"I Got The Wave Of My Life On Kelly Slater's Surfboard" - Stab Mag

“I Got The Wave Of My Life On Kelly Slater’s Surfboard”

Josh and Jacob Burke go gorilla-mode on Barbados’ best swell in a decade.

cinema // Dec 11, 2020
Words by Michael Ciaramella
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Bajan accents are perhaps the greatest in the entire world. 

They’ve got the classic Caribbean twang mixed with a hint of British proper-ness, which makes it cool-sounding but still relatively interpretable even to an untrained ear. The nation also boasts a vibrant culinary scene and colorful island culture.

Oh yeah, and world-class waves. 

You’ve probably heard of their warping right-hand reef, Soup Bowl. The joint’s stellar enough to be ranked in Slater’s top-3, and if it weren’t for the prevailing (and I mean prevailing) onshores, Soup Bowl might have the world’s second-best reef curvature, behind only Teahupo’o. 

Recently, Barbados received its best run of swell in a decade. Like, exactly a decade. Hurricane Igor hit the Caribbean Isle in late-September 2010 (which you might remember from the Kerrzy Chronicles—see below), and Paulette/Teddy did their pass-by in the same window of 2020. 

This time, Barbados’ most contemporary talents, Josh and Jacob Burke, were old enough to partake in the festivities. And partake they did. Josh, 23, is a polished professional who makes waves of great magnitude appear manageable enough for the everyman (they’re not). Jacob, 20, is a bit wilder in his approach—”He scares me,” says Josh—and not afraid to throw his hands in the air in fits of excitement.

Which brings us to the title of this story. In a reportedly heroic effort, Jacob scratched into the wave of his life (“an 18-20 foot face that looked like Chopes,” says Josh) on Slater’s browning 5’8 Channel Islands, which had been left on the island following the GOAT’s 2012 visit. 

Sadly, the wave is not featured in this piece, because nobody got it on film. But we discuss Jacob’s ride at length below, amongst myriad other topics relevant to Barbados’ swell of the decade.

Watch the clip (dedicated to Zander Venezia) above, and dive in below for supplementary info. 

Stab: Ok, so let’s get the obligatory stuff out of the way first. What’s the COVID situation in Barbados at the moment? 
Josh Burke: On the island it seems pretty normal. You have to do the normal regulations, like wear a mask and social distance and all that bullshit. But for traveling here, I think you have to get tested three days prior if you’re coming from a high-risk country. And then you have to come here and quarantine for a week and get two more tests, and then you’re clear. 

Gotcha. So that makes it pretty much impossible for people to strike swells. You must love that [laughs]. 
Yeah, it was definitely just the locals for the last few swells. But when it’s solid around here, only a few people really want the waves anyway. So the crowd gets thinned out regardless.  

I haven’t been to Barbados in years, but I remember Soup Bowl being super intimidating. It draws so much water off the reef. What does a good wave look like at Soup Bowl when it’s coming in?
Hmm that’s a tough one. You can’t really see the sets coming, ‘cause it’s all deep water going all the way out to the horizon. There are a couple different indicators though. And then when the wave is approaching the lineup, it usually just draws all the water off the reef. And the inside double-ups are best. The ender clip of my brother Jacob snuck under everyone, most people didn’t even see it. 

What size board is best for out there?
It’s a wave where you have to paddle really hard, so a bit of foam helps. But you don’t want a board that’s too long, or else you won’t be able to scoop under the lip. I think somewhere in the 6’0-6’2 range is perfect for someone my size (5’9). But my brother played around with a few different boards and spent a lot of time on a 6’6. 

Got it. So you guys are just coming off your best run of swell in recent memory. Tell me about it. 
So we had two hurricanes back-to-back—Paulette and Teddy. Paulette came first, and that swell was basically all the Box by Box days. Or, sorry, Z-Land. I need to get used to calling it Z-Land*. But anyway, we got like four pumping days at Z-Land from that swell. It was the biggest and best I’ve surfed it for sure. Then we had like a week of pumping Soup Bowl. It was incredible.

What’s Z-Land like compared to Soup Bowl?
Soup Bowl is easier. Z-Land is definitely a scarier wave, even just from the paddle out. The reef is way sketchier and the wave is more of a slab. Soup Bowl has this perfect bend to it, whereas Z-Land has more random chandeliers and sections. But you can maybe get a better wave out there overall. Like my brother’s for instance.  

Which one was that?
Unfortunately no one got it on film. My dad had to work most mornings when we were surfing, so a lot of our best waves never got filmed. But Jacob got probably the craziest wave I’ve ever seen with my own eyes that day. On Slater’s board too!

Oh yeah, what’s the story with that? 
Well, my brother took his self-shaped 6’2 out on the first day of the swell and broke it first wave. So he swam back to shore, over like 100 meters of reef and urchins, and tried to find anyone with a board he could use. One of the local uncles had Kelly’s old board from 2012—the last time he was here, I think. Jacob asked if he could borrow it, and the uncle was like, “Yeah no worries, do it!”. I thought Jacob would be kinda nervous riding Kelly’s board, but it just made him go even harder because he wanted to get a crazy clip on it to send to Kelly. Actually, do you want to just talk to Jacob about it?

Jacob: Hey, how’s it going?

Good, your brother was just telling me about your wave on Kelly’s board. 
Oh yeah, that was a crazy one. I was the only one in the lineup when this huge set came in. I was like, “Oh man, do I have to go?” Then I heard my brother and his friend screaming from the channel so I just started paddling as hard as I could. The drop was really heavy, so I was kind of backpedaling (AKA “rolling up the windows”) trying to get my balance. Then the foamball hit me and got me steady, and I was in this giant barrel. It started spitting everywhere, and I was kind of stuck on the foamball, just holding on. Then it finally let me go and blew me into the channel. It was…crazy. I had goosebumps everywhere.

In my experience, the best barrels are the ones with the worst views, because it’s so chaotic inside you can’t actually see anything. Was that kinda how this one went, or was it a big blue cathedral? 
I honestly don’t even remember [laughs]. It’s all a blur. 

That’s probably the ultimate indicator of quality. And how was it riding Kelly’s board? Were you nervous?
Honestly, the board didn’t look that good for the swell. It was like a 5’8 and kind of wide, so I didn’t know if it would hold. But once I got a few waves on it, I realized it worked really good and it gave me tons of confidence. 

What a story. Thanks for that, Jacob. So, Josh, you’re a bit older than Jacob and thus have more experience. Is one of the best runs of waves you’ve had at home? 
Josh: This is the best run of waves I’ve personally ever surfed at home. Just because of how long it was—I felt like I was surfing for three weeks straight. But I think the swell in 2010 might have been a little bit better. That was hurricane Igor, when Josh Kerr, Chris Ward, and Mason Ho came. It was exactly 10 years apart from this swell, which is pretty crazy. 

You’re 23 now, right? Which means you would have been 13 then. Did you surf much on that swell, or was it a little overwhelming? 
I surfed two days. The two smallest days [laughs]. There’s this clip of Mason doing a giant air over this rip bowl, and that was actually right over my head. It was the biggest air I’d ever seen in real life. So it was really cool to get to witness that, on top of all the crazy tubes those guys got. That was the biggest and cleanest I’ve ever seen it here. But I’m super happy that I got to experience similar conditions now that I’m old enough to actually surf them. 

How many boards did you guys go through on this swell?
My brother and I broke eight boards. I think with all the local boys combined it was like 26 or something. 

Lost of carnage. 
But worth every penny. 

*’Z-Land’ is in reference Zander Venezia, a 16-year-old Bajan who tragically lost his life while surfing the wave once known as Box by Box (now Z-Land) in 2017. Here’s one of Zander’s last rides.


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