This seemingly sleepy island is more than meets the eye
by Sarah Sekula
The west coast of Barbados was exactly what I expected: powdery beaches, posh hotels and a sparkling coastline. The east side, though, with its rough and rugged character, was a whole different story. Granted, to fully appreciate the wild side, you must first experience the mild side; and this is where my story began.
After a lazy day of sampling rum concoctions at St. Nicholas Abbey, toddling through Harrision’s Cave and chowing down at Oistin’s Fish Fry, I was itching for some time in the welcoming turquoise water.
It was the second morning of my visit, around 9 a.m., as I made my way to Surfer’s Point on the southeast part of the island. There, I met local surf instructor Melanie Pitcher, a fit, freckle-faced woman with wild locks of wavy hair.
As we paddled past the breaking waves, I happily soaked in my surroundings — palm trees in the distance, surfers bobbing in the warm waters and the occasional sea turtle drifting by. Soon after, I spotted an incoming wave — a gentle, friendly 5-footer. With a few swift paddles, I snapped to my feet, and voila! I was gliding along the wall of a clean, perfect wave with the same goofy smile I get every time I surf.
Needless to say, this little spot, where the Atlantic joins forces with the Caribbean Sea, is the ultimate hang-ten mecca for newbies and intermediate surfers. Given all this, it was perfect for me and my unsteady legs, which weren’t quite ready to tackle any monster-sized waves.
“The best part is, the water never goes below 75 degrees,” Pitcher piped in as I paddled back toward her. By now she was chatting with surfer Jonathan Reece. It just so happens he won The Barbados Independence Surf Festival held at Soup Bowl, a nasty curl off the island’s eastern side.
“So, you’re basically king of the island now,” I joked as the swell lifted me gently up and down. “No, no,” Reece humbly said with a shy half smile.
“So what is it about Soup Bowl?” I asked, knowing full well it must be cool because Kelly Slater — the Michael Phelps of surfing — said so; he’s even called it one of the top three waves in the world.
“It’s the most popular break in the Bathsheba area,” he said. The day of the competition, in fact, the waves got up to 12 feet high. “Quite scary conditions,” he admitted, “but not bad if you’re a spectator.”
Simply put, the Bathsheba area is certainly a bastion of camaraderie for experienced surfers. Plus, its a laid-back place that breeds characters with names like Yellow, one of the top surfers; Snake, one of the first brave souls to surf Bathsheba; and Buju, the lifeguard.
However, it’s a place that is just as enjoyable for land lovers. “The whole area is very undeveloped and the people are friendly; it just doesn’t get more beautiful than that,” Reece said. “It’s almost as if you’re on another island because it’s such a big contrast to all the overdeveloped coasts.”
Note to self: Get to Bathsheba. With that thought, I raced down the side of another wave with a new-found interest in the island’s wild-and-woolly side. I was on a mission to see the unpolished east coast in all its glory. I didn’t waste any time, either. By 3 p.m. I was off in a taxi with William (a.k.a. Big Willy), a 20-year-old Bajan (local) with a heavy accent and a wide smile.
“In Bridgetown, there is sometimes traffic and headaches,” he said. “But in Bathsheba, all you can hear is the battering of the waves.”
Well put. And exactly what I was looking for. The 45-minute drive shuttled me through neighborhoods, past front porches where women braided children’s hair and alongside sugar cane fields and pastures of black-bellied sheep, which look exactly like goats, by the way. It’s known as “the country,” and locals usually claim it as their favorite part of the pear-shaped island.
We took a few more curvy roads. Then, the view was revealed. Giant, moss-covered limestone boulders stood stately above the ocean floor — the complete opposite of the manicured west side of the island I was accustomed to. The jungles were dense, the food was tasty (we lunched on fried flying fish sandwiches at a hole-in-the-wall eatery), and the people were few and far between.
Then, the moment I was waiting for. “This is where the surf competition is each November,” Big Willy said as he motioned. In other words, I was peering over a craggy cliff at the same spot where pro surfers stood each year to conquer whatever Mother Nature had whipped up for the day.
By the looks of my surroundings, I’d have to agree with what Pitcher said that morning: “When the waves are pumping it’s alive!”
What I’m trying to say is, you could spend all your time in the west without ever really knowing the heart of Barbados. Bathsheba “is a natural amphitheater,” Pitcher said. “It has a perfect barrel and a steep drop, but some days it’s calm enough to take my 6-year-old daughter and my 9-year-old son out there.”
Trust me, though, there’s more to Bathsheba than its world-class waves and chiseled good looks. At its core, it’s full of whimsy and play with gullies and tropical forests, stellar hiking and even botanical gardens.
With that said, if you still think the small, sheltered island of Barbados is a lazy island, just hop in the water. Better yet, hop on a board; that’s where the action is. Certainly there’s a wave calling your name.
Barbados Surf Trips
Burkie’s Surf School
Zed’s Surfing Adventure
American Airlines and its regional affiliate American Eagle have nonstop flights from Miami, New York-JFK, DFW and San Juan, Puerto Rico. For more information, call 246.428.4170 or visit aa.com.
WHERE TO STAY
Zed’s Surfer’s Point Guest House
Inch Marlowe, Barbados
Brittons Hill, Barbados