The Caribbean charts had been bouncing. Soon as our tickets were purchased I was sending out feelers. “Know any Puerto Rican bodysurfers?” Enoka was the only guy with a lead. We flew in as the first serious swell of the season was leaving town. The redeye was a blur, Storm of Swords and rum-cokes.
The Island of Enchantment, Puerto Rico, is where many East Coast surfers are first touched by big waves, baptism in the Atlantic. The northern half of the island wakes each winter to sweeping hurricane-swell borne off the coast of Africa. I read about razor sharp reef, searches for extra-terrestrials and a shallow history of deep Euro-American imperialism. All are reminders to remain a welcome guest in another’s home.
From the airport we drove east to a well-known reef in Pavones, an attempt to milk the last pulses of a mighty storm. On the sticky sand, the Rangers of the Wall felt the chill of the Whitewalkers and I fell to sleep. The waves were still small and scattered when I woke, but knowing I’d probably not be back, I swam out anyway. Maybe it was the lack of sleep or the heat, but I was gassed. The air stifled and the water offered little in refreshment. The boardriders regarded me with a silent nod and took little notice thereafter. I managed my way down a few lines, but remained keenly alert of the shallow reef. I accepted my welcome back to the Atlantic and waddled back to shore.
Rachel and I met with friends each night and site-hopped around the island. Arecibo, Puerto Rico is home to the world’s largest single aperture telescope. Scientists have been solving mysteries of deep space and listening for otherworldly wompers from this natural sinkhole for decades. Are there little green men with oblong shaped domes charging the frigid waves of Europa? We also spent time with nature scoring cave visions and getting waterfall shacked.
Miguel is my swell guide, thanks to Enoka. He was kind and welcoming, as were all of our other contacts. Off of the road, Puerto Ricans were warm and inviting. Behind the wheel, or worse, in the passenger seat I would have rather been swimming with a shark. The roads lacked in signage. The other drivers were comfortably aggressive, demonstrating little concern for following distances or stoplights. When I asked Miguel if he knew any other Puerto Rican bodysurfers he laughed. Still, as we met on Shore-Break Island he introduced me to Francisco and Antonio, bodyboarding twins who occasionally dabbled as torpedopeople. They were bodyboarding when I arrived, but happily ditched boards for a bodysurfing session.
While there were plenty of surfers, Miguel couldn’t name another hominid who regularly chose bellysliding. He had spent some serious time in Hawaii and makes it back at least once a year. It showed. Miguel launched into playful takeoffs flying through both air and water. He missed no opportunity to execute a spin either, using the wave’s bursts of energy to get a 360-degree view. The twins were hucking themselves into any lump of swell they could find and came up smiling. Each hooted the others into sets and drifted from to peak to peak. We were having so much fun the surfers couldn’t help but start to migrate closer.
I was blown away by the access we as bodysurfers had to peaks. There were huddles of surfers spread across the blue horizon on this pristine 3-4ft Sunday morning. Then I remembered 15ft surf just hammered these guys days ago, leftovers. One man’s trash… 3-4 foot barrels so clear you could see straight out to sea through the back of each wave. I asked Miguel about the crowd and he just gave a knowing smile. The appreciation is not lost on him, Puerto Rico’s lone bodysurfer.
The following morning Miguel and the rest of the coast opted for a return to work. This small stretch of coast that was brimming with surfers the day before was essentially empty. Rachel and I swam together, milking each glassy breaker before the fickle Atlantic winds stirred. Thousands of miles away from deadlines and meetings we played together once again.
We spent the last few days of our visit sipping wine with an old friend and his family. Sitting by the still Caribbean, watching the sun fall away, we ate Mofongo. A gang of stunning street cats swarmed us where we sat, attracted to Rachel. The technicolor sunset drenched a broken stretch of concrete reaching out to sea. We said our thank-yous and turned compass home.
Special thanks to Kike and the family for the amazing hospitality. Also to Miguel for sharing your home-break with Aloha.