Surfing St Barth

Surfing St Barth

A few years ago, my wife, Marissa, surprised me with tickets to Puerto Rico for Valentine’s Day and dubbed it a “romantic weekend getaway.” As a surfer, I was conflicted: I questioned if I should bring my board. I had surfed Puerto Rico before. Did I really need to bring my board down on our “romantic weekend getaway”? Would it be the equivalent of a cad making February 14th dinner reservations for himself, his wife, and his mistress?


At the last minute, at 3:30 in the morning, I grabbed my board and departed for the airport. Thanks to one particular airline, with its overcrowded baggage line and long wait to clear security, we nearly missed our flight and my board didn’t make it down to Puerto Rico in time for the weekend’s best swell.


So this past summer, on our trip to St. Barth for our babymoon, a weekend that would be dedicated to those final days when it would only be me and Marissa, I decided to leave my board at home. (Not to mention, we were flying that same airline, at the same ungodly hour, and I didn’t want the same hassle.)


One Hour in St. Martin Layover Paradise


After the Jumbo Jet dropped us in St. Martin, we transferred to a small charter plane, as big planes are unequipped to land on the abbreviated St. Barth runway. The little plane took off and Marissa had the vomit bag open on her lap and breathed as if practicing Lamaze. “This doesn’t feel right,” she said, digging nails into my hand, presaging the pain I would feel in the delivery room.


As we approached St. Barth, I looked down on the island and spotted three surfers riding an offshore reef wave. I should have brought my board, I thought, wishing I could have added surfing St Barth to my list of waves. “You’re right. It doesn’t.”


“What!” Marissa shouted.


“Oh. No. Nothing. I mean, everything is fine.”


We spent that first day sitting on St. Jean beach, sipping back drinks–cocktails and fresh-pressed juices–the latter beverage calming Marissa, the former forcing me to forget that clean little wave breaking on the nearby reef.


Just next to us were a few watermen renting out windsurf gear and kayaks.


“What’s the best place to surf on the island?” I asked them when I got too antsy sitting on the lounge chair.


“Twenty,” everyone said, (or that’s what I thought they said. St. Barth is a French island and everyone’s accent made the surf spot Toiny sound like the English number.)


“Today, because of the winds,” one surfer added, “this wave at St. Jean is best.”


I returned to my wife, who was watching to see if our now daughter, then fetus, would drag her foot across the belly. I placed my hand there to feel for activity, but she was at rest in the womb. In the distance, though, the sea was active. A wave birthed as it hit the reef. It began to peel left and despite the light onshore wind that picked up and chopped at the water’s surface, the wave was clean and traveled for about 50 feet before being reduced to whitewash.


“You could rent a board, if you want,” Marissa said.


“No. It’s our babymoon,” I told Marissa, pulling her in, tucking my chin into her neck, and cringing at the perfect little reef break in the distance. (I should also mention that St. Barth is pricey and the money I would have spent renting a board could have gone to purchasing our baby’s first few weeks of diapers.)


That night, at dinner, we were joined by the general manager of the Tom Beach Hotel and it came up in conversation–about two or three times, somehow–that I liked to surf and wished that I could get my hands on a cheap board.


“I have a few boards in storage,” said the general manager. “I will show them to you tomorrow. You can just borrow one.”


Twelve hours later, we went down into the storage room and maneuvered around endless crates of liquor to get to the ten waterlogged boards had been shoved into the corner. Every single neglected board had been cracked at the tail, where a good six to nine inches of glass was completely separated from the foam.


“We mainly use these for model shoots,” said the general manager.


Model Shoot on St. Jean Beach


Of the ten boards, only two had all its fins. Without a fin key, my options were limited. So I settled on a six-three board with the least amount of delamination. The foam on the top deck had been so compressed beneath the glass that the stringer felt like a shin bone against my sternum. With a roll of duct tape and a four dollar bar of wax, I made the board rideable.


I found Marissa on the beach. Clutching the board with one hand and fondling her belly with the other, I told her that I would only be an hour… maybe ninety minutes… with paddling out and back, it would be two hours at most.


Surfing St Barth


At the reef, I studied the white sand shoreline, where French expatriates waded topless and a Parisian model struck leggy poses as the twelve-person crew worked to get her the best light. The volcanic hills were lush and dotted with red, green, and white roofs. I sat and waited for the three-foot set waves to rise up in the turquoise waters, and pitch forward when it reached the dark reef that was painted with yellow plumes of organism.


Though the left-handers were small, each allowing for a few turns before the wave fizzled out, there were many other elements to the surf that got the adrenaline pumping, such as the windsurfers that hurtled in from the sides and the low-flying charter planes one hundred feet above. (With only fifteen or so paces separating the end of the airport runway from the ocean, by the time the airplanes made it over the reef, fishtailing and bucking with the currents of the air, it wasn’t hard to picture one of them crashing into the line up.)


But as the tide got lower, and the waves got bigger, and the reef got toothier, I asked one of the French kids for the time because my gravest danger was leaving my pregnant wife alone for too long during our babymoon.




Posted on by Noah Lederman in Canada & The Caribbean, Surf & Snow

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