By Nathan Lockwood.
Cover image: @readypolofoto
“Bodyboarding here is a lifestyle that takes me to another dimension” Pascual Silverio.
The laughter and ruckus at our pool table came to an abrupt and strange halt. “No te muevas” said Carlos in a stern voice. I turned my head slowly and, on the wall, directly behind me was a Hispaniolan giant tarantula. With a deft flick of his pool cue Carlos brushed it to the ground and it scurried frantically out the door.
Welcome to the Caribbean.
The island of Hispaniola encompasses Haiti in its eastern third, the Dominican Republic in the west and is home to over 20 million people. Prior to the Spanish imperialists renaming of the island it was known as Quisqueya, meaning “mother of all lands” in Taíno (the former principal language throughout the Caribbean).
Politically, the shadow of the brutal military dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, who ruled with an iron-fist from 1930 until his assassination in 1961, remains present. Corruption and malpractice are unfortunately still widespread throughout the various bodies and institutions of government and state. Despite these political complications the people of the DR are by and large inherently welcoming, positive and optimistic.
Historically overlooked by surf travellers in favour of well-known setups in Puerto Rico the development of a burgeoning surf and bodyboard movement in the DR has exploded in the past two decades.
Whilst there are setups across the Atlantic and Caribbean coasts of the country, the scene is particularly concentrated in the stretch of coast between Puerto Plata and Cabarete in the north.
Prior to leaving for my 5-month internship in the capital Santo Domingo I was put in touch through a mutual friend to Dom Provost, a fellow UK based booger who had spent many years in the country. He gave me a brief lay of the land and an introduction to Pascual Silverio; one of the standout local riders and key proponents of the sport on the north coast.
The first blobs on the chart appeared in mid-September and I duly boarded the 5-hour bus from Santo Domingo to Sosúa. I was at the time unaware of the fact that the town of Sosúa occupied a place in the top ten red light districts in the world and consequently catered to a rather specific clientele. Immediately after disembarking the bus I was accosted by two ladies of the night and a ‘motoconcho’ (motorbike taxi), I chose the latter and was whisked away to my hostel in Playa Encuentro.
The swell failed to arrive at first light, so I hitchhiked back to Sosúa and sat drinking coffee at Playa Alicia, the spiritual home of Dominican bodyboarding which offers a deranged left-hand wedge, heavy shorey and a semi-rare right hand behemoth off the rocks known simply as ‘Rompe Cuello’ (literally Neck Break). I then waited for Pascual to show up and deliver his verdict on the best place to surf that afternoon.
“Que lo que hermano, vamos pa La Boca” shouted Pascual as he arrived on a battered scooter and seemingly with half of Sosúa’s boogie crew.
Hasty introductions were made and with five crammed into the back seat of a rickety old car we pulled up at La Boca to be greeted with long, peeling right walls as the swell filled in and golden hour began to set in.
In many places in the world, visiting wave-riders are given dirty looks, snaked, dropped in on and generally derided.
Conversely, my first surf in the DR was one of the most welcoming, jovial and light-hearted that I can remember with hooting, party waves and good vibes galore. Smoked, we wolfed down a “pica pollo” and I grabbed a motoconcho back to Encuentro.
The following morning, I rose in the pre-dawn darkness and made the walk down to Playa Encuentro, a lengthy expanse of beach which houses a host of the finest reefs the north coast has to offer. This particular long period northerly baring down from Florida was producing waves in the overhead to double overhead range at Coco Pipe, the region’s marquee righthander, which detonated powerfully along the shallow, urchin encrusted reef.
Cautiously and still without company I saw a break in the sets and made my way unscathed to the peak. Without any point of reference to line up on the land I opted to take off on a few shoulders until a short while later a local stand-up appeared and advised me to try and take off in line with a specific palm tree.
Three hours, several barrels, many beatings and one straightened leash later I made my way back to the beach thoroughly impressed with the power and intensity of the Dominican north shore and keen to check Playa Alicia that afternoon.
Whilst the various reefs around Playa Encuentro are frequented by all manner of wave-riders, Playa Alicia in the heart of Sosúa is almost exclusively the domain of local bodyboarders. The level of bodyboarding amongst the locals is impressive in the extreme. Another thing that struck me was the deep sense of community and how the older generation mentor and encourage up and coming groms.
Depending on swell direction, size, and tide the wedge at Alicia offers steep tubes, huge ramps and a right-hand shore-break further along the beach.
Whilst surveying the conditions at Alicia that afternoon I heard a shout and turned around to see local ripper and 6’7” gentle giant Alex Barroso marching down the beach. Alex is one of the most devoted bodyboarders I have ever met and Is perennially stoked on all conditions big or small.
He had these words to say about his beloved Sosúa:
“I go to Alicia every single day and I love it, it’s my playground.
One thing that must change around the north coast though is the police. During big swells they confiscate boards, act heavy-handed and create tension amongst locals and visitors”.
Sadly, I have first-hand experience of this when myself and a few other local bodyboarders had to bribe the local police to let us surf Alicia during a big swell. These problems with the police are also an unfortunate indication of wide levels of poverty and inequality within wider Dominican society, wherein local police supplement their low salaries through questionable practices.
During the recent Hurricane Teddy swell police were filmed confiscating boards and even arresting some wave-riders as they exited the water. The saddest part is that some locals cannot afford to pay the fine to release their boards or buy a replacement therefore depriving them of access to the ocean.
Despite these issues the DR remains an amazing place to be a bodyboarder and the scene is only going from strength to strength. I spent my five months working in Santo Domingo with one eye constantly on the forecast for the north shore and I lost count of the amount of times I made the journey to this special stretch of coast. Hasta la proxima.