"Fence Surfing" in the Caribbean

Tourists ride the wire at St. Maarten beach

May 30, 2014
Outside Magazine

Who needs water when you can surf wind from a plane 30 feet above your head?    Takashi Ota/Flickr

It's high season at Maho Beach in St. Maarten, and surf's up. Well, "fence surfing" is up.

The Caribbean island isn't exactly known for its killer break, but it is known for Princess Juliana International Airport and its runway that extends directly behind the beach. Landing planes—think 747s—come in with only 30 feet separating them from the sand, creating waves of turbulent air coming out of the engines at nearly 250 mph—and that has led to the creation of a bizarre new adventure hobby.

Tourists line the fence of the runway and hold on for dear life as the airwaves lift them up and make them fly. Fence surfing, as the locals call it, has become the defining characteristic of Maho Beach. Forget the perfect Caribbean water or the powder-soft sand. The beach bar even has a takeoff and landing schedule on its chalkboard instead of a drink menu.

Because the runway of Princess Juliana International Airport is only 7,546 feet long, pilots must rev the jet's engines before takeoff to compensate for the lack of tarmac. (In fact, after changes in international and local regulations regarding runway length, an extra 492 feet was added to this one.) The thrust created from the engines is 800 times more powerful than the average car.

But the power coming from the jets is still enough to sweep fence surfers off their feet.

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