This Haitian town hopes to become a surfing destination

The trouble started in July 2018 in the capital Port-au-Prince, 54 miles north.

The government had recently announced a 50% increase in fuel prices following an agreement with the International Monetary Fund, sparking protests that turned violent, with protesters looting shops and police firing tear gas. The protesters demanded accountability, particularly regarding the whereabouts of $2 billion from PetroCaribe, an oil deal with Venezuela meant to help Haiti invest in infrastructure and social programs.

Economic growth was stalling and inflation was rising. The question on everyone’s mind: What did Haiti have to show for $13 billion from the world, thousands of volunteers and countless projects?

Tourists hardly came to Haiti – and many Haitians were leaving, including Gilles, who moved to the Dominican Republic in December 2019 for two years so he could find work and save money. Today, he is trying to set up a small shop selling snacks and drinks on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Although he longed to remain in southern Haiti, he said, “I really want a job and a sense of independence.”

About half a dozen Surf Haiti founders and senior members were among those who left, most of them to the United States, after going to college or finding work.

When boards started to break, there was no one to bring new ones. Wax became scarce. Visitors slowed, and the kids who had waited on the beach for Pierce to paddle again in years past were now in college, with no job prospects and no income.

“The people who were there to cheer us on and support us haven’t been here as much,” Andris said.

And then the pandemic hit. Jules’ bid for the Olympics fell apart when he couldn’t get the support he needed from sponsors and the local community in Jacmel. Last year, less than a dozen people attended the surf course, a far cry from the years when so many attended each month.

In recent months, gangs have taken over the main route out of the capital, cutting it off from the south; few dare to cross it. Another route, a long steep, narrow dirt road, is too dangerous if there is even a little rain. Water taxis are limited.

The flow of visitors to Kabic beach is almost closed for now. Those who remain in Surf Haiti say they plan to sell T-shirts with the organization’s logo and handmade souvenirs online.

In the meantime, it’s mostly locals in the water, less than half a dozen of them on this August morning. Patrons are teaching their younger siblings to surf in an effort to keep the sport going. Samuel Andris, Frantzy’s 13-year-old brother, stayed near the shore on a recent morning, pausing to watch the waves build up and try to catch smaller ones.

Further out, Jules practiced his advanced moves. He learned some of them while surfing in the Dominican Republic in 2019, at the only competition he has attended abroad. After a while, he emerged from the water, patted his adopted pet, Brutus, on the head, and climbed the steps to the front porch of the abandoned house—Pierce’s home years ago. With no job opportunities or a working gym in the neighborhood, Jules spends most of her time here doing push-ups on the grass.

He still dreams of going to surfing competitions in Brazil, Hawaii and Tahiti.

“It’s like someone waking up and having to walk,” Jules said. “I see surfing the same way.” ●

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