Stab Magazine | Inside Cuba's Surf Revolution

Stab High Japan Presented By Monster Energy Will Be Broadcast Live On June 21st and June 22nd from 5 PM - 10 PM PDT


Inside Cuba’s Surf Revolution

Because everyone should have a chance to ride a wave.

news // Jun 23, 2017
Words by stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

“The true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” ― Ernesto Che Guevara

The Cuban dream includes surfing, the country just doesn’t know it yet. Like jazz and ’57 Chevys, the few Cuban surfers that exist have been able to make something very cool out of very little. And like jazz or car clubs, Cuban surfing begins and ends in the underground. While well poised in the Caribbean to accept swell from a host of angles, currently the Cuban government does not officially recognise surfing as a “sport.”

“In Cuba, unless activities are explicitly stated as legal, they fall under an enforceable category of ‘not legal.’ Ever since it originated on the island, surfing has lived inside that zone of illegality,” reads a petition currently being circulated in hopes of changing the government’s stance on surfing.

IMG 9303

While they may not be able to travel freely, the high art of surf exploration has not been lost on the young Cuban surfers.


Corey Mclean // Makewild Films

“Because the government doesn’t officially recognise surfing and because it is more or less illegal, local surfers really have to struggle just to get a board or even wax. The few surfers that there are in Cuba have been forced to become very resourceful,” says Tyler Dunham, who’s currently co-producing a film called “Havana Libre” which details the plight of the Cuban surfer.

In the 42,000 square miles of island territory, there are only an estimated 100 surfers throughout Cuba (by comparison, Puerto Rico is approximately 3,000 square miles and is considered the surf capital of the Caribbean). Famous for their ability to trick out ’50s-era cars and keep them running seemingly forever, Cuban wave-riders have had to resort to similar practices due to the scant surfboard building materials on offer. Ripping styrofoam blanks out of refrigerator doors, reshaping beat-up, hand-me-down boards using cheese graters to sculpt the foam, swiping sanding resin from local boatyards, boards are cobbled together with zero wasting. Performance cues are taken from surf videos smuggled into the country. 

IMG 9440 2 Corey Mclean

While times may be tough, they do enjoy a unique, relatively isolated slice of paradise.


Corey Mclean // Makewild Films

The U.S. is only 90 miles away from Cuba, but the country has more or less existed in a bubble since Fidel Castro and pal Che stormed the island in the mid-’50s. Until recent developments, a surf culture has never had the opportunity to take root. Surfing isn’t baseball or soccer, and while the Cuban the government pours money into those recognised sports, kids are literally ripping plywood panels off their homes and sliding shoreward on them (known locally as a “pleybo”). Most residents on the island are amazed to learn there are actual, surfable set-ups all around Cuba. And when it comes to the business of surfing, because the “industry” is primarily based in the United States and American imports are more or less barred, whatever equipment has managed to find its way to Cuba over the years has done so through covert, backwater channels. 

IG9A8528 Marco Bava

Foam blanks scavenged from refrigerator doors, an old cheese grater used in place of a planer, the ingenuity of the underground Cuban board builder in action.


Marco Bava // Makewild Films

In ’99, photographer Art Brewer smuggled the first cadre of pros into the country, including Pete, Cory and Shea Lopez, Dino Andino and Carlos De Olmo. They didn’t exactly score, but they did come away with proof that there was surf in Cuba. Over the years, there has also been a consistent back-and-forth between local surfers in the southeast U.S., especially in southern Florida. Most recently, thanks to sweeping government reforms on both the Cuban and American side, surfing may now have a chance.

“As a legitimate sport on the island, Cubans will be able to compete internationally, import surf supplies and most importantly form an official organisation capable of advocating for the needs of surfers and ocean health around the island,” continues the petition.

IMG 8642

To play ball or pleybo, that is the question. That little plywood slider is called a pleybo and is a common craft among the Cuban grom set. It’s a serviceable alternative to a bodyboard…and beats baseball practice.


Seth Brown // Makewild Films

Cuban surfers Frank Gonzalez Guerra and Yaya Gurrero are among those championing the sport on the island. Both will be travelling to California and Hawaii this summer as part of a project with the Smithsonian Institute to live and learn what a free surf life’s all about. There’s also a group known as the Royal 70 Surf Havana Club. Founded by Blair Cording and Eduardo Valdes, based in Havana and Sydney, their mission is “to create opportunities for Cuba’s youth to engage in extreme sports, music and art.” More than just surfing, they are also focusing their efforts on other action sports, music and art. They’ve started a program called the Black Market Collective, which is billed as a “network of passionate people with the same goal: to help surfing grown on the island and get more kids in the water by sourcing and donating much-needed surfing equipment.”

HL Surfing Marco Bava 28

Legitimising surfing in Cuba is all about building momentum. Between the local surfers advocating and hopefully a heartfelt international push, the sport could finally achieve liftoff.


Marco Bava // Makewild Films

By and large, the international surfing community is very good at helping and supporting fellow wave-riders in need, wherever they may be. Thankfully, the situation in Cuba is something that we can all do something about. Signing the petition and leaving a comment is easy enough. But maybe you have some extra boards laying around the shed, or old, plastic FCS fins you haven’t used in five years, or maybe a wetsuit or two that aren’t in vogue anymore. Pay it forward, kick that stuff down to our friends in Cuba. Collectively, we have an opportunity to usher in a new era in Caribbean surfing.


Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up


Most Recent

Allow Us To Introduce The YETI Ladybirds And Bottle Rockets Of Stab High Japan Presented By Monster Energy

Here's our schoolyard pick for teams; who will win the most cred at the lunch…

Jun 17, 2024

Prediction: Moving The WSL Finals To Fiji Will Kill Off Two More Surfing Superstars

Is this JJF's time to collect his titles? We checked the stats.

Jun 17, 2024

Confirmed: Fiji To Host 2025 WSL Finals

Cloudbreak will remain on tour until 2026.

Jun 17, 2024

What’s The Secret To Powersurfing?

Taylor Knox, Kyuss King, and Jessi Miley-Dyer tackle a trio of questions in our third…

Jun 16, 2024

How To Win Stab High Japan, Presented By Monster Energy

A statistical analysis of the 493 airs attempted in previous chlorinated editions.

Jun 16, 2024

Watch: An Intimate Portrait Of The Wave, Village, And People At The End Of The Road

Oxbow’s ‘Children of Teahupo’o’ is playing exclusively on Stab Premium for the next two weeks. 

Jun 15, 2024

Fuck It, Run The Entire CT In Indo

A historic beginning to the Indonesian dry season.

Jun 14, 2024

Ferrari Boyz: Holly Wawn

"I've had 4, 5, maybe 6 cars... I'm a car dealer I reckon."

Jun 13, 2024

A Miscalculated Shallow Dive, Neck-First, Into The Waters Of Japanese Surfing

How is surfing different in the land of cherry blossoms?

Jun 13, 2024

How Has Ian Crane Made 4/5 Stab High Finals?

And who he's most afraid of competing against in Japan.

Jun 13, 2024

“I Haven’t Seen Anyone That Young And That Keen For Heavy Waves In A Decade” —Shane Dorian

Jacob Turner is 16 years old and trying to paddle tow sets at Teahupo'o...on his…

Jun 12, 2024

Long Read: 1,000 Ways To Die In Indonesia

18,000 islands of beautiful people, world-class waves, and danger around every corner.

Jun 11, 2024

Watch: Craig Anderson And Kaito Ohashi Find (Mostly) Empty Waves In Southeast Asia

Oh, and enter to win a grand worth of DB gear.

Jun 11, 2024

Brad Gerlach Rode A 600cc Motorbike Through Europe’s 1980’s Psychedelic Renaissance  

"Fuck London. Let’s just buy motorcycles tomorrow and drive to France, man."

Jun 11, 2024

Caroline Marks Goes Two-In-A-Row And John John Florence Wins First CT Event Since 2020 At The Surf City El Salvador Pro

Plus, we asked Chris Cote for a look into the commentary team's psyche and Griff…

Jun 9, 2024

Why Is Mavericks Core Getting Overrun By Yuppies?

And other questions from our audience — answered by Pete Mel, Mick Fanning, and Joel…

Jun 9, 2024

Everything Worth Remembering From 4 (Mostly) Forgettable Quarterfinals In El Salvador

Plus, what's the consensus on the Griff vs. João kerfluffle?

Jun 8, 2024

Wildcard Big-dogs Italo, Yago Pops The Cork, And Griffin Cops An Ambiguous Interference On Day 2 In El Salvador

"Honestly, that was a bad... uhh I mean, a tough call." - Strider

Jun 8, 2024