An American invasion sometime in the mid 1980s, a region of Spain, or perhaps spices – these are the things that people typically associate with Grenada, but not surfing. As the founder of Grenada's first and only surf shop, I have often been asked, "There's surf in Grenada?!?" Yes, like our neighboring islands of Barbados and Tobago, there is surf here, and under the right conditions it can be world class.
What Grenada lacks is a surfing culture or many local surfers. The community is mainly comprised of an ever-changing mix of American medical students studying at St. George's University, visiting sailors, and expatriates working on the island.
Last February, American medical student Craig Brown took a few hours away from studying to surf just north of the nation's capital at Cherry Hill. On the Caribbean side of the Island, the break there is normally sheltered from the usual easterly swell, but the northerly swell was now creating eight-foot wave faces, and even the occasional overhead barrel. Returning home, Craig found that the forecast for the weekend was for light winds and an even larger swell.
It was the promise of this forecast that gave rise to Grenada's first surfing contest. Despite his demanding class and study schedule, Craig managed to organize the event in less than one week. Fifteen competitors would represent seven countries including Bermuda, the Bahamas, Norway, Puerto Rico, England, the United States and Grenada. Most were American medical students, but the event also attracted one of Grenada's rare local surfers, Danny Donelan, sales and marketing manager for Camper Nicholson's Port Louis Marina.
The day of the contest, the swell was sufficient to provide an adequate platform for the competitors to thrill the crowd assembled above the waves. From Cherry Hill back yards, steps and patios or the modest homes perched on this cliffside overlooking the break, judges and spectators watched the action. Winds were stronger than expected, creating a slight chop, but it was otherwise a perfect Caribbean day. The northern swells that make this break work are often associated with stormy weather which can make for some unusual obstacles on the wave. The mouth of a river empties into the sea near the break bringing with it all matter of debris after a heavy rain. Surfers at Cherry Hill have been unexpectedly knocked from their boards by pieces of bamboo and even a dead goat! After the first round of surfing, it became clear that this would not be a contest for first place. Of the very capable field of surfers, Craig Brown was clearly the most skilled and the crowd's clear favorite. He rode the waves further toward the base of the cliff than the other competitors, and sent the crowd into a frenzy with his spectacular aerials maneuvers.
Word of the contest spread across the island, and spectators continued to arrive and fill the backyards. An enterprising local resident even opened an impromptu beer and barbecue chicken stand on the front porch. In a country where socca, reggae and dancehall are the exclusive music at any party, punk, rock, and ska now pumped from the stereo.
The semi-finals saw eight surfers battling in two heats for four spots in the final. During this round the spectators were not only treated to some exceptional surfing, but also some great freestyle rapping over the P.A. system by one of the local residents who welcomed everyone to Cherry Hill, and promoted her BBQ chicken and beer.
The swell continued to build for the final round, providing the final four with great waves to show off their skills to the judges. Bird stunned the roaring crowd after emerging victorious from the whitewater of a full barrel, but it wasn't enough to surpass Craig's aerials or Dave's wave shredding turns. After the judging, final standings were Craig Brown (Florida) first, Dave Capaldi (New Jersey) second and "Bird" De Los Rios (California) third, all American surfers and students at St. George's University. In a country where cricket and football (soccer) reign supreme, few young Grenadians have the inclination or opportunity to surf, but organizer Craig Brown hopes that the event will have inspired some of the local kids to get in the water. Since the contest, he has been working to get boards donated from companies in the United States down to Grenada for the kids of Cherry Hill.
All proceeds from the contest were donated to the Orphan Student Organization, a group of volunteer students and other members of the St. George's University community who are committed to providing care and assistance to abused neglected and abandoned children residing at the Bel Air and Queen Elizabeth Homes in Grenada.
Even though there were no dead goats to add to the excitement, a great day was had by spectators and surfers, who are all now eagerly anticipating the next contest.