list of names, including his home break at Brandons: South Point, Sandy Lane and Batts Rock on the west coast, Tropicana, Hull, Maycocks, Duppieson the north coast, Fosters Funland, and Freight’s Bay.
Compared with Puerto Rico, Barbados has a tiny surfing population of around 150, but the ratio of hot surfers is impressive. At one time there was even a locally assembled surfboard called Flying Fish. But while that indigenous product is no more, the Caribbean Cup is definitely here to stay.
Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago cannot yet boast of any such high-ranked international competition, but at Mount Irvine in Tobago there is a surf spot par excellence – a “mindblowing righthander”, as one American surfer put it. The waves are not as powerful as Barbados or Puerto Rico, but many surfers say they are perfectly shaped.
Like the makers of the finest wine and the manufacturers of million-dollar automobiles, Mount Irvine delivers in small doses at select intervals throughout the season. But when it is pumping, it is an incredible sight, an adrenalin-filled rush for anyone who has experienced it first-hand, including surfers who have come here from as far away as Australia.
The waves are generated by swells from the Caribbean striking a coral reef off Rockly Point on Tobago’s north-west coast. It was there that Tobagonian Michael Baker, who was then a lifeguard but is now better known as calypsonian, first watched visiting surfers in action. That was around 1967; Baker was among the first locals to try their hand and surf the Mount Irvine break. Another, helicopter pilot Nick Nothnagel, recalls that he was hooked right away by this “gift from God.” “You lost credibility if you did not go out when it got real big.”
Mount Irvine has become even more unpredictable in recent years. Once the waves would arrive reliably around Easter, but this is no longer so, and the die-hard who live in Trinidad wait around, airline tickets in hand, for the shout of “surfs up” from their contacts in Tobago.
At home in Trinidad they content themselves with smaller stuff at Salybia, near Toco on the north-east coast, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea. This is the site of the national championships in July, a reef break and the most consistent spot in Trinidad, though there are others which provide reasonable surf: Matelot, Grande Riviere, and Outer Island off Saline Bay.
Over the last two years, each March, the Surfing Association of Trinidad and Tobago (SATT) has organised the Zoom Break Surf Off at Sans Souci, a beach break on the north coast, not far from Salybia. The waves are nothing to write home about, but huge crowds come out for the event and have been rewarded to see spectacular moves by Mark Holder of Barbados, who has twice won the championship, Venezuelan Pedro Ranghell, and locals Che Lovelace (four-time national champion) and junior title-holder Jason Apparicio.
If you’re a veteran to the art of surfing, the Dominican Republic may be your island of choice. It has by far the most mileage of coastline in the Caribbean and, being bordered by both the Atlantic and Caribbean Ocean, has destination surf spots year-round. In summer and spring, the southern part of the island is the place to go while, alternatively, winter and fall are best spent in the north especially in Puerto Plata and Cabarete area.
Another perk of the Dominican Republic is its flexibility: while it is a great location for standard longboard surfing, it also has locations the offer other surf-related recreation, such as La Boya on the Caribbean coast, which is great for beginner to advanced short-boarding.
North Coast Surf Spots
Most of the breaks on the North Coast (Puerto Plata, Sosua, Cabarete, Rio San Juan, Naugua, Las Terrenas and Samana) work best with Northeast swell beginning in September and continuing through March. As winter storms progress off the Northeast coast in the United States, the swell moves southward to the Caribbean where we enjoy overhead-size waves all season.
Winds are light offshore in the mornings, and pick up the Easterly trade winds in the afternoon. Late afternoon and sunset surf sessions are also a frequent pleasure when the wind drops. From May to September, the conditions are perfect for surfers that enjoy fun mellow waves without crowds.
East Coast Surf Spots
A few spots in the East (Playa Macao, Caligula) near Punta Cana and Bavaro are the best for decent surf. The area is home to most of the islands major resorts, due to the typically calm waters. If you venture out of the resort areas, you can discover shoulder-high sets that are good for all levels of surfing.
South Coast Surf Spots
The Caribbean Sea and its tranquil waters are not known for surfing yet the South has some great spots such as Playa Los Patos and Guibia in Santo Domingo, and Playa Bahoruco in Barahona, with the best months typically being in Summer where overhead days are frequent.
Costa Rica is a well-known and well-developed surfing destination – especially since featuring in Endless Summer 2; direct flights from the USA also add to its popularity. The country is safe, beautiful, friendly and blessed with great surfing on both coasts. It is, however one of the more expensive countries in the central and south Americas, with the positive aspect that hotels are good quality and car rental relatively easy and safe.
Costa Rica has been noted as having some of the best waves in the Caribbean, especially Puerto Viejo, located in the emerging tourist destination of Limon on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast. For surfers, it’s well worth the long flight (and long drive from the airport in San Jose) to experience this Caribbean surfing mecca.
The surfing can be broken into three main areas: The Pacific North (Guanacaste-Nicoya), the Pacific South (Punta Arenas) and the Caribbean. Surf towns are developing in places such as Jaco, Tamarindo and Puerto Viejo. Year round warm water, warm air and offshore breezes (in Guanacaste) make for great conditions. The best waves occur in the rainy season (northern Hemisphere ‘summer’) on the pacific side, and in the hot dry season (‘winter’) on the Caribbean – ensuring that you should be able to find surf someplace.
For beginners, Jamaica is a good place to start surfing. Not only are there a plethora of Jamaican surf camps up and down the coast, but if you plan on venturing out on your own, the waters are typically calm and easy to break into. Although not particularly known for its surf scene, Jamaica has a few places to catch some seriously sick swells — the famous Zoo break in Bull’s Bay was wiped out by a hurricane in 2004, but there are plenty of alternatives in the Kingston area. If you want a more tourist-friendly atmosphere, Boston Bay — the birthplace of Jamaican jerk cooking — is one of the oldest surfing spots on the island, and well worth a visit.
Antigua and Barbuda
Antigua is not among the leading islands in the Caribbean for surfing but gets some good swell off the Atlantic in the South-east of the island. The best beach is Turtle Bay, but there are occasionally swells from the west, in which case the best breaks are at Galley Bay and at Sand Haven south of Dickenson Bay.
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