Being landlocked in Orlando oftentimes doesn’t feel like being landlocked at all. With the vast amount of lakes and time spent on the water, it’s easy to neglect the fact that we’re completely shut off from the world’s largest entity: the ocean. The lakes provide us with a constant; they’re our comfort zones. So, what if we separate ourselves from that comfort zone, even if by only a short distance? What would we discover? On this particular adventure, we discovered Bimini, the Bahamas’ westernmost island. But our trip wasn’t simply about the destination; it was about the journey, about venturing out. Sometimes people forget that’s the half of it. When the last remnants of shore trickled out of view, that’s when the magic took hold.
Our journey began at Key Biscayne with the Yamaha 212X in tow. Danny Hampson, Collin Harrington, Bryan “Bear” Soderlind, Derek Cook and myself arrived at the launch, where Danny’s dad, Tim, met us in his Contender, appropriately named Reef Freak. He would make the trek with us, acting as a guide and rescue if something went wrong. It’s no secret that there was apprehension; there was a part of us that didn’t know if we could do it. Our plan did consist of crossing the Gulf Stream in a 21-foot jet boat, after all, and the weather hadn’t been ideal. Just the day before, we were cruising around the canals of West Palm Beach, watching 30 mph winds rip across the water while somewhat nervously making jokes about the journey that lay ahead. After countless weather checks, we had determined our window for making the crossing was narrow, and we set out a plan to leave early Tuesday morning. With Miami’s skyline behind us and only ocean ahead, we were off on our 50-mile cruise to Bimini.
As we made our way across the Gulf Stream, these three words resonated through my mind: Life is good. There’s something about being out on the open ocean that creates a sense of vulnerability that is almost comforting. I grew up on the Gulf of Mexico, where trips to the barrier islands were a weekly, sometimes daily, ritual. My brothers and I started exploring the Gulf’s coastline from the time our hands were big enough to operate the 25 horsepower motor on the tinny that sat afloat in our marsh. Being surrounded by salt water is where I feel most at home, so despite any previous doubts about our journey, I immediately felt at ease as we open-throttled across international waters and into the blue.
Eyes wide and mouths silent, we stared in disbelief at the beauty that surrounded us. It had happened so fast: Deep shades of sapphire swirled around us for the better part of two hours when, just like that, the water burst into a pigment that words cannot accurately describe. Cerulean ripples as far as the eye could see and a warm hue on the palm-clad sandy shores greeted us. It was as if the island were showing off with a display of saturation overload. You should have seen our faces — we were stupefied at the beauty of it all. The waters along the shores of Uluwatu, Tulum, Rio de Janeiro, Sardinia and Tamarindo would have had color envy at the sight of it. Yet, only 50 miles from home, there we were. We had arrived somewhere in between heaven and Earth, where the layers of intermingled greens and blues of the ocean almost didn’t seem real. And of course, we couldn’t get in it quickly enough.
The island of Bimini is revered for its world-class fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling and pristine beaches. We came for this, yes, but we really came to test the salty waters and discover worthy lines. As you can see from the images printed on these pages, we succeeded in finding stunning locations, in which Bear shot incredible photos. Oftentimes, photos don’t fully grasp the beauty that’s present, but when you have Bear as the photographer, that isn’t the case. Bear has a way of capturing time and place in a way that evokes emotion — I think it’s because he so much values and respects what he’s shooting, whether that be a person or a destination.
Ten miles south of Bimini, next to the small island of Cat Cay, we discovered the most surreal riding spot. Surrounded by palm trees, rocky shores and white sand, the shallow, milky-blue lagoon was a photographer’s dream. The depth couldn’t have been more than 3 feet in some parts, but with the 212X, anything was possible. Perhaps that statement sounds forced, but truly, having this boat on the trip was the difference between can and can’t. Without it, these riding shots would not exist. The fact that the 212X doesn’t have a prop was a huge advantage. That, coupled with the built-in depth finder, made it easy to navigate the shallow shores of the surrounding cays and create unique, atypical lines.
As you can well imagine, the conditions weren’t the best. Choppy salt water mixed with shallow depths meant having wakes that many riders would turn their noses up to. For this, our crew couldn’t have been better. Danny, Collin and Derek are all the type that will ride anything, and they’ll ride it well. This was my second time on a Yamaha Boating trip with Danny and Collin, and being around these two and their dynamic personalities is incredibly amusing. As the face of Yamaha‘s wake division, Danny is the one to thank for this trip coming to fruition yet again. On a wakeskate or strapped in, Danny has an unmistakable quick-paced, explosive style. Apart from riding, Danny recently slipped into the world of real estate, and throughout our trip, we watched in awe as he closed deals while simultaneously strapping on his board, driving us back to shore, or casually sunbathing. The entertainment value was at an all-time high, and Collin, equipped with his drone, RED and multiple GoPros, came along to capture it all.
When searching for an additional rider to join us on this trip, Derek Cook was a no-brainer. Derek is an OG West Coast Rider whose unique style is representative of what boat riding can and should look like, and his down-for-anything attitude proved to be an asset in the not-so-perfect Bimini conditions. There are few riders who can hit double-ups as consistently as Derek; it’s safe to say that 75 percent of the hits he took on this trip were double-ups, and successful double-ups at that. He taught Danny the art of driving figure-eight double-ups, where you hit one after the other without waiting for the rollers to dissipate. This made for an incredibly entertaining viewing experience and even more visually appealing images.
When the guys had exhausted themselves from riding, we took advantage of the island’s other treasures with the help of Danny’s dad, Tim, who acted as our personal guide. Tim has been making frequent trips to Bimini for decades and knows the place like a true local. In fact, many of the locals actually know Tim. There’s no better way to travel to a new destination than with someone who knows it well, and Tim provided that for us. One of the many places Tim brought us to is a well-known shipwreck, the SS Sapona. Today, the shipwreck is a popular fishing and diving site, but legend has it that it was used during the Prohibition era for rum-running to and from Florida. Using a rope positioned above a vicious-looking piece of steel (sorry Mom), we managed to hoist ourselves up to the top deck and subsequently made the leap into the salty water below. When we felt we had cheated tetanus one too many times, we moved on to snorkeling, spearfishing, and swimming with the stingrays, and we ended each day pleasantly covered in salt with a Kalik in hand.
We each have our own idea of paradise. Upon setting sights on the perfection that is Bimini, we couldn’t argue that this mirrored our dream. We had entered a world so close to home but so far from the norm. Fifty miles — the distance from Miami to Bimini — is all it took. That journey — those mere 50 miles — catapulted us into a sort of utopia. Paradise is closer to home than you think. Sometimes all it takes is stepping out of your day-to-day and searching for it.