By Longboard Rob
One of the many reasons people contemplate visiting, and in some cases, relocating to Bocas, is the surf scene. It is a wonderful mix of locals, transplanted ex-pats and tourists. It’s a mecca for surfers who crave warm water, a tropical setting, and big hollow waves. It has been a blessing to the local economy; supporting many surf related shops, charter companies and eateries. Personally, the Bocas surf scene changed the arch of my life.
I first visited Bocas in 2005. My sister Ciela had done research on the best places to live in retirement. Panama was number one on her list. I was living a nice life in La Mesa, California (outside San Diego) on a pension earned after thirty years of teaching. I had surfed on and off since 1961. I would periodically get a new longboard to surf with my younger brother John, but the crowds and the cold water had lessened my enjoyment of the sport. When I went to the beaches of San Diego, I found myself choosing rollerblading over surfing.
My sister asked my brother and I to join her on a trip to Panama. She told us that on her previous journey to Panama, she had visited a place called Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean side. She claimed that it had waves. I had my doubts. Most of my surf life was on the vast Pacific where ground swells travel long distances to crash on the shore. The Caribbean looked small compared to the Pacific. After all, the Caribbean was famous for pirates- not waves.
We arrived on January 6 at the small Bocas airport. We were not so impressed with the town. It rained for two days. We couldn’t find any surf. We tried taking a boat to see the waves, but the rough seas frightened my sister. On our final day we talked a taxi driver into taking us to see the surf. We traveled on one of the worst roads I had ever seen. Twice we had to get out and push the taxi through the hugest potholes imaginable. We came to a spot that had a small opening to see the waves at a place the driver called “Paunch”. I was thrilled with the tropical setting, the warm water and the waves. I knew instantly I had found my new home and that surfing was back in my life.
Well, its now 2016, the roads in Bocas are better and the surf is still great. With this column in the new Bocas Breeze, I plan to combine my two passions: history and surf. I would like to tell stories of the earliest pioneers of surf in Bocas del Toro who have influenced the great young surfers who represent our region in surf contests around the world. We are blessed to have a dynamic surf scene in Bocas. It deserves some exposure.