It’s my last night in Jamaica and I’m sitting on Cable Hut Beach. The sun is setting but there are still about 20 kids in the water having the time of their lives. The kids are from all over, some staying at the camp with their families and others from the neighborhood. Imani’s older brother Icah is out there and some other older guys are out there too, while she and some of the other parents are lounging in the sand watching the little ones. Every time a kid gets up, everyone hollers cheers as the next generation of surfers rides in. “We love coming here,” Liz McCaffray tells me. Her family is from the San Diego area and her kids, Ella and Cole, are both high-level youth competitors. “We have been here three years now. We gave them the choice to go somewhere else but they wanted to come back here. I think it’s because of the community here. We love the Wilmots.”
“Growing up, people never said, ‘Oh, you surf.’ They used to say that we ‘ride on the boats,’” Imani says. “Most people didn’t know what surfing was so it looked like we were riding boats.” The Wilmot family was not the first to discover surfing in Jamaica, but they were the ones to grow it. “There used to be surfers that would pass through Jamaica on their way to Puerto Rico and they would leave boards there with the locals,” she says. “So you find that there’s some older guys who also learned to surf around my dad’s time and that’s how it originally came to Jamaica. But in terms of development of the sport, I would say that’s all my family. Like, the Surfing Association was formed by my dad.”
Billy and his crew of surfing offspring (people would eventually call them The Rats) created the Jamaican Surf Association (JSA) in 1999. It was through the JSA that Imani really discovered a love for helping people. They started hosting events, contests, and camps for kids in the area. “At first, people’s parents didn’t want to send their kids to surf camp, so we started incorporating homework programs,” Imani says. She and her brothers would take kids in the community who wanted to surf and tutor them. And then they’d go surfing. “There’s a kid that I taught to read and he’s comin’ around now and he’s a big guy, and I remember sitting there and teaching him how to read because he wanted to be a surfer and he had to be able to maintain his average in school.
There’s another guy. His name is Akeem Phillips but Imani calls him Bob. She taught him how to surf before he even learned to swim. “When he went surfing with us we always had to have somebody out there in case he fell off the board,” she says. “He learned to swim at the same time he learned to surf.” Now Ackeam he is trying to be a professional surfer.
“Surfing…it’s just, it’s positive. There’s nothing about surfing that’s destructive,” Imani says. “It’s all about building friendships and just enjoying time with people and time in the water.”
With the creation of the Jamaican Surfing Association, Jamnesia, and the contests that followed, Imani and her family have given a lot of kids here the opportunity to travel. “People here don’t travel that much, and there are so many kids in Jamaica who would never be able to get outside of their community, but through surfing they get to go.”
In the water I watch as Icah and his buddies, along with the California groms, help the younger kids get on boards and ride. It’s comforting to see that Imani is not alone in her efforts to spread the love for surfing in Jamaica. Ella, the middle-schooler from Cali who is on the 2018 National Development Team, is helping a little Jamaican girl get up on her board. On the beach, Nya, who is bare-ass naked and covered in sand, jumps on a surfboard lying next to her. In perfect form, her feet are sideways and her knees are bent in an athletic stance. “I wonder where she learned that,” I say to Imani. I can’t help but grin because I’m literally watching the sport of surfing in Jamaica grow before my eyes.