I asked her to do this because I knew I wouldn’t have the words to describe, to explain, to illustrate what the expedition has meant to us, or to those who have joined along the way. Of course photos are only a slice of the picture, a fabulous collage pieced together somewhat magically and very haphazardly as we slowly worked our way around the world. There’s been a plentiful supply of blood, pain, laughter, disappointments, discoveries, and of course moments that are too special to ever try to represent with words.
Knowing the trade winds would be long gone by April we planned this 10 day adventure around surf. The southern atolls in the Maldives are exposed to reliable swell from the south Indian Ocean, which culminate in some of the worlds best reef breaks. Our plan was to leave Male and cover the distance to arrive well before the clients’ flight into Huvadhoo atoll, one of the largest atolls in the world and only 20 miles north of the equator. But on the day of our planned departure I learned 8 time world SUP champion Jamie Mitchell’s signature Surftech board had not arrived. As SUP boards aren’t the easiest things to travel with we’d made plans weeks in advance to have it shipped to Male so we could carry it south with us on Discovery. Instead of departing I spent a full night with our agent Abdullah at the airport trying to clear the board from customs. This would not be the last problem on the trip.
This is our last day, the whirlwind is coming to an end. Last night we had our final dinner with everyone present and in my final parting speech I said something that was absolutely true and yet I still find incredible. I said that usually at the end of one of our trips we (meaning the crew) cannot wait for it to be over so we can take a break. Those trips are usually 6 guests at most. For this one, we’ve had in the neighborhood of 20+ every day. The workload has been trebled or more. Quite a few people are sick (me included), and everyone is exhausted. But I almost collapsed into tears last night at the thought of this one ending. This trip has been amazing on so many levels. Each person has contributed to its success, and the success has had nothing to do with what we set out to do, which was kite waves. Sure, we’re hopeful today we’ll get more time on the water, and yes, we’ve had some kiting and some great waves, but what stands out is the adventure and the people who’ve shared in making it.
The weather today turns gray again, and while the mood on board seems forever positive, we’re all feeling the end. Quite a few have succumbed to the long days and short nights to head colds, myself included. Scott thought we might have some luck up near Boca Del Drago as it’s exposed totally to the north and our winds, when they come, usually manifest from this direction.
With 25 people on board an early start is pretty much a given. Erin had the camera out early videoing the people chaos- there were bodies strewn about the galley floor, across the main salon, under and on the cockpit table. We’d had some rain after anchoring, sending everyone off the decks for cover wherever it could be found.
Today we went into serious expedition mode. An early start from the Maccavite hotel, then south to Escudo Veraguas 34 miles with 25 people on board. Escudo has zero population, rarely has a visitor and as it’s offshore some 10 miles we hoped would have more wind. Discovery comfortably sleeps 11. We have 25- 8 pro riders, Rami, 4 film crew, 3 boat crew, one photographer, one owner and his girlfriend, one writer and his wife, Scott (our local guide, guru and surf wave god), and two Panamanian chica friends of Scott to keep the morale high. One of them seems to keep Will’s morale higher than the rest of us, which doesn’t seem fair considering we’ve been catching plenty of fish… We planned to either sleep everyone on board or set up some tents onshore as there’s no way we can go all that way and get home in one day.
Day 4 will probably go down as the best surf day of the trip. With Scott on the Red Bull ski and the swell finally pumping, we pulled out early to head down to Cusapin, where we heard very few people ever reach. Cusapin is 4 hours south of Bocas, across a long channel, through a myriad of mangrove lined islands, across another open water channel and into a long, fully protected bay called Laguna de Bluefield.
This was our first day of real kiting, though it was a bit short and not a whole lot of sweet. But it was a pretty amazing day. The morning began early for me with yet another trip to the airport, this time to pick up Amit’s board bag, Erik’s camera bag and Rami Beracha, an Israeli kiter and friend/student of Amit’s who owns a school called Kiteaway in Israel. Rami lost one leg and one arm and suffered a serious injury to his other arm in a landmine accident in Lebanon while serving mandatory service in the Israeli army. Rami has climbed Kilimanjaro, and Amit insured us we’d be impressed by his kiting, but I was already impressed by just how he got around. He can handle a board bag better than I can!
With the addition of Raphael Salles, Mika Fernandez, Erik Aeder and Ryan Gaw today our crew is almost complete. The weather remains clear and sunny, but our swell is still minimal and the winds non-existent. The forecast however remains excellent- by tomorrow we should have some wind, by Tuesday the swell and wind, peaking by Friday. We’re planning an offshore expedition out to Escudo Veraguas. If we go, we’d have 24 people on Discovery- should make for some entertainment to say the least!
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.