Surfing in Barbados is a World Class experience.
Paddling out in the warm calm sea toward the mid-morning Sun. The rugged tourist-free vista of the Bathsheba coastline is the tropical backdrop of vintage James Bond. But when the Sun slides behind a cloud, my surf-guide is suddenly gone! The line of the cool blue horizon just jacks up, and up into a blue-black curtain of water stretching across the bay.“PADDLE! HARDER. Shouts my guide Jono; “GO LEFT. IF YOU GET CAUGHT ON THE INSIDE… DIVE… THROW YOUR BOARD AND DIVE! I’ll COME BACK AND FIND YOU…”
Is this a joke?
I make it over this curtain of black death and witness the impact of the rolling horizon barrel and peel rhythmically into white boulders of surf pounding the reef. Inside the tube stands one of Barbados’ surfing pioneers, Snake, recognisable by his grey Mohawk. One of this waves oldest friends and first through this new doorway barrelling before our eyes.
This is the Soup Bowl at its legendary best. Bathsheba coast’s grinding right-hand powerhouse of a wave. We had paddled-out towards a “chest-high” summer swell breaking over the slab. The charts showed a meter high promise of clean surf and the hurricane season has been slow to deliver. The deadly yet courteous rip current offered a fast track ride for myself and my local Bajan guide Jonathon Reece aka ‘Jono’ out-the-back with dry hair. But before we could swing right to the promised surf, the sudden and unexpected Jurassic effect of the North swell’s unscheduled appearance raised the game. Sitting out the back watching the locals, I had flash-back to duck-diving through the sloppy four foot onshore Watergate Bay surf in May. On the ‘panicometer’ these cold-water-thoughts felt like a comfort-blanket compared to the jacked-up horizon exploding before my eyes.
Barry’s Surf Barbados
How did I get here? Where is my beautiful (ex) wife? In the midst of unknown the Talking Heads lyrics are not really that helpful. Jono is a pro-surfer, a young local on the international circuit who recently came third in the Barbados Surfing Association Surfer of the Year Championship series. He works at Barry’s Surf Barbados with owner Barry Banfield and teaches lunatics from London to raise their game in the surf. We found Barry, whose Bajan accent is broader than Bridgetown Broadway, at his shed on Dover Beach the day before. I was looking for Surfer’s Point, the legendary postcard perfect left but had fallen foul to the signpost-less trauma of navigating around Barbados. I swapped numbers with “Baaaary” (that’s how they say it) and he booked me in for a lesson with Jono.
Before the horizon got jacked, Jono had guided me across the serrated reef and through the mine field of black sea urchins, through the rip and out the back before Soup Bowl lived up to its awesome reputation. “It can get big out here” said Jonno in his trusty blue truck on the way up the coast, “30 feet”. The truck had been like glue riding the rally track that bumped though the sugar cane plantations. On his phone, Jono’s Facebook page displayed blue cathedral roof sized barrels with little people riding inside. “It won’t be like this today, will it?” I had asked. “No, chest high. But you’re gonna get some good surf today, you won’t forget this place in a hurry… oh… my breaks, they’re not working!”
Before we turned onto coast road that wound down to Soup Bowl my adrenalin was already triggered; “sorry, only joking,” said Jono. The Bajan’s are natural wind-up merchants.
Back in the warm sea I am alive after the great escape from being caught on the inside. A stern local introduces himself as “the lifeguard”. He then says; “Boy, who let you out here? You shoulda stay at home. No place for you out here. Go home.” Then he turns round and says, “I’m joking, this is a special place out here, must respect it”. I do and so does Kelly Slater who places Soup Bowl in his top three waves. It’s easy to see why. This is not a laidback break for retro nose-riding and surfing on the slab was fun but the “chest-high waves” were bigger and heavier than what I’m used to. My guide knows his surf and my boardshorts are grateful for the local wisdom shared today.
Now back in the UK, every time I mention Soup Bowl, the same question pops up like the horizon did that day. Did I surf the big stuff barrelling across the reef? I’m a tourist and good God no I didn’t but Jonno beautifully summed up the experience; “You coulda ridden one of those waves if you wanted to. But it doesn’t matter. The best surfer, is the surfer is who is having the most fun.” Wow! Surfing in Barbados is the surfers dream, from big waves to longboarding bliss, this tropical island stays on wish-list.
Barry’s Surf Barbados offers lesson for all levels and surf holiday accommodation.