Travel Tips & Features

Surf’s Up in Jamaica!


Surfing is one of the oldest sports, which requires its participants to be athletic and possess the ability to understand the flow of nature.
The sport of surfing or wave sliding originated in Western Polynesia more than 3000 years ago. The first incident of surfing was reported in 1769 by Joseph Banks on the HMS Endeavor, during the first voyage of Captain James Cook. History has suggested that the original surfers of our times were Fishermen, because they rode the waves in order to secure their catches for the day.
 Surfing began as part of the Polynesian culture with Hawaiians considering it to be the sport of Kings. For many Hawaiians surfing was more than just a hobby or an athletic event. It was an art which eventually became an integral part of the Hawaiian culture and lifestyle.
“He ‘e nalu” also known as wave sliding was usually associated with upper class Hawaiians, who gained respect through mastering “wave riding” on their surfing expeditions. During earlier times in Hawaiian history surf boards defined one’s place in society. The sport was never undertaken without the surfers praying to gods for protection and strength from the boisterous sea. There were three types of trees that were used to make boards, Koa, ‘Ula and Wiliwili. Once the tree was chosen, the surfer would enlist a craftsperson from the village to dig the tree out and place fish in the hole as an offering to the gods.
Even though Hawaii and the South Pacific have gained notoriety for the sport, there are also Caribbean countries that have excelled by participating in Surfing Events.
Jamaica is one of the islands that have made great strides in surfing. Since it is an island located in the Caribbean Sea, south of Cuba, Jamaica has the ideal conditions and climate for surfing enthusiasts. Although it has a prominent heritage of surfing, many people are unfamiliar with Jamaican athleticism in regards to the sport.  Jamaica is well known for its cuisine, music, track stars and bob sledding teams, however, very little is usually mentioned about Jamaican aquatic sports.
Similar to the “make-shift” endeavors of the Jamaican Bob Sledding Team, the first surfing pioneers in Jamaica made their surf boards with old refrigerator doors, foam laminated with resin and fiber glass, draped with cloth and black electrical tape resembling racing stripes.
Jamaica also has a prominent Surfing Association which boasts professional surfers such as, Imani Wilmot, (The first daughter of Surfing), Jacquiann Lawton-Yearwood, Natali Zenny, Elim and Esther Becford, Cecil Ward, Steve Solomon, Dennis Piggot, Leighton Powell, Paul Blades, and Tim “Apache” Chin Yee.
Jamaica’s surf season lasts approximately eight months and The Jamaica Surfing Association holds competitions on Boston Beach in Portland as well as in St. Thomas. Their upcoming event, The 2011 Makka Pro Surfing Festival, will be held on July 29th-30th at Makka Surfing Beach, Southhaven, Yallas, St. Thomas. The two day tournament promises riveting competition and exhilarating entertainment for all.
The Jamaica Surfing Association and The Jamnesia Surf Club currently conducts surfing camps for girls and young children. Their “Surf Like a Girl!” Camp is hosted by Jamaica’s Female Surfing Champion, Imani Wilmot.
For those who have often admired the sport and would like to courageously venture into the deep, blue waters, there are four types of boards that may be considered:
The paipo-kio used by children
The alaia or omo- mid-sized board, for strongest, most skilled rider to aggressively conquer waves
The kiko- bigger board- good for bigger surf, requires skill
The olo- long surf board (reserved for Royalty)
Besides swimming gear, the only other thing needed is courage. Therefore, the next time you visit Jamaica, grab a surf board and ride the waves!
Maholo Dudes and Dudettes!

About the author

Margaret J.Bailey