[May 30 2016]
“It’s in that direction. We won’t see it for a while because the island is so flat. It’s just sand and palm trees.”
We were twenty miles away and Ross had let me steer his 53-foot 20-tonne resin hulled sailboat. We were headed away from the volcanic cluster of the British Virgin Islands, dozens of lush peaks rising pointed and fertile from windex waters. The island first appeared prickly on the horizon, the trees a mirage over the water. All the swell reports showed no surf on the forecast for the rest of the Virgin Islands but looking at this island on a map it was too exposed not to have some sort of wave. The British Virgin Islands are not known for consistent surf. They have Cane Garden Bay, Josiah’s and other spots accessible only if one has their own boat, not often breaking but world-class when they do. I’d never heard anything about this island, though. I’d only ever read it fictionalized in Virgin Island native Tiphanie Yanique’s novel, “The Land of Love and Drowning,” as being the birthplace of the main character’s mother, a place populated by the mythical people the Duene whose feet face backwards and who in charge of keeping the world wild.
After another late, hot night, early the next morning Ali, Aaron, Michael, Aldo and I headed to the east coast in the back of a barebones old truck, metal scrapping against metal the whole way. We yelled at each other over the wind as the truck drove at high speeds over the rutted road, nothing around but a blur of what grew out of sand. The reef broke maybe half a mile out. Aldo lived on the island and had agreed to hook us up with a bunch of his gear. We took three kayaks, Ali and Aaron together on one, Michael and Aldo each on their own, and I took the paddleboard. We brought a clanking anchor and a few boards on the kayaks. The line of waves breaking stretched around gentle curves of the island in both directions, and the churning white never stopped.
When we reached the reef, we looked back. We were far out. We anchored the kayaks out the back and Ali stayed with them. We could still see a few oasis-like landmarks on land and noted them, even as the current pulled us down away from Ali who sat bobbing alone. We soon watched her disappear as well. Three of us took turns on the two boards while the other waited out the back. The waves were rights and lefts, A-frames, coming up out of the deep Atlantic perfectly shaped by some invisible hand. Everything was heightened by a tinny chemical adrenaline of basically being on the moon. Out of reach, out of saving distance. Soon it was just Aldo and I, diving under sets and praying not to hit bottom, taking whatever waves we wanted, floating together during lulls. At one point Aldo turned to me from watching the horizon and said, “I don’t think anyone else has ever surfed here before.” It was nice to know some parts of the world are still wild. I made Aldo name it Mimi’s.
Text and photo Mariah Ernst