General Travel

Surf’s Up in Jamaica!

Surfing is one of the oldest sports in the world. It requires its participants to be athletic and to understand the flow of nature.

The sport of surfing, also known as wave sliding, originated in Western Polynesia more than 3,000 years ago. The first written description of surfing was recorded in 1769 by Joseph Banks on the HMS Endeavor during the first voyage of Captain James Cook. History has suggested that the original surfers were fishermen who rode the waves to secure their catches for the day.

Hawaiians considered surfing to be the “Sport of Kings.” It was more than a hobby or athletic event. It was an art, which eventually became an integral part of the Hawaiian culture and lifestyle.

“He ‘e nalu,” or wave sliding, was usually associated with the elites in Hawaiian society, who gained respect by mastering “wave riding” on their surfing expeditions. In earlier times in Hawaii, surf boards defined one’s place in society. The sport was never undertaken without first praying to gods for strength and protection from the sea.

Three types of trees that were used to make boards: the Koa, the ‘Ula and the 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 remaining as an offering to the gods.

While Hawaii is well known for the sport of surfing, many athletes in the Caribbean have also shown a talent in surfing events. Jamaica is one of the islands that have made great strides in surfing. Jamaica’s location in the Caribbean Sea has contributed to ideal conditions and climate for surfing enthusiasts.

The first surfing pioneers in Jamaica made their surf boards out of old refrigerator doors, foam laminated with resin and fiber glass, draped with cloth and black electrical tape used to resemble racing stripes. Now there are four types of boards in use: The paipo-kio, which is used by children; the alaia or omo, a mid-sized board used by the strongest, most skilled rider to aggressively conquer waves; the kiko, a bigger board good for bigger surf that requires some skill; and the olo, a long surf board, which is reserved for royalty.

Jamaica has a prominent surfing association, which boasts professional surfers including 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. The Jamaica Surfing Association holds competitions on Boston Beach in Portland and in St. Thomas. One of the most popular events is the Makka Pro Surfing Festival held at Makka Surfing Beach, Southhaven, Yallas, St. Thomas.

The Jamaica Surfing Association and the Jamnesia Surf Club conduct surfing camps for girls and young children. Their “Surf Like a Girl!” Camp is hosted by Jamaica’s Female Surfing Champion, Imani Wilmot.

About the author

Stephanie Korney