If Topanga is “On the beaten path”, and K38 is “Off the beaten path”, then the only way to describe the Private Panama Surf Island in Panama is “DEEP REMOTE”. I recently returned from a week’s stay at Steve Thompson’s surf camp and I can truly say that he has found some real secret-spots. I went down there with ten buddies and guess what??? There were a total of 11 guys surfing and not another surfing soul to be found for at least 50-100 miles. While I did not like every break we surfed and we did not get perfect surf every day, the travel and adventure experience was a priceless.
Private Panama Surf Camp is located on a small island called La Ensenada off the Pacific coast of Panama. To get there from LA, you need to fly 6 hours to Panama City; take a 6-8 hour bus ride to a launch not to far from a town called Quebrada de Piedra, and get on a ponga boat for a 30 minute boat ride to a serene beach that flanks the camp. Now that does not sound to time consuming on the surface, but you also need to hit the launch on a high tide. Tides in Panama are a 17-foot swing! Arriving on a low tide turned the above journey into a two-day trek. While we did enjoy getting some time to explore Panama City, the anticipation was too much for some of the guys who were a bit cranky about the delays.
Lodging: bunks and mosquito nets, electric fans for the evenings. Restroom: manually flushing toilets and well water showers. If you go during the less arid season that starts in the end of May, you will get fresh spring water showers and all the pure island water you can drink.
Staff: friendly and helpful, Antonio is a master at opening coconuts and Jeff the surf-guide was great and always was looking out for us. The Surf: To start off, the water is 80-82 degrees, the sun is intense. Bring a long sleeve rashguard and some good facial sun block. While there are a few sandy breaks, the real surf can be found with a rocky bottom, boils and tabletop reefs that keep you on your toes. Also, the tidal swings of around 17 feet can have a drastic effect on any break, your surf guide can help you with the right break for each tide and swell condition.
My favorite break is called Left-Overs. It is located off of the neighboring island, Silva. Left-Overs is a wave that sets up next to/over a rock pile and bends around in a perfectly shaped left that is like a little machine. We surfed this break only a few times, but got it from shoulder high to well over head. If you cannot surf and enjoy this wave you should pick up a new sport. This wave is made for cutbacks, floaters and off the lip snaps.
Next to Left-Overs is P-Land. This is undoubtedly the heaviest barreling wave at Private Surf Island. We caught this break on a rather big and harry day. It is also a left and while there were no serious injuries at P-Land, it did claim one board and scared the crap out of myself and most of the crew. It breaks over a gnarly tabletop reef and is unforgiving if you get stuck on the inside. Later during our visit we caught it on a smaller day we had a bit of fun (less adrenaline), but still very challenging.
Nestles (La Cruncha) is noted as the heaviest wave you can surf here. It is a right break and like most other consistent waves, breaks on a rock reef. Imagine a much smaller version of Mavericks, about 12-15 foot faces, and that is Nestles. A pure adrenaline joy ride with little room for artistic surfing and a speedy drop to the shoulder. I personally do not like this kind of surf, but a few of the crew could not stop smiling for days after getting this break wired.
The Sandbar is a break that forms off of a river mouth and has both inside and outside sections, left and right breaks. The guys on longer boards liked this wave. Staying in the mix required some serious paddling for the shortboard crew. The rides can be long and playful. Not much if any tube-time can be found here, but you can try out your signature moves over and over and over on this machine like wave.
El Toro is a wave that is located in the most insane picturesque cove with a sandy bottom. It is surrounded by rock formations including a swim through cave and a dense jungle shoreline. Again, rights and lefts here and very playful. The rides are not the longest, but we did not catch it on a big swell. I can see this place going off on the right swell; we had it shoulder high to slightly overhead.
Last but certainly not least is The Point (La Punta). This break is located about 10 minutes away by boat from the camp. If you can imagine a perfect left point break that breaks over a rock reef with a super easy paddle, then you know The Point. Due to the 17ft. tidal swings this break would light up several times a day and die down within two hours. It is a perfect wave and I wish I could have caught in overhead conditions, it would definitely hold up nicely.
In addition to surf, other highlights were: Unlimited Mangos (pick ‘em yourself all over the island). Fresh Coconuts (if you like them with a twist, add rum right into the coco). Friendly natives. Fishing, hiking and enough hammocks for everyone. While this may not be the right destination for everyone, I found it to be a great surf trip coupled with an unbeatable remote experience. I’ve surfed Indo, Mexico, Hawaii and a few other choice locations, and I can honestly say that Surfer Paradise offers something unique and is a part of the last frontier. And, if you time your travel right to get the swell and a high tide arrival, you can cut down the travel time. For me the trip was a once in a lifetime experience and I am glad to have had the opportunity.
If you need more information regarding the camp or any other specifics, check the website: www.surferparadise.com or feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org Article by James Hanrahan Pictures by Ken Pagliaro