Jan. 12, Day 1, All Pro Invitational, Panama
We’ve been planning this event for so long I can’t believe it’s actually happening. Ten of the top wave riders in the world. On our boat, in the middle of nowhere, in a place that as far as we know has never been ridden. I’ve had some serious jitters for weeks. Will there be wind? Will there be waves? Could we pull this off? Would everyone have fun? We arrived a week ago Saturday in torrents of rain. The rain continued for three days, then cleared up beautifully but of course the wind and swell cleared out as well. Two days ago I got an email from Michael Behar, the writer for one of the main magazines running a feature (I’m not allowed to say until it’s published) that he thought the magazine might pull the plug. The forecast was looking dismal and without wind there would be no “kiteboarding expedition”, and thus no reason to come. Without Michael our lead photographer (Erik Aeder) from Maui would have no main publication to sell the pictures to. Without Erik the pros get no press, and don’t have much of a reason to come. I felt like the domino was about to fall.
My immediate response was to send out an urgent email to everyone coming down that we should consider moving the dates back a few days, in hopes the forecast would improve. In the span of two hours my world went from upside down to nearly as relaxed and perfect as my world can get. Our film crew, carrying nearly a quarter of a million dollars worth of gear were already enroute (Dan Connely, Mike Jones, Erin Harvey, and Ryan Gaw). All the athletes were within 24 hours of departing. Erik, one of our owners Scott Wisenbaker and Michael were packed and ready to go. But in those two hours our forecast suddenly went from bleak to very hopeful (winds coming from the NW, swell coming from the NE) and the response from everyone was the same. “Do it”. They made me realize that what we get is what we’ll get and with the group we have, we’re going to have a blast regardless.
The head of Red Bull in Panama, Hayes Wheeler put me in touch with a well known local surfer, Scott Balogh who’s developing a piece of property in Balinese style at a remote spot called Red Frog Beach. Our lead on production, Dan Connelly arrived first on Thursday and we all decided to have a look around with Scott to recon the area before everyone arrived. On Friday we were joined by Mike Jones and Erin Harvey, two more of our cinematographers. I took one look at the gear these guys have and realized they are way, way, way overqualified to be here on our budget. To be around people with the kind of experience, passion and enthusiasm these guys have is contagious. I was beginning to feel a whole lot better about running this event, and with the forecast continuing to improve, I couldn’t wait to meet all the pros.
My hope is to write a daily update on the event for the next 9 days. Even if I pull this off, I’ll never be able to describe the quality of men who are now here. With each flight yesterday from Panama City a few more guys arrived, each one bringing their own amazing and unique energy. Amit Anbar from Israel came in first. Amit had no bags at all- his board bag lost in New York, his clothing bag lost in Panama, but after 40 hours of straight travel he was still keen to get in the water and get some waves. He and Scott (also looking pretty bleary eyed) headed out with the film crew to see what they could find. Then came Chris Wyman, Moehau Gould, Joao Pedro Simonsen, and Mauricio Abreu, coming in from Los Angeles, Maui, Brazil, and Tahiti. The boys (all but Joao) were pretty shattered from a rough night in Panama City, which I probably shouldn’t elaborate on. Needless to say, having this kind of talent all together in one room was fairly over the top. I don’t think “starstruck” really describes how I was feeling, but it’s not far from it. Raphael Salles, Mika Fernandez, Fernando Peraud, and Rami Beracha will all be joining us tomorrow and Monday.
By the time we had everyone rounded up we headed out to Scott’s bungalows for our opening party, a big bonfire and dinner under a moonless, cloudless sky. It’s such a remarkable place. To get there you have to take a 15 minute ride in a motorized “kayuko” through thick mangroves which grow in pristine clear water. Then you take a sand trail through a jungle (sloths, caymans, and of course- red frogs!) to the other side of the island, which opens onto a beach that thankfully few tourists will ever see. At one point in the party I walked out alone on the beach to do a bit of stargazing and realized I felt incredible. Sure, the food was great, the beers were cold, the bonfire was raging, the beauty of the night was mesmerizing; all these things certainly helped my lofty mood but I realized it was the company. When you are among greatness, you simply feel great. This is going to be an extraordinary week.