Cabarete, Dominican Republic is a small town full of big characters with colorful stories, making it an interesting place to visit. Most recent history describes our city as the Adventure Sports Capital of the Caribbean, but it wasn’t always that way. Sometime in the 1980s the windsurfing crowd caught wind (pun intended) of the favorable sailing conditions in the tiny fishing town – and so the groundwork for the reputation was laid.
Eric Herstens, a Belgium-born thrill seeker, was one of the first few to shred in Cabarete’s incredible windsurfing conditions. When Cabarete Bay exploded into a mecca for anything with sail, Mr. Hertsens was there to see it all go down. So for our 20th anniversary, we invited Eric and his family to our infamous Mongolian Grill Buffet to reminisce over old times (which he loves doing, by the way).
Eric started off by reminding us that, contrary to popular belief, Canadian Jean Laporte was NOT the person who discovered Cabarete, but rather the person who got the recognition for making Cabarete a popular windsurfing destination. After getting that out of the way, he went on to remind us of people, places and things we hadn’t heard in years! Places like Tropical Beach (original name Auberge du Roi), Cabarete’s first hotel. The first real hangout spot, Chimi Chury, where Helados Bon is now. Peroquet, the bar where Havana Club is now, was the place that launched the Cabarete vibe. As Cabarete grew, the Blue Lagoon Saloon started sharing the load. Eventually, Thursday got popular for volleyball and dancing at Las Brisas; Friday’s jam was at Tiki Bar, where Eric met his wife, Carmen; and Saturdays were bumpin’ at New Wave, which is now Jose O’shays. And never to be forgotten, Spin Out, our successful family-owned windsurfing school that led to the eventual opening of Villa Taina. Back in these days, everyone was broke as a joke (pay was RD $200 per MONTH), sausage was the main meal, sleeping on the beach was acceptable, and girlfriend swapping was the second most popular sport – next to windsurfing, of course. Seriously good times!
Now it’s our turn to do a little reminding. Eric came to Cabarete 30 years ago as a windsurfer with a knack for making repairs, but the life of this adrenaline addict has had many twists and turns – some of them tragic, some of them triumphant, all of them have transformed him into the renaissance man he is today. One of the tragedies: breaking his back in a skydiving accident. During this time, Eric found himself bound to a wheelchair, undergoing numerous operations, followed by an intense regimen of physical therapy. Before he could even walk, Eric began windsurfing again with the help of surfer, windsurfer, kiteboarder and friend, Marcus Bohm. It was during this time Eric witnessed something that would forever change his life – Franz Orly on a kite in front of Club Nataly Simon…jumping over a couple of windsurfers. Eric was smitten with the new watersport that combined components from all the adrenaline-sports he loved. Miraculously, a year and a half later, Eric made a full body recovery and became one of the first few people to kiteboard Cabarete’s waters. This is where the triumph begins.
In times when people feared that kiteboarding was unsafe, Eric used his computer skills to create cabareteairforce.com (no longer owned by him), where he made it his mission to promote kiteboarding in Cabarete by shining a spotlight on the local kiteboarders, their tricks, and equipment. Eventually, his immersion in the sport led to custom boards, a line of kites, and in 2007 local rider Ariel Corniel won the Cabarete World Cup, sponsored by Eric’s brand, EH Kites. It’s also worth mentioning that EH Kiteboarding was revolutionary in the fact that it designed for brands like Liquidforce, Best, and Loose kiteboarding. There was even a signature EH board for Brunotti and Wipika. Back in the day, EH Kites and Cabarete were running the kiteboarding game. Even though Eric isn’t known to be the most humble guy on the planet, he hands over most of the credit to Puerto Plata’s current Director of Tourism, Lorenzo Sancassani. Eric says, “The one person that really did the most for this town’s tourism is Lorenzo. He came up with the World Cup events that brought the pro riders and magazines to Cabarete. The town sold itself and the riders went home and spread the news of perfect wind, warm water, and good ole fashioned Cabarete vibes. Now Lorenzo is a hot political topic with many friends and an equal amount of foes, but that’s the story for most of us old timers around here.”
To this day, you can still spot EH equipment out in the waters of Cabarete, although you’ll have to look under water to spy the man himself. When his son Juan was ten, he asked pops to join him in his hobby of scuba diving and it was an invitation Eric couldn’t turn down. Partly because it’s a nice way to spend father/son time, mostly because it’s a tranquilo past time for his 50-something-year-old, well-used body. Either way, Eric always seems to find his way to adventure…even when he is tranquilo. In the past several years, he and his scooter have spotted many long lost treasures from the times of Columbus in the not-so-deep waters of Cabarete. Occasionally, he documents his findings of cannons, anchors, hulls, and other remnants from hundreds of years ago on his Youtube page. In a strange twist of fate, in 1996 Eric’s wife was contacted and told she was discovered to be the descendant of Nicolas de Ovando, “founder” of the city of Santo Domingo, and traveling companion of Christopher Columbus. Possibly best known for his brutal treatment of the native Taino, the relation is not necessarily something the family is proud of, but as Carmen put it, it will be an interesting story to tell to the grandchildren one day.
After a few plates into Mongolian Grill Buffet, we were all stuffed and tired, but giddy from the great memories. We ended our conversation by asking Eric if he had plans on ever leaving Cabarete and he just replied, “No.”
*All photos in this post belong to Eric Hertsens himself and you must contact him for permission to use them.