Local surfers catch a wave at Hart Bay.
By Kent Wessinger
St. John Tradewinds
The St. John surfing community is geographically scattered across the island, however, at the first sign of a swell the community unites without hesitation.
A typical southern swell fills Reef Bay with surfers of all ages. An “awesome” southern swell, one generated from a hurricane or significant storm, sends the community into the surf spots they call “secret.”
Alan Eichenauer, a lifetime member of the St. John surfing community, called the waves from Hurricane Tomas “some of the best waves of my life, including Costa Rica.”
Of course the location of those waves remained a secret.
Since the island’s North Shore is barricaded by outlying cays and islands, a northern swell sends surfers to their boats in search of the break. Places like Johnson’s Reef, located just north of Peter Bay, which has victimized many boards and surfers with its shallow water and sharp coral heads over the years, is a favorite to experienced surfers.
The true north swell pilgrimage, however, is to Tortola. St. John surfers pour into Apple Bay, Cane Garden Bay, and Josiah’s Bay on Tortola for the breaks.
Graeme McCallum, a prominent member of the BVI surfing community, termed it “The St. John Invasion.” But a welcome invasion at that.
“The BVI surfing community loves the St. John surfers,” said McCallum. “They are respectful of the sport and people.”
A closer look at the St. John surfing community reveals more than surfboards, sunscreen and lingo. An atmosphere of unselfishness radiates from the community no matter the size of the swell.
The grandest of all examples is “Surfer Gary,” a long-bearded Coral Bay resident who is a legend for his unselfishness who has freely taught many St. John residents to surf over the years.
People in the community tell many stories about “Surfer Gary” showing up to surf and never taking his board out of his bag due to a request to “learn to surf.”
Brion Morrisette, also a seasoned St. John surfer, always carries a youthful Tommy Gibney to the swells and is passionate about teaching the younger generations to surf.
Alan and Adam Eichenauer, who grew up surfing St. John waves, have young surfers all over the island telling stories about sitting on their boards beyond the break next to the brothers and asking them for tips. At the end of the day, the Eichenauers have been seen congratulating the kids for a job well done, then buying them a soda in town.
Similar stories abound about John Nogueira, Amos Rutnik, Colin Hilliard (who conducts the kids’ surfing camp at Reef Bay each summer), Nicole and Margie Barbier and Galen Stamford, who many consider the island’s best surfer. Stories of unselfishness are common within the local surfing community, both today and stretching back decades.
St. John surfing community members come from many different socioeconomic backgrounds, but all are united in their unselfish desire to freely give away the secrets to their sacred sport to all those who are willing to learn.
They recognize the natural beauty of the sport and want to expose the next generations to the expression of pure beauty instead of other alternatives the world has to offer.
The St. John surfing community is united in sport, relationships and unselfishness.