We should be all surfers too

Leticia Sánchez Garris (@leasterisco)

Photo: Leticia Sánchez Garris and Jianca Lazarus (Mariposa DR Foundation)

When I lived in Santo Domingo I could see the sea from my window. The closest thing to my eyes was a beautiful framboyán, my favorite tree, and a little further I could see that perfect line that we call the horizon. That blue Caribbean sea so characteristic of my land, a color which I sometimes confuse with the Gatorade Cool Blue. Although it is said that my city “has no beach” (only Boca Chica, located about 35kms from downtown), in fact, they are many. They’re small beaches that unfortunately are very polluted, but we, the locals, don’t frequent them much, and sadly take care of them. I always heard my dad say that the “Dominican per se” lives with the sea on his back, and this saying couldn’t be more literal. The growth that I’ve seen in this beautiful city where I was born and grew, does not start there. On the contrary, the growth at the infrastructure level has been to the back of the sea, pulling more towards the north and the center of the city, leaving aside our beautiful and full of potential Malecón (pier).

In my teenage years, I had a boyfriend different from that “Dominican per se” to which my father referred. This guy lived in Santo Domingo and constantly frequented one of these beaches, Playa Güibia, (it is 15 minutes walking from my house) where he used to surf. I remember that whenever I went by I saw many silhouettes practicing this sport, and it seemed so curious to me how this group, regardless of the unhealthy state in which I imagined that this beach was, never hesitated a second and went there daily. There was a time when I began to dream about being able to do it myself too, but there was also a lot of fear because I never had a swimming lesson and to be honest I was terrified when I imagined myself inside this beach. I heard stories of things that floated there…

Even though I never tried it, I was an island girl and I saw myself in the same way a little immersed in that world despite having ended my relationship. At that time in my life, buying a swimsuit was something that was constantly being done, not only in some months of the year. The brands that I consumed were the big brands of the surfer scene. Most of my clothing was of those brands, which obviously had as ambassadors/models, women who very different from me. Also, I remember when the movie Blue Crush came out, with Kate Bosworth and Michelle Rodriguez (btw she is Dominican too!), That was a bomb for me! Young women, who were independent and surfers, who had a difficult life but still supported each other in a sport dominated mostly by men.

But hey, that was just another Hollywood cliché movie, was it not? My life was completely different from that of these girls. The years passed by, the responsibilities arriving and the fears increasing. Only in 2012, I had my first encounter with surfing. And guess what? It was not in the DR, not even in my beloved Caribbean Sea. It was in the cold and brown Atlantic Ocean, to be exact in a traditional place of summer vacation called Santa Teresita in Argentina. I took the class with the typical surfer I was used to seeing (and unfortunately I still see almost exclusively) in magazines, movies and advertisements: tall, thin, blonde, excess tan, perfect six pack … It was an unforgettable experience for me since I was challenging myself to do something that had taken me more than a decade to accomplish. It had been many years but the desire had never been definitively gone.

When I knew that I was traveling to the Dominican Republic for Christmas, I decided to try again, mainly to understand and learn a little more about this sport. Since my friend Ivanna has been practicing for some time, I hit her on one of her visits to the beach. We arrived at La Boya, (30 mins by car from home) and had already coordinated everything with instructor Rene Gough, a Dominican surfer who learned thanks to his dad, also a surfer. Rene has been practicing it for more than 20 years and has participated in two occasions in the Pan-American Surfing Games representing our country. He and Natalie Camargo are in charge of the Ocean Soul RD school, where they give classes so that more people can practice it, always starting from the passion and love that they have for this beautiful sport and lifestyle.

As soon as we arrived I realized the fact that almost all the vehicles that were stationed were expensive 4×4 vehicles, I said to myself “ahh! The surfing business is doing well here.” Inside one of these vehicles, there were 2 guys playing a ukulele and smoking, I said to myself: “ahh! This doesn’t only happen in the movies”. I also realized in the water that there were more than 8 girls, I said to myself: “Ahh, this definitely is not a male-oriented sport” and I was caught by the little bulb of curiosity when I realized I was the only girl with an afro. There was another guy, Bryan, a boy from the community who assisted René in the class. He is part of a club that René and Natalie formed as well. With more than 7 years as a surfer, Natalie Camargo, in addition to being a surf instructor for the school, runs the community project La Boya Surf Club, in which apart from offering surf lessons to the children of this community, they also teach environmental education, helping them to be more aware of their own beach. There are already more than 20 kids who are part of this club, including Ana Maria, a 9-year-old girl who is the first native surfer of Andrés de Boca Chica, from whom everyone spoke wonders but I couldn’t meet. I was on vacation, but for Ana Maria to be able to surf she need to go without excuses to her school, and believe me that both Natalie and Rene are well aware of this.

Returning to my class, I feel I was not as terrible as the last that time in Santa Teresita so when I returned home I started to investigate more about this sport in the country. My mom told me that in her younger days her brother also surfed in Güibia with his friends and that it’s always been a sport practiced most of the times by the upper-middle class, at least in Santo Domingo. I already knew that in the North Coast of the country there is a much more present culture of this sport so with my friend Massiel we made the decision to go and spend a few days to take classes and also investigate a little more.

We are already in Cabarete, it is internationally recognized for its perfect beaches for Kitesurfing and where Playa Encuentro’s at, the surfers’ beach. In Cabarete, everything was different. There were not so many 4×4, many had hair like me and I heard bachata in the background. It felt like home <3.

Encuentro Beach was quite a discovery. We parked, before stumbling with the immense ocean of the Atlantic we came across with a thousand surfing boards of all the colors of the rainbow, several surf schools, I think even a surf shop, showers, bathrooms, a place to eat … a whole new world! We asked for Bobo and in a short time, we were in Bobo’s Point listening to Bobo’s history.

Like many capitaleños (as we call those from Santo Domingo) Bobo moved to the North Coast in search of a different life. Although his father wanted him to be an architect, Bobo followed his passion for the sea and today, 20 years later, he is a surf instructor here. Taking the class with him was very special, I already came with the technique provided by Rene, so his class was “all about the feeling”, as he says. His class was more spiritual focused on how we feel in the water and how this sport helps us create a better society thanks to the level of mindfulness and self-awareness that surf can provide to us.

In Cabarete, I also met the Mariposa Foundation. His surfing program began in 2012 and with the entry of Pamela Cuadros, Dominican surfer, who besides being the graphic designer of the foundation, is the instructor of his Summer Camp. Pamela teaches the sport to new girls and continues to train the most advanced girls each year. At the end of the summer, they do a surfing competition just for them, in which 150 girls from the Foundation already attend with their relatives, friends, and volunteers.

I was very excited with the work of both La Boya and the Mariposa Foundation because I know that although our country is in the Caribbean and is a tourist destination, it is incredible that the vast majority of locals don’t know how to swim, including me. One thing is not to drown and “defend me under the water” and another is to really know how to swim properly. Pamela tells me that many parents don’t want their daughters to go to the sea out of fear. These projects also teach them how to swim, awakening confidence, overcoming fear and above all creating dreams for them. For my part, what awakened in me was the curiosity to continue learning and understanding more about this sport. It’s about facing fears, is to connect with nature and ourselves, is the energy of our sea and as Bobo says, “it’s all about the feeling.” This made me think that just as Chimamanda says that we should all be Feminists, maybe we should all be surfers too, right?