Tag Archives: Puerto Rico

Betsy gets a… shortboard?!

2016 is my ten year ‘Surfaversary’. What is a surfaverasary? Well it’s when you celebrate your relationship with surfing! I even gave myself a surfaversary present. I’ve spent my first decade pretty dedicated to longboarding, telling people who harass me about getting on a shorter board that I’ll move to a smaller board when I master my log. Then I follow that by explaining that I don’t think I’ll ever do such a thing as there is too much to learn and even when you think you have a decent grasp on it, the creativity you can bring into logging never ends. From lines to footwork, where you can go with your longboarding is limitless. Plus, I could talk all day about how beautiful, graceful, and timeless I think logging is.

All of that being said, three things happened over the last year that put a couple of fissures in my rock solid devotion to logging. The first was having some local girls come to Surf Camp, get super stoked on surfing and (mainly due to their stature and definitely NOT because longboarding isn’t the coolest thing around) promptly start riding short boards. Technically I suppose they’re mostly funshapes and midlengths, but still they’re all at least two feet shorter than anything I’ve ever tried to ride. Striving to be the best coach I can be, I wanted to be able to relate better to these girls and their experience in the water. It was easy to talk with them about looking for the peak and determining wave direction, but I couldn’t relate to their struggles with simply paddling into the wave. I would try to paddle with them in an attempt to set a paddling pace, but two strokes on my 9’2 and I was five yards ahead of them on their smaller boards. I started to paddle out on our 7 ft camp board in order to be closer in board size to the girls. And then, to my surprise, I started to have fun on it.

The second thing came about from that Surfaversary gift to surf with the lovely Leah Dawson in Puerto Rico. Leah spent most of her time on a singlefin shortboard, drawing the most beautiful lines and showing me that shortboarding doesn’t have to comply with what the surf media tells us it is. I thought of shortboarding as fast, tight turns with lots of ugly pumping in between sections. Leah showed me that with the right equipment, you can draw really smooth lines on shortboards and get just as creative with your surfing as you can on a longboard. As inspired as I was by Leah on her shortie, I came home and ordered a new, but very traditional longboard, still focused on improving my logging. I’m stoked on my new log, but I couldn’t help but keep thinking about the potential of a smaller board and all the days I could surf that aren’t conducive to longboarding (because we all know that I don’t surf enough already, right?!)

The third and final breakthrough was meeting Justin Laird. I met Justin, of Laird Surf Craft, in the water last year, right around the time that Surf Asylum Surf Camp decided to set up at Log Cabin, basically taking over the spot closest to his house (and shaping room). He was kind enough to let me try one of his displacement hull boards one time which piqued my curiosity about his shaping. I’d never ridden a hull and didn’t appreciate the differences between his longboard and mine until I paddled for a perfect wave, spun out on the take off and lost the board. What was this hull and how did it manage to toss me off on a glassy thigh-high peeler? Justin gave me a couple of pointers and I managed to hang on to a couple of speedy lines, but was more than happy to hand off the board, still trying to wrap my mind around how a board could be SO different than anything I’d ever ridden. Since that day we’ve always taken a few minutes to chat about waves and boards when we see each other out. I knew Justin was making his own boards and was really enthusiastic about the hulls, but recently I had noticed him and some other local surfers on other less traditional shapes, mainly fishes and weird, short, stubby looking things that he was making. That’s when it crossed my mind that Justin might be the guy to make my first shortboard. So I asked him if he was interested. Five minutes later we had a design plan.

A week later I was in his shaping bay, watching him bring my 6’6 Wayne Lynch inspired singlefin (You didn’t think I was going to get one of those potato chip thrusters did you?) to life. He told me before we got started that he believed in positive energy and vibrations and that he felt really good when he was cutting the initial outline of the board. I told him I believed in the same types of things  and watched, mesmerized, as Justin took a barely recognizable chunk of foam and turned it into a functional piece of art. It’s apparent in each stroke of the planer and brush of the sandpaper that Justin is not only really talented, but genuinely loves shaping. He had a smile on his face the whole time, pleased with the harmony between his movements and the resulting shape of the foam. I had a smile on mine reveling in how cool it is when being in the right place with the right people and being open to new experiences can bring about great things.

Justin’s gonna put a cool acid splash on the bottom and the board should be ready for the water soon. Stay tuned for more as I try to chronicle my attempts at learning to ride a (MUCH) smaller board. Deepest thanks to my students and Leah Dawson for the inspiration, to Justin for being genuinely excited to make this board and putting some heart and soul into it, and last, but never least to David for always encouraging and supporting me, wherever surfing take us.

Expanding hearts and minds at the Earth Missions/Leah Dawson Next Level Surf Retreat.

Mindlessly scrolling Instagram a month ago, I was notified that I’d been tagged in a comment on a post announcing that one of my favorite surfers, the inimitable Leah Dawson, was hosting a ‘Next Level’ Surf Retreat in one of my favorite places, Rincon, Puerto Rico. I casually read the post to David who immediately asked, ‘When?’ followed by ‘How much?’ I read him the dates and then dismissed the whole thing by stating that it was probably more than I could afford on short notice. The next day David asked me again how much it would be and again I mumbled something about probably not being able to afford it. Thankfully for me, David insisted that it was an investment in myself and my surfing, as well as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and affectionately kept pushing me to find out more details. Long story short, in a matter of a few days, I went from planning out the next few months for Surf Asylum to planning a five day stay in Puerto Rico.

I’ve been a fan and follower of Leah on social media for a few years now. Her style is hers and hers alone. She balances grace and strength with creativity seamlessly. Social media told me that we shared a few other passions and interests, namely clean eating, clean oceans and promoting a platform for women’s surfing outside of the current industry standards. Still, you never know what you’re going to get in person once the online filters are removed. When I was contemplating the retreat, I knew that it would either be ‘okay’ or ‘EPIC.’ You can’t really go wrong with spending a few days in Rincon, so I knew it wouldn’t be terrible.

It was EPIC! It was beyond EPIC. From the first embrace, seconds upon meeting, it was clear that Leah was the real deal. She walks her talk. I spent the first forty eight hours in a bit of fog as I couldn’t quite believe that I was living and surfing with one of my heroes. Nor could I believe the late season swell that showed up the day we landed. There I was, in one of my favorite places on earth, with one of my favorite surfers and the waves were a Florida loggers dream, starting out waist to chest high, peaking a little over head, hovering waist to chest for two more days and fading to one of the funnest knee high sessions I’ve ever had. Celebration inserted itself as the theme of the trip as every session became more about deepening our personal relationship with the sea than trying to out perform our sisters and brothers. The whole trip ending up feeling like a non stop party and not the kind of party you regret the next day, but one you never want to end.

I’ve been working really hard in the last year to refine my style and improve my positioning on the wave, so when I booked the retreat, I did it from a purely selfish standpoint of wanting to improve my own surfing and get critique and tips from a pro. One of my best friends was coming along, but aside from her I never gave another thought to who else might join the retreat. I was surprised and then stoked to meet two other participants while we were boarding our plane. Turns out they were from Jacksonville and we had surfed together before though we didn’t really know each other. It only took a couple of hours to realize that one of the highlights of the trip would be connecting with like minded men and women from all over the U.S. and Caribbean. The surf sessions were a blast, but the meal time round tables were an unplanned treat as we all bonded over incredible food and enlightening and entertaining conversation. Each person had their unique passion and information to share and I got up from each meal with a full belly and even fuller heart. It was so inspiring to be around such a caring group of individuals who put aside self and cared for issues bigger than themselves.

The daily routine was to get up as early as possible and get the longest session possible before the trades (and late sleeping Rincon crowd) got on it. If you haven’t been, most of the spots are reef breaks and break faster and a tiny bit steeper than Florida. There were many, many Maria’s sessions, but we also got in a few hours at Surfers Beach and Domes. On the biggest day, with Tres Palmas breaking and Maria’s in the 8 – 10 ft range, Kahlene, my best surfing friend/travel partner/sister and I went up to the bay in Aguadilla and scored chest to head high perfection at one of our favorite spots. I only ride my log and I find the conditions to be great for noseriding as long you can manage the speed (I’m still working on it). I had some really epic hang fives though I bailed on a few as the waves quickened and steepened up on the inside.

It was a joy to be in the water with Leah and the other surfers. Everyone had their own style and approach to the waves, but we all shared the same positive energy in the water. Each session was full of laughter. Everyone cheered for each other. There was no ego. Everyone was appreciated for who they were and where they were in their surfing. Simplicity was applauded. Stoke radiated in the air.

I learned more than I could ever put in this blog, but I did have a really profound moment that will me make a better surfer and a better coach. We were lucky to have someone film a few of our sessions and even luckier to be able to review the footage with Leah. It was late afternoon on the last day of the trip when myself and three of the other girls gathered around a table as Leah went through each of our waves and offered up her praise and gentle suggestions for improvement. She was talking with our youngest member, Becca, about positioning when I heard her mention to try getting closer to the heart of the wave. “The heart of the wave.” The words echoed in my mind. I mentioned I’ve been working really hard on positioning. I know I need to be deep on the take off to set up a noseride. I know it’s useless to try and walk the board out on the shoulder, that the most technical maneuvers can only be pulled off in the steepest part of the wave… but I’ve always thought and used the terms ‘peak’ or ‘power’ and though I knew I needed to be close or quite literally in this spot, I’ve always been wary of it. In the back of my mind, the peak or power has been a bit of a scary place. I knew that’s where all the energy was, but I’ve been afraid I might not be able to control it. When I heard Leah replace ‘power’ with ‘heart’, I felt my fear crumble and fade away. My mind expanded. Hearts are for loving. Hearts are life givers and safe places. Now instead of inching closer with caution, I’ll embrace moving into the heart of the wave, a loving spot that can help me surf my best.

I’m filled with gratitude for this trip. I’m thankful for the incredible friends I made, for the conversations and laughs we shared, for the beautiful environment we played together in. Thank you to Leah Dawson and Tom Werner of Earth Missions for putting this together and giving so much of yourselves. Thank you to the sea herself! We celebrate you!

Steps to Surfing Tres

David surfing Tres Palmas

It’s a long paddle out to the line-up at Tres Palmas from Steps Beach, but feeling ready to surf the break was a much longer process. The last time I was in Rincon, PR was almost 12 years ago during spring break. On that trip I experienced one day that was on the edge of what my board could handle. On this trip there were 5 or 6 days on that edge and for at least 3 of those days I would have had a lot more fun on a 6’6” or 6’10” at Maria’s, Dogman’s or Pistons. The day I surfed Tres the swell was essentially 10 ft. @ 15 seconds and it seemed like my options were either rent a board big enough for Tres or spend the day watching from the beach.

A couple days prior to the swell I told everyone I was 50/50 on whether I’d surf Tres this trip. When it started to seem like Tres was going to be the only break in Rincon that could handle the size I started listing reasons why I thought I could do it to get in the right headspace:

David preparing to surf Tres Palmas (1)

I successfully scratched into two waves on my 6’1” at Dogmans the night before when it was 6 to 8 ft. @ 14 to 15 seconds. In Florida the surf from hurricanes Irene and Sandy was heavy but I hadn’t experienced anything close to the kind of deep water waves I was going to see out there since my time living in Southern California. This was the most important thing I did to feel prepared.

During my last year in Encinitas, CA I was surfing Blacks Beach a lot. I was a regular face in the line-up and had a 6’6” made that I thought would go better than my standard shortboard when it was around double overhead. This experience gave me a much better frame of reference on what to expect than I had during my first trip to PR. There is a type of wipe out (or sometimes a wall of water to get through) where you patiently bide your time under water to conserve air until a moment when attempting to get to the surface is less futile. Blacks taught me that.

Taylor Knox’s SurfFit and Yoga for Surfers featuring Rochelle Ballard were part of my routine in the two months leading up to the trip. As much as I like to consider surfing my gym these exercise programs showed me that my core could be a lot stronger with focused surf specific exercise than from just surfing Florida waves a couple times a week. We started a fitness regimen a couple months before the trip to get the most out of our money and time spent in PR and it was one more reason I felt like I could be confident out in the water pushing my limits.

I surf decent-sized windswell in 55 degree water wearing a 4:3 wetsuit regularly. One thing I couldn’t duplicate or work on in a land based program however was paddling. By the second week of the trip I was extremely confident in my paddling and swimming and I credit that to paddling out in ugly, head high Northeast wind swell in my 4:3 every chance I got before the trip.

Bobby of Mar Azul Surf Shop helped me get my equipment dialed. As soon as they opened that morning he put me on a heavy glassed 8’8” by local shaper Jose Muniz with a hand tied big wave leash from a company called Stay Covered out of Oceanside, CA. He bragged about the leash as I hooked it through both leash plugs on the board and after seeing scores of broken leashes that day I was glad I had one worth bragging about.

I was told that riding a big wave board was like riding a longboard. In the year leading up to this trip I’d been longboarding whenever conditions seemed to call for it which was nearly as much as I was shortboarding.

There were other people out. Once in the water I was grateful for the light crowd. The wave was so far out to sea that finding a line-up and figuring how far out you needed to sit to be safe was daunting. I observed that there were at least three places or distances out that waves would break and it was incredible how big the waves that were too small to break were when you were sitting in the right place.

David preparing to surf Tres Palmas (2)

Despite all of my preparation, big wave surfing was like learning to surf all over again. I looked to others to figure out where to sit, when I put my head down and committed to paddling for a wave I was so focused that it was hard to keep track of everything going on around me, I acted much more on sensation than awareness, and the proper level of fitness was extremely important. Hopefully this experience is one more step in pushing the limits of my personal surfing. Next time I’ll be looking to go a little bigger and a little deeper than before.

It’s all… Swell?!

Woke up to a fresh swell pushing into Rincon this morning with the buoy slowing working it’s way up to about 7@15.  I’m telling everyone who will listen that in the five previous trips I’ve made down here, I have never seen so much swell! I had even joked with David on the way down that there would be days that he was going to wish he had a longboard. The joke seems to have been on me, as most days it’s simply too big for me to get out. Even the more sheltered breaks up in Aguadilla are seeing overhead waves during the peaks of these recent swells. Can’t a girl just get a cruisy, shoulder high, right point to practice her noserides on?!

Hazy Maria’s at dawn…

Marias, 02/17, Buoy 41115 6.9@15.4

I cruised up to the Lighthouse (Punta Higueras) to get some shots from above.  The monster on the right is pushing in from outside Indicators and then wrapping around the point to Marias. (David’s actually inside the wrapping wave on the left, he’s just so tiny, you can’t see him.)

Lines Wrapping, Marias, 02/17, Buoy 41115 6.9@15.4

We had a brief rainbow pop up over Indicators this morning.

Rainbow blessing the fresh swell

Another view from the Lighthouse, showing all the different peaks from Marias to Dogmans.

Lines, wrapping. Marias, 02/17, Buoy 41115 6.9@15.4

Wave, sucking up on the point at Marias.

The Point, sucking up. Marias, 02/17, Buoy 41115 6.9@15.4

The swell is supposed to peak around noon today and I don’t think I’m the only one hoping this afternoon and tomorrow have something a little more manageable.

Freaky Friday Swell

With the forerunners of today’s swell starting to trickle in late yesterday afternoon, I wanted to run into Aguadilla and check my favorite ‘the waves are huge, I need a sheltered spot’ wave. Turns out the direction must have been just right to push into my spot because I expected some fun little loggin’ waves in the thigh to waist range and was greeted with head high perfection. I scored about a dozen beauties before the wind and crowd each wreaked their havoc.

We drove straight up to the Maria’s lot from Aguadilla after my surf to see how much swell had filled in throughout the afternoon. Rincon had basically doubled in size from the morning and David thought he should paddle out at Dogman’s, “just to get a good look at what’s going on out there.” He’s the tiny dot in the 4th pic down with waves pushing into the double overhead range.

We woke up this morning to a buoy reading of 9.2@15.4 seconds and after checking Maria’s and the Tres Palmas look out, went straight to my friends at Mar Azul Surf Shop to rent David something bigger than his 6’1″. The owner of Mar Azul, Bobby (super cool, knowledgable guy with rental boards, a shop and apartments to rent) told David not to even think of anything less than 9′ and told us with the high percentage of breakage on Tres board rentals, you pay the price of the board up front and get a refund when you bring it back in one piece. Slightly ominous?

Just after he told us that another friend stopped by and pointed out that it was Friday, the 13th.  Freaky Friday!  The waves were freaky, freaky big and freaking beautiful.

The following images were all taken this morning, 02/13/2015.

When Tres is breaking, traffic gets a little backed up on the 413.

I didn’t have quite the equipment I needed to get a good zoom on the line-up, but I saw David charging a few during both his sessions. Hopefully someone with a bigger lens got a few of him and we can share them in a future post.

Why didn’t I run back into Aguadilla to my not so secret spot? I was pretty excited to see David surf Tres for the first time and I’ve got a little chest congestion I’m trying to kick so I can enjoy the rest of the trip. The forecast is pretty solid for our last eight days, so I’m sure I’ll be putting in my time around the Rincon and Aguadilla breaks.  Anyone who’s ever seen Tres break (or Waimea or Pipe or any giant challenging wave) knows that it’s enthralling just to be a spectator when the ocean decides to put on a show.


Here we go, again!

After a lay day yesterday that took us over to San Sebastian for the Gonzalandia Waterfalls, the forecast is calling for increasing swell and favorable winds this afternoon, with another BIG day on tap for tomorrow (not to mention what’s currently lined up for next Tuesday!). Full report and pics to follow…



Puerto Rico Living

Waves, everyday?!

Coming in with our Florida goggles on, David and I pretty much feel like we’ve scored the jackpot thus far.  The waves have  been rideable everyday, with everything from waist to chest to double overhead. Today and tomorrow are the supposed smaller, flattest  days in the forecast and yet we managed to find Middles doing this, this morning:

Middles, Puerto Rico, February 10, 2015

We’re up before dawn each day for a quick pre-surf yoga, followed by a couple cups of coffee for me and a giant bowl of oatmeal for David.  We’re in the water by daybreak and as long as the wind cooperates, try to surf until noon. Afternoons are brutal in the sun, so we use that time to relax, prep things for dinner and catch up on work.  The image below is Maria’s from last Monday… hard to tell in the pic, but basically 8-10 ft.

Maria's, Rincon, PR February 02, 2015

While David would be happy if everyday were 8-10 ft, I prefer something more like the image below, say in the 3-5 ft range. I did have someone tell me yesterday that I dropped into a “triple story” wave, but I think they were trying to say triple my size.

Maria's February 02, 2015

The late afternoons and evening sessions have been nice, with mellower crowds and enough clouds to keep the setting sun from blinding us.  Surfing until dusk, we saute up some fresh veggies to go with the rice and beans we made in the afternoon and are asleep by nine, ready to wake up and do it all over. I must say, it hasn’t started to get old yet.

Good Morning Maria’s

Maria's, Rincon, Puerto Rico

Well, we didn’t actually ‘wake-up’ in Rincon, because we never went to sleep.  After two flight delays (SO thankful that our flight delays aligned themselves so that we didn’t miss our connection), we didn’t wind up in touching down in Aguadilla until 5:00 a.m. Pretty much perfect for getting the rental car, driving to Rincon, stopping at the bakery for coffee (Punta Mar,  my personal favorite) and pulling up to Maria’s just as the sun started to sneak over the hills and light up the horizon.

Maria's, Rincon, PR February 02, 2015

There was a hightide at dawn, but as soon as it started backing out, Maria’s was ready to show off all of her goods.



Looking Back – Puerto Rico

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 betsy@surf-asylum.com.

Wonder what the waves are doing in Puerto Rico? 

Need accommodations, rent a step-up, fill up on wax or just talk story?