Hola amigos! We just returned from our maiden voyage surf trip to Coiba Island off the west coast of Panama.
Thanks to all the crew and guides at Lost Coast Excursions & an incredible boat of charging surfer girls, we had an unforgettable surf adventure. Where do we begin?
Five of us flew from Hawaii together on Fri the 13th…I’m superstitious so I tried to not stress that we were going to apparently a “haunted island”, with crocs, 32 species of sharks, poisonous snakes, and a historical penitentiary closed in 2007 by the Geneva convention because of its history of torcher. Our 6 surfer girls, were about to embark on a serious surf adventure and I knew we’d shine our aloha on any negativity we might find…
We landed at Panama City the next day and were sad to discover that our board bag with 3 surfboards had not arrived. Our trip the next morning would be delayed by 6 hours, as we waited for our boards to arrive on the next flight from LA. We made the most of our 1st night in Panama and went to an EPIC dinner show, which reminded me of a hawaiian luau. We feasted on traditional Panamanian food of beans and rice and fish while listening to great music and dancing.
Good news is that once we finally got our board bag, the 6 of us and two guides piled into a 30 passsenger pimped-out bus charter equiped with a flat screen that we watched two back to back movies on as we drove almost 4 hours to our port town near Santiago.
From there we piled all our gear into a 25 ft sport boat and drove another 2 hours to Coiba island. We arrived at sunset to many smiling faces on a perfect white sand beach lined with coconut trees and a pier.
Day 1 of surfing was GAME ON! I was surprised at how big the surf was – consistently 5-6ft. Our guides Chris and Vampiro took us to a surfbreak named “Grizzlies”….regardless of the name and big rocks nearby, I was impressed at the charging attitudes in the ladies of the line up. Gina from Maui and Jaclyn, a skier from Jackson Hole, WY practically collided on some heavy drops and came up smiling after some major wipeouts. 30 minutes later, we called it quits there. It was a heavy wave to start our trip, so we motored 10 minutes down the coast to a place called “Manilla’s”, a left hand point break.
After breaking my leash, and Chrissy gauging her finger on the reef, we were officially getting schooled by the Panamanian waves. Luckily, Chris showed us another more protected area for some tamer waves at a place called “Castillos”, off the coast of a nearby island, Icaron. We had a blast here — more mushy take offs in deeper water. Chrissy was a trooper and caught one of her best waves of the trip here!
The highlight moment of our first day fishing was near a famous fishing spot at Hanibal bank. We motored into a boil of yellow fin tunas, that were no joke, like dolphin’s jumping out of the water and racing right towards our boat. There had to have been at least a school of 40 tuna’s that were well over 100lbs each: a fishermans dream come true!! The captain killed the engine and the crew threw “popper” lures in the water, franctically casting at the boil. Sadly not one bite! Chris mentioned that the tuna were probably herding sardines and had already feasted. We ended up feasting on another fishing groups tuna catches later that day instead. We even took a group photo next to their catch acting like it was ours…
During our first days surfing at that left point break at “Manilla’s” we stumbled upon the only other surfers in all of Coiba, two researchers both named Tom. They had been fishing in the area and were familiar with the resident crocodiles of the river mouth next to Manillas…Yes, we were practically surfing with crocodiles 200 yards cross the beach from the line up. He told us to meet him there the next day and he’d feed the crocs..but get this, he dethawed a 20lb+ turkey, tied it to a rope, swam it through the beach break. And straight out of a scene from “Swamp People”, he hoisted this turkey-on-a-rope into the river mouth. He had all of us at the waters edge slapping the water and whistling for the crocodile to come have a turkey feast on us, or maybe we were gonna be his dinner if we werent careful. It was a pretty classic MSG scene, that I’m sure we’ll re-enact at our talent show this summer.
Jaclyn, who grew up in northern Florida, laughed with her pearly big smile, “This is just like the people I grew up with! This is so hick!” Believe it or not, the 2nd day we called the crocs, Tom came across a crocodile den of newly hatched baby crocodiles. They made coo-cooin’ sounds, with a white glazed film across their eyes – they had just hatched and we were holding them in our palms. Meanwhile, Tom was still wading in the water with his turkey-on-a rope draggin’ behind him and we’re like, “Tom, dude, where is the mama!? You are crazy!” No mama was ever seen, surprisingly, so we left the turkey to float in the river mouth for later feasting.
The last few days were filled with more head high to overhead waves. We were definitely getting challenged by the thumpin’ Panamanian waves, and making the most out of each day in the water. We even discovered a new surf break and named it “Lunatica’s”, aka “crazy women”. It was a heaving beach break that Gaby, Dustin, and Gina pioneered.
One of the more memorable experiences was taking a tour of the Cobia Island Penitentiary. With it’s crumbling walls and corroded jail cell bars, this Alcatraz-like setting was both intriguing and hair raising. As we walked across the cemented floors, our guide Chris jumped up and down and said, “Hear that? It’s hollow…” He explained that when the Geneva convention closed down the Penitentiary, they cemented the basement below the jail cells where they tortured inmates. We could hear the faint hallow footsteps as we walked down the long corridor. The prison guard giving us the tour had worked there since the 1980s..despite barely speaking a word to us, you could see the painful stories in his eyes. Surprisingly he allowed me take a picture of him.
The guard entertained us and let us be quasi locked up in the new facility that they have built for future inmates (mostly drug traffickers of the area).
Upon our return home from the Penitentiary tour, we timed the perfect high tide for the resident crocodile “Tito” to come out of the water & feed on tuna carcasses and the bologna sandwiches we didn’t eat at lunch. It was truly amazing to call Tito’s name at the waters edge, and like a dog, he swam towards shore and came to our call..well more like came to the hopes of a fish dinner. He was straight out of the National Geographic channel…HUGE..he actually modelled for us for 10 minutes of photos..we all got as close as possible to this dinosaur-like reptile with a double chin the size of Jabba the hut!
On our last night on the island, we entertained ourselves with hermit crab races and Gladiator bouts, where we took the crabs out of their shells and left only a couple shells in a ring for them to fight over. Who’s idea was that anyway? Gina? Lucy?
I’m not sure who made a larger impact, the beautiful paradise of Coiba Island and our crew on all of us surfer girls, or the mark MSG made on the land and crew members of the trip. (thanks to Gina and Jaclyn for helping me with the “MSG sand drawing”!) As we say in Hawaii, “A hui Hou!”, until we meet again!
A special thanks to Chris, Camillo, Vampiro, and Jose for all the hard work keeping us safe, happily fed, and having the time of our lives! And another big mahalo to the MSG surf school team: Jedi, Sharky, and Kelly Potts for holding down the fort on Maui and cranking out all the surf lessons while we were in Panama!
Photo Credits: Lucy Woodward, Chrissy Lovitt, Dustin Tester
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