One of the biggest myths is that the Caribbean has no waves. Clearly, with Bocas in the surf media as much as it is, and being visited by international surfing pros, this myth is slowly being dispelled. But for those of you who still can’t wrap your head around this, the fact is that Bocas gets tons of heavy surf that lasts for weeks and rivals any swell magnet on earth.
What weather patterns make for the swell in Bocas?
There are two different swell seasons in Bocas.
- November through April (winter)
- Mid June / July / Early August (Summer)
The winter season has two primary swell contributors. The most dominate is the ITCZ conveyor belt’s feeding storms off the northern coast of Colombia and Venezuela. In looking at Google Earth, the northern coast of Colombia shows some surprising attributes……..it is bone dry, a desert. Think of the Abaco, Bonair and Curaco (the ABC islands)…all are basically deserts. Very windy deserts.
Combine the ITCZ (very wet) with the northern coast of Colombia (very dry) and then add the Caribbean High Pressure that forms every winter in the mid Atlantic, providing significant push and pressure gradient differences, and you get a massive acceleration of low pressure pushing constant swell in to Bocas’ wave window. This weather pattern is as comprehensive a system as the lows that push across the North Pacific in the winter, or the Southern Hemi pulses coming out of the roaring 40’s. The only difference is that the pattern is localized.
Once it sets up, it DOES NOT STOP for weeks at a time. The surf in this part of the world is constant during the winter, some of the most consistent surf in the world.
The second swell contributor in the winter season comes from the low pressure systems that sweep across the US. These systems, though infrequent, drive swell down from the Gulf of Mexico in the north lighting up a completely different set of surf spots in Bocas. They only last a day or so, but they deliver the goods and get the locals stoked in anticipation of the secret spots that fire on these direct north swells.
The summer season has one primary contributor being the early hurricane season’s increased energy coming from Africa. Tropical storms don’t need to be evident, just the energy that consistently pours out of Africa starting in July and lasting into September. Like the winter season, this energy sweeps across the Atlantic, being accelerated by the high pressure that sits in the Caribbean and hits the bone dry coast of South America…..bingo! Waves, and lots of them for weeks on end.
But why does the surf get so big and break so hard?
Bocas is just like Hawaii’s north shore. One mile off the coast and the bottom drops to a thousand feet deep. Ten miles out, and the bottom is nine thousand feet deep. Open ocean swells slam into Bocas unimpeded by a continental shelf creating large, steep waves that jack into serious barrels. Add some reef, a little sand or angle to the coast line and there you go…consistent, world class surf in a tropical setting. This is what you came looking for, right?
What type of board should I bring?
You’ll do great on your standard short board and a step up board. It is advisable to bring two, especially if you surf Bluff as you may buckle or break a board. There is a surf shop in town so buying a board, as well as leases, wax etc. is usually not a problem.
The airlines fly smaller planes and limit the board sizes to seven feet. We have gotten 7′ 6″ boards on, but it may prove best to not push it.
What about Longboards or SUPs?
The airlines will not take longboards.
What are the best links for projecting the swell?
There are a ton of links and ways to look at the surf. Here are some of our favorites:
FAQ’s WHAT SHOULD I BRING?
Bring the obvious things like sunscreen, swim suit, etc. But depending upon what you are doing, you may need some unexpected items.
• If you are coming for eco-tours bring a pair of rubber boots and several pairs of long white socks.
• Long pants and a long sleeve shirt will also save you from getting scratched when hiking.
• A good pair of sun glasses and a hat
• Everybody should bring a nice set of binoculars for bird watching. Even if you are not a birder, bring them.
• Insect repellent
• Button down shirts as they tend to keep you cooler than tee-shirts
• Cargo pants
• A waterproof boat bag to keep a towel and your stuff in when you go out on boats
• Snorkeling gear
• Athletic shoes
Are the Bugs bad?
This is one of the favorite FAQuestions. Are you going to get eaten alive by mosquitoes and the answer is NO. You’ll be surprised by how few mosquitoes you’ll encounter. Many houses have no windows, meaning no glass in the windows – just big square openings. The mosquitoes are not bad, honestly.
The one insect that is a problem is called the Chitre’ or as we say in the states, NOSEEUM’s. Depending upon where you are, these tiny guys can be no problem or really bad. They come out mostly at night so this is why it is good to have a long sleeve shirt and pants.
Be advised, places like Carenaro, Red Frog Beach, Saigon and Bluff can be bad. They like mangroves so low lying areas really can get bad.