By: John Angiulo
OUTPOST: PUERTO RICO
Each year I go from spending every day in the sun, teaching people to surf on a packed beach, to spending winters in the frigid waters and on the desolate beaches that rim long island. While winter does offer empty waves, a harsh yet elegantly beautiful landscape and plenty of time for creative endeavors, it can leave something to be desired. Hands and feet going painfully numb, limited sessions per day, the fact that perpetually used wet suit gear takes on the odor of toxic waste and the expense of driving a car around in the snow for hours on end looking for rideable waves, all take their toll.
Meanwhile, I’ve always dreamed of moving somewhere tropical, where the required attire is board shorts and bikinis and there’s ample time to surf and create whenever I want. My dad raised me on surf culture with movies like Five Summer Stories, Morning Of the Earth and Endless Summer and they all impacted my idea of how daily life should be. It should be fun. So this past November of 2015, I was on a trip in Puerto Rico, and my girlfriend and I decided to pull the trigger.
In one day we bought a car and signed a five month rental agreement. We moved in the beginning of January and began a new year with a different kind of life. While t always sounds like a good idea to move somewhere beautiful and tropical, but sometimes reality can differ greatly from dreams. After living in PR for two months I’ve had a little time to think about it and if there’s one thing I can say about my time here it’s that is it has been fun.
Since my arrival the waves have flared weekly, providing doses of triumph and humility. To be fair, because of El Nino, the entire surf world has been putting on a display of epic proportions. Still, January was the best month of surf in my life. Just about every week a new swell would fill in, pick up to double to triple overhead and gradually decrease back down until it was one foot again, before a new swell would arrive and do the same thing. Not only was the consistency and quality there but the settings were from out of a fantasy.
The water is a shimmering transparent emerald hue that draws up off of perfectly sculpted reefs. Waves descend upon you in wild yet orderly lines that breed both excitement and fear depending upon how big they are and how prepared you are. The coast line is an evolution of corners and crevices that births a myriad of set ups, which are lined by narrow beaches and dense greenery that gives way to lush mountain backgrounds. Clouds come and go in expansive herds that give the impression of a floating archipelago drifting across the sky.
The best sessions take on a mystical aura. The tide, swell, wind and sun all synchronize so that waves become mythical in their aesthetic grandeur. Like dragons they appear, glistening, massive, beautiful and untamed. They move with power and certainty towards an unseen point in the future and seduce us into joining that journey.
Each wave that is caught carries the rider through a vortex in space and time. Time continues to move, but much more slowly. Space expands and contracts in wonderful ways. When it’s good enough the waves give each person a shot at this transcendental experience. It’s not always like this, but when it is, you can tell.
I return to shore from those sessions and all of life is filled with a new flavor. Laughter is more full, faces more friendly, and life feels more fresh, vivid and meaningful. It makes me remember, that’s the point of surfing, so that the rest of life can be even sweeter. And life here is sweet.
New York has its own energy about it. It inspires creativity, breeds determination and demands quality. But with that comes a palpable tension. There is a stress and anxiety that is part of living in New York. That state of mind dissolves the instant I set foot in Puerto Rico. It is replaced by a sense of calm, steady joyousness.
The sun sets the tone for my day. It meanders slowly over the horizon, tinting clouds soft pink and orange as the sky returns to blue. The air is the coolest it will be and creates a mellow world to wake up in and start fresh. As the sun rises and begins to heat the air we leave the house, coffee in hand and follow a similar routine along the nearby coast to check waves. The first surf washes the sleep from my eyes and opens them to another day.
After a few hours, the sun ascends high bringing the world to a bit of a boiling point. This heat causes everyone to move slowly and creates space to sit in the shade of palm trees on the beach, watching waves and simply enjoying being. This period of the day also provides an opportunity to create, work or have fun. I read a bit before jumping into writing. Other people I know here paint, carve, sculpt, fish, play music, hike, snorkel or whatever they want, with this mid-day down time.
When the sun begins its descent, the heat lowers and there are still hours of time to surf. I usually surf one or two more times before the sunset halts all human activity with its dazzling beauty. Most evenings are like a light show spectacular that bends and reflect off cloud banks and the ocean. Everyone lines the beaches and roads that overlook the ocean to soak in last rays of light.
Night time is ushered in by drinks with friends and good food, either at home or out and about. The island has its own culture filled with music, dancing, parties and community events. The temperature is near perfect and people split their time between early nights at home and late nights in the town or at fires on the beach. The night sky is a lighted by sparkling stars and a large, bright moon. I go to sleep completely shot and wake up amped to do it again.
In Montauk I work for CoreysWave: Professional Surf Instruction company. I love surfing more than anything and being able to teach it to be people and spread that joy is amazing. I’m also lucky because many of my clients have become friends and it makes working with them even better. Part of the impetus for making a move for the winter was the idea that we could offer people an opportunity to continue learning and progressing. A tropical local is more alluring than a frigid one and the warmth means we can surf multiple times a day.
In the time I’ve been here I’ve had a handful of clients come down for one on one advanced lessons and the reaction has been great. I wake up at sunrise and check local beaches and other reports for conditions to find which of the multiple options is best for the day. Then we meet, have coffee on the beach as we talk about what to expect for the session and the sun makes its way over the hills and into the sky.
The water is crystal clear and the waves on hand are any variation of small knee high peelers to head high reelers, depending on conditions and the person. After the paddle out we talk a little bit before swinging into fun ones, building momentum throughout the session, learning and having as much fun as possible. After the session we talk about it over food, rest a bit and then repeat until the waves are no longer good or we are completely exhausted.
Some sessions are documented, so during one evening we review pictures and video, which is a lot of fun. People hardly eve appear in pictures the way they do in their heads and surf pictures can be humbling, hilarious, awesome, epic and almost always informative. Seeing yourself surf is a huge part of improving and review sessions are a great way to end the day.
This routine has made my time down here so fulfilling. Everyone who has come has improved and left happy, healthy and looking forward to more. It’s one thing to move and be happy but to be able to share it with other people, provide them with a reprieve from the stresses of normal life and give them joy through surfing, is about as good as I need it to get.
TO BE CONTINUED…
I’ll continue living here until May and loving it, but just to be fair to anyone in colder climes, not everything is great. All things, government, restaurants, bathroom lines, etc., run slowly here, there’s plenty of bugs, occasionally you’re too damn hot, some places have bad crime, the roads are narrow, filled with crazy drivers and cavernous potholes, electricity goes out fairly often, Wi-Fi is hit or miss and cell phones service can be crappy to non-existent depending on your provider.
But it’s a place that’s beautiful, filled with adventure and good people. There are opportunities to surf almost every single day, the waters warm and the beers are cold. My hands, feet and face don’t hurt when I get to my car, unless I ate shit on a reef, and no matter what, I’m not cold. I love New York and I’ll be back in spring but if you’re looking for me this winter, there’ an island in the Caribbean three hours away. I’ll be there.
All photos credited to John Angiulo.
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