- 11 April 2017 | Surfing
Jamaica is a Caribbean island surrounded by swells of all sorts and, as a natural consequence, surfing has been developing fast here.
According to Billy Wilmot, legendary surfer, musician and event organizer, surfing became popular in Jamaica in the early 1970s, and since then it has never stopped growing and evolving.
"The old school surfers included Cecil Ward, Jack Murray, Leighton Powel, Charlie Murray, Donnie Soutar, Stephen Facey, Terrence Muschett, Stephen 'Ozzie' Solomon, Tim Chin Yee, Randy Cargill, Tony Lancaster, Nigel Andrade, David Langdon, Gordon Cooper, Steve, Morris and Robert Epstein, Paul Blades, and the expats Martel brothers," Wilmot tells SurferToday.
Paul Blades, who was actually from Barbados and moved to Jamaica with his parents, died in an accident and was buried at the Stony Hill Cemetery. His grave was build in the shape of a surfboard with the epitaph recounting his love of surfing.
The island country has dozens of excellent world-class surf spots that break consistently all year-round. The Makka Pro is the only pro event held in Jamaica, and it takes place in July, every year, since 2006.
The most popular surf breaks in Jamaica are Zoo, Lighthouse, Makka, Berlin, Copa, Boston and Peenie Wallie.
In less than five decades, the riders' performance levels increased dramatically, and the Jamaica Surfing Association (JSA) is already planning a potential team for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
"We are in touch with the Jamaica Olympic Association and are trying to arrange funding through the National Olympic Solidarity Fund for the top two qualifiers to cover their preparation for the Games," adds Billy Wilmot.
"Jamaica also used to compete at the ISA World Juniors, Masters and World Surfing Games but due to loss of sponsors, who used to provide almost 60 percent of the Jamaica Surfing Association's budget, the country has been unable to field a team to any of those events since 2013."
Now, let's take a look at the photos that illustrate the history of surfing in Jamaica.
Terrence Muschett, 1967
This was actually the first Jamaican surfing picture used for commercial purposes. It was taken at Holland Bay and published on a 1967/1968 Red Stripe beer calendar.
Tony Lancaster, Cecil Ward, Gordon Cooper, and Donnie Soutar, 1969
This is a picture showing some of the original Jamaican surf crew on the beach at The Wreck, the prime surf spot of the era. The original Hobie surfboard at far right was the example used to produce the other home made boards in the picture.
Someone brought that Hobie longboard from the States in the early 1960s and the other guys used it as a model to construct homemade boards from boat resin, fiberglass, drapery cloth and refrigerator insulating foam.
The story of how the guys almost poisoned themselves with the resin fumes when they were making them up on Jacks Hill in Kingston is often recounted by the old timers who still laugh about it today.
Martel brothers and Gordon Cooper, 1969
Surfing The Wreck on a tiny day.
Tim Chin Yee and Randy Cargill, 1972
Chin Yee and Cargill were the top cats in the Jamaican lineups of the 1970s. Both goofy footers, they ruled the newly-discovered Zoo up until the 1980s.
Jack Murray, Tim Chin Yee, Terrence Muschett, and Randy Cargill, 1977
This photo was taken at the Zoo and features Jack Murray dropping in with other locals looking on. A pristine river mouth that was discovered around 1974 and became known as Jamaica's Pipeline.
The wave, which broke over a boulder strewn submarine river mouth delta and provided perfect barrels on any swell size or direction, had usurped The Wreck as Jamaica's number one surf spot by this time. It was later totally annihilated during Hurricane Ivan, in 2004.
Zoo, Jamaica, 2010
This is the Zoo, as it stands today. Only breaking on very large swells, it is a pale shadow of its original self. But still, an awesome challenge as it breaks only a few yards from the boulder-strewn beach.
Makka, Jamaica, 2010
Makka, the left-hand point break, is one of the best waves on the southeast coast.
Boston, Jamaica, 2012
Boston Bay is the surf central and the original home of Jamaican surfing on the northeast coast. Many say this is the place where Jamaican surfing began.
Peenie Wallie, Jamaica, 2012
Peenie Wallie is another top class wave on Jamaica's northeast coast. Just outside the town of Buff Bay in western Portland, the right-hand point break surfed since the early 1970s is the go-to break when the north coast lights up.
Shane Simmonds, 2012
This is Shane Simmonds, the poster child of Boston Bay. Shane has an eye pleasing, radical style that keeps him in the elite group of Jamaican surfers. Here, he deals with a section at Copa on the southeast coast.
Shama Beckford, 2014
The southeast coast produces its own top level performers. This is Eli Shama Beckford, or Shama, as he is known by the crew. Here, he shows his pedigree at Makka, in Saint Thomas.
Berlin, Jamaica, 2015
This is a shot of Berlin, named after the football team from the surrounding community and not after the famous wall in Germany as most believe. It is a river mouth point break; one of the most loved lefts along the Southeast coast. Second only to Makka, according to Billy Wilmot.
Ronald Hastings, 2015
Ronald is another of the new generation of surfers from Bull Bay in Saint Andrew. Ronald's surfing has improved by leaps and bounds in the past two years, giving him a place amongst the notables of local surfing.
Icah Wilmot, 2016
Icah Wilmot at Makka, on a big one. He is the first local surfer to take on the pro surfing challenge. Sponsored by Reef, Smith, Freestyle and a few other international companies, Icah always has a spot on the podium and is the role model for his local surfing peers.
Garren Pryce, 2016
Garren Pryce, or "Nick," as he is affectionately called, is known for his quick and extremely powerful style that has resulted in a long list of broken and severely damaged boards. He is another of the young guns of Jamaican surfing.