So, it’s Winter… the ocean temps are in the low 40s and many of us begin to think about warmer waves. A lot of East coast surfers look to the Caribbean to satisfy their thirst for Tropical surf. The Caribbean is littered with great surf throughout the islands. This time of year this area thrives off the winter weather systems that move off the Eastern Sea Board of the US. If you can free-style and fly at the drop of a hat, watch for those cold and windy high pressures that cut deep into the South. Then hop on a plane, south!
These NW winds associated with these high pressures pump a North ground swell targeting the Caribbean. Puerto Rico – probably the popular place in the Caribbean. It is quick, and relatively easy flight from most major East Coast airports. With the deep waters of the Puerto Rican trench to the North, these North swells grow. Most spots are clean in the morning, even the North coast. As the ENE trade winds pick up late morning, people will surf the more Western facing beaches of Rincon as those trades are off shore all day. Some of the northern beaches include wilderness, ruins and hobos. In Rincon, you can enjoy Marias, Dogmans and Domes.
So shifting a bit East, you will find the small French island of St. Barthelemy (St. Barts). Not as surf consistent as Puerto Rico, however getting more than their share of waves. Although the English language has infiltrated the island, it is primarily French-speaking. St. Barts attracts a wide variety of people from many different countries. This adds an interesting dynamic either on the water or on land. It is not uncommon to hear more than three different languages while having dinner in a restaurant. And the cuisine… if you’re a foodie, you will find the French Caribbean infusion to be rather yummy.
Surf wise… the island will pick up the same large ground swells that Puerto Rico does. However, it will pick up ENE trade swell also. While there are almost a dozen surf spots on the Island, there are 3 premier waves that come to mind:
TOINY: On the eastside … Is tucked behind a headland that primarily only breaks on a good sized ground swell. With the trades blocked by the headland the waves are almost always clean.
L’ORIENT: A fun reef break on the Central North Coast with multiple peaks. There is a very hollow peak to the left. The outer wave on the east side, a right, is called PICKET FENCES because of the Elkhorn coral that resembles a fence … be careful!
While on the island, a must visit is to the small port town of Gustavia . Keep in mind Columbus visited the island in 1493 with the French and Swiss settling there in the 1700s. So Gustavia has a great vibe and character littered with high end shops and great restaurants.
When flying, you will connect through St. Maarten in all likelihood. If you want to take your own board, you’ll have to take the ferry over as the little “puddle jumper” airplanes cannot fit them in cargo. As the St. Barth airport is so small, and the runway so short and can only accommodate small airplanes. Bon Surf!
With so many other islands to surf in the Caribbean, it would be remiss by not talking about TORTOLA, in the British Virgin Islands. “An early flight out of Philadelphia to St. Thomas then onto a fast ferry you can be in the water by 4pm that same day”! Another quaint island with more than a handful of very good waves… most notable, and regarded by many to be the best wave in the Caribbean when it’s “on,” is CANE GARDEN BAY.
CANE GARDEN BAY is a true right hand point break. Again, like Puerto Rico, St. Barth and Tortola like those big North swells. Cane Garden can hold a lot of size with enough swell on the water, it can break for a couple hundred yards. Apple Bay sometimes called, BOMBA SHACKS, is a fun playful wave with multiple peaks up and down the beach… with longer rights, there are some lefts to be had as well.
A seldom surfer’s left hand point due to access ability is easier by boat would be COOTIINS REEF just adjacent to the more well known JOSIAH’S BAY. COOTINS needs a fair amount of size to break and can hold a lot of size.
Apple Bay May 2008
Other spots in the Caribbean: Barbados, Guadaloupe and St. Maarten (Dutch side being better) and Dominican Republic.
Safe travels and many happy rides!