Swell of the Decade – Pro Surfers Flock to Bocas del Toro 

photos courtesy of Red Frog Bungalows

Bocas del Toro is becoming more and more renowned internationally for its exceptional  surf conditions in January and in the first month of this new decade, the stars, the moon, the tides and the winds aligned for an epic swell that caught the world’s attention. The waves were so good that a number of pro surfers from all over the planet pulled the trigger, bought the tickets and came in for a quick mission to surf the world class waves of the Caribbean paradise known as Bocas del Toro, Panama. Among the ranks of the world’s top surfers were: Luke Davis, Koa Smith, Andrew Jacobson, Michael Dunphy, Bryce Young, Nathan Fletcher and skimboard pro Brad Domke. Their journeys were covered in some of the biggest surf publications: Surfline and WSL(World Surf League). Koa documented his experience in the Youtube episodes Chasing a Swell-Part 1 and Strike on Panama-Part 2.  Don’t worry Bocatoreños and worldwide lovers of Bocas del Toro; the Breeze was on the scene as well. We caught up with Luke Davis and Koa Smith for interviews and received some nice comments from Bryce Young and Andrew Jacobson as well. 

Steve Price, South Africa

Here’s what the pros had to say about their experience surfing Bocas del Toro….

Luke Davis is a professional surfer from California who made his first Bocas trip in 2016. He got super good waves and has been coming back for more every year since. January 2020 was the biggest swell he has seen yet in Bocas. The internet was just blowing up with a photo of Davis at the reef break known as Silverbacks. Scott Balogh of Red Frog Bungalows was his surf guide and took the now legendary photograph of “the biggest wave ever paddled into in all of Panama.” Balogh has been very involved with Bocas surf for 20 years now and he tells us that it is the biggest he has ever seen Silverbacks. Based on the sheer size of the wave, some Instagram viewers thought Davis was actually being towed into the wave, but no, that was all man and no machine. Davis rode in on his 6’ 6” board, which is the  same board he has taken to Silverbacks for the last three years. “I haven’t broken it yet so it’s kind of my magic board,” the Southern California surfer told us in an interview. He recommends bringing multiple boards on a surf trip to Bocas, especially if you are going to be surfing the heavy board-breaker of a wave at Bluff Beach. Although he likes Bluff and other waves that Bocas has to offer, Silverbacks is definitely Luke Davis’ favorite wave. It is the one he looks forward to on every trip to Panama. “Every year going for a big swell, you hope to score that wave. It’s kind of the prize wave over there,” says Davis. Well he sure won the prize this year. Check him out in the photograph below.  Davis estimates the wave at “20 foot plus on the face”

Luke Davis, California

Koa Smith is another pro from Hawaii. He first travelled to Bocas for this epic January swell. He had this to say about Bocas, “It reminds me of an up-and-coming Bali. The vibe there was amazing. The locals were so friendly. The waves were really good and so was the food,” says the young Hawaiian surfing pro. He commented that he was really excited to see that there was a healthy influence on eateries in the archipelago. Koa and his friends picked up a sloth-watching habit on this trip. When they weren’t in the water, they were traversing the jungle with their heads in the trees trying to spot out some of our furry, lazy friends. You can see some of their sloth sightings, along with their Bocas surf highlights of course, on Koa’s Youtube channel: “Brother Nature, Hawaii.” Koa’s favorite wave is also Silverbacks.

Koa Smith, Hawaii

“It was one of the scarier, most challenging waves I’ve ever surfed and to get the experience to surf it during that big swell was super amazing. It was just such an emotional ride.”

Koa first heard news about Bocas del Toro surf through his older brother, who came to Bocas on a surf trip and stayed at Red Frog Bungalows Resort. Six years later, Koa finally committed to the Bocas del Toro surf trip when he got a call telling him the Bocas del Toro swell was producing conditions for his perfect kind wave. He jumped on the opportunity and we’re glad. Come back soon Koa! 

What are some of the sport’s other professional saying about Bocas del Toro surf? 

“I was really impressed with the all of the waves I got to surf. The quality is amazing. It was my first trip to Bocas and I can’t wait to come back,” – Bryce Young, Australia. 

“The waves here in Bocas are insane! There are so many different waves you can surf in such a small area. You can surf a 20 foot wave and then be at a wave that is 5 foot and perfect within 10 minutes. Very versatile. I don’t think people realize how good it gets here and I love that, haha” – Andrew Jacobson.

Many thanks to Luke Davis, Koa Smith, Bryce Young and Andrew Jacobson for taking the time to tell us about their experiences. We are very happy that you enjoyed yourselves and we appreciate all the kind words about Bocas del Toro. Come back soon! We’d also like to thank  Scott Balogh and all the fine folks of Red Frog Bungalows for the stellar surf photography and providing a great surf guiding experience for the distinguished guests of the sport.  


The Bocas Breeze is a digital and print newspaper proudly serving the Bocas del Toro community since 2004; reporting news, advertising local businesses and promoting tourism in Bocas del Toro, Panama.

One Comment

  1. Dexter Witt Reply

    To say it was the biggest of all Panama is a stretch….Catalina on the pacific side gets huge every year and surfed huge . Playa Barqueta gets even bigger but is not surfable when giant.

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