Nestled on the palmed fringes of the Dominican Republic’s beautiful North coast, is a wave and a surf community that left local islanders and trapped tourists (both accidentally and intentionally) muy contento throughout the turbulence and uncertainty of 2020.
During the lockdown which extended from March – July of 2020, the beaches were closed Islandwide and surfing was prohibited with a risk of imprisonment for those who couldn’t resist the waves. Many surfers chanced fines of up to $100USD for being caught in the water, but continued to visit the ocean at first light every morning attempting to dash from the water before the local law enforcement made their rounds to make sure no one was breaking social distancing mandates. Many who took this risk were greeted on the shore by law enforcement confiscating surf boards or were chased out of the water by helicopters.
That said, if the restrictions hadn’t happened, perhaps the deeper understanding about the driving force behind the insatiable urge to throw yourself into the waves wouldn’t have taken place. Being separated from the water began to take on a very potent symbolism: a loss of personal power, freedom and self-expression. For this reason, the return to the water once the restrictions lifted felt somehow different, capturing a new and different energy. The immensity of gratitude and stoke was palpable in the air as surfers arrived at the shoreline to check the waves. There was a shared yet unspoken sense of coming home and returning to oneself as the surfers of Cabarete and no doubt, of surfing communities around the world, returned to the ocean to surf.
March 2020 was supposed to be the month where the islands best surfers and other international invitees would compete in the Encuentro Surf Classic, the largest surf competition on the island, to see who would be best pick to represent the country in the 2020 Olympic games. Instead, a year full of promise to compete on an international level, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games down the drain, the disappointing cancellation of many local and international contests, lock down, and new mandates making the beach illegal.
Fortunately, what was born from the ashes had no choice but to rise to the sound of a new beating drum. Encuentro Surf Classic decided to invite women to sign up for a different kind of competition, one that would embody the newly realised and empowered connection with the ocean. An opportunity to compete with a refreshingly new motive and intention was born, women would be representing an authentic, living role close to their own hearts: what is means to be part of a surf community.
The result was the North Coast of the Dominican Republic’s first ever surf contest exclusively for women, meaning that the 7th November 2020 marked a new day in history, empowering, inspiring and connecting female surfers around the globe. With a broad breadth of categories including Mini Juniors, Juniors, Open, Long Board and Masters it was incredible to see so much support and encouragement towards signing up being generated within the community.
In true surfer stoke spirit it was pretty cool to hear people talking about signing up just to increase awareness and emphasise the importance of getting female surfing on the map and build up kudos for future females interested in competing. Women from all categories began stepping up, which meant stepping out of their comfort zone, driven by their commitment to the lifestyle sport and their appreciation for their connection with the ocean with had taken on such a profound meaning during the painstakingly endured restrictions earlier that year. This uplifting approach injected fun and excitement back into the sport, honouring its roots and essence: it seemed to be less about competing and more about saying YES to surfing and inspiring others to step up in the process.
The day of the contest saw the culmination of the birthing of this new competition. Encuentro beach was packed full of supporters expressing a great diversity in ages, genders and ethnicities all of whom seemed to be cheerleading from the sandy side-lines as music blasted and competitors took the ocean stage. The standard of surfing was off the chart and so incredible to watch as competitor after competitor emerged from their heat smiling. As the competing wound down, the energy was still sky high as the winners were announced, including the open women’s winner, Valeska Schneider, who surprised us all, only arriving from Germany the day before and managing to take the win.
To all the competitors that took part, all we can say is thanks for stepping up and saying YES! to women’s surfing.
Competitor’s names and origin:
- Michelle Saiz (Venezuela)
- Juliana Flete (República Dominicana)
- Nicole Saiz (Venezuela)
- Joan Marie Bobea (República Dominicana)
- Alita Akashi (Morrocco)
- Jenna Hibbsy (United States)
- Valeska Schneider (Germany)
- Kiki Torralba (Venezuela)
- Georgina Monti (England)
- Gabriela Vera (Venezuela)
- Gabriela Vera (Venezuela)
- Tiva Theis (United States)
- Rosaly De la Rosa (República Dominicana)