Off The Radar

So Close, Yet So Far

Three rarely unearthed gems in the Antilles.

Sick and tired of spending your precious surf-vacation time surrounded by crowds and the same been-there, done-that scenery? Maybe it’s time to look somewhere else, somewhere where you and all your bros haven’t been-a warm beach where hammocks swing lazily under coconut trees and reggae pulses through shacks on the beach; a small town, where exotic and beautiful women speak a strange tongue; a spot you’ve never been barreled at; or a reef you’ve never bounced off. Get off the beaten track for another stamp in your passport and more fodder for the stories you’ll tell while waiting for a set at your local break or when the wife’s not around. While these three zones are geographically close, they’re completely unique to each other, the only bonds being they’re somewhat undiscovered, won’t drain your bank account, and won’t have you popping a handful of sleeping pills on an eighteen-hour, three-layover plane ride from hell.

Cabarete, Dominican Republic

Positive Vibes And Plenty Of Waves

Located on the north shore of the Dominican Republic (which is wedged between Cuba and Puerto Rico), Cabarete is more known for windsurfing and kiteboarding than surfing due to its strong and frequent trade winds. While the waves are generally wind-blown and small in town, a quick drive east or west and you’ll leave the wind kooks in the dust and score fun and uncrowded surf, making Cabarete an often-overlooked and underpublicized surf destination.

A Day In Cabarete

Wake up and leave bustling Cabarete before 7:00 a.m. (it gets blown out early in these parts) and head east on the one-lane road. After a ten-minute drive past semi-arid scrubland and donkey-riding farmers, you’ll run into Playa Encuentro, the most popular and consistent zone in the area. As you stand in the shade of low lying tropical foliage and chat with the dreadlocked locals and foreign surf students, you’ll be able to check out several quality reef breaks, like Coco Pipe, Encuentro, and the fittingly named Destroyer. Coco Pipe is a barreling right-hander that can handle up to ten feet, but there’s not much of a channel so good luck making it out there when it’s over six feet. Encuentro is like the Rocky Point of the Dominican, and the local boys, like Victor “Bobo” Peralta, really rip up the long lefts and short, rippable rights. Show some respect and good vibes to the boys, and they’ll be more than happy to share some waves with you. As for Destroyer, it’s more of a boogie spot because it’s so shallow-our advice would be to wait for high tide.

Back in Cabarete, grab lunch at one of the many restaurants that are set up along the beach and in narrow alleys that remind one of a quaint European village. Burgers, fish, pizza, crepes, smoothies, and just about anything else you can think of stuffing your face with are all right there. Once you’ve eaten, find a fan or some air conditioning and take a little snooze-you’ll need it later.

When you see the trades backing off in the afternoon, load up the crew and head west about 45 minutes to Playa Grande. A wedging, close-to-shore beachbreak, Playa Grande has snack bars on the beach and a beautiful bluff-top hotel where mostly European tourists stay. Feel free to not where a leash at Playa Grande, it’s really a pleasure to fetch your board after it’s washed up right next to a topless group of Spanish women.

Thanks to that midday nap, you’ll be primed and ready for a night of partying at the strip of bars that line the bay of Cabarete. The best plan for nightlife is no plan at all, just cruise around until something or someone catches your eye. It’s a very international place so a few phrases in Spanish, Italian, German, and French will go a long way. One piece of advice that is pretty crucial is to politely decline offers of illegal drugs-the cops in the D.R. are known to be ruthless about this kind of activity and a Dominican jail ia horrid place to spend five years of your two-week vacation.-Justin Cotà‡

Cabarete Specifics:

The Surf

Quality beachbreaks, draining reefs, and cruisy point breaks are all within a half-hour drive from Cabarete. Swells come from low-pressure systems that sweep up the eastern seaboard, and while they don’t last long, you’ll be surprised at the punch they pack.

Must-Dos

Spend a day at Playa Encuentro with the local surfers, find a good-looking dance partner at one of the many beachside bars in Cabarete, bring home Dominican cigars (which are legal in the States-and said to be as good as or better than Cubans), or check out the caves at the Parque Nacional El Choco, ten minutes out of town.

The Season

November through March. It’s not as warm as you’d think, so bring a wetsuit jacket and a sweatshirt for the early morning surf checks.

Cash

While the Dominican is one of the least expensive countries in the Caribbean, it’s not like being in Indo. Lunches can be had around town for less than five bucks (fancy drinks not included), and accommodations range from budget crash pads ($25) to super plush, all-inclusive resorts which will run you over $100 per night. Rental cars and gas are expensive-we advise splitting those costs among some friends, because you’ll need a vehicle to get around.

Hassles

Citizens of the U.S., France, Spain, Australia, Canada, and Brazil need only a valid passport and pay a ten-dollar tourist tax at the airport to enter the country, so getting to the Dominican isn’t a problem. Once you get there, however, you’ll be hassled in the street by enterprising men (drug dealers) and women (hookers). They’re not too bad, though, and usually will leave you alone after you decline their services.

You’ll Fall In Love With …

The people. As a result of so much intermixing between people of African, European, and Latin descent, there is little racism-which is unique to the Dominican. Everywhere you go it’s smiling faces and pleasant greetings. Even while I was wandering the streets at 3:00 a.m. looking for water (I swear!), the shadiest-looking alley cats were helpful with directions and nonthreatening.

If You’ve Got The Balls …

Surf “Destroyer”-a super-shallow, urchin-infested reef break near Playa Encuentro. The left-hander is the Dominican’s heaviest wave and should be left to experts only.

Log on to transworldsurf.com for a Dominican Republic video clip filmed during the production of Burn-a new video from Metalstorm Entertainment.

Havana, Cuba

Habana Librà‡!

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to spend a couple weeks in Havana, Cuba with Ozzie Wright, filmmaker Taylor Steele, photographer Dustin Humphrey, our guide Jason Ronis, and several other friends curious about the island. Taylor was shooting Ozzie for an upcoming movie he’s producing called Sipping Jetstreams, which is intended to be an inspirational piece full of exotic locations and classic imagery, and I managed to mooch my way onto the trip. Though it’s only a couple hundred miles southwest of Miami, for Americans, Cuba’s about as exotic as it gets. The lingering politics of the Cold War have made it off limits to Americans since the 1959 revolution, when Castro seized power with the help of the iconic Che Guevara and turned his back on America and its passion for capitalism.

Never before had I been so awash in a sea of red tape and the fallout of colliding political ideologies as the month I spent trying to book flights and travel visas into Fidel’s magic kingdom. Without the permission of the U.S. State Department, it’s still illegal for Americans to visit Cuba, getting the proper permission and documentation is the prize at the center of a labyrinth of backroom travel agencies and official-looking government forms to be filled out in triplicate. I’d never before had my travel agent hand me a ziplock bag full of sticks of deodorant and ballpoint pens, and ask me to deliver them to her cousin.

Havana is beautiful. It looks like what I imagine Barcelona would if none of the historical buildings had ever been restored to their former luster. Jazz bands play in the foyers of fancy hotels and on the dance floors of rum bars, vintage 1950s Chevy’s ferry locals around town, and women so exotic they make your jaw drop are strutting up every avenue. Counter that with the abject poverty most of Havana’s citizens live in and the annoyingly visible police presence, and you get an idea of the duality of the city. Along the Malec¢n (this boardwalk separates the Straits of Florida from the northern edge of the city), Castro has erected huge billboards with photos of prisoners being tortured during the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq flanked on each side by two-story-tall swastikas. We’re not in Kansas, anymore.

The surf scene in Havana isn’t much more familiar. Along the barricaded rock ledge that is the northern shore of the city, cold fronts deliver short, intense wind swell that can come and go in less than six hours. “If you blink,” our guide told us, “you might miss it.” We lucked out and got two days of mediocre-ish surf, and Ozzie proceeded to somehow make it look fun.

Surfing there was a novel concept, and it was fun to talk with the locals about their views on the world, the waves, et cetera, but I spent most my days walking the streets of Havana, watching groups of kids play stickball in the street, and wondering what will happen to this place when Castro is gone.-Joel Patterson

Havana Specifics:

The Surf

Havana’s surf is average at best. Swell here is a product of wintertime low-pressure systems that sweep down the continental U.S. across the Gulf of Mexico and deliver cold, furious wind swell that seldom lasts longer than two days. You’re going to want a good small-wave board, a wetsuit top to protect you from the wind, and if you can get over looking like a dork, bring booties. Urchins are everywhere.

Must-Dos

Drink Cuba Librà‡s in an open-air rumba bar, smoke cigars, get lost in the maze of streets that make up La Habana Vieja (Old Havana), check out the Eastern Forts (Castillo de los Tres Santos Reyes del Morro) where Che Guevara set up his headquarters after the Cuban Revolution, and go out dancing late into the night. You can surf, too, if you have any spare time.

The Season

January through March. Expect cool nights, warm days with occasional chilly winds, and warm water. You’ll want to bring everything from boardshorts to a warm jacket.

Cash

Cuban citizens make very little money (less than $2,000 per year on average) despite being some of the most educated people on Earth, but Havana is an international metropolis, and prices in the touristy parts of town are adjusted to capitalize off visitors’ spending power. Hotels will run you $50 per night, and a meal at a nice place will cost $10. Transport is pretty spendy, but you’ll make it up by smoking Cuban cigars at a fraction of the price you’d pay in the States.

Hassles

Getting into the country is a major hassle for Americanos. The U.S. has blockaded Cuba for years because of their communist political ideology, so to get in legally, you need State Department permission. Or just fly out of Tijuana and risk getting popped on your way home.

You’ll Fall In Love With …

The women. Oh god … the women! Some of the most exotic, beautiful, attitude-laden creatures on the planet. They range from freckled redheads and full-bodied Latinas with manes of black hair to Afro-Cuban princesses. Be careful, though-sometimes fifteen year olds look twenty.

If You’ve Got The Balls …

Smuggle home some Cuban cigars. A $60 box of Cubans sells in the U.S. for over $400. If you get caught, though, get ready to do some time in a federal pen and be the girlfriend of a guy called The Angel of Destruction.

British Virgin Islands

Find What The Pirates Missed

Some places need not be deliver them to her cousin.

Havana is beautiful. It looks like what I imagine Barcelona would if none of the historical buildings had ever been restored to their former luster. Jazz bands play in the foyers of fancy hotels and on the dance floors of rum bars, vintage 1950s Chevy’s ferry locals around town, and women so exotic they make your jaw drop are strutting up every avenue. Counter that with the abject poverty most of Havana’s citizens live in and the annoyingly visible police presence, and you get an idea of the duality of the city. Along the Malec¢n (this boardwalk separates the Straits of Florida from the northern edge of the city), Castro has erected huge billboards with photos of prisoners being tortured during the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq flanked on each side by two-story-tall swastikas. We’re not in Kansas, anymore.

The surf scene in Havana isn’t much more familiar. Along the barricaded rock ledge that is the northern shore of the city, cold fronts deliver short, intense wind swell that can come and go in less than six hours. “If you blink,” our guide told us, “you might miss it.” We lucked out and got two days of mediocre-ish surf, and Ozzie proceeded to somehow make it look fun.

Surfing there was a novel concept, and it was fun to talk with the locals about their views on the world, the waves, et cetera, but I spent most my days walking the streets of Havana, watching groups of kids play stickball in the street, and wondering what will happen to this place when Castro is gone.-Joel Patterson

Havana Specifics:

The Surf

Havana’s surf is average at best. Swell here is a product of wintertime low-pressure systems that sweep down the continental U.S. across the Gulf of Mexico and deliver cold, furious wind swell that seldom lasts longer than two days. You’re going to want a good small-wave board, a wetsuit top to protect you from the wind, and if you can get over looking like a dork, bring booties. Urchins are everywhere.

Must-Dos

Drink Cuba Librà‡s in an open-air rumba bar, smoke cigars, get lost in the maze of streets that make up La Habana Vieja (Old Havana), check out the Eastern Forts (Castillo de los Tres Santos Reyes del Morro) where Che Guevara set up his headquarters after the Cuban Revolution, and go out dancing late into the night. You can surf, too, if you have any spare time.

The Season

January through March. Expect cool nights, warm days with occasional chilly winds, and warm water. You’ll want to bring everything from boardshorts to a warm jacket.

Cash

Cuban citizens make very little money (less than $2,000 per year on average) despite being some of the most educated people on Earth, but Havana is an international metropolis, and prices in the touristy parts of town are adjusted to capitalize off visitors’ spending power. Hotels will run you $50 per night, and a meal at a nice place will cost $10. Transport is pretty spendy, but you’ll make it up by smoking Cuban cigars at a fraction of the price you’d pay in the States.

Hassles

Getting into the country is a major hassle for Americanos. The U.S. has blockaded Cuba for years because of their communist political ideology, so to get in legally, you need State Department permission. Or just fly out of Tijuana and risk getting popped on your way home.

You’ll Fall In Love With …

The women. Oh god … the women! Some of the most exotic, beautiful, attitude-laden creatures on the planet. They range from freckled redheads and full-bodied Latinas with manes of black hair to Afro-Cuban princesses. Be careful, though-sometimes fifteen year olds look twenty.

If You’ve Got The Balls …

Smuggle home some Cuban cigars. A $60 box of Cubans sells in the U.S. for over $400. If you get caught, though, get ready to do some time in a federal pen and be the girlfriend of a guy called The Angel of Destruction.

British Virgin Islands

Find What The Pirates Missed

Some places need not be named. Such is the case for certain landmasses in the British Virgin Islands. Here’s an excerpt from staff photographer Seth Stafford’s journal as he cruised through the British Virgin Islands last winter …

As I fly over island after island, I can’t help but notice the incredible number of boats I’m seeing-there are more ships than houses on these volcanic islands. Every cove has a marina full of seaworthy vessels, each filled with sailors hoping to enjoy the pristine beaches and fine sailing waters of the region.

Arriving at the dock, I quickly realize that we aren’t a typical crew. This is a rich man’s playground, but with the hospitality of a friend, we’re able to enter the elite world of Caribbean yachting aboard the Imiloa.

As we set sail, it’s hard to not be impressed by the sheer number of islands that dot the horizon, only visible by their towering peaks. The steep hillsides frame spectacular beaches that look as if they’ve been pulled from the pages of a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue photo shoot.

While searching the coastline for waves and joking about stumbling upon such a bikini shoot, good luck prevails. Anchoring in a secluded cove, we see what appears to be a tall, slender figure striking poses at the water’s edge. We quickly swim to shore and realize our eyes had not been lying as a six-foot supermodel prances around in the sand with nothing more on than a stitch of fabric. We surely must look like a bunch of sea monsters, because the dream scenario quickly packs up and leaves.

Columbus put these islands on the map in the 1500s, and over the next couple of centuries, Europeans came and went. But it was the pirates who really thrived in these environs. Using the tall mountains and secluded coves, they were able the stay hidden and pounce on vessels full of gold as they headed back to Europe. It wasn’t until the early eighteenth century that the British finally sent these colorful cutthroats packing and a permanent settlement was established.

Times have changed since the first adventurous surfers scoured the British Virgin Islands in search of waves. Today, instead of wooden huts, grazing cows, feral goats, and people traveling about on donkeys, you see 100-foot yachts, plush mansions, SUVs, and private planes.

Citizens of the British Virgin Islands are mostly descended from slaves or slave owners. This hybrid of West African and British cultures is what makes these dots in the sea so unique. As you drive down the left side of the road, you’re just as likely to see the locals playing homemade instruments as you are a group of youths playing cricket.

Over the years, the islands have gained quite a following. Puerto Ricans fly over whenever they see the right conditions, surfers from the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands motor over nearly every swell, and many people have moved there permanently to enjoy this version of a tropical paradise. While surfing the British Virgin Islands is still somewhat secretive, lineups are generally full of friendly faces. Although the locals aren’t likely to draw you maps to their spots, if you do stumble upon them, they’re unlikely to raise a skull and crossbones pirate flag and attack your vessel.-Seth Stafford

British Virgin Islands Specifics

The Surf

Surfing in the British Virgin Islands is either feast or famine. Score a good low-pressure swell out of the north and you’ll be doing back flips after ripping up cobblestone-lined points and fire-coral-bottomed reef breaks. Waiting out flat spells will turn you into a Jimmy Buffett-song-singing, rum-drinking scalawag.

Must-Dos

There’s a place called Bomba’s Surfside Shack that has full-moon parties with barbecued grinds, rum punch, live reggae, and free mushroom tea-which is legal in these parts. To top off the debauchery, women are encouraged through the offer of a free T-shirt to leave behind their bras and panties.

The Season

November through February is when coold fronts on the East Coast of the U.S. send waves down toward the British Virgin Islands. Hurricane season (June-October) also generates surf, but those swells tend to be less predictable-and possibly more dangerous-than the wintertime cold fronts.

Cash

It’s not the cheapest place in the world, but there are guesthouses and villas to stay at for under 50 bucks a night-if you know where to look (lonelyplanet.com). There are a few campgrounds scattered throughout the archipelago, too. Meals are priced the same as they would be in a city in the states; cheeseburgers go for about seven dollars, and tasty conch dinners (popular in these parts), will run you about $20.

Hassles

Because there’re no large airports, there aren’t direct flights from the U.S. or Europe-you have to fly in from Puerto Rico. Also, some surf spots are only accessible by boat, which could be a problem for the financially challenged.

You’ll Fall In Love With …

The color of the sea. We don’t know why, but there’s something about it that makes you feel like commandeering a Spanish galleon full of gold … or just going snorkeling.

If You’ve Got The Balls …

Free-dive with reef sharks, jump off hundred-foot cliffs, or attend a full-moon party at Bomba’s Surfside Shack-we take no responsibility for your post-party sanity, though.

More images from Seth’s British Virgin Island trip can be viewed on transworldsurf.com.

ed. Such is the case for certain landmasses in the British Virgin Islands. Here’s an excerpt from staff photographer Seth Stafford’s journal as he cruised through the British Virgin Islands last winter …

As I fly over island after island, I can’t help but notice the incredible number of boats I’m seeing-there are more ships than houses on these volcanic islands. Every cove has a marina full of seaworthy vessels, each filled with sailors hoping to enjoy the pristine beaches and fine sailing waters of the region.

Arriving at the dock, I quickly realize that we aren’t a typical crew. This is a rich man’s playground, but with the hospitality of a friend, we’re able to enter the elite world of Caribbean yachting aboard the Imiloa.

As we set sail, it’s hard to not be impressed by the sheer number of islands that dot the horizon, only visible by their towering peaks. The steep hillsides frame spectacular beaches that look as if they’ve been pulled from the pages of a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue photo shoot.

While searching the coastline for waves and joking about stumbling upon such a bikini shoot, good luck prevails. Anchoring in a secluded cove, we see what appears to be a tall, slender figure striking poses at the water’s edge. We quickly swim to shore and realize our eyes had not been lying as a six-foot supermodel prances around in the sand with nothing more on than a stitch of fabric. We surely must look like a bunch of sea monsters, because the dream scenario quickly packs up and leaves.

Columbus put these islands on the map in the 1500s, and over the next couple of centuries, Europeans came and went. But it was the pirates who really thrived in these environs. Using the tall mountains and secluded coves, they were able the stay hidden and pounce on vessels full of gold as they headed back to Europe. It wasn’t until the early eighteenth century that the British finally sent these colorful cutthroats packing and a permanent settlement was established.

Times have changed since the first adventurous surfers scoured the British Virgin Islands in search of waves. Today, instead of wooden huts, grazing cows, feral goats, and people traveling about on donkeys, you see 100-foot yachts, plush mansions, SUVs, and private planes.

Citizens of the British Virgin Islands are mostly descended from slaves or slave owners. This hybrid of West African and British cultures is what makes these dots in the sea so unique. As you drive down the left side of the road, you’re just as likely to see the locals playing homemade instruments as you are a group of youths playing cricket.

Over the years, the islands have gained quite a following. Puerto Ricans fly over whenever they see the right conditions, surfers from the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands motor over nearly every swell, and many people have moved there permanently to enjoy this version of a tropical paradise. While surfing the British Virgin Islands is still somewhat secretive, lineups are generally full of friendly faces. Although the locals aren’t likely to draw you maps to their spots, if you do stumble upon them, they’re unlikely to raise a skull and crossbones pirate flag and attack your vessel.-Seth Stafford

British Virgin Islands Specifics

The Surf

Surfing in the British Virgin Islands is either feast or famine. Score a good low-pressure swell out of the north and you’ll be doing back flips after ripping up cobblestone-lined points and fire-coral-bottomed reef breaks. Waiting out flat spells will turn you into a Jimmy Buffett-song-singing, rum-drinking scalawag.

Must-Dos

There’s a place called Bomba’s Surfside Shack that has full-moon parties with barbecued grinds, rum punch, live reggae, and free mushroom tea-which is legal in these parts. To top off the debauchery, women are encouraged through the offer of a free T-shirt to leave behind their bras and panties.

The Season

November through February is when cold fronts on the East Coast of the U.S. send waves down toward the British Virgin Islands. Hurricane season (June-October) also generates surf, but those swells tend to be less predictable-and possibly more dangerous-than the wintertime cold fronts.

Cash

It’s not the cheapest place in the world, but there are guesthouses and villas to stay at for under 50 bucks a night-if you know where to look (lonelyplanet.com). There are a few campgrounds scattered throughout the archipelago, too. Meals are priced the same as they would be in a city in the states; cheeseburgers go for about seven dollars, and tasty conch dinners (popular in these parts), will run you about $20.

Hassles

Because there’re no large airports, there aren’t direct flights from the U.S. or Europe-you have to fly in from Puerto Rico. Also, some surf spots are only accessible by boat, which could be a problem for the financially challenged.

You’ll Fall In Love With …

The color of the sea. We don’t know why, but there’s something about it that makes you feel like commandeering a Spanish galleon full of gold … or just going snorkeling.

If You’ve Got The Balls …

Free-dive with reef sharks, jump off hundred-foot cliffs, or attend a full-moon party at Bomba’s Surfside Shack-we take no responsibility for your post-party sanity, though.

More images from Seth’s British Virgin Island trip can be viewed on transworldsurf.com.

when cold fronts on the East Coast of the U.S. send waves down toward the British Virgin Islands. Hurricane season (June-October) also generates surf, but those swells tend to be less predictable-and possibly more dangerous-than the wintertime cold fronts.

Cash

It’s not the cheapest place in the world, but there are guesthouses and villas to stay at for under 50 bucks a night-if you know where to look (lonelyplanet.com). There are a few campgrounds scattered throughout the archipelago, too. Meals are priced the same as they would be in a city in the states; cheeseburgers go for about seven dollars, and tasty conch dinners (popular in these parts), will run you about $20.

Hassles

Because there’re no large airports, there aren’t direct flights from the U.S. or Europe-you have to fly in from Puerto Rico. Also, some surf spots are only accessible by boat, which could be a problem for the financially challenged.

You’ll Fall In Love With …

The color of the sea. We don’t know why, but there’s something about it that makes you feel like commandeering a Spanish galleon full of gold … or just going snorkeling.

If You’ve Got The Balls …

Free-dive with reef sharks, jump off hundred-foot cliffs, or attend a full-moon party at Bomba’s Surfside Shack-we take no responsibility for your post-party sanity, though.

More images from Seth’s British Virgin Island trip can be viewed on transworldsurf.com.