Summertime = Surfing in Bocas Del Toro!January 15, 2016
DST Opening Competition this Weekend at Paki Point, Isla Colon
Its summertime in our part of the world, and Bocas Del Toro has the perfect way to celebrate the beginning of the season: on surfboards, of course! This weekend, January 16th and 17th at Paki Point here in Bocas Del Toro, Panama DST (Discovering Surfing Talents) is opening its year with the Copa Super Deporte. Young surfers from all across Panama will be making their way to one of the most popular surfing spots in Bocas to compete in the first official tournament of the surfing season.
Discovering Surfing Talents, DST, was born from the heart of dedicated surfers. In April of 2012 the ISA World Junior Surfing Championship was held in Playa Venao, Panama. The country, which is home to some of the best waves, should have turned out great stars in the competition, but the team did not do well at all. It was at that moment that Discovering Surfing Talents began. Raul Stanford, Denisse Gonzalez and Misael Mendieta decided to do something for the children and youth surfing in Panama. They created a program to help and encourage the children of Panama who had a passion for the water. It was so important to them, that the first DST competition was held that very year.
The weekend of August 4, 2012 on Serena Beach, Coronado with about 40 to 50 participants, youth surfing history was made in Panama. Over the years DST has grown and now has eight competitions per year held in different spots around Panama, both in the Pacific and the Caribbean and each with about 60 competitors or more. According to the founders, what makes DST so special is “… that they are very family oriented events, full of great brotherhood among the boys and girls.”
The vision of the organization is incredible. Their global mission is to “instill in our athletes all the international regulations that are required to surf competitively, to create a lot of camaraderie among them, to focus on individual and group work.” Their slogan is: Study, Surf and Clean your beaches. They focus on the importance of education above all and encourage the kids to study. They told us, “The most important thing in life is to study, then follow the sport of surfing, but we think there is nothing that exempts you from studying and even finishing a university degree.” There is a lot that this group of generous people want the children to gain from the experience, “The most important things are: knowing how to compete, to share, to know how to win but also know how to lose and learn from your failures, to grow stronger as people and as athletes.” With this support from the DST, 3 of the competitors were chosen to represent Panama on the ISA World Junior Surfing Team in Oceanside, California and San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua. These team members are 11 year old Kai Gale Grani from Bocas Del Toro, 12 year old Isauro Elizondo of Santa Catalina and 12 year old Tao Rodriguez of Rio Mar.
After talking to a few of those groms (surfer slang for young surfers), it is easy to see that is indeed a very special organization that creates fun for the kids and their families, that teaches the proper way to compete, that fosters a love of nature and keeping our planet beautiful, and to focus on education. No wonder these kids are amazing! They love surfing and when they talk about it, it is as if you can see the entire ocean in their eyes, their faces shine and the smiles are endless!
Nine year old Teo Gale Grani has competed in DST competitions for a little over a year. He grew up surfing, starting when he was just 4 years old. The Caribbean Sea is his front yard and his father is a die hard surfer, so it only made sense that the Gale Grani boys would follow in his footsteps. Teo told me,” When I am competing it makes me feel good with all the people out cheering for me, I like to watch the judges writing the scores. One of the best parts is sharing the excitement with my family. My dad tells me where the waves are coming and where they will break, he helps with strategies. I like working like this with my dad. The best thing about competing in the DST is having fun. I have learned what maneuvers give points, and how to compete in the water. Plus, I love to see the sea life, I have never been in a competition without seeing a sting ray… the water is fresh and it feels good when I am in the sea. Competing in the DST also makes me study harder because if you don’t do well in school you are not allowed to compete.” Teo has surfed in many different locations and I asked him about his home and the surfing in Bocas Del Toro, he said, “The tide in Bocas is very different than other places, the waves in Bocas have more form and are not mushy. The water in other places is sometimes cold; in Bocas it is always warm. Bocas is better for more experienced surfers. For beginners, the Pacific side might be better. Here there are rocks and you have to really think about your wave and where it will take you. Surfing to me is, well, I love it. I like the sport because when you are in the water you are always with someone, and I make a lot of friends with surfing.” Teo will be competing this weekend in the sub 10 and sub 12 categories. He is the 2015 co-champion in the sub 10 category and will be defending his title.
Reese Williams is a 7 year old girl who has been surfing since her family relocated to Isla Bastimentos when she was about 5. She has been surfing ever since. She told me, “The first time I was surfing I was 5, and I really liked it. I wish I could surf everyday.” She was in her first competition exactly a year ago when the DST had its first Bocas Del Toro appearance. She said, “In the beginning at the competition I was a little nervous but, I LOVED IT. I like to compete with other people in the water. I like meeting new friends at the competitions. I think I have been in 5 competitions. I have won a medal and a trophy. It makes me feel happy. It’s just amazing.” She wants to eventually be in the world championships, a great goal for an optimistic, excited, young surfer girl. I asked her, “If you could surf anywhere in the world where would it be?” her response, “HERE!! It feels like I’m flying when I catch a wave. Sometimes when the waves tackle me I get a little afraid, but I have a good teacher that helps me, and of course my dad helps me the most!”
Isauro Elizondo is 12 years old and has been competing for a few years. He is from Santa Catalina and is always at the DST tournaments, except for this one. He will miss this competition because he is in San Diego, California with one of his past winnings, studying English on a scholarship won in a DST event. He did send a few words about what the DST has done for him, and how he loves to surf in Bocas Del Toro. He said, “I would compare Bocas with other surf spots by saying that Bocas offers a more powerful and varied wave. Other spots don’t provide the same options. Bocas is a humble place and I enjoy surfing there. I think the DST is a good idea because it provides support for the competitors. It’s also a great organization for making new friends and engaging in healthy competition. A fun memory that I recall is a time during Halloween when all the competitors dressed up in costumes and were given prizes for the best outfits. Everyone had a great time. I also want to thank DST for the opportunity to study English with the ELS program in San Diego CA.”
Two of these three joyful, dedicated groms, along with the World Surf team boys, Kai and Tao, will be among the many that will be competing this weekend. Everybody, including the organizers are stoked for this opening event. And of course they are, Bocas is a surfer’s paradise, in fact the DST people say, “Bocas Del Toro is the Hawaii of Panama, there is a special vibe here, and great waves! Having the competition here, and traveling to this island paradise is indescribable, and the children surfing in Bocas give a magical touch to the island.”
Come out to Paki Point this weekend to experience for yourself the excitement, friendship, and great surf! If you can’t join us, be sure to check back with bocasdeltoro.com to see more photos and a list of winners. We wish all the competitors GOOD LUCK and HAPPY SURFING!