Save Barbuda: Why A Wave You’ll Never Surf On An Island You’ve Never Heard Of Matters
Robert DeNiro, and other billionaires, seek to illegally destroy some natural beauty.
“There’s fuck all ‘ere…”
Thus went one snap assessment of the surf on an idyllic beach on the tiny Caribbean island of Barbuda. The surfer in question was Cornish goofyfoot Jake Boex, who along with an assortment of other Euro pros and photog Thierry Gibaud cruised into the bay under sail in late 2001. Closer inspection revealed slightly more than fuck all there, small yet perfect turquoise tubes span and spat against a beautiful white sand beach. Further sets revealed a kind of Caribbean mini Kirra, minus any surfers anywhere even vaguely close. The score printed in magazines around the world, made a rare non-Indo Search ad for Rip Curl, while the break, with wordplay on Jake’s uncharacteristically coarse appraisal, became known as ‘Farkohlia’.
As word spread of the wave in surf media circles, its location remained under wraps to the general public. While naughties ‘discovery’ contemporaries, sand points at Donkey Bay and Barra de la Cruz underwent public denouements, Farkohlia’s location remained hush hush, ever closely guarded among those that went and scored it. One French Caribbean pro, who co-piloted a Cessna in from St Barts for a swell 10 years ago, even vetoed it being named as Farkohlia in a story in Surf Europe. “But, nobody knows where that is?” “Yeah. But still.” Very secret squirrels, it remained, for some twenty years. Perhaps because it broke but a few times per year; perhaps nobody was really looking.
UK photographer Al Mackinnon, who scored the place as good as it gets with Alex Botelho during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, has long made location anonymity central to his work. Such is his natural instinct for location omerta, that publicly revealing the closely guarded secret wave as Barbuda’s Palmetto Point came at the end of a prolonged moral grappling. Nevertheless, after much deliberation, Al and several others decided the nuclear option was the only one they had in an effort to save the island from its current existential threat; being carved up without legal consent for luxury developments. And while the idea of billionaires wanting to get their grubby mits on a pristine coastline, deciding concrete, golf courses and airstrips for private jets would be preferable to like, not that, probably won’t come as much of a surprise, some of the names involved in Barbuda’s land grab, might.
When Hurricane Irma devastated the island in 2017 damaging 95% of structures, all Barbudans were evacuated, mostly to neighbouring Antigua. As the first inhabitants began to return, initial optimism at seeing heavy construction equipment deployed quickly turned to dismay when islanders realised that rather than repairing their homes, schools and infrastructure, the bulldozers were in fact clearing the bush for a new international airport. The airport, golf courses, numerous luxury residential and commercial developments, within sensitive protected ecosystems along the shore at Palmetto as well as other locations in the south and west of the island have caused outcry among environmentalists and land justice campaigners. Last week, the United Nations OHCHR in Geneva released a statement expressing concern that wetland ecosystems at Palmetto Point were at risk from commercial developments by Barbuda Ocean Club, with serious human rights implications. Key to the human rights argument is Barbuda’s unique communal land tenure system, one of the last remaining on the planet. When slavery was abolished in 1834, land rights were taken by all Barbudans, eventually formalised in the Barbuda Land Act of 2007. The act requires that any large scale development must be voted for by a majority of Barbudans.
A series of lawsuits are currently being pursued against recent attempts by politicians to change the communal land laws and benefit development. The developers in question include John-Paul DeJoria’s Peace Love & Happiness, Discovery Land Company, the corporation behind Barbuda Ocean Club and Robert DeNiro’s Paradise Found. Yeah, that Bobby D, the one who famously wanted to punch Trump in the face. DeNiro admitted falling in love with the pristine pink sand shoreline at Princess Diana Beach, a couple of miles down the beach from Palmetto when he first laid eyes on it. So much so, that the Casino star secured a lease for 400 acres of land with plans to build an actual casino resort on it. Having met significant opposition from locals, he recently opened the scaled back Nobu Beach Inn, with accomodation to follow. As for John Paul DeJoria, you might recognise his name as a leading Sea Shepherd conservation society donor, with an anti-poaching vessel, MV John Paul DeJoria named after him. The billionaire founder of Patron Tequila and co-owner of Paul Mitchel Hair Systems self-proclaimed environmentalist credentials seem at odds with the current major construction project on the highly sensitive wetlands of Barbuda’s Codrington Lagoon National Park. Via numerous statements, PLH claims its projects are as much about “giving back to the environment” as opening the island to commerce.
You’ll probably never go to Barbuda, much less surf Palmetto Point. Accessible only by private jet or boat, the tiny, 62 sq mile island’s seclusion is very much part of its appeal to both the ultra wealthy, and the richness of wildlife found there. And yet for all its uniqueness, how far removed it might be compared with what most of us experience day to day, Barbuda’s current predicament also serves as a microcosm for larger forces at play globally. You probably don’t surf an empty, world class barreling point fringed in turquoise waters and pink sands, baby turtles hatching by moonlight. But the erosion of historic human rights at the behest of powerful corporations, the enclosure of common land, the commodification of the public goods of natural world and their conversion to private luxury is much more ubiquitous.
Whether a threat to a distant wave’s quality, or the pleasantness of the view of the shore from the lineup should even be mentioned alongside the removal of historic rights that essentially equate to reparations from slavery, is far beyond the pay grade of your correspondent. What I can say with more confidence, is what the world doesn’t need any more of, is golf courses. Much less billionaires.
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