The Dish on Soup Bowl

In Barbados, Surf Kings Happily Serve Up Lessons for Plebes

Dec 9, 2003
Outside Magazine

Barbados sports a tight-knit surfing community and a refreshing lack of attitude

In stuffy Barbados, where islanders worship cricket and neckties flourish, the unlikely badass surf scene is a splash of hot pepper sauce on the otherwise bland national dish: flying fish with okra-and-cornmeal mash. The Caribbean's most consistent waves roll in from the east, pounding the pear-shaped, 166-square-mile island, the easternmost outpost of the West Indies. And Bathsheba, an east coast village where a tumble of bright houses clings to a palm-studded hillside, is the nexus. Thirty yards off the beach lies the world-famous Soup Bowl, where a north and a south swell collide to create waves from 3 to 25 feet tall.

Soup Bowl attracts Kelly Slater and other elite surfers for the Independence Pro competition every November and provides locals—and visitors—with the perfect aquaturf for honing their moves. Mark Holder, 35, and Alan Burke, 33, reign as the surf kings of Barbados, competing in international tournaments and regularly carving the Soup Bowl waves. Both are natives; Holder, a laid-back rasta "soul-surfer," and Burke, a sixth-generation descendant of water-loving Irish immigrants, have had a friendly rivalry for two decades, and there's an ongoing debate among the island's tight-knit surfing community over which of the two is supreme.

Best of all, each gives private lessons. Imagine showing up in Maui and calling Laird Hamilton for a few hours of one-on-one. In Barbados, you can do the equivalent, getting personal instruction from Holder and Burke on tamer waves, on the south end of the island, with the hope of working up to the Soup Bowl's powerful right break. The lack of attitude here is reassuring for wobbly neophytes, who won't find chiseled surf studs staring them down while they're learning to stand on a board, as well as for seasoned old-timers, who return year after year.

The windsurfing and kiteboarding are also superb, especially along the southern coast near the resorts at Silver Sands and Silver Rock. It's not unusual to see pro windsurfer and official island character Brian "Irie Man" Talma working his moves off Silver Rock Beach; he owns a rental shop there, and you can take lessons from him.

Or just find a comfortable spot in the sand and watch local youngsters rip it up. "There are little kids who will ride anything they can get their hands on," says Holder, a surfer since age six. "There are guys riding plywood boards." Holder describes the Barbados riding posture: "Local style is the most radical—flinging your hands, hanging down low to the board, and getting into the groove."

My lesson, with Burke, takes place among perfect two-footers at Freights Bay, a mile from Long Beach on the south coast, where he runs a surf school. After learning to turn turtle (flip the board over myself in a wave) and other basic moves, we paddle out. I manage to catch a wave... for a few seconds. My moves, however, are an amusing parody of local style—flailing my arms, tripping off the board, and falling overboard.

Lodging: Check out the Bajan Surf Bungalows (doubles from $54; 246-433-9920,, owned by Melanie Pitcher, one of the country's top surfers.
Sports: July to September is the best season to catch beginner waves. Contact the Barbados Surfing Association (246-429-6647, for details. For lessons, call Mark Holder (246-420-3611) or Alan Burke (246-228-5117). Holder charges $50 per hour for one-on-one lessons; Burke charges $40 for a two-hour lesson. For surfing, kitesurfing, and windsurfing gear, as well as rentals and lessons, head over to Brian Talma's Irieman Action (246-428-2866,, in the Silver Rock Hotel.

Filed To: Surfing, Barbados

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