After the death of Surfline head honcho Sean Collins, I realized how much my life has been influenced by him and his website. For the last 10 years I never made a decision about anything in my life without checking Surfline first. It never hit me how powerful that tool was until that day, and it’s hard to imagine how many surfers live the same way.
After chasing a swell to the west coast earlier this winter, I came home hoping to relax and do some gardening. But Surfline had other plans for me and a group of young bucks. While digging in the dirt and becoming one with my little plot of land, I received a phone call from Palm Beach, FL’s, Greg “Frothing” Badgley. “Yes grom?” I answered. He went straight into spouting info from Surfline: a northeast swell is hitting Puerto Rico at five to seven feet with variable winds, which could be fun for Middles and all of the spots around Aguadilla and Isabela. Then he told me that him and his boy Frank Roper would pay for my travel expenses, which sounded good to me. So I said, “Let me check the reports myself and I’ll get back to you with an answer.”
Sure enough, when I checked everything the grom was right: five to even nine feet of northeast swell at a short nine-second interval, which told me that it was a windswell. Not the best conditions for PR, but I could work with it. And you never know — with the right crew, I could strike gold. Now I needed to recruit a solid group to try and get some work done. I remember seeing St. Augustine’s Keto Burns make a comment on Facebook about going to PR that same week, so I hit him up. He was down with a new North Florida up-and-comer, Marley Peck. So that was four surfers and one photographer. Next I called Ryan Heavyside, who was at Surf Expo in Orlando. Tickets were cheap, so he was down for a short little island hop, and also said he could get a house in Isabela. That made six of us.
Next on the line was Jupiter gromzilla Giorgio “Romance” Gomez, who would be perfect to add to this group of young bucks. That would make seven. Sorry, Greg, that the photog is blowing up your trip. But that’s what happens when you invite a photo clown. The more talent, though, the more chances of getting the shot. If one surfer is having an off day, then most likely one of the other guys will pick up his slack. That’s how it usually works, going back and forth the whole trip and ultimately creating enough content for the possibility of a feature.
With that, we were ready to do it. We took the red-eye on Spirit Airlines, my favorite; rented a minivan and tied the boardbags to the roof… man, I hope we don’t get lost in some Puerto Rican ghetto at 4:00 in the morning. A lost minivan full of gear, money, and gringos could be a bad thing. Thank God Ryan had good directions, though, and we found the pad with no sweat.
The house was perfect — kind of hidden up in the hills of Isabela, with plenty of beds to sleep in for all of us. The wind was flowing onshore when we arrived, so there was no reason to get up two hours after we arrived to try and score dawn patrol lighting. Thank God, too, because we were all fried from that shady flight. But Ryan woke me up and we got the crew ready at 8:00 a.m. The wind was still blowing onshore, so we headed to Rincon.
When the wind is out of the northeast, there's nowhere else to go other than Maria’s and Domes, which turned out to be our best bet. Rincon was fun, kind of like a warm-up session for me and the boys. The waves were mushy and not really that great for photos, but we still surfed all afternoon, got something to eat, and called it a day. The next morning, the wind looked better for the Isabela area, so Middles was a little bit overhead with a good left for doing airs and turns — a little bumpy but still workable. The lighting was going in and out, so nailing good shots wasn’t easy for me… but that’s why they call it work. The whole trip took on that pattern of onshore and sideshore winds with variable lighting.
Of course, for a goofyfoot air guy like Keto or Giorgio, Middles can be a dream wave. With an against-the-grain left that always ends with a section to hit, and the famous northeast winds blowing in just the right direction, the board would just stay stuck to their feet like glue. Because of the size of the group and the conditions, we were very limited in which waves we could just show up and surf. Puerto Rico can be very localized and a bit dangerous at times, and you really have to know how to conduct yourself properly while visiting the island.
Here are a couple rules of the road: never leave anything in the car! Don’t go to spots that you don’t know about. PR is filled with many different types of waves, and if you’re a beginner or a longboarder, Rincon is perfect. With a long, running right point and an against-the-grain left, it can be very fun. Down the beach a little bit is Dogman’s, which can have a really fun left bowl. Then if you’re ready to make some drops and get shacked there are heavier waves that, yes, can even hold swells similar to Pipeline.
In my many years of traveling to Puerto Rico I’ve found a large variety of waves to surf and shoot. On this particular trip, we made the decision to stay and shoot in and around the Isabela area, mainly because Middles is a good wave for doing airs, and also because it was safer for me not to get hassled for shooting by locals. Past all of that, the landscape is beautiful and reminds me of Hawaii with its orange sand beaches, lush green hills, jungle-covered mountains and cliffs… It also holds some of the best blue-water barrels the Atlantic Ocean can offer. There is nothing like sipping a green coconut and eating a fried empanada while watching the waves crash into Puerto Rico’s shoreline rocks at Jobos.
It’s not the easiest place to score the best winds and the right swell for scoring tubes and water shots, which happen to be my favorite things to shoot. But with the right attitude and ambition, a windy, onshore day can produce gold. Sideshore conditions are good for airs anyway, which worked out fine with the crew that I brought — mostly goofyfoot up-and-coming young bucks that like to take to the sky. So in all in all I felt like I did a pretty good job at serving as their guide, photog, dad, chauffeur, and Barney for somebody to laugh at.