February 5, 2009– Aquamarine water, warm tropical breezes, and endless set-ups from reefs to beachies – you might think we are headed to the South Pacific for this month’s Best Bet. But add in the steel drums along with a reggae beat and you know are headed to the islands of the Caribbean.
When thinking of the Caribbean one conjures ideas of idyllic landscapes of tropical tranquility… and that much is true. But rest assured, in the North American winter this regions offers up some world-class surf. It can either be easily accessible for the get in/get out quick strike or remote and off-the-beaten path for those with the time and resources.
The Caribbean is divided into two regions – the Greater Antilles towards the west (which includes the Bahamas although these islands do not technically border the Caribbean Sea) and the Lesser Antilles to the east which include islands such as Guadeloupe and Barbados. Many islands have coasts that are exposed to both the raw energy of the North Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea. But for this time of year, the focus is on the islands with exposure to the violent Atlantic storms we so often see during the winter. There are literally thousands of spots that offer everything from expert level reef set-ups right on down to softer beachbreaks perfectly suitable for beginners.
The Caribbean can receive winter swell from several different scenarios. This is certainly not an exhaustive list but it will generally cover the majority of the wave generating scenarios: There are literally thousands of spots that offer everything from expert level reef set-ups right on down to softer beachbreaks perfectly suitable for beginners.
The first and most obvious are the winter NW swells. These are generated behind cold fronts that push off of the U.S. East Coast. Tons of spots will light up from these swells but the trade winds generally set up with the swell so finding the right facing break is key. These NE/ENE trade winds are a result of the trailing high pressure that sets up behind the dissipating cold front. One caveat – if the cold front can hold together, some locations may see SE winds which, for islands like Puerto Rico, can result in great conditions and absolutely pumping swell.
The second swell generating scenario focuses on strong lows in the higher North Atlantic latitudes. These storms can send anything from ENE to NE to N swells towards the region. We tend to see these systems more during the fall and spring months but are dictated by the particular weather pattern that is in place.
The third and least desirable scenario is the trade windswell. It is just as its name implies – steady ENE/NE trade winds blowing around the Atlantic ridge set up windswell for the islands. Although this is not why a surfer would travel to the Caribbean, these windswells can be really fun especially if there is any significant down time between N swells.
The Caribbean region is so large that this is by no means a complete view but rather an introduction to this vast oceanic region interrupted by volcanic islands. We’re only scratching the surface here, but be sure to check out the forecast as plenty of swell is on the way.
From Jamaica to Cuba, Puerto Rico to Barbados, Surfline Travel has all the tools to guide you through the Caribbean. Find out where to stay, how to get there, downtime activities, and much more. Go for it…