I love Panama. It’s easily one of my favourite countries in the world – a fusion of landscapes, flavours and culture. It’s a place I can recommend highly to anyone…however one of Panama’s top attractions is surfing, and I’ll be honest – I know almost nothing about surfing. Luckily my travel companion at the time, Brady Williams, is a keen surfer and offered to write a bit about his experience surfing at Santa Catalina, one of the world’s best surf breaks. I hope it inspires you to visit Panama!
I’m out staring out at the sun as the moon hides behind yesterday. The town is Santa Catalina and there’s not a whole lot. I’m here to surf and grab a board from my place and set out on my mission towards whatever. One road lays naked between farm fields and untamed wilderness as I weave down a gravel road where the locals wave and smile. You don’t get that most places in Panama and it makes me start to question what’s next. Soon enough I’m lost as usual and a man with a machete is hacking something far away enough for me to be obnoxious. I yell across the field, “Donde esta la playa?!”
He bobs up from his task, points the opposite way I’ve been going and dives back into his task. I follow the finger toward some type of freedom and find myself in the midst of a Brazilian women’s backyard,she is petite and wide and 60 and her old boobs swing beneath a beat up white blouse. She’s more than happy to see me and is parading me about her blossoming nursery with childish gusto. There is avocado, mango, aloe vera, hibiscus, and every other thing I no longer remember. Her eyes are stars as she mentions, “Santa Catalina es paradiso, no worries.” Her smile shows it and she slips a finger up to the sky, I’m off again.
As I swing down the road a small homey spot pops up beside me. Here you can rent a tent, hotel, cabana, or just plop yourself on the beach because it’s that type of place. There are no bike locks because as our surf guide mentioned, “It’s tranquilo”. I reach the beach finally, black sand sifts through ten tired toes and I wade across a clear river toward the main stretch which melts off into an abyss of shoreline. Old mountains roar across the backdrop of an open pure Pacific and a half dozen cows stand tall sifting through dune grass.
A spotted bull glares up at my skinny ass and holds his ground because he has something to prove and we meet in mystery. I know nothing of him and he the same, we’re both vagabond souls without a clue and somehow a fear arises in my stomach. We’re each scared in our own ways but it’s not a threatening scare, it’s a scare that leaves you with a sense of stoicism, as if there is something to learn. I fall back into the only thing I know and breathe deep. My right hand emerges and I show a soft open palm to his serious eyes, he lowers his head with an estranged bow and suddenly we know each other. I’m welcomed.
Before me is a beach break dream, the left swings steady and surfers careen through peeling waves with smiles smacked tight to their wet faces. The sea is open, the crowd is unseen. Across the entirety of beach I see a lone couple sun bathing and nothing else but ancient broken rocks that have somehow turned soft. I tip into the sea and six surfers greet me from their respected territory. I’m alone, the waves are my muse and the breeze whispers in silence because nature’s enough. The first wave rolls in and I’m soaring across an open face, naturally I bite dust and tumble into sand because the bottom is forgiving unlike most places. The next wave comes in and I’m flying or something close to it; a turquoise wasteland is disappearing before my eyes and transforms into the white clouds that become my past.
I rinse and repeat until life hurts. The evening holds a soft breeze and I return to my spot in time to watch the real deal. A setting sun peels away the day and marmalade clouds smear the sky. Out beyond me waves roll in like falling dominos and it’s too perfect to be reality, but this isn’t the ‘real world’, this is nature. This reef break is owned strictly by pros who are now only dots in the rapture of ocean. The mass of specs swing along the sea in a chaotic order of symphony and I’m deaf. Our surf guide Sergio mentions he’s been searching through the America’s for the perfect wave, and now it lives here, right before his eyes in the little unheard town of Santa Catalina, Panama.
It’s paradise and I don’t need it any other way.