Surfing St. Lucia, Or Determined to Ride Something of Nothing

Surfing St. Lucia

Eight meters of kite was tethered from my waist and I watched as it surfed the zenith. I punched left and maneuvered the kite toward nine o’clock, where palm fronds grabbed for my lines. So I punched right and brought the parachute back toward nine, just over the turquoise seas that ran toward Cape Moule a Chique and the pair of protected Maria Islands off the southern edge of St. Lucia.


It had been a full morning of learning the kite and practicing the body-drag across the sea; it was an introduction to kitesurfing. Then, suddenly, as if the hands of a grandfather clock had just fallen off the face and plummeted to the base, the kite dropped from the sky. The once billowing kite sat crumpled in the sea, sand, and weeds.


“The wind is gone,” said my kitesurfing instructor and we packed up the kite and lines and brought it all back to the Coconut Bay surf shack. “Next month this will never happen. From December to about April, there is hardly a day when the wind isn’t less than twenty knots.”


“What about the surf? Do you think that’s working today?” I had scouted out the reports online before arriving and they all had seemed as contradictory and unreliable as instructions drawn up by a first-grader.


“There are no waves in St. Lucia,” he said, but then corrected himself. “Maybe only with the storms.”


To the left and right of the kitesurfing school, however, I had kept my eye on the white waters that lifted off of a hidden offshore reef. It seemed that on the right day, if the winds ever shifted or if the swell approached from a different angle, the break would work.


“There are some places in the north,” my kiteboarding instructor added. “But they don’t work often and I doubt they are working now. I know of another place that people go to for paddleboarding, but I don’t think you will find waves to surf.”


My trips had always made surfing a priority. But on my last couple of visits down to the Caribbean, I had found no waves and was forced to ride paddleboards and learn the kites.


Despite my instructor’s skepticism, we loaded the boards into the Jeep and drove off the Coconut Bay property, passing empty beachside pubs and the lawless roundabout in Vieux Fort, the quiet, but largest city of the south. After traversing Vieux Fort, we drove north for a couple of miles and at the first yellow bridge turned a sharp left onto a dirt road. It curved like a J between a rusty old shipwreck and a palm-lined goat farm that doubled as a junkyard. To the right, goats chomped at grass growing around discarded tractors; to the left, murky looking water broke off of the hull, while the expanse of turquoise sat beyond the brown reef or polluted waters.


We got out of the Jeep and stood on the side of the island that faced the Caribbean Sea, watching as it culled in stray swells from the Atlantic. The tide lowered and the small wave that struggled to break found just enough shape and size to pitch forward with some authority.


“I think it’s rideable,” I said and watched a few more waves draw themselves to some conclusion.


“Look at that,” said the kiteboarding instructor impressed with the small swell even though he preferred the windier chop on the other side of Cape Moule a Chique, which was now positioned to our south. “I don’t know how much time you’ll have. It probably won’t work much longer as the tide gets lower.”


Surfing St. Lucia


I fastened a bodyboard leash to a string, which I then attached to the twelve-foot paddleboard. I made my way over the shallow reef. I noticed a few waves to the north foam up and trickle down a small wall that the swell had erected.


The unexpected distraction unbalanced me. The enlivened sea punched the butt of the paddle into my lip, splitting the inside of my mouth open with an unsuspected uppercut. I clotted the wound with my tongue and continued toward the take-off spot.


When I was there, I quickly caught a wave that reached up to my waist before chasing at my ankles. It spilled peacefully and parallel with the shore. It was a perfect little left. I paddled back into Vieux Fort Bay for more, waiting to get lucky again.


In the distance, the tail fins of an airplane prepared for departure, cutting between the mountains and the sea grapes along the shoreline. A few Caribbean-painted homes dotted the hills of Vieux Fort while the peaks to the north remained virgin. I looked back at the Jeep and wondered if there would be time to exchange the beast for a smaller board sans paddle. The currents and waves, however, had worked me to the north and the Jeep sat in the distance beside the rusty shipwreck looking like a mouse admiring an elephant carcass. Also, the shallow coral minefield that led toward a rocky shoreline littered with bamboo and bottles would be treacherous to cross. With the light winds, poor path back to the Jeep, and enormous board, I approximated that a change in equipment would take the better part of an hour.


But I wanted to surf St. Lucia… properly. And the waves that continued to break felt more ephemeral than most.


Another set approached, building itself to a respectable height. I spun the board and laid down, sandwiching the paddle between me and the deck. I paddled the barge with my arms. The wave launched me forward.


Popping up, I scooped up the paddle as if removing debris from the ocean. I dug in with my left foot and forced my right knee into the face of the wave, doing all the work without the paddle. The waters walled up to the left, and surely, steadily, the board followed along so that I could surf St. Lucia… properly.

Posted on by Noah Lederman in Surf & Snow

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