The first time I bought a plane ticket to Puerto Rico, I had only been surfing for a little over a year and my then boyfriend and local North Jetty ripper, Mike, told me I was crazy. He actually told me that over the phone, while he himself was in Puerto Rico with friends and I was home in Florida, wrapped up in sweaters and scarves and still experiencing a slight buzz of excitement over the progress I thought I had made with my surfing over the previous summer and fall.
He thought I was SO crazy and in over my head that he bought his own ticket and ended up being the guide, chauffeur, fish cleaner and board caddy. He was also severely outnumbered as me and three of my girlfriends embarked on a mission to prove ourselves (myself) in the crystal clear waves of Rincon.
Maria’s and Sandy Beach, to the dismay of surfers who have been surfing it for decades, is often crowded with beginners and surf schools and with not much more than a year of surfing behind me, I would have fit right in.
The first place Mike took us to paddle out was Middles. Anyone who’s been to PR or seen any media coverage of the place knows, no matter how confident she appears, Middles is NOT where you take your longboarding girfriend, who enjoyed the luxury of learning to surf on one of the mellowest waves in Florida. Middles is where Rip Curl held the 2010 Rip Curl Pro Search (where Kelly won his 10th World Title), it’s home to some of PR’s best high performance shortboarding and even when it’s small, it breaks fast, in shallow water, over sharp reef. See video evidence:
I didn’t know any better and was determined to prove I was worthy of the trip and to not get accosted by the reef I’d been overly warned about (fire coral?!) and so, jumped right on my board and paddled as fast and as hard as I knew how. There were no giant cold fronts moving off of Canada that week and in turn, no giant swell while we were down there. Instead my girlfriends and I traded waves in everything from knee to chest high conditions, really quite nice for my level at the time and our first introduction to reef breaks.
I found Puerto Rico to be the perfect break from North Florida winters, became enamored with reef breaks and ended up going back three years in a row afterward. Aside from escaping the cold, relishing time off of work and taking in the beauty of a tropical island, I found these trips to be tremendously helpful to my surfing. Not having the luxury of being able to go down on a moments notice and instead having to plan my trip out at least a month in advance, I never knew what type of waves I might be greeted with upon arrival and simply crossed my fingers and said a couple of prayers for something rideable.
I’ve been lucky so far and surfed everything from knee high ripples at Maria’s to overhead bombs at Wilderness and everything in between. There is more to surfing well than your performance on a wave and surfing unfamiliar spots with unfamiliar crowds improved my ability to read a line-up, forced me to learn to position myself better and insisted that I take off on some waves I just as well would have backed out of. I also learned to respect the surfers who call those waves home and how much could be learned through sitting back and watching, where they entered the line-up, their take off spot and the lines they drew. More than anything else, those previous trips to PR boosted my confidence. I was able to bring that back with me and apply it to my surfing at home, taking off deeper, attempting bigger turns and daring to begin my journey into noseriding.
It’s been four years since my last trip to PR, opting recently for California and Costa instead, but I’ll be heading back down next week and while I still have plenty of room for improvement, I think it’s safe to say that I’m a better surfer now than I was then. I’m looking forward to saying goodbye to winter and hello to the warm waters and tropical vibes of Isla del Encanto and I’m excited to see where this trip could take my surfing. I’ll be taking plenty of pictures and posting some recaps and highlights of my time there in the upcoming weeks. I know a lot of other Florida surfers head that way this time of year, so if you’re one of them, let me know. If you’ve got a favorite Puerto Rico story or memory, I’d love to hear that too! You can leave it in the comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.