Words: Pete Cabrinha / Photos: Stephen Whitesell, Pierre Carreau
It’s all about the day.
My eyes were cracked open by the sun arcing through the window around 6:30am. The trip started for me around 40 hours ago. The bulk of it thus far was spent on planes, taxis and boats. Standard issue for any surf trip worth its weight in saltwater.
However, this morning the sun was shining, the wind was blowing and there was surf on the reef. Andre Phillip, Susi Mai, Stephen Whitesell and I had traveled from all over the place to shoot our new Contra in St. Barth. Like most photo shoots there was an urgency to get things going, and with today’s epic conditions beckoning, we couldn’t wait to get on the water… but we had to start from scratch. Putting fins in boards while watching waves march through un-ridden was making me a little edgy. I couldn’t get out there soon enough. The large quantity of coffee running through my veins wasn’t helping the situation either.
I had recently been on a hectic travel schedule, which was a mix between business and family events. It seemed endless and I was looking forward to getting back home to get back into the water. Upon arriving back in Maui I was feeling pretty beat down but I shrugged it off as jet lag. For the next two weeks I would find that the jet lag would have nothing on the strange illness that I was going to endure. I got taken to the mat by a sinus infection that got me well acquainted with my new couch. I also learned that when Amoxicillin no longer works, that switching to Levoproxin does the job. I had only recently recovered from what seemed like an endless illness – today was going to be my first time on the water in close to a month.
As I finished putting the footstraps onto my new 5’3” surfboard, Dre was pumping the last breath of air into his new Contra kite. “I’m diggin’ this new Sprint system Pete,” he says as he put the cap on our new single point inflation system.
We threw our kites into the sky and headed out towards the “island”.
For the past two years I’ve been obsessing about this tiny little island with a wave breaking off the point. I’d heard that it was surfable, and also figured that the possibility for kitesurfing it was high. I was fixated on this idea. The island was a tiny green piece of volcanic rock with a boat wreck and two palms on it. It was an idyllic Caribbean set-up that would eventually draw me back. It was nameless, or so I thought…
As we headed out towards the line up it looked promising. But first we had to navigate a maze of exposed fire coral. What’s fire coral you ask? Well according to Susi, the name says it all, and she knows it all too well. A year ago she was planted on bed of fire coral that left her with a nice scar on her leg and another on her memory. Needless to say, we didn’t want to touch the stuff beneath us as we made our way past the exposed reef. That obstacle out of the way, we headed towards the wave, which was firing.
Dre is well known for his groundbreaking wakestyle riding – however, his freeriding skills are not to be downplayed. Watching him on the waves you get caught off guard by his relaxed Caribbean attitude that undermines the difficulty of the tricks he’s doing. I used to ask myself “What’s a guy like this, who has so much flow in his style doing riding such rigid platforms like sliders?” You would think that hitting a slider or kicker would confine his creativity - but when he ollies onto the rail, the whole movement becomes liquid and magic ensues.
I wasn’t surprised when, on our first session at this bending right-hander, which the depth of Dre’s talent expanded once again. He was so amped that we had scored this hidden treasure that he was terrorizing every wave in sight. I kept seeing shades of Larry Bertlemann in his attack. His low center of gravity with the dropped forehand on the cut back was a dead ringer for the 70’s surf star.
Susi, on the other hand was doing her freestyle thing in the surf. Unhooked, hooked, big air grabs, big lay out S-bends.... she was pulling them all. Susi is so comfortable in the surf that it is no wonder that she has won the Red Bull at Ho’okipa 3 years in a row.
Although I was trying to keep my eye on the team, I had my own agenda. It had been a long strange winter for surf in Maui and I was catching up for lost time. The waves were so perfect that I lost track of everything. Hours went by and Dre and I were still going wave for wave. I looked for Susi but she wasn’t around. I thought that she went in. Then I saw her stuck in the wind shadow of the island, drifting out to sea.
As I approached her, a gust of wind filled in and lifted her kite out of the water. She had been body dragging for an hour since she lost her board. The water was teeming with wildlife - I didn’t want to think about what she was attracting while doing this. I asked why she didn’t go in and she pointed to the bank of fire coral that was now exposed just inside the surf. I offered her my board but she instead wanted me to see if I could find her board. While I was looking for her board she managed to get herself back to the nearest shore. Unfortunately, the board was never found.
It was just about time to go in. I rode back out to tell Steven, who was hanging in the impact zone doing water shots. His eyes were big as saucers. He just had a huge shark pass right in front of him. Yep, party over. Between the exposed fire coral and the resident shark, it seemed like the right time to call it a day and see what tomorrow brings.
Back on shore, we found out that the island was named “La Tortu”… wrecked boats, fire coral, sharks…yeah, “The Turtle”...
The following days were a mix of riding, exploring the island by land and by sea, and taking in the local vibe. The St. Barth Beach Hotel was the perfect location to call home for the week. Centrally located in Grand Cul de Sac, it is close to just about everything. In the same bay, we found the local spot for the best drinks and Panini sandwiches on this side of the Atlantic. The Cocoloba is run by my friend Guy Mialon whose favorite line is “Do you have a couple more minutes”? What usually follows that line is some exotic drink that he whipped up. Of course there were many more “couple of minutes”. The place is frequented by a small core group of kitesurfers, in addition to a mix of locals and upscale tourists from the nearby hotels.
St Barthélemy is one of the most beautiful islands in the north Caribbean with a style and flavor all its own. It’s laid back French Caribbean attitude does well to make you feel like you’ve traveled half way across the world. The promise of perfect surf wrapping around a tiny island was enough for me to take a chance and plan a surf trip here. The delivery of perfect surf wrapping around a tiny island will ensure that I’ll be back.
St. Barth Info:
Where to stay:
We stayed at the St. Barth Beach Hotel, centrally located in Grand Cul De Sac. For reservations contact: Rosita Blanchard:
Phone: 0 590 27 60 70
Toll free (USA & Canada): 1 888 790 5264
The hotel can arrange for a car rental as well, through Turbé Car Rental: http://www.saint-barths.com/turbecarrental/. With locations at the airport and the hotel, Turbé has a fleet of cars that include 4X4’s and regular sedans. Allow $12 per day extra for car insurance.
Telephone: 0 590 27 60 70
Seventh Sky Surf Centre
Located right on the beach in Grand Cul de Sac, Enguerrand offers kitesurf lessons & rentals, along with scuba diving and wakeboarding.
Tel: 069 069 26 90
Some of the top locals:
Patrick LeGay & Orly
Le Ti St. Barth, Point Milou
Eclectic décor, nightly events (music, fashion shows, etc.) and excellent food make this restaurant a must.
Tel: 590 590 27 97 71
Le Bouchon, Lorient
05 90 27 79 39
Pizza, Sandwiches, Beer & Wine
Grand cull de Sac
Old Caribbean style feeling in this fun setting on the sand, under the sea grape trees. Beach BBQ for lunch. Manager Guy Mialon is one of the original kitesurfers in St. Barth.
Favorite drinks: Pink Sushi (Susi), Blue Caiprinha (Pete)
Food to try: Codfish Fritters, Panini sandwiches
For more general info: http://www.st-barths.com/