The Island Of Plenty
Discovering euphoria off Panama's Caribbean coast
Words: Dave Malcolm
Photos: Seth Stafford/SPL
"Oh, man, I'd love to, but I don't think I'll have new boards ready before then—I'll let you know."
It's the third time I've heard that same excuse in the last 24 hours—time I've spent rifling through the TransWorld SURF rolodex trying to wrangle up a small crew of three for a last-minute strike mission to Panama. Is it me? Does my breath stink? I should floss more. Anyway, I'm somewhere around belly button deep in production for our new surf flick Tropically Yours, and cherry-picking the proper crew for these trips is key. There's a fine line one must dance when enticing pro surfers to pack their bags and book a flight. It sounds funny, but these surfers can be pretty damn reluctant to go on surf trips. Strange, right? You'd think in the middle of winter it'd be a no-brainer to throw some trunks in a board bag and head south to warmer pastures. But in reality, convincing these guys to squeeze more "work" into their schedule involves finesse and technique. You've got to hype it up but not too much. It's quite an art form, really.
Having been to the Caribbean side of Panama the year before, I know the potential, and the forecast looks good once again. But with only three days of advance notice, I need to push our tentative crew over the ledge, so I commit to a tactic I told myself I'd never use: I over-hype it. "You guys have to believe me: It has the most fun waves ever, it's the sickest place, there's rad parties, the forecast looks mental, and Latin American supermodels litter the beach with not one dude in sight. I know, I know, it sounds too good to be true, but it's real. I've seen it." I speak as though I've discovered El Dorado, and somehow Matt Meola, Dillon Perillo, and Michael Dunphy believe me.
I always house some level of anxiety on the way to a new destination, laying out the variables in my head over and over. Will the swell really show? The charts were downgraded. Should we even go? The longer the journey, the higher the expectations, and though I'm normally not a pessimist, this trip really has me spinning my wheels in a negative direction—toward delusions of complete disaster. No waves. No chicks. This crew will never do another trip with me. That cliché evil movie laugh echoes through my weary skull well into our Panama City layover. And then, hope arrives.
"Excuse me, where are you going?"
I stir out of my subconscious in one of those ergonomic airport seats, and squinting through bleeding eyeballs, I see Dillon in a similar state, quizzed by what sounds like a girl. More squints. Yep, that's definitely a girl—and an attractive one at that. Dillon mumbles something about Panama, but I pay no attention to him. His new friend continues in broken English. "Okay. So are we. We are staying at Calypso. We will see you there?" Turns out "we" is her plus seven more gorgeous friends on summer vacation from Buenos Aires, Argentina. The outgoing one returns to her curious pack and relays the information. Giggles and smiles exchange. Did that just happen?
Latte, mocha, Americano, Colombian, Swedish, Argentinean—the stretch of sand directly in front of our bungalows resembles a Starbucks taste testing. Exquisite female forms in every skin tone from around the globe, perfectly spaced in small packs for a half-mile. Dunphy does a slow, travel-induced 360 in the sand, surveying our property for the next week. "Dude, dude…" He finishes the final 10 degrees of the rotation. "Dude." Matt shuffles down the path moments later. "Brah… What? You weren't kidding." We haven't seen a surfable wave yet, but I'm throwing mental fist pumps knowing at least half of my hype is coming true.
I'm 30 years old, out of shape, balding—the list goes on. And I now tend to live vicariously through the lives of pro surfers, from their surfing ability to their fiery escapades with the opposite sex. Their stories help take me back to my so-called glory years, and as much as I want to be cabana boy for a day and see how many square inches of peach-fuzzed, tan skin I can save from the searing equatorial sun—I have to put the SPF away. I'm here to make a surf movie, so let's get some clips in the bag and then we can play later. The boys are onboard and, surprisingly, in bed.
Early mornings, barrels, sunscreen, lunch, ramps, dinner, rum, watch footage, sleep, repeat. For four days, the routine continues. The waves here are so damn fun all day, every day, we (somehow) manage to completely forget about our bikini-clad coffee shop in the sand. Well, not completely. On the fifth day of the trip, we decide to walk back down for some lunch, a refreshment, and a little eye candy.
"You see the look that girl is giving you?" Meola asks Dillon.
"Psshhh, I wouldn't even know what to say. Plus I haven't shaved in like four days."
I point out a six-pack to Dunphy. "When you stomped that rotator this morning, that whole group yelled 'mi amor' at you."
"Yeah right," he responds, as though he doesn't stand a chance, and walks away.
Now I've seen "surfed out" before, but this is getting extreme. Youthful athletes in the prime of their lives, and they can't pull their faces out of their grouper sandwiches. Nearly naked, foreign beauties dangle themselves in front of the boys, only to be greeted with apathetic sighs. I've never seen so many swooning women in one location before—even the US Open in Huntington Beach has nothing on this place—and nobody is able to do a thing about it. Dunphy has the only justifiable excuse. His six-hour midday sessions have landed him a festering volcano blister on his lower lip, and to his credit, it's gross. Dillon is on the verge of heatstroke, nauseous and shivering in the sun. I have a bug bite mosaic running up the length of my legs. One of the hottest girls to ever approach me was really concerned. "Oh, no. You have allergies?" Minus one for me too, I guess. Matt is the only one powering through, and his eyes are on the prize—the last one of our group with a pulse still running through his body. Now, it takes guts to plant oneself into that scenario minus a wingman, but surely the one who scrapes into 50-footers at Jaws and survives two-wave hold-downs can man up, right? He approaches a cute brunette. "Hola… Uh…"
He's met with nothing—just an awkward silence and soft giggles. What confidence he had left was ripped from his little frame, leaving him right back with us inside the bungalow, pondering the "what ifs."
I couldn't have dreamt up a more perfect scenario for a surf trip. Anyone would consider it a score when you package warm water and friendly barrels on the same trip. And then you add boatloads of exotic females to the cocktail? The combination is more rare than getting upgraded to first class and put next to Alessandra Ambrosio on a 14-hour flight to Paris. It took me a couple weeks after we got home to come to grips with the fact that my vicarious sex hunters couldn't leave me with any tales for my cubicle-driven daydreams. But it's true what they say, kids: sex isn't everything. And whittling through the footage back in the office, it's evident that we scored—another successful one in the books. I tend to forget that even for the surfers, this is work. The boys actually had their priorities straight the entire trip—and I'm no longer disappointed on their non-existent extracurricular performance because the mind is a powerful thing. I can go back to that beach and all those sunbathing beauties anytime I choose. All it takes is pondering my morning coffee order at Starbucks—latte, mocha, Americano…
For more from this trip, visit the Tropically Yours website. Tropically Yours, the 2013 TransWorld SURF movie, premieres Thursday, July 25th at the Lido Theater in Newport Beach, CA during the US Open Of Surfing. Stay tuned to transworldsurf.com, as well as our Facebook and Instagram for more information.