Puerto Rico Diary

Sunday 19th March FIRST IMPRESSIONS 

I like to travel solo, I enjoy the freedom and independence, experiencing the world unfiltered by anyone elses perspective, meeting people and being invited into their lives more easily. I try and prepare myself as much as I can because I have no one to rely on but myself. I read up about a new place I’m visiting, learn about what to expect, plan transport and accommodation. Except this time I didn’t. All I had to go on were Steve Fitzpatrick’s photos of epic winter sessions in Peurto Rico, Hawaii style waves, sun, sand and palm trees and an open invite to come visit. I didn’t need to know any more than that. I was going!  

Coming from Ireland I pictured all of the Caribbean as little palm tree covered islands, white sandy beaches, slow paced life, small colourful villages… I got a bit of surprise flying into San Juan at night and seeing the city lights sprawl for miles and miles, it looked bigger than Dublin! This little piece of Caribbean rock has a greater population than Ireland, of which 1.4million live in the capital San Juan. The capital is built up, full of high rise beach condos, heavily congested roads, 6 lane highways littered with road kill. Big shopping malls full of American chain stores, fast food restaurants… But first impressions often hide the truth and beauty of a plac; the beautiful blue water, crayola shades of blue, white sand beaches, waves breaking on offshore reefs, the warmth of the people and diversity of the culture, the old walled fort city, Vieja San Juan, from the days of the Conquistadores… To get under the skin of a place like PR you have to be open to all kinds of new experiences, keep an open mind and open heart, adopt the island time and slow your pace. Go explore for yourself… 

Monday 20th March. Head west. Hideous traffic on the highway. Bumper to bumper out of San Juan, trucks spewing thick black exhaust fumes, hot and sticky in the van, windows fully rolled down. Asphyxiation or suffocation? Finally leave the ‘tapones’ (traffic jams) behind, get off the highway and down a winding cliff road to Isabella. This is more like the picture of the Caribbean I had in my head. Coloured beach shacks, palm trees, locals enjoying the sun in the shallows, fresh tuna and batidos on the beach, only thing missing…surf. 

Tues 21st MarchThe predicted swell hasn’t arrived yet. In fact it’s looking pretty grim for the week. I keep hearing how I really missed it last Saturday – the swell of the season. Secret spots that only break a few times a year were going off… I don’t wanna get skunked. I guess its best to have no expectations.Have the ultimate PR brekkie experience, ‘quesitos’ at the local Panaderia. A must-have, highly addictive sweet pastry filled with cream cheese! Bad but oh-so-good! 

Sat 25th March.Surf PR’S Rocky Pt. today with local surfer Pablo. I can see why it’s known as a rocky pt. It’s on the outskirts of the city and the most consistent San Juan break so it’s always crawling with surfers, especially macho body boarders! Small swell, 3ft. get a few waves without any hassle but half way through the session the mood and crowd shifts and its drop-in blitz all of a sudden, time to leave.Go searching for waves with Steve and Sandy down the coast. Hoping to escape the crowds and find some bigger waves. A lot of this part of the coast is full of exclusive resorts and private, gated residences so it’s hard to find access to the coast. With a bit of inside local knowledge we find a way past the defences to the sea! The wave breaks off a reef at the end of a rocky point. Paddle out through a long channel. Usually the trade winds would have blown this waves out but we were blessed with rare afternoon offshores. Leave Sandy on the beach to guard the gear. (She’s the best and most loyal guard dog in the world!)  

Monday 27th March.Things tend to fall in to place when you let go. Last week I was despairing I wouldn’t get any surf and in the week I’ve been here I’ve scored 7 of some of the island’s best breaks, including a few which can’t be named! 

Surf a wave called ‘Junk’ today though its far from it! A long, very hollow, very shallow, bodyboard infested, fast left – dangerously beautiful. I don’t have time to dwell on the sharpness of the urchin covered reef or how to tackle the sucking lefts detonating on the reef – I’m in such a hurry to get changed and get out there, away from these bloody ‘neversee’em mozzies’ that are so found of feasting on my sweet Irish blood! Paddling out along the line-up I realise not only am I the only girl out here but I’m the only stand-up surfer amongst 50+ local spongers! I get accepted in the line up by shouting ‘VOY,VOY,VOY! MIRA VOY!!’ on my first wave. It works a treat, nobody drops in on me then! The best wave of the session, a long fast wall, lip pitching over my head…Definitely the most important Spanish phrase to know.  Steve swims out with his water housing, encouraging me into some heaving closeouts. I get slammed a few times but relatively unscathed! 


Tues 28th MarchGet up at the crack of dawn to make the most of the early morning glass. Take a path through jungle and climb down a cliff to one of the most beautiful set-ups I’ve seen; a hidden beach with a perfect steep, hollow right breaking in front of a rock shelf at the bottom of cliffs. The sea, dark, oily glass and only a handful of bodyboarders! Slide into the last waves of the trip before the sky darkens and the wind picks up. Eat my last quesito on Wilderness beach, its divine! The wind is up and the surf blown out. It looks like it might rain. Time to go home.‘Looking back Is to seeThe souls Image of a universeUnfoldBefore your eyes.’– Lady Lee Andrews, Puerto Rican poet.