Coast to Coast: February in Panama

Every time I step on a plane or in an airport I think, I’m never going on a surf trip again.

From getting bent over by airlines for board bag fees, and losing phones in taxis on the way to the airport, to the always higher-than-expected price of… everything. Is it just me, or does this stuff happen to everyone?

However filled with hate or anger I get from flying and traveling, I do always come back. This time, it was all for that moment when our eight amigos sat down and relaxed in the beautiful seaside casa we rented in the Veraguas Province of Panama. Relief set in while burns from the sun and smiles took over the once-heightened, rage filled senses.

This time, that peaceful feeling lasted about five minutes.

“Get off your knees and play the game!” I shouted at Dinno whose knees were in fact covered in black sand.

“Just throw the ball you fag,” he snarled in reply.

Our eight friends aren’t the best at relaxing for too long. Soon enough we entered a high stakes game of “beisbol en el patio trasero.” This game was played with a stiff palm frond for a bat, and an ever-evolving concoction of tape, plastic bags, and coffee filters for a ball. At some points, the ball would be ripped in half by a mighty swing of the bat.

We stitched together a field in our backyard. The old saying rings true: “Build it and they will come.”

Soon enough we were planning for games of backyard baseball in between surf sessions at the local reef or beach break. Happy hour made for the perfect time to play as the sun set.

backyard baseball views in Veraguas

We had driven more than five hours from Panama City to surf some waves along the West Coast with a group of friends who had been previously stationed on the Caribbean side of Panama. They moved West when the sea went flat. Somehow on our first night in this strange land, we were invited to a party.

Dreary from traveling and eating pizza, I balked when dinner conversation turned into party planning. But it’s hard not to be a “Yes Man” when traveling. So, soon enough I found myself stepping through a puddle that turned out to be a mini creek. My friend Max and I walked 20 minutes up a hill (and down a hill) to a scene that was a cross between a backyard BBQ, EDM festival, and Workaholics episode.

The strange gathering surprised our crew. So we drank some warm Panama Light. On our way home, sitting in the bed of a diesel-powered, 4WD Toyota Hilux were some of the brightest and most beautiful stars I’d ever seen before.

The next day, our friends Aker & Jay told us they’d ditched the party to go to a local cock fight. I thought that was extremely cool.

On the West coast, we split our time between two playful breaks. The group got some insanely fun waves amidst a scorching hot climate. The sun was hot enough to burn through a surf shirt. One of our friends, Max found out that the sun would turn his skin into a shirt–and by the end of the week he was shedding his own brand.

Hank from Deal, NJ.
Lhommy layback.
Davide floater
Davide with the floater.

Luckily (and abnormally for the Winter season) our crew experienced some rain days as well, which helped to cool off during a week of consistent SSW swell. During one of these days Wilma George and I were taking siestas in the hammocks outside. I heard what I thought to be a whimper from Wilma… Maybe a day dream? Next, I heard… “Someone help.”

I opened my eyes to Wilma elbows deep in four adorable puppies. So for the remainder of the week, we adopted the puppies. Some of the crew even gave them baths with flea shampoo to stop their chronic itching. Contrary to what we read online, we gave them milk and they couldn’t stay away.

Flea the pup
The runt of the litter…

In between surfing, we’d raid local restaurants and ask for 14+ plates of food. While waiting for meals, we played Uno. The will to win at Uno rose to the top list of priorities right underneath getting good waves, and winning backyard baseball. In once instance, the crew had to be reminded by the restaurant owner: Tranquilo.

Otherwise, we couldn’t seem to figure out how to source good meat products. So we stuck to making eggs, eating the local produce, and going out for big feeds. One of our best meals was another random experience… We were invited to a sushi night at a budding “restaurant” (some dude’s house) who served endless sushi and booze for about $20 a head. This turned from fine dining into a dance party when the speaker began blasting reggaeton and hip-hop classics.

The local coconuts (o pipas) were the bomb, and we drank/ate them daily from the pipa man, or straight from the source when our friend Jay could climb the palms.

It wasn’t til the last day of the trip, that the our Italian friends brought over some good ground beef for Bolognese. The meaty pasta was served alongside the pescado del dia. I’m still not sure what kind of fish we caught, but it was damn delicious.

El Caribe

The forecast for the Caribbean began to beckon. While the Pacific side remained fairly consistent, the Caribbean had a few islands and a few waves that we wanted a piece of…

Namely, we rode to charge the Bluff–a beach break that might be one of the most difficult and rewarding of it’s type (that I have experience with at least).

Everyday, the men and women of the crew rented Iron Horses from the Flying Pirate and rode out to the Bluff. Equipped with handshaped surfboards from EOTS, J.Perry, and CSD, they meant to tame the hollow waves. The travels through the Caribbean islands of Panama in search of tubes were characterized by local sloths, howler monkeys, falcons, and other critters.

While some days were better than others, there were always barrels to be had. That’s only if you had the gall to risk your board and your neck for a glimpse of crystal blue cylindrical freedom. But don’t get too excited–claiming waves will have the dudes out the back and on the beach saying “you’re gay!”

Personally, I loved surfing with my friends and the random/not-so-random crew of people who congregated from all over the world just to ride at the Bluff. One of my favorites was Tron: A nice dude from South Carolina who happened to live minutes from some of my best friends in Florida. I think his real name was Andrew? But Tron was known for positive energy, getting tubed, and was a pleasure to share waves with.

Missing the clip.

Despite incessant heckling, the boys all charged with head-down attitudes. Smiles and laughs were in abundance, and thankfully everyone made it in (pretty much) unscathed. Although, there was one death closeout which was able to separate our friend Justin from the water for a couple days, captured by our other friend Leo.

Is that JayPeeza?

Sessions at lefthand reef breaks surrounded those at the Bluff. On rainy days, getting to the beach was a sopping, muddy affair. Sunny days were either more of the same, or could be characterized by whirlwinds of dust. For the whole trip, there wasn’t a piece of clothing that could escape a wet, muddy, or dusty fate.

There was also more pizza, ice cream, cheeseburgers, roasted chicken, and quality fruit on the menu to fuel our Caribbean adventure. More group meals meant supporting Pollo Rosti, the rich white lady at Super G, as well as indoor and outdoor kitchens of the Penthouse and the grill at Conejos spot. Shoutout to the chefs.

On one of the last days of my trip, our friend Davide had organized a game of soccer (futbol) con los chicos de escuelita para Bluff. With no idea how such a game would go, I was shocked to be huffing and puffing alongside our team of gringos. It was gringos VS chicos at first. Soon the chicos were able to sign Megan, Gianno, and Ant to their roster. Los chicos evolved to beat the likes of JP, Justin, Tommy, Dinno, Davide, Tony, Matt, Hank, and Mike the Twister.

At game’s end, the score was 5-4 in favor of the locals. For days after, the gringos were aching from the game’s physicality. They grimaced at foot gashes from the muddy, grassy, and rocky field that had provided a big W for the home team.

So, licking wounds, they reflected on the debilitating loss, and laid in hammocks drinking and eating coconuts from some of the finest beaches the Earth could offer.

No good trip like the one described should ever end. But at some point it does–for one bad reason or another. Then, the way home reminds you how shitty it was getting there. And returning, tired and delirious to the gray, wet, and cold place you call home propels the mind into a dismal state…

In this case, I was left in the fetal position with a great tan and three lies of Bocas seared into my subconscious:

  1. I’m not drinking tonight.
  2. I’m leaving tomorrow.
  3. And, I love you.

Thanks to everyone involved for a great trip (;

Tagged , ,