Pumping in Panama
There's a little bit of gypsy DNA in all surfers' make up. Men and women with surfboards paddleprance around in the ocean, humming to the beat of their very own drum. Many that observe the sports visual esthetics simply watch and enjoy, but those who partake and know the intimacy of the addiction, truly understand. When a wave comes, no civilized culture or diplomatic regime on the planet can keep them from the nature within.
Wherever the geographic origin the surfer, nomadic in nature, suddenly finds the urge to travel -- seeking not only new waves, but new horizons. It's gypsy nature.
The question of where to go at what time of year is always lingering on the traveling minstrel's mind. In some instances the tents are drawn and the trek is on regardless of weather and wind. In others, the seasoned traveler carefully plots a course and narrow focuses on the best case scenario to find great waves. When it comes to swell reports and wind conditions all certainly wish for a crystal ball. Based on previous experience, Panama is a prime location for a serious surfing fix and simply a great place on the planet to be. The crystal ball may not be a guarantee, but consistent south swells and dominant offshore winds equal promise of small fortune for any surfer.
Surrounded by the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean, Panama features a stunning array of coastline complete with point breaks, beach breaks, mixed reefs and roping sandbars. The country offers comfortable amenities, decent roads and a fabulous culture. There's something for all walks of life in Panama from extravagant nightlife and business in the city to remote jungles where the sounds of predators replace cell service. A multi-nationally rich country, Panama has been influenced by Europe, Asia and the Americas since the construction of the Panama Canal, which connects the Atlantic Ocean via the Caribbean to the Pacific Ocean. It's a key channel for international maritime trade and conduit to mixing world cultures.
This year the gypsy crew would once again include Venezuelan-born Panamanian resident Magmum Martinez as one of our guides and top surfer of the region, Sunny Garcia, recently in Ecuador for the Masters championship would also come to brandish his power stamp, along with hot young Hawaiians, Keanu Asing and Kiron Jabour, as well as Rochelle Ballard and myself, a gypsy always up for chasing waves.
The trip started in Panama City with a very comfortable day or two at the Radisson Hotel where the crew ventured out to a local point break known as "Rincon." The waves were small, inconsistent, and slightly onshore. Luckily for the rest of the crew, the youngsters wouldn't take no for answer. They wanted to go try new boards in this seemingly closed out crumble. Within 20 minutes the tide started moving in, the wind switched offshore and what was miserable a half hour earlier looked super fun, three-foot and rippable. Our first session was by no means a big fat gypsy wedding, but we all are very happy to get wet.
One thing every surf traveler should know about Panama is that you're going to put in road time. There so many different nooks and crannies on the Panamanian coast worth exploring. While the roadways are relatively good, unfortunately they don't all hug the coastline so typically inland travel is necessary to reach different parts of the coast. We decided to base our production at the extremely comfortable Playa Venao Hotel Resort. Directly in front of the resort is a world-class beach break that even on its worst day is a fun place just to play around and practice tricks. Relatively nearby are several different points, reefs, and beach breaks. If you drive about an hour up the coast you'll find a dozen more, including some incredible slabs and all manner of untapped beaches.
There was plenty a swell on the map and although the wind wasn't perfect every day, it was a steady score. At one particularly secret beach the crew would enjoy standup barrels while the tide and wind cooperated for few hours. This little barrel session would prove to be our best day of surfing in the first week, not because the swell wasn't there, but because we chased different tides in different winds and it was a challenge. Luckily we had a beautiful location to come home to every day and each of the athletes enjoyed fantastic Panamanian food, service, a beautiful sunset, and scenery.
The crew also had a chance to go angling in these celebrated fishing grounds. Lucky they know how to catch waves, because the only thing that caught was an old t-shirt. On day six of our venture at Playa Venao a new swell rolled in, the wind turned stiff offshore and the beach break turned on incredibly. The water texture was a beautiful small-grained offshore with corduroy lines to the horizon on the sets. While some of the waves were too fast and walled up at lower tide, the medium tide brought insane five-second barrels as well as long smooth walls for carving.
After one last sumptuous meal at Playa Venao, we got together with guides Richy Arosemema and Magnum Martinez. Both suggested we drive four to five hours to a new location. With a dropping swell and a slight shift in the wind, they expected some great barrels at a beach break we'll call "West Az." After another long road trip and 14,713 potholes, we arrived in "West Az" and were greeted with offshore winds, four to five-foot foot spitting barrels and a very happy group of Hawaiians.
After nearly seven days of super fun beach breaks, point breaks, and exploration, the crew would enjoy the best barrels of the trip. The gypsy happy dance involved air-drops, spitting tubes and only our group on a two mile stretch of beach. To satiate our gypsy spirits we treated ourselves to a horseback ride up river to cool clear fresh water dip.