Barbados Travel Log
I arrive in Barbados tomorrow. Meanwhile, we took some time in the Florida Keys–highly recommended.
If you’ve never been there, it’s a combination of blue collar retro trailer park scene, crazed fishing scene and great diving. But, when you get to Key West, it’s a whole different place–people from all over the world living in a little island with Victorian buildings, a crazy social scene, and great restaurants.
Too laid back? South Beach Miami has all the Art Deco cheese and video-shooting craziness we’re familiar with in the LA area, but with a bit of a Latin flair.
There are no waves here, but there is great diving and the water is about 86-87 degrees, even at 20-40 feet deep. Great visibility and marine sanctuaries with no fishing or touching, which means you have diverse species not afraid of you (big barracuda, nurse sharks, and 4-foot long snook staring you in the face). A lot of different coral species are recovering on some beautiful dives.
Stuck in South Beach tonight waiting for an early flight to Barbados. Tomorrow afternoon I’ll be on the east side of the island and we’ll see what it has to offer.
Dispatch #2, 26Aug06
South Beach is a trip. Like many surfers I know, I’m an early riser for the dawn patrols, which means I go to bed early. Well, South Beach doesn’t even start to come alive until 11-11:30 p.m. Enjoying myself, I stayed out late until just after midnight because I had to get up at 6 for an early flight today. As I went to sleep, the town was just waking up.
Well, up at 6, I had to get the rental car to load it. I was waking up and the town was just going to sleep. Out of the clubs and bars came the same people I left six hours before, all dressed up and a bit messed up. The hookers were still working, some trying for last tricks, others saying goodbye to their last customer of the evening. All night partiers were just barely pulling it together to get a cab and the drug dealers were still dealing. Starts to get pretty old pretty quickly.
Cold flight with free food on American and we were in Barbados by 1:30 p.m. Easy in and out of Customs except for the why come so far from California? which confused me. Maybe idle chat, but no drug search or hassle, so no worries. (no worries anyway, right?)
Melanie picked me up and we went off to the east coast, where the waves are biggest and most consistent year ’round. I’ll be here for the week. Bathsheba, a quiet little town with really no noise (except the wedding going on down at the park just below the house right now) is about as tranquil as it gets. No sounds except waves and wind.
First stop, though, was some supplies for several days. You know, standard stuff like some bread, cheese, eggs, rice, fresh vegetables, fruit juice, rum, beer, specialty rum, more beer–they brew their own Guiness here (it’s a former British colony) and it’s the Foreign Extra at a generous 7.5%–some other stuff and some freshly fried chicken to go. Not cheap–try about $70 U.S. for two full bags of groceries. Yeah, sure, there’s some alcohol there (rum), but that’s the cheapest thing on the island, at about half the U.S. price.
Try this on for size: 1/2 of a small head of cabbage: $1.25 U.S., 5 fairly large carrots: $2.10 U.S., one dozen eggs: $3.00 U.S. They aren’t giving it away.
Anyway, I immediately run into old friends made on my last trip. It’s a small island population for its size (about 260,000 total) with an even smaller group of surfers (about 300? Maybe a few more? They pretty much know each other and will definitely remember you if you come and hang out.
Surf is small they say. Shite is the word. Remove the e and you have the idea. Oh well, I check it anyway and, as you can see from the shots, it’s fun looking, even if small. The water is 84, no one is out, and it beats onshore slop sub-70 at home. Crystal clear water, good for an hour of fun.
Reggae on the radio right now, enjoying a Banks beer, and talking with some friends to round out the evening. Yes-I.
Barbados Travel Log
Dispatch #3, 27Aug06
Waves on the increase today. Meanwhile, I took a day off the log as my new computer and I had to take some time to get to know each other better.
Yesterday’s waves were completely flat by local standards. It was waist-high ++ and if it were anywhere around the MB pier or even Porto, there’d be a bunch of us out, stoked. Groveling, but stoked because the water is 84, it’s not blown out, and it’s crystal clear. Here, though, the only people who surf this shite are tourists (yours truly) and groms. Needless to say it wasn’t crowded, but still fun.
Didn’t matter though because I didn’t miss anything and got a late start yesterday anyway. That all started the night before. I was hanging with my friend Snake. Actually his name is Edison Headley. He’s a first generation surfer here and he’s 54 and charges the barrel like he’s 24. His first exposure to surfing was when American draft dodgers (the smarter ones) decided to escape here instead of Canada. Fine choice, lads. They brought boards, surf culture, and messed up a bunch of lives, just as ours are.
Snake needed some smokes. We were just hanging here where I’m staying, but the local rum shop down the street had cigarettes (Kids, don’t try this at home. Snake’s a professional, trust me.) So we head down to the Sea Side Bar, a Bajan rum shop.
Sidenote: Spellcheck no like Bajan. This word, pronounced BAY-jen (not BAH-henit’s not Spanish) is what people from Barbados call themselves. Barbadian is sort of official, but Bajans are Bajans. If you hear it correctly, there’s a quick extra syllable in there. Like bee-AY-jen, but you’ll get by with bay-jen just fine.
So, Sea Side Bar is a Bajan rum shop. That means it’s basically a Bajan pub. They sell rum, but also beer, soft drinks, and some food. A bunch of local surfers were hanging out having some beers. I nodded to them casually, but forgot that Bajans have really good memories, which impressed me last time. As I walked by I heard, Hey Scott, I thought you weren’t going to be back until November. I saw a couple of guys I remember, Omar, Kevin, and Adrian, and we started talking.
Next thing I know, one guy’s buying a round, then another guy is, then I am. Topics of discussion include reggae/hip hop vs. roots rock reggae, West Indies and British politics, George Bush (oh yes, you can run, but you can’t hide from it), and the surf. Always the surf. 8:30 becomes 12:30 and it’s time to go.
I wake up the next morning with a three Advil moment, check the small surf, then go out for a snorkel. Normally it’s too big for that, but this was a perfect daybrain and fire coral, a forest of sea fans, tons of fish, and urchins. Yes, URCHINS.
One thing you learn about Barbados is that there are urchins. The last thing you want to do is try to paddle out anywhere without knowing where and how to go. Just ask anyone and they’ll show you the obvious and easy paths. Failure to ask means likely disaster. This afternoon we were on the ledge checking Soup Bowl and saw some tourists coming in entirely the wrong way. We were wincing as they ended up in a field of sticky un-fun.
With the swell picking up to head-high today at Soup Bowl and Parlours, there were some good waves, but more expected tomorrowBarbados
Dispatch #4, 29Aug06
Today featured head-high waves all around, a little smaller at lower tide, but faster. What’s cool about this area is that you can surf a high-performance wave like Soup Bowl, but if you’re not good enough, it’s too heavy or whatever, you can just paddle about 100-200 yards south and there are other breakssome for rank beginners, others just fun intermediate stuff. It’s all right out front.
Last night’s meal featured some serious local island fare. Breadfruit was boiled with onions in a coconut/pepper juice. Rice and peas were smothered in a coconut sauce, and of course there was rum. The food was filling and delicious. All vegetarian and all good. Also all cheap. Distinct flavors (which included coriander, fresh thyme and basil, and a little curry) made the difference.
I think the swell’s on its way down, but there are still waves.Barbados
Dispatch #5, 30Aug06
The wonders of the internet on island time: I have wireless, but sometimes the access is like dial-up on an old burro. It doesn’t go. So, this one is later than I expected as is the one before it. Anyway
Waves are actually smaller todayperhaps the smallest in a while. But, there’s also virtually no wind, so it’s glassy calm. That means we have waist-high + surf that resembles San Onofre or Bolsa Chicalong, fun, noseriding waves for the longboarders or fish. A little more work for shortboards.
But because it’s so glassy you can see all the coral, rock, fish, and other things underneath you as you glide by.
Rather than continue surfing small waves, we took the rare opportunity to do some snorkeling out under the breaks to see what we are surfing over. I say rare because on this windward side of the island, it’s usually too big to consider snorkeling. This time of year you get a few small days and this is one of them.
Underneath we counted over 30 fish species, not including the lobsters, various urchin, coral species, and shrimp. The terrain is generally flat, sloping gently out to sea from Parlor’s and more severe a drop at Soup Bowl, but the visibility is anywhere from about 25-50 feet. As you cruise the flat terrain, you’ll come upon coral and rock formations that form ledges where the big fish are. There is also a cool forest of sea fans near a big wave spot called Table Tops.
The evening surf looks a little bigger with the incoming tide.
Barbados Travel Log
Dispatch #6, 31Aug06
The swell is here. It was at least head-high all day at Soup Bowl, High Rock and Parlor’s. The Bathsheba locals were out, but it still wasn’t a swell to them, which kept the crowds, such as they are around here, down.
As in Mexico, pretty much all the local surfers here have nicknames. If you’re lucky like Kevin, you’ll get a cool one like Buju (as in Buju Banton). If you’re unlucky like Adrian, you may be stuck with Grommet. Nevermind that Adrian is a top surfer, one of the older, second-generation guys (in his mid-30s), has sponsors and rips, when he was a young up-and-comer the first generation guys named him and it stuck. Everyone calls them by their nicknames, even non-surfers. You might too if you get to know them better, but until then, it’s Kevin, Adrian, Omar, whatever.
They drive on the left side of the road here, as in the UK. The driver side is the right side, opposite of ours. Certain things we take for granted we are never aware of until they suddenly hit you. For example, you are probably not aware of it, but when you are walking down a street where there are cars and you hear a car that may be in your path (or you might consider stepping aside, whatever), the first thing you tend to do is instinctively look at the carwhere it’s coming from, etc.but what you actually do is look right at the driver to see if you can make eye contact, see if he/she is paying attention, etc., so you can react accordingly. Naturally your eyes immediately go to the left side of the vehicle, where the driver sits.
Here it’s different. I have had the strange experience of hearing cars come, turning to look, seeing the driver’s side empty and ever-so-momentarily panicking until my eyes drift over to the RIGHT side to be greeted by a smiling driver who gives a little wave as he rolls by. It’s equally strange for the moment when the driver is looking out the window, reading, or doing something un-driver like.
Took me about three days to get used to it. Now when I get home, I’ll likely make eye contact with some small child or bag of groceries on the wrong side of the car for a day or two.
Bajan pepper sauce is hot stuff. It’s a mix of red peppers, mustard, and other spices. A little dab will do you. Even the locals think it’s hot. Great on cutters (sandwiches), breadfruit, and with rice and beans.
The Surfline Barbados cam is focused on Soup Bowl, or it attempts to. It’s located on the corner of the Edgewater Inn to the north, looking south. Thing is that it’s over 1/10th of a mile away and unless you know what you’re looking at, you can’t really tell where Soup Bowl is, where High Rock is, or if that shallow closeout wave at the bottom is really surfable. The locals laugh at it and don’t use it.
Instead, they use a cam installed by Zed Layson, a Bajan who lives in the south. It’s at a house directly in front of the lineup (one of the houses you use for positioning) and offers brief, but crystal clear 4-second video of the place every 15 minutes. For some reason Surfline opted not to go with his cam even though they talked about it, even though their cam suffers from salt spray constantly, and his is clean and protected. Call to complain if you use their services.
Just like at home, the afternoons tend to be one of the busiest surf times. Unlike at home, the morning is uncrowded no frothing dawn patrol. Bathsheba, in the east of the island, is a rural area and it takes those living in the south about 30-40 minutes to get here. So, if they have to work, it’s not worth it to head over here, surf, and go back until after work. The locals here also don’t get up that early even though it’s light by 5:30-5:45. Solo sessions are not uncommon early and it’s most crowded the last hour before sundown (around 6:15-6:30) as the workers come to wash the day’s dust off. Still it’s a very mellow crowd, there is no localism (the people from the south are treated like friends), and everyone knows everyone else. Yesterday there were 20 people on the two main Soup Bowl peaks and at least 12 of them were excellent surfers. I got plenty of set waves despite the fact I was one of 3 tourists. Everyone talks to everyone else and if it’s your turn, then it’s your turn.
That’s a reason to return here if nothing else
Barbados Travel Log
Dispatch #7, 01Sep06
As luck would have it, my last full day in Barbados was also the best. Head-high to overhead surf all day.
As luck would also have it, my very first wave of the day, though not the biggest, had a nice little inside tube. Took off on a nearly head-high wave that swung north on my paddle out. Nice and clean, so I turned for it rather than paddling out top. Raised it to the inside, little floater, then pulled up into the hollow section on the inside. Super shallow, but a clean barrel almost all the time.
As luck would also also have it, Heather was on the sand, camera in hand, shooting other stuff (crabs, rocks, birds), but happened to see me, happened to point, happened to click, andIt’s not exactly Slater in Campaign 2, but it’s a nice reminder to be sure.
Waves everywhere and conditions ranging from glassy to windy to glassy. It changes often.
Did I mention you can drink the water? The island is basically limestone and fossilized coral (not volcanic like the rest of the Caribbean islands), so the natural aquifers are excellent water filtration/storage devices. Right out of the tap. No bottled water sold here, except club soda.
Back tomorrow after an early surf, then on a plane. I’ll miss this place for sure, but guess what: We’re coming back in November
Barbados Travel Log
Dispatch #8, 02Sep06
There are no waves in Barbados. Why are you going there?
I heard that at least twice from two people who have never been there. Those that had been there said something different: I’ve never been skunked.
Well, neither have I. Today my flight didn’t leave until 3 p.m., so I was able to surf for almost five hours. And what a five hours it was.
From 6-9 a.m. it was offshore. Offshore. Rare here to be glassy all the time, though when the waves break it’s clean. But, offshore? That’s usually reserved for December or so.
It was also overhead. Locals were calling it 6-8 foot and they were frothing. At 6, there were already four guys at Soup Bowl. I paddled toward there from High Rock, about 100 yards south and just stopped there. Right and left sets were coming in there just fine (see the middle shots). At low tide, it was very hollow and I pulled into my first two waves (and made them) pretty easily. I was joined by one other guy and we surfed High Rock rights and lefts for three hours while we counted 20 people at Soup Bowl.
They could see us, they hooted our bigger set waves, but they stayed there and battled it out. Good for them. Good for us.
Ran back to the place at nine, packed, and paddled back out by 9:45 for another 1 1⁄2 hours. The offshore had died and so did the crowd, so back to Soup Bowl for some nuggets. There were anywhere from four to 10 people out, so there were plenty of waves. Finally exhausted and out of time, I headed in.
Nick Donawa gave me a ride to the airport and as I got out of his truck, he handed me two DVDs of local surf he edited with music, etc.
As I left his truck he said, I’ll be in LA next month and I’ll look you up. If we miss each other, see you when you come back to Barbados in November. You think it’s good TODAY, just WAIT until November. It goes off then, brah.
This log courtesy of Scott Valor