"Do you want to try a new St. Martin surf spot?" Franck Rigal, owner of St. Martin Surf Explorer, asked on one of our weekly lessons at Galion Reef.
I had been looking forward to this moment since day one, curious about that which puts "explore" in St. Martin Surf Explorer. Waiting for winter, which brings bigger, gustier conditions, the timing was right. Today was the day.
"It's a cool, secret spot I just found. It is about a 25-35 minute hike along a mountain's edge, though," he warned. I've learned that anything that's truly worth it will never come easy, and surfing is no exception.
The thrill of the adventure. The suspense of not knowing. The excitement of going where few have gone before. In the spirit of Lewis & Clark, I was in.
Across a graveyard of rocks, the walk started at sea level. Timing our steps with the waves (to not get washed out), this adventure was already living up to its title. Approaching rather vertical slate rock, "hold your board in your right hand so you can catch the cliff with your left hand if you slip," Franck advised.
Below, the waves roared, the wind howled. Up, up, up, the mountain-side we went. The part that I had initially overlooked was that this was all to be done board in hand! If I look a little uneasy in the photo below it's because I didn't know whether to laugh at how crazy it felt or to let fear take over and commence freak out.
The cliff evened out at the top, stretching across a grassy path that was lined with turk's head cacti and dried out coconuts.
Preserved by St. Martin, sign postings along the way pointed out and explained all of the natural sites. With the warm Caribbean trades blowing through your hair, sea spray hitting your lips, the sun shining strong and bright, warming your skin, I would recommend this hike to anyone, just to take in this natural side of St. Martin. It will make you feel alive.
We continued on, Franck picking the pretty pink (and edible) fruit off of the melocactus, the wind moving, waves crashing. Tintamarre emerged as we rounded the first bend, then Anguilla.
"Just around the corner" was a phrase I feel like Franck said half a dozen times in those 25 minutes. But finally, it really was just around that corner. He looked back at me and pointed ahead to a little window between two rocks. Waves crashed violently. Reality set in. From my lower point of view, all I could see were barreling waves hitting rocky cliffs. "Really, Franck?" I thought in incredulous disbelief.
But, no, not really. We wouldn't be surfing this kamikaze wave, though Franck would later contemplate it.
We passed the final stretch of rocky beach before hitting sand and the spot that Franck was so eager to share. Here, you truly feel shipwrecked. There's nothing for miles. A small path, lush trees, dense mountains and foliage, sand and pure ocean. It could be a deserted island all its own.
I turned my attention to the waves. Not overly big, there was still some chop on the water and a few bigger sets coming through.
There are two parts to any adventure... the fear and the excitement. You can't have one without the other. The catch? I love the excitement, but naturally, fear the fear. I'm by no means brave and frighten easily. Knowing that Franck had surfed this wave before made things feel right. Well, mostly.
On the beach, we looked at the break, Anguilla in the distance. Franck explained it all, pointing out where the current is and where we should take off keeping that current in mind. He reassured me that it was mostly sandy bottom, with just a few patches of smooth rock.
Listening to him rattle off specifics about the spot, a little anxiety crept in. I was hearing his words, but not absorbing, still taking in the spot. Without another soul in sight, this felt truly wild!
The spot's entrance is lined with rocks hidden by the white water washing over them. Not being able to see my footing, every fiber in my body was tingling. Once we were out, it was just a matter of paddling hard to get over the waves which were forming into heavier shorebreaks.
Somehow, this wave seemed like a deep ocean wave, even though it's not. Maybe it was the fact that we were totally alone or that this is a protected bay, it just felt deep and alive.
"What's lurking below?" The thought flashed through my mind, but as quick as it came, it evaporated when Franck called me to the peak of the wave. No time for nervous shenanigans and head games.
Gazing at the setting, it was pretty special. Sea birds swooped, sail boats cruised in the channel, there's a strange satisfaction in feeling so remote yet still connected.
Watching the waves roll, a concerned expression came over my face. "They're not even head high," Franck argued. Maybe it was my built up nerves or my general disorientation distorting my vision, but they looked a little bigger than what I was used to.
"Here, I'll show you." In an effort to demonstrate that there was nothing to fear, he caught a few waves. But none of that really matters when you surf like Franck with so much style, so much control and excellent timing...
Inspired, it was time for me to man up and go!
Sometimes first impressions are vastly inaccurate. After that first wave, I was in love. Bigger, longer, mostly a right (with a few lefts), it's a little harder to catch, but when you get it, it's perfect.
That's not to suggest that it was all rosy and I emerged hair dry. Bigger waves threw me into white water spins, hesitation twisted my board during take off, scraping my fins into my chest, and a late take off pushed me up to the lip of the wave, resulting in an immediate crash to the bottom.
Crunched by a few close outs on top of that, there were still plenty of impressive drop-ins which let me do a little turn before falling off. And, the final wave of the day was my favorite. It was one of the nicest, smoothest lefts I've had to date!
Coming back to the beach was a bit of a challenge with the shorebreak slamming me around. Standing back on shore, with a few bumps and bruises as markers of a day well lived, I felt accomplished. But, I can't take credit for the exploring and the fun surfing. It wouldn't have happened without SXM Surf Explorer.
To search. To explore. To roam wild & free. That is to live. :-)
Here's to surfing adventures in hidden, exotic locales and many more to come!