Haiti would be a rare sight on anyone's list of surfing hotspots. Despite beautiful beaches and solid breaks, the country is better known as a poster child for the failure of international aid in the wake of two devastating natural disasters—not to mention issues of violence, disease, and endemic corruption that persist today. However, since 2010 a small group of aid workers has been teaching local kids to surf the waves of Kabic Beach, roughly 45 minutes outside of Haiti's cultural capital, Jacmel. Many of these kids, despite growing up on the water, first had to learn to swim.
This April, Surf Haiti hosted the country’s first surf competition matching up against a team from the bordering Dominican Republic. Photographer Mike Magers was there to capture the event, and what turned out to be a non-stop beach celebration.
Photo: Contestants and spectators anxious to get back in the water while watching the heats from the beach.Samuel Jules, Surf Haiti's top competitor, paddles out in the early stages of the competition.Another one of Surf Haiti’s top contenders catches a small wave in shallow water.It's always amazing to be in the water with surfers, but between heats kids would pour off of the beach to body surf. I was a bit of an anomaly, holding a camera, popping up right as the wave was breaking, trying to capture for a moment the child's joy of being swept up in the ocean.Kabic Beach is more often home to an aid worker and tourist crowd fleeing the chaos of Port au Prince, but the day of the competition it seemed like the whole town came out. Between heats and after the competition ended for the day, everyone was in the water.Papito Santana, representing the Dominican Republic, won the overall competition. He works as an instructor at the Pauhana Surf School on the northern coast of the D.R. and made the most of the weekend's small waves.Jules reacts happily as contest winner Papito Santana donates one of his boards to another member of Surf Haiti.In between sessions, the party moved from the beach and into the water.A group of girls watch the competition from the beach as concert speakers pump surf tunes spun by DJ Alain Maximilien, better known as "The Haitian Hillbilly."Young men heading into the water between heats to catch some waves and keep practicing. Once they've been up on a board it seems almost impossible to stay away.A group of boys stands at the water’s edge watching the last rides of the day.A Surf Haiti competitor wipes out directly over my head.Spectators diving into the water during a lull in swells—up until the very start of the competition, waves were an issue as in it didn't look like there would be any. However, while it started flat, swells picked up and by the second day, competitors were getting rideable breaks.Haiti’s Jules charges down the face of a wave.Jules, who is noticeably reserved on land, always seems to be caught mid-scream when on a wave.Roberto Martinez, Papito Santana, and Dustin Miller (of Christian Surfers and based in the Dominican Republic) sit at the scorer's table with Rafael Ferreras (right) of the Macao Surf Camp in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.Roberto Martinez, another talented surfer from the Dominican Republic, makes the most of a small swell.