Travel Guide, Winter 1995-1996
At first glance, Barbados seems like a tropical version of England: cricket players in starched white uniforms and tea-and-crumpet socials at sedate hotels. But while 300 years of uninterrupted British rule have given this 166-square-mile island a civilized air, well-tended gardens, and cheerful, efficient service, that's where the similarities end. There are no fog-shrouded cityscapes--just palm-fringed beaches, brightly painted chattel houses, and Rastafarians in weather-beaten rum shops peddling cold Banks beers to surfers.
Barbados is, above all, wind and waves: Sitting off by itself 200 miles northeast of Trinidad and nearly 100 miles east of the Grenadines, it faces open ocean with nothing but a few sailboats to slow down the waves and westerly tradewinds that surge across the Atlantic from Africa, making for optimal surfing and windsurfing conditions. From December through March, the ten- to 20-knot sideshore winds are so consistent that you can put up your sail and keep it rigged for a week.
The prime windsurfing waters are on the island's south coast, stretching about three miles from St. Lawrence to Silver Sands Beach. Beginners do best in the placid, shallow waters off Sandy Beach in St. Lawrence, while intermediates and slalom specialists tack and jibe in the reef-protected waters of nearby Oistins Bay.
At Silver Sands, advanced boardsailors catch sets of Atlantic swells that crash against a coral reef in long, slow-breaking waves. Club Mistral has a windsurfing center at the Silver Sands Resort (lessons are $30- $50 an hour; 809-428-7277) and rents high-quality boards and rigs ($60 per day, $230 per week). The Silver Sands Resort (doubles, $120- $155; 809-428-6001) has rooms and suites with kitchen facilities, two pools, and tennis courts; the nearby Silver Rock Hotel (doubles, $100- $135; 809-428-2866), also on Silver Sands Beach, rents wellappointed one-bedroom apartments and studios with commanding views of the world's best boardsailors, who compete here in World Cup events every January. Club Mistral also has facilities in the village of Maxwell on Oistins Bay, about 15 minutes away, where it offers weeklong equipment and lodging packages at nearby hotels (doubles, $499-$799 per person; book through Sailboard Vacations, Mistral's U.S. representative, 800-252-1070). For casual atmosphere and a central location down the beach from Club Mistral within walking distance of Maxwell's restaurants, bars, and shops, stay at the Sea Breeze Beach Hotel (studios with kitchenettes, $130-$145; 809-428-2825) in Maxwell.
From September through January, surfers gather at a break called Soup Bowl, near the town of Bathsheba on the east coast. It's one of the hottest surf spots in the Atlantic; waves there average nine to 12 feet, and sometimes exceed 15 feet. Stay at the Edgewater Inn (doubles, $75-$110; 809-433-9900), an intimate, 20-room hotel with leaded-glass windows, mahogany furnishings, and a pool perched on a cliff overlooking Soup Bowl and Bathsheba's rocky shoreline.
When Soup Bowl closes out, head the half-mile over to Parlor, which pumps with powerful four- to 15-foot swells and some of the island's most consistent waves. The west coast is usually flat; in winter, though, north swells can crank up strong four- to ten-foot surf at a break called Duppy's near the hamlet of Crab Hill on the north shore.
For surfboards, check out Rob's Surf Boards and Mountain Bikes (boards, $15 per day, $80 per week; 809-437-3404) in Hastings on the south shore. They've got six- to nine-foot Malibus and an array of shortboards for sale or rent and can also equip you with a mountain bike ($10 per day, $60 per week) for the 15-mile ride north through the island's sugarcane-covered heartland to the rolling hills and craggy cliffs of the Scotland District on the east coast.
Hikers can contact the Barbados National Trust (809-426-2421) for free, naturalist-led five- to 16-mile hikes among the island's sugar plantations and overgrown gullies, or along its coast, conducted every Sunday at 6 A.M and 3:30 P.M. Each three-hour hike visits a different part of the island.