This winter I went on two surf trips – one to Barbados and one to South Sumatra. It’s best to take two surf trips back to back when you’re in the seasonal surf coaching game as the next chance I get for any serious time off will be November, but I’m not complaining. What was interesting was that although once you’re in the water and in the waves there are plenty of similarities (due to the fact that you will have selected both places for their good surf) the mechanics of things on land were quite different across the two trips, but not because of obvious local and cultural differences but more because of the way I approached each trip. Let’s start with Barbados…
Kate and I went with our friends Neal and Jess Gent; this was intended to be a kitesurfing trip with a hint of surfing thrown in, and lots of good times fuelled by clinking glasses in the sunset and eating at chic restaurants. Most of this came true, except the endless days of kitesurfing got swapped for endless days of surfing as the trades didn’t turn up, but a lot of good swell did.
The four of us stayed self-catering at Brian Talma’s place, Action Apartments on Silver Rock Beach. This is kitebeach ground zero for Barbados and we could check the wind from our balcony in the morning, getting a quick session in the odd days it did blow before the forty or fifty other kiters on the island at that time turned up in their cars. We could go in and out of the water and back to our digs at will, adding GoPros and sunscreen and drinks at our leisure.
When it became clear that the wind was in bed for the day, we left piled into our rented Voxy van and scoured the island for empty surf. There was lots of it. On the way we’d sometimes stop for ‘proper’ coffee and the occasional duty free item of beach clothing at modern shopping plazas. On the way home, we’d pick up dinner from air conditioned food courts or dine out on sushi, go for sundowner drinks at expensive bars (thankfully Neal and Jess had connections to these places!) and then flop exhausted into bed each night.
On holiday as a four, and because Neal and Jess have been coming to Barbados and have a wide network of friends there, there was always someone to talk to and it didn’t leave much need for striking up new friendships with other visitors – not that that would have been easy as everyone else seemed to be travelling as part of a group too and had no real need to mingle further. Also, it can get pretty crowded at the busier surf and kite spots so people tended to try keep a bit of personal space around themselves.
One might think that a couples surfing / kiting holiday to Barbados would disintegrate into a lot of lounging around on the beach and indecision about where to go next. Wrong. Every day we were up at dawn, off to the first session be it on, in or under the water. Because there are four of you, there’s always someone at peak energy level urging the rest of you along to the next activity.
As I’ve said, the surf was the real stand out on this trip; Neal and I surfed six spots all to ourselves ranging from fast hollow rights on the west coast to the big open ocean walls or Parlors at Bathseba and Duppies to the north. Jess and Kate could choose their intensity at places like Freights, Brandon’s, and ‘Tiny Church Point’, as I absent-mindedly named the folder of their videos at that spot. The other time we went to Church Point it was a bit bigger and revealed itself to be a slab breaking over fire coral.
The unexpected delight of the trip for me was the snorkelling sessions off of Pebbles Beach. Here you’ll find the archetypal white Caribbean sand and water so turquoise you can’t stop looking at it. It’s so clear from the moment you step in to as far out as you dare to swim, at times it felt like floating through the air. The days we went snorkelling there was still a meagre wave breaking from the residual trade wind swell at Parlors, which if you’d turned up on day one you’d be onto like a shot, but really skin diving wrecks teaming with fish and turtles is far more exciting.
Barbados is as stunning exotic place but on a trip like this there’s no way it could ever feel alien or strange. We were driving to our morning surfs through commuter traffic that wouldn’t look out of place in a western European industrial town, past billboards, shopping malls, large petrol stations and suburban houses. You aren’t left with many adjustments to make or challenges other than where to surf that day, what to have for lunch and how many Banks beers you’ll have before switching to rum and Sprite – it just leaves you with the question ‘why aren’t we living here instead?’ Surrounded by your nearest and dearest in strangely familiar environments, you end up doing what you’d normally do but under a blue sky in your shorts.
We’re definitely going back to Barbados – even if the surf doesn’t pump like it did this time it won’t matter because the trade winds should be howling and we never got to see the proper potential of the kitesurfing there.
For the whole thing including flights and vehicle rental I reckon you’re looking at around £2.2k per person for 17 days in paradise. If surfing great waves against a backdrop of modern living with all your usual conveniences attached, this is it!