BWS in Dominican Republic ~ Day 1
It's 8:41am and my mate Oliver Dadswell from Eye Fly Films is twenty one minutes late for picking me up to go join Ian Alldredge and the BWS crew for a week long kite surf adventure along the north coast of the Dominican Republic. Twenty one minutes late in Cabarete is about as on time as you can get according to island time. So we're right on time.
We roll up to Millennium hotel to join the rest of our group who are eagerly packing up the two other autos to the roof with gear. In total we're thirteen grown men, and I use that term grown men loosely, off for an adventure of a lifetime in DR.
Like a group of circus clowns we pack into vans too small for all our gear and head out intrepidly onto Highway 5 as it snakes and curves its way along the entire north coast. From Cabarete we head east, only BWS and our local fixer super hero Brandon Sanford knows the way. From here on out, we are now gringos lost in paradise. Spread out over three cars, I get to ride shotgun with photographer Oliver and his four-legged production assistant Nacho. Oliver has been hired to photo document the adventure, and it just so happens we used to be roommates. So I get to do a weeklong road trip with my best mate, his dog, and one of my strapless hero's, the man behind TDZ, Mr. Ian Alldredge. I'm the luckiest kite surfer in the world today.
Man Funk by Guts is booming out of the sound system as we roll down the highway avoiding man eating potholes with the grace and precision of an F-one driver. We're leaving the relative touristic town of Cabarete for the back roads and secret surf breaks only known to locals, that's where Brandon comes in. Born and raised in Cabarete, the Dominican Kelly Slater, Brando knows the north coast like the back of his hand, and he's about to spill the beans on all the secret nuggets that can be found if you're willing to take the road less traveled. That's why we rented the four by fours brother.
Highway 5 along the coast is one of the most beautiful roadways in the Caribbean. Hugging the ocean like a long lost lover, palm trees are all that separate our rubber wheeled chariots from the oceans surf breaks as we cruise the open highway. Dominican motor traffic is not what you'd call safety inspected vehicle maintenance. More like, if it runs and rolls, it's good enough for the autobahn. Like many countries similar in economic status to the DR, there is no need for posted highway speeds. The potholes, lingering farm animals and very sketchy motorbikes with as many as five full sized adults on one moto help keep speed in check. Most of the time. The highway can go from smooth asphalt to tire eating holes of dirt with no warning. If you want to push the speed, you risk leaving a wheel axle on the side of the road. We're in no rush, and we enjoy the view.
The first look into the bounty of Dominican surf spots is a quick stop at Preciosa. Like many hidden gems in the DR, Preciosa sits tucked into a small bay that is impossible to find unless you've been lucky enough to be shown the way by a local yourself. Standing on the elevated point, on our left we can see a sliver of beach protruding out of the dense jungle. On our right the cliffs drop off to the big bay, in the distance La Muela rock stands free out in the Atlantic. The water is tap water clear. The sand and reef below are perfectly defined by the pulsating waves. It's our first glimpse into the paradise that awaits us on this Dominican adventure. It's breath taking.
No time to waste we pack back into the cars because we have a date with a private surf hut in the jungle, and daddy needs some water time. Swerving off the road we take the exit for La Entrada, a small beach town that only comes alive on the weekends. It just so happens that it's Sunday. The long beach is divided in two by the river birthing out of a fresh water geyser. There is a row of restaurants located near the river mouth entrance that promises to be packed with locals once the day gets on.
Stiff and stupid from our drive, we roll out, stretch and sit right back down to our first delicious Dominican meal. Laid out before us is a feast of fresh fish, avocado salad, BBQ chicken and more. Deeeelicious!!
Over the meal we begin to get to know our other travelers. Our hosts on the fantastic adventure are Ian Alldredge and Karl Vannerem from BWS Kite Surfing, along with surfing legend Benny Bourgeios from the Carolina surfing hall of fame. We are all here for one reason, to ride, learn and hang out with Ian, and this is our first time to sit and get to know the man behind the amazing images. Like the first meal in every kite camp I've ever been on, we are men of few words. In time, that'll change.
Enjoying post meal coffees, we relax and go over our kite goals for this camp while dreaming of our first session. Packed back into our chariots we make our way to our final destination, the DR Surf Hut. Once across the river, the concrete road quickly turns to dust, rocks and roots now make up the terrain. The road twists and turns as it ever so tightly straddles the falling edge that drops into the ocean. We have to drive with caution as some sections of the road fall off into the lapping waves.
A few twists and turns through the jungle and we come to it, our rustic Dominican retreat on the point. Surrounded on three sides by water, the hut sits alone bordered and protected by jagged reef. Simple in design, the hut has all we'll need over the next week to find our paradise on the north coast. Split into several rooms, the main body is a two-storey structure that features a communal area below, and an open concept living area where most of us sleep above. There is no air conditioning, no flat screen television, no wifi, in fact, there is no power of any kind. We eat by gas lanterns, and walk the grounds with halogen headlamps. We are truly living the real Dominican life here deep in the jungle.
We unpack our gear like kids on Christmas day, giddy and stupid as we look over each others toys. Pretty quickly there are dozens of surfboards and kites littering the lawn. Waiting for the wind to pick up, a few of our team decide to check out the perfect head high waves that break just on the far side of the reef beside our Dominican hut. Chris, Benny, Juan, Ian and The Mexican El Ray take to the water to enjoy a sublime SUP session. They make it look so easy.
Sorted and re-packed with the essentials, we load into our wheels and make our way back to La Entrada to have our first session of the trip. Cruising onto the strip, the serene beach is now the place to be on this part of the north coast. The avenue is on fire. Massive speakers sit on car roofs blaring an assortment of tunes from raeggaeton to bachata to salsa, all turned up to speaker distortion levels. I actually think Dominicans believe it's not loud enough until it distorts, and then it's perfect.
The small bridge over the river is now lined in perfect unison by the gangsters of La Entrada. Pimped out CG150's motorbikes line the bridge side by side. Wanna be mobsters lay back laden in gold chains, fake Gucci glasses, watches the size of their forearms, open bottles of rum in their hand, and bad bitches on their arms. "Como esta El Heje!" is the standard greeting. It gets you the nod.
The triple truck pull up. Thirteen gringos stepping out of three cars loaded to the tits with surfboards attracts some attention. Pretty soon we are the most popular gangstas in town, and everyone wants to see how we roll. A dozen kites pumped and launching produces curiosity, we're the most action this beach has seen since New Years Eve. Kids paw our gear and ask us questions in backcountry Dominican Spanish. Even Juan and Ray who are Spanish speakers have to double take some words.
We may be the first people to ever kite surf this spot, and it's now throw down time at the OK Corral. BWS kites light the sky. I feel a little out of place on the lone Slingshot kite, but I manage. The fresh water river mixes ice cold with the open Atlantic, creating vortexes of different temperature water, and rivers of assorted colors.
Our smiles are ear to ear. We're all on the water riding with Ian, and having a blast. We ride till past sunset. Landing on the beach the crowds of inebriated beach weekend warriors have mostly left, leaving only the scroungy mutts and our stupid grins. Karl hands everyone an ice cold cerveza as they glide off the water, and it is fucking delicious.
We roll back in the dark to our hacienda on the ocean to find Roberto grilling up some more barbeque goodness. More classic Dominican eats; BBQ'd pork & chicken, avichuela (rice & beans), yucca and all washed down with many Cuba Libre's.
We settle into our soft back plastic lounger chairs beside the bon fire in the dark, only lit by the glow of the fire, drinking cervezas, getting beyond the superficial conversations, and learning who these intrepid travelers really are. One by one we splinter off to bed, and dream of our adventure that awaits mañana.