March 10, 2020 2 Comments
I had been staring at the island of Barbuda in the northeast Caribbean for over a year on Google Earth. There are so many points, bays, beaches, lagoons, mangrove trails, cliffs, and reefs around the island that my imagination would run wild about the potential for paddle boarding, kiting, surfing, and free-diving. There seemed to be every shade of blue imaginable around its coastline and from the information I could gather, the people and community looked just as awesome as the island itself.
A few months after we heard about Barbuda in 2017 the island was directly struck by Irma, one of the most powerful Hurricanes to hit the Atlantic. The devastation was unimaginable. In late 2018 we reached out to Asha Frank, Tourism Director for the Barbuda Council, and asked if they’d be interested in hosting some of the Pau Hana Team as we attempted to stand up paddle around the island seeking out a wide variety of activities including kiteboarding, surfing, free-diving, spear-fishing, and maybe even some rock climbing. From the start they were on board and Asha soon introduced us to Jackie Frank and Anreka Geness, two incredible women, to assist in the planning process for our SUP expedition.
With a passion for outdoor gear and logistics there are few things I love more than planning for expeditions. The team would comprise of myself, my wife and fellow Pau Hana Athlete Christian Edie, along with our seven-month-old son, Ocean. Attempting to paddle board 52 miles around an island seemed difficult with an infant so we asked Christian’s mom, Angie to join us to help with Baby Ocean. We also recruited our friends Kyle Sullivan and Rita Flemming, extremely talented photo-videographers and adventurers from West Colorado.
On the Ferry ride from Antigua with a mountain of gear strapped to the top of the boat we began to see the island in the distance. The anticipation from the last several months of planning was bursting inside me as we pulled into the harbor. When we docked and unloaded the boat, right away I could sense how special this place and its people are. Without speaking a word folks smiled, started helping us unload our gear and helped us find our ride into town.
After getting settled we had a meeting with people from the tourist department, firemen/EMT’s, and local fisherman to share their knowledge of the island. Most of the water around Barbuda is sheltered by reef but there are a few sections that we knew could be tricky depending on conditions. A long-time fisherman asked, “how big of waves can you handle on your SUP boards?” We said “with them all loaded up with gear around 5-6 ft.” He nodded his head in approval. Another asked, “where do you think you will have the biggest challenge?” Without hesitation we pointed to the middle section of the Atlantic side where it was clear the exposed ocean had no protection. It was obvious we had done our homework and again they nodded in approval.
The next morning our friend and driver, Zahir, picked us up at 5:30 am with Anreka, Abigail, and Claudina to see us off. We needed to get an early start because we were starting on the south side of the island heading east and would be going directly into the easterly trade winds to get that section out of the way while we were fresh, so were looking to cover ground before the wind picked up as the land heated up. We pumped up our inflatable paddleboards, rigged them for the day on the water and began paddling from Princess Diana Beach.
After about 30-minutes or so we made it to Coco Point. Early in the morning the wind was already stronger than we hoped. As we came around the point what was a strong side-off shore breeze seemed to pick up tremendously and was now a full-on head wind. The wind was so strong it was difficult to cover any ground at all. We ended up jumping off our SUPs and wading along the coast hoping the wind would decrease the deeper into the bay we went.
On every expedition there is usually a moment when you think to yourself, “what the hell are we doing here?” It was very troubling to me that this moment came only an hour and a half into a 10-day paddle. It was especially difficult because Christian and I couldn’t stop thinking about how our seven-month-old baby would do spending the majority of the day away from us. Nevertheless, we pressed on and slowly began to cover some ground. Just when moral was slightly low while we were wading with our paddleboards, out of the bush only 20 yards away a herd of wild horses emerged and galloped beside us. It was one of those magical moments that resets your mind and puts the wind back in your sails.
About halfway into the Bay we decided to stop hugging the shore and make a push directly across the bay to reach our check-in spot with the land team at Spanish Point. It seemed just under a mile of a 20+ mph headwind to reach that spot. We paddled hard and if you stopped for a second the wind would just start to push us back. As we approached Spanish Point we could hear the thunder of crashing waves and see the spray blow over the point. I had another troubling feeling that the waters on the other side were quite turbulent.
When we landed we pulled our SUPs onto the beach and ran across the point so we could scope out the Atlantic. As we feared the waves were huge and waters treacherous. We pumped up some kites and waited for our land crew to arrive with Baby Ocean. It’s a funny thing being new parents and seeking adventure. Maybe we would have went for the next section if we weren’t, but the love for your child makes you a little more cautious so when the rest of our team arrived we discussed options to bail on the rough section ahead. Our original plan was to paddle around Spanish Point and camp at Pelican Bay or Castle Bay but instead we would spend the night back in Codrington and then drive past the rough seas up to Two Foot Bay and resume our expedition the next morning.
With a little extra time that afternoon from our change of plans we taught Anreka and Abigail how to SUP in the calm waters on the backside of Spanish Point. We drove on some dirt roads up to Pelican Bay and confirmed our choice to skip ahead when we saw how gnarly the conditions were. With Zahir’s truck loaded with gear and our team driving back to town I couldn’t help but have some feelings of disappointment. The stretch we were skipping was one I was most excited to paddle. I was excited about the challenge knowing conditions could be tricky and we were missing an area called “The Highlands” which is a 2-mile stretch of limestone sea cliffs and caves from Castle Hill to Two-Foot Bay.
Our new plan was to drive to Two-Foot Bay early next morning to check out the northern end of the Highlands and resume our paddle. Back in town it was nice to have a shower, we walked to some basketball courts and had an awesome time playing ball with some local youth and then enjoyed amazing BBQ.
The next morning we stopped for some roadside fish and dumplings, a delicious breakfast of champions, and then drove around the highlands to Two-Foot Bay which is a National Park and one of the coolest places on the island – literally. There is a cave named Aircon right at the Bay that provides shade and funnels the easterly trade winds creating some very pleasant temperatures. After exploring the caves, we hung with the crew on the beach for a few minutes and then set off for our destination for the day; Frangipani Glamping Resort on Barbuda’s remote Atlantic coast. The paddle was only a few miles but would prove to be one of the most challenging sections to SUP.
As we took-off we knew we had to paddle straight out into open water so that once we were in the right position the trade winds would push us to our landing point. The first 20-minutes of paddling was battling a headwind and fairly large side swell. If one of our team got caught inside by the waves the shallow reef on the inside looked very unforgiving. While paddling through this section we suddenly saw what looked like two pieces of rebar sticking out of the water which then disappeared. We were warned to look out for debris in the water from Hurricane Irma so keeping a watchful eye it reappeared but this time didn’t look like rebar at all but definitively two shark dorsal fins. Kyle and Rita never saw the fins but one shark came right up to Kyle’s board turned on its side and looked directly at him.
We made it out far enough that we could turn our paddleboards toward Frangipani and use the wind to push us onward. However, we were not out of the woods yet as we had to navigate extremely shallow and sharp reef. We were in a single file line threading the needle through deep enough channels, slightly more on edge from our recent shark sighting. With a few close calls but no incidents we finally reached our destination for the day; Frangipani.
Christian and Rita jumped off their boards and began rolling in the pink powdery sand. We had two nights to stay at Frangipani so was time to explore the area – kiting, spearfishing, and enjoying the incredibly remote natural beauty. We waited for our land crew lounging in the shade and enjoying some R and R. When the team arrived, they had brought with them a home cooked meal with BBQ Chicken, seared fish, mac and green salads and even ice cream! The Barbudan hospitality was simply unbelievable. That night we sipped on coconut rum and watched more stars than I thought was even imaginable.
The next day we took it easy. Had a short light wind kite session and then we walked the beach north a few miles to scout the next day’s paddle. That evening our hosts and owners of Frangipani, sisters Asha and Afiya, hosted a BBQ and bon fire party. Several locals from Codrington made the 30-minute drive from town and brought local short rib venison curry, barracuda ceviche, and other amazing local dishes. We watched the sunset at the point sharing drinks and stories then moved down to the fire and BBQ pit. For some of the people there it was their first time seeing what the sisters had created in this pristine location – locally owned glamping accommodations that offer a one of a kind experience in line with traditional Barbudan values.
The next day was like a dream. No one in our team had ever seen water the color it is at Fishing Creek where our paddle for that stretch began. We had a gentle tail-side wind in butter flat water. We let it push us downwind for an hour then stopped at an extremely remote beach on the eastern side of Goat Island where we spent the middle of the day kiting in world class conditions. From there we rounded the northeastern tip of the island and landed at the Barbuda Belle – a luxury eco-lodge only accessible by boat. We were greeted with cold wash cloths and lemonade from the staff and had the entire place to ourselves.
We spent two nights at the Barbuda Belle and were met with a level of luxury none of us were accustomed to – especially in the middle of a 10-day SUP expedition. To say those few days were absolutely incredible is an understatement. The Barbuda Belle has an in-house French Chef who literally fishes for the catch of the day every morning in his chef apparel from the dock. We took our paddle boards in mangrove trails, hopped on a buggy to the pinkest sand on the island, and enjoyed 3-meals a day of some of the best food we’ve ever had.
From the Barbuda Belle we were pushing for our longest day of the trip. 12 miles around the northwestern tip of the southwestern point along 11-Mile Beach, a thin strip of beach that separates the Caribbean Sea from the Codrington Lagoon, the largest lagoon in the Caribbean and home to a Frigate Bird Sanctuary. The wind was off-shore for most of the day with very flat and tropical water. We passed Lighthouse Bay Resort in the middle of the day which is crumbling into the ocean from damage sustained from Hurricane Irma. The last section of the day the wind turned into a hellacious head-wind and we were battling once again. We walked our boards up to our pick up spot at Palmetto Point and hunted for coconuts waiting for our land team to arrive. We were famished and they came with two pizzas and a bottle of coconut rum.
The headwind was so strong we decided to camp next to the Barbuda Cottages and reverse our course from there to Palmetto Point so we could have a downwinder for our last day of paddling. Camping on the beach in Barbuda is as paradisiacal as it sounds. Soft sand to pitch our tents feet away from rolling waves under clear Caribbean skies had us all sleeping like babies. The next morning we loaded our kite gear on our SUP’s and had an easy downwinder back to Palmetto Point where we spent the rest of the afternoon kiting in more perfect conditions.
The next two nights we spent at the Barbuda Cottages and hit it off with our hosts. Friends we had made from town came to visit and we spent the nights hanging on the porch playing dominos and the days snorkeling just steps from our front door. This SUP expedition was so special and unique because of the people and hospitality we were shown every step of the way. Friendships were forged and we will definitely be going back as soon as we possibly can.
Kevin is a professional stand-up paddle board athlete that rides for Pau Hana Surf Supply, Kialoa, and Kokatat. He specializes in stand-up whitewater paddling, expedition paddling, SUP Surfing, and is an avid rock and ice climber. Kevin is known for sharing his stoke for paddleboarding and inspiring others to get outside and enjoy what mother nature has to offer.
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