THEY had waited months for this — the “clean” waves breaking at the right angle, at the right height, and with the right velocity. The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy’s fury was a surfer’s dream, especially those fearless few who congregated in Bull Bay, St Andrew.
Their enthusiasm as they frolicked in the rough seas wasn’t hard to miss against a backdrop of the destruction that befell sections of the community last Wednesday.
“Yeah man, we love it. Except for the robbery and the damage, we glad for the hurricane; Is the nicest time fi we,” said a soaked 27-year-old Joel Lawrence, flashing seawater from his auburn locks. He is the oldest of four surfers who Thursday tackled the treacherous 15-foot waves left behind by the category one storm.
Lawrence’s joy was a stark contrast to the demeanour of about a dozen men working hard to clear a drain which emptied out on the beach near the Copa Club in the community. The drain, a narrow, open, concrete channel, was blocked by tons of sand, causing widespread flooding in a nearby community.
As sweat dripped from those men’s faces, Lawrence wiped salt water from his, dividing his attention unevenly between the Jamaica Observer’s questions and the huge swells which crashed onshore.
“You see, surfing is not like basketball, or football, or cricket; we don’t have a prepared pitch that we can go on anytime. We definitely have to wait on something like this, it’s like we have to be working with nature,” explained Lawrence. “We have to just come out and capitalise on it. It’s early time now, but later down we will have a lot more surfers coming in from Kingston,” he said.
“One thing about surfing; it draws a lot of people together,” he smiled, clutching his life-size surfboard under his arm.
Lawrence watched as the waves flung his friends — the youngest, a 14-year-old he identified as Ronald — about. At intervals Ronald’s board spun out from under his body and his skinny frame disappeared beneath the churning white waters.
He resurfaced safely seconds later, ending a nerve-racking rush of anxiety.
There were no lifeguards around, but the surfers were unperturbed.
“All of us are our own lifeguards, we look out for each other out here. So we are not really afraid. People look at it as fear but we look at it as joy,” said Lawrence. “The hardest part is making sure that you can hold your breath when you get wiped out (lose balance). You have to practice holding your breath as long as possible under the water and try to swim back to the surface,” he continued.
Ronald’s explanation offered little comfort, however, as the waves crashed harder on the beach. A brief tutorial was even less pacifying, following his pronouncement that some surfers braved the sea’s fury as the hurricane made landfall the day before. Then, the waves were roughly 30-feet high, he said.
Among those who ventured out during the storm was Icah Wilmot, four-time National Junior, and five time National Open surfing champion. Wilmot, a certified surf instructor and coach, also seemed unmoved by the damage to a nearby bar and other properties along the debris-littered beachfront.
“The waves are very clean right now; they are breaking nicely along the coastline. What we are looking for are the waves that break the cleanest and those that have the highest wall,” said Wilmot, noting that those waves normally come after a hurricane.
He said that he and four others went out Wednesday morning and surfed until about an hour before the hurricane hit. They only ceased when strong winds and towering waves made paddling out too much of a crucible. “The waves (on Wednesday) were about three times this size; it was like life and death kind of danger. Those waves will roll you under and drown you easily,” Wilmot said laughingly, adding that of the five persons who ventured out to sea only he and one other stayed until conditions had made it intolerable.
Asked how he felt about the danger, Wilmot responded: “It’s just like a man that love to drive cars; he gets a rush of adrenaline when he presses out a car on a highway. It is the same rush we get, it’s only that we are on the sea.”
The adrenaline rush Wilmot spoke of seemed to glimmer in Lawrence’s eyes when he saw a huge wave about to break onshore.
Clutching his surfboard, Lawrence brought the interview to an impromptu end, darting out to sea.
He glanced back once, shouting: “Yow, is a 15 (foot) that enuh!” before jumping on his board and paddling out to meet the misty swell.