Surfing in Barbados | A Guide To The World’s Most Laid-Back Waveriding Destination
Escape the world in the perfect waves of Barbados
Words by Ben Mondy | Main photo: Getty
“Barbados is amazing, so cruisy and fun," Australian surfer Mikey Wright tells Mpora, sitting on white sand under a palm tree while watching the small lefthanders off a break called Bannons at Drill Hall Beach roll down a coral reef. Wright is a professional surfer, known for his signature mullet and his famous surfing siblings, Owen and Tyler.
“We’ve been staying around the corner at the Hilton, surfing and diving out the front, hitting the pool and driving over to the east coast to surf on lay days," Wright continued. “I have to keep reminding myself I’m here for the comp and not a holiday. I’m so laid-back I’m getting horizontal." When even hard-nosed competitive surfers are starting to go all vacay, you sense how this island can affect you.
Wright was in Barbados for the first WSL qualifying event to be held in there, titled the Barbados Pro. That competition was held on the Island’s south coast and featured a 100 of the world’s best young professional surfers. As with Wright, for many of them it was their first time on the island and the competition provided an excuse to explore an island that has something for every surfer.
"When even hard-nosed competitive surfers are starting to go all vacay, you sense how this island can affect you"
You don’t have to be an expert surfer to have fun in Barbados, you don’t have to be a surfer to be honest, but it sure does help. With three coasts, consistent swell, warm waters and friendly locals, this slice of the Caribbean is a true paradise. It’s a place to unplug, unwind and live for the moment. Oh, and drink rum, there’s plenty of that.
Wright had mentioned the east coast and it’s in the Atlantic Ocean windward side of the island where Barbados’s most consistent waves are found. Being only 21 miles long and 14 miles across, nowhere is more than an hour’s drive away. The drives from the south Coast to the east coast takes you from built up coastal development through the sugar cane-filled rugged interior and onto the more hilly, forested and wild east coast. Small towns with faded colonial plantation homes, ragged post offices and street rum shops dot the coast where the Atlantic swells crash into the rock-framed sandy beaches.
"Street rum shops dot the coast where the Atlantic swells crash into the rock-framed sandy beaches"
It is in one of these towns, Bathsheba, where Barbados’s most sparkly surf jewel lies. Called Soup Bowl, it’s a fast wrapping righthander that breaks over a sharp coral reef. Kelly Slater has called it one of his favourite waves in the world (he used it on the front cover of his biography) and it has featured in many a surf movie, its blue green barrels spinning with dreamy machine-like precision.
When I arrive, though it’s only three foot and ruffled by a light onshore wind, it looks incredibly fun. A mix of local kids, longboarders and salt-eyed holidaymakers are bobbing about in the blue warm waters. I hire a board from a shack opposite the break from a guy called Terry for 20 US Dollars and wax up. “If it wasn’t for the competition, there would probably be no one surfing," says Terry. “Crowds aren’t a problem in Barbados."
Even today, there are only ten people out and plenty of waves to go round. After a couple of hours and a score of fun waves I return the board. As a reward, I receive a cold Banks beer out of the icebox from Terry. We sit and watch the lineup, sipping on cold beer and drawing on a hot Barbados cigarette. It is this type of experience, as much as the surf that sums up Barbados. There is an ease of life, and an attitude of friendly inclusiveness, that warms your heart and makes you smile.
"After a couple of hours and a score of fun waves I return the board. As a reward, I receive a cold Banks beer…"
Terry told me there was more swell coming and so I make a snap call to stay nearby. The historic Round House is the most well known accommodation perched just above Soup Bowl, although its premier location and pedigree means rooms are around $180 a night. But guest houses Sea-U and Santosha are a short walk to the surf and offer a perfect relaxed surf break, on the most relaxed coast of a very relaxed island, so I spent a night in each.
After a few days on the east coast, surfing Soup Bowl and the more forgiving Sand Bank and Parlor breaks, I slipped into an easy rhythm. There’s not much to do on this east coast, except surf, read, walk, and sleep. That’s a rarity, for me anyways, and a treat. Your routine swings with the tides, your body clock aligns with sun’s movements. It’s a natural state of affairs, and a damned fine one.
With the swell changing direction though, and the fun of the other coasts calling, I end my trip by taking my time to circumnavigate the island. I surf Freights Bay, a cruisy lefthander near Oistins Bay perfect for intermediate surfers and follow it up with dinner at the Oistins Fish Fry. This is a market where swordfish, marlin and mahi mahi sizzle over huge grills, rums are poured from great height with great volume and Barbados’s unique ska and calypso music booms out from giant speakers.
"Rums are poured from great height with great volume and Barbados’s unique ska and calypso music booms out from giant speakers"
There’s also time for a cocktail and flying fish dinner at Castaways, a bar overlooking the palm-fringed lagoon and waves at St Lawrence Gap, and scoot along the west coast, known as the Platinum Coast, where the celebrity set drink champagne over the emerald leeward waters. At the rather fancy Cliff Bar, my French waiter Gatien points out Tropicana, a wave he says, “Is the best lefthander, and the most dangerous wave, on the island." It’s flat now though, needing a big swell to light it up, so I take his word for it and instead focus on the Med-Caribbean fusion.
My last day is spent on the north coast, surfing a break called Maycocks, located to the north of Speightstown. A steep walk down ends up at a small white sandy beach that is protected by a cliff and a thick wall of trees. There are no nearby buildings or accommodation, and at low tide fun rights zip along the deserted beach.
Surfed out, and mentally and psychically realigned, I head to St Nicholas Abbey, a 350-year-old plantation house where rum is still made in the traditional way. I sample their 12-year old rum and feel the warmth of Barbados course through my veins. As a surfer, there may be better quality waves at more famous destinations, but Barbados is more about that warm feeling right there. It’s about stepping out of our busy lives and into island time. And the longer you can do that, the better off you will be.