Jamaica. My new island home. You think I'm kidding, but ganja jokes aside, this place ruled. We stayed sans $$$$ as guest wakeboard instructors at Breezes, Runaway Bay. We ate like kings, partied like rock stars and wakeboarded every single day. Sure, you had to be up at sunrise to catch the idle tides and score smooth water - or make the 20-minute trek to Discovery Bay for epic conditions - but it was totally worth it.
Imagine riding on crystal-clear water, skimming the butter, doing soulful carves and lip slides, and looking down to see a trail of tropical fish beneath your feet. And you could be back in bed by nine, sleep till noon, catch a rad lunch and head out for a snorkel or dive. After an hour or so of sightseeing the depths of the Caribbean, you wander in, dry off and catch a trampoline session. Proper technique and safety are your first lesson, but within minutes of impressing Daniel with your skill he'll have you hooked into the harness practicing doubles. Then, once you've worked up a sweat you can move on to the trapeze. Yes, like the kind you see in the circus. Of course, this time there's a net and harnesses and a team of instructors, but after that first 'Hep' step-off you're hooked. After a quick shower, it's off to dinner for a calorie load-up and dancing all night at the club.
It sounds too good to be true, I know. In fact it's the only reason I actually went on this trip 'cause really, wakeboarding? In the Caribbean? Sounds more like a punch line to a Chris Rock joke than an actuality. But here I was on an Air Jamaica flight meeting up with Chris Guilfoose and Charley Patterson to find out. Chris, a Liquid Force rider out of Pennsylvania, had gotten in earlier that day, so he met me at the front desk of Superclub's biggest and brightest resort, Breezes, and gave me the nickel tour of the grounds.
Immediately we were caught up in the spirit of the place. Palm trees, indigenous flowers, steel drum music in the background - everything you would imagine Jamaica to be. Hell, within five minutes of landing, locals selling various forms of plant life had already accosted me. These were the full Rastafarian dudes you see in National Geographic photo spreads with tall, lanky bodies, gold teeth, giant dred locks and stereotypical red, green, yellow and black knit caps. But don't believe a word anyone says - it's illegal to buy, sell or partake in any form of herbal refreshments and your butt will wind up in jail faster then you can say, "But, officer, I didn't inhale." Anyhow, despite popular myth about the nocturnal stamina of pro wakeboarders, we were asleep in the room within an hour. (Hey, We had six more days. Give us a break.)
The next morning dawned bright, breezy and warm, as it did other day we were there. It's paradise, remember? We headed down to beach to meet up with Ricardo Ardito, head of water-sports, to arrange boat use for the week. Our main responsibility was to instruct any willing guest in the fine art of wakeboarding, but that didn't start until 9. We needed access to the boat as early as 6 a.m. - for photos and smooth water. Ricardo was more than gracious, as long as we used one of their insured drivers, so Pablo became our new best friend. Chris had already spent a week teaching him the fine art of boat driving so with the promise of overtime money and our undying gratitude, Pablo arrived at the beach most mornings by 7. (Who says Jamaicans are lazy?)
That accomplished, we took off down the beach to get a taste of the real Jamaica. Resort employees will consistently tell you to stay within property ground, inferring that Jamaica isn't safe, but that's not necessarily true. All Jamaicans really want is your money. They'll sell you anything and everything fairly cheap, which is cool, but they won't take no for an answer. We found that out the haard way. Fortunately it only cost us $10 and after that they left us alone to continue our exploration down the beach.
Jamaica is a poor country. In fact, tourism is basically their only source of income, so once you get out of the resorts be prepared for a reality check. Whole families live in one-room thatched-roof huts and the ocean provides their entire sustenance. As we meandered along, kids were playing in the ocean as their mothers bathed. Dad was motoring in the longboat back from the morning's fishing expedition, and most older siblings were out peddling their wares to tourists like us.
After a couple hours of mingling with the natives, Chris was chomping at the bit to go ride, so we took a midmorning set just to get acclimated. Our chariot happened to be an ocean-going 150-hp Boston Whaler-type outboard equipped with a man-made steel pole and a dolphin (kind of like a Wedge but for an outboard) to help boost the wake. Within minutes Chris was boosting big airs, stylish grabs and even nailing various inverts just a few hundred yards off the beach. It looked so rad that I had to try and so I strapped on Chris' Squirt and made the best of the growing white water. (By noon you're pretty much washed out, so get groovin' early and you'll be way more stoked on the conditions.)
Charley filtered in sometime that afternoon (a trend that escalated throughout the week) and we spent the afternoon getting to know the locals: Daniel (trapeze master), Pablo (driver extraordinaire), Champagne (funny guy but can't drive a wakeboarder to save his life), Lazarus and Tony (two up-and-coming wakeboard talents at the time), and, of course, the guests. The locals have a few years to go, but if Jamaica can field an Olympic bobsled team they can certainly learn to wakeboard.
Basically that's how we spent the entire week: riding and raging. A successful trip by all accounts. Of course, no adventure would be complete without a few cautionary tales - paradise, the singles, you know we were all looking to hook up. Of course, the self-proclaimed honeymoon capital of the world may not be the best place to meet the person of your dreams, but we were all for trying. Chris was the only one of us who had been to Jamaica before, and he had found himself a little island jewel. If sexy and cute can possibly be blended to form a single word, it would describe Stephanie. But alas, she broke poor Chris' heart. Charley, on the other hand, is quite the ladies' man and he was meeting quality girls every evening (which would explain why getting him up every morning was virtually impossible). As for me, kiss-and-tell isn't a game I play - well unless it's someone else 'cause then it's business.
So if here it is midwinter, and most of you won't even start thinking about riding for another three months. I'd say it's time for a vacation. Most of the resorts on the island offer some sort of water-sports, but don't be fooled - Breezes at Runaway Bay is your best wakeboard connection. Or, if you're semi-pro and willing to work for your room and board, give Mark Burns a call. He runs the guest pro program for the Professional Coaches Association and may be able to set you up. Once you set foot on the island look for Ricardo, Pablo, Lazarus and Tony and tell them we sent you. You'll get the star treatment and probably one of the best weeks of your life.