Puerto Rico’s popular surf destinations still reeling from Maria

"It's so different from Hurricanes Katrina or Sandy because we're so isolated. We're literally on an island."

Puerto Rico is still in the very early stages of recovery from Hurricane Maria. Despite President Trump tossing paper towels to residents last Tuesday, much of the island is still without basic necessities.

On Sept. 20, Hurricane Maria slammed into eastern Puerto Rico as a Category 5 storm and rampaged across this U.S. Territory as a Category 4. NPR reported that almost 90 percent of the island was still without power two weeks after the storm, and that the death toll is now at 36.

Street lights were heavily damaged. Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Dooley/The Uncharted Studio

“It’s so different from Hurricanes Katrina or Sandy because we’re so isolated. We’re literally on an island,” diver, surfer and business owner Anthony Dooley told GrindTV from Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

Dooley began wintering in Puerto Rico 15 years ago and moved to its west coast soon after. He and his wife have a two-month-old baby, and own a silkscreening operation/apparel shop in the popular travel destination of Rincon.

Things like this are a common sight. Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Dooley/The Uncharted Studio

“Rincon got pretty beat up. Aguadilla got destroyed,” he reported. “It seems the storm made a left hook on the north coast and it looks like a bunch of tornadoes must have touched down because they cleared a track where one house is totally gone and the neighbor’s house is still standing.”

Puerto Rico has long been a favorite destination for surfers, especially those on the continental United States’ East Coast. The Northwest coast of Puerto Rico was pioneered in the ’60s and in 1968, Rincon was home to the World Surfing Championships, won by Fred Hemmings of Hawaii.

The people rallied in relief efforts. Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Dooley/The Uncharted Studio

The entire stretch of wave-laden coast is a global surf destination, home to several professionals, an ever-growing surf populace and a winter retreat community. In 2010, Rip Curl brought the World Surf League's World Championship Tour to Aguadilla, where Kelly Slater took top honors.

But right now, Puerto Rico is reeling from Maria, the strongest storm to hit the island since 1928. The territory was in financial stress long before the storm and many homes are ramshackle structures not built to code.

Infrastructure was weakened by Hurricane Irma, which skirted the island a week prior, but Maria dealt it a crippling blow.

Visually, many areas no longer look like a lush tropical island, as many of the trees are either down or have lost foliage.

Although his business has been destroyed, Dooley has been working with others on relief efforts, reaching out to families.

In addition to the lack of power, which officials say may take months to fully restore, many roads were impassible due to debris. Gasoline is sparse and being rationed on long lines. Communication has been a challenge and even drinking water is an issue.

The “Road to Happiness.” Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Dooley/The Uncharted Studio

Dooley estimates that every single person on the island has suffered some kind of damage. He has been out and about, trying to organize relief and has seen very little help from the government.

The United States is, of course, still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Irma in Florida, and the beleaguered U.S. Virgin Islands, which were damaged by both Irma and Maria.

Dooley was able to get his wife, Marcy Fitzpatrick, and child to the states where Marcy is doing her best to help locals get out of Puerto Rico.

“My friend Hector’s family lost two houses. I went over there the other night to let them know that Marcy had connected with JetBlue to get them on a flight,” Dooley told GrindTV. “There were eight of them, from little kids to 90-year-old grandparents in what’s left of their house, huddled around one little light. And they were so pumped to hear that they are flying out to go stay with their family in New York. And I ask myself, ‘Where am I?'”

Up and down the East Coast, surf communities with very specific ties to Puerto Rico are holding fundraisers, raising money to be donated to the surfer-led relief organization Waves for Water, which has boots on the ground in Puerto Rico, providing water filters that prevent the outbreak of disease.

So many structures were demolished. Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Dooley/The Uncharted Studio

“There are these moments when you think it’s all over. But then you start thinking, ‘This is going to come back.’ You have these highs and lows within an hour. Rincon will come back. Puerto Rico will come back. The vibe is insane. I have never felt more a part of Puerto Rico as I do now,” Dooley added.

GrindTV has set up a donation page to support Waves for Water's Caribbean Hurricane Relief Initiative. You can donate at the GrindTV Water Filters for the Caribbean Fundraiser.

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