Barbados for Beginners

Kook, newb, Barney, frube, grommet, Jake, quimby, shithead, all the fun words we become synonymous with as beginner surfers.

Unfortunately, those of us learning to surf in our adulthood might lack, shall we say, the cuteness factor and the innocence of youth that shields us from the dreadful blows to our egos, making each paddle-out feel like reliving middle school all over again. Time travelling back to our awkward stages—funny looking, lacking confidence and desperately seeking others’ approval or just trying to make it through the session without getting slammed into a locker, I mean rock. We are the Mitch, Tommy and Hirsch’s in an ocean of Randall, Don and O’Bannions.

Freights Bay

But sometimes the best places to learn are just not in your backyard. Luckily, I have had the good fortune to travel to many of the classic and famed beginner surfing spots—Waikiki, Byron Bay, Ditch Plains, Sayulita, Sri Lanka (god, you’d think I’d be better at this) and now Barbados. When you think of Barbados and surfing, the legendary Soup Bowl where world-class competitions are held probably comes to mind. However, being barreled into a rock or held under water or pinned to reef, that’s to say if I could even actually catch a wave, was and is not on my agenda.

Good sir, you had me at gentle!

After wandering around colorful Bridgetown and beautiful Carlisle Bay, I stopped into Paddle Barbados to get the scoop on where someone like myself should surf on the island. Gent at the shop listed a few spots then said if you want some gentle waves head to Freights Bay, but go right now for low tide. “Good sir, you had me at gentle!” I jumped in a taxi and bolted off to Ride the Tide Surf School at Freights Bay, where I was greeted by a shipping container bursting with boards and not another soul to be found. I walked a little ways up the road to a lookout point over the gorgeous bay and watched a couple of bronzed men noseriding in between pushing and coaching a few very pale, very exhausted most-likely first timers.

Zach, surf instructor at Ride the Tide

I got a quick holler and in a few minutes, one was paddling in to greet me. For just $20 for the day, Zach set me up with a 10-ft NSP—the duct-taped patch suggested its better days had passed, but what do I care? That’s the least of my concerns out there.

For most of the afternoon, I shared some baby waves with only a couple other surfers and some curious sea turtles until my arms finally gave out and a lovely mixture of breakfast, stomach acid, a gallon of salt water and possibly a flying minnow was sitting high in my throat.

As badly as I want to write about Freights Bay, I also don’t want to ruin it. For it to turn into the next Sayulita or Weligama where attempting to dodge surfers is like attempting to dodge garbage or the anonymous liquids that fall out of thin air onto your face in NYC. But Freights Bay may be the best place to learn to surf. The bay is utterly stunning and tranquil. The tropical flowers and aloe plants (which come in extremely handy after a day on the water if you don’t mind smelling like NYC on a hot summer day) frame the bay, glorifying its beauty like the metallic frame my mother mounted around my middle school yearbook photo… I came back to Ride the Tide the next day and the day after, picking up tips and advice from Zach out on the water and listening to him and the owner, Jay discuss the merits of peeing in your wetsuit. As I met people in the lineup and on the beach, everyone seemed to have the same question I did. Where are all the people?

On my last day, I hung around until sunset and watched dozens of cars pull in to check out the swell and dissatisfied, keep on driving and, quite honestly, that’s just fine.