A brief history of surfing in Jamaica with photos from patriarch Billy “Mystic” Wilmot
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 11 April, 2017 - For years the voice of Jamaican surfing has come from Billy “Mystic” Wilmot, who heads the reggae band, The Mystic Revealers. Billy has worked hard to legitimise surfing in his home country, through commercial endeavours, contests and the Jamaica Surfing Association.
As the Johnny Appleseed of Jamaican surfing Billy will often send out contest results, surf updates and most recently historic images of what surfing was (and is) like on this Caribbean isle known more for music and pirates than for peeling waves.
His sons Ivah and Icah, along with Shane Simmonds and Shama Beckford are working hard to break onto the international scene. But when you come from a country that’s not Australia, France, Brazil or the U.S.A., working through the pro-surf system can prove difficult.
This all might change in the future as surfing in the Olympics nears and nations like Jamaica will get equal play in the international surfing arena.
2016 Ivah Wilmot at Lighthouse: Image courtesy of Billy Wilmot
When did surfing start in Jamaica?
I have been told that it was early ‘60s but a note in the Jamaica Tourist Association Handbook 1912 mentions "Surf Bathing" along the Palisadoes Peninsula!!!
What were those early days like?
Very rudimentary. Someone brought a Hobie longboard from the states in early ‘60s and some friends used it as a model to construct home made boards from boat resin, fiberglass drapery cloth and refrigerator insulating foam. The story of how the guys almost poisoned themselves with the resin fumes is often recounted by the old timers who still laugh about it today!
Where do you see Jamaican surfing going?
We are working to raise Jamaica's profile as a legitimate surfing nation/destination. If we are successful, hopefully Jamaica's surfing industry will blossom and bear fruit allowing local talent to take their place in the international surfing arena and be able to achieve their dreams of being able to provide financial stability to their respective families through the sport of surfing. We want to help develop the alternate tourism potential to improve community based tourism at the highly underdeveloped eastern end of the island and by so doing increase and improve the income generating options of small seaside villages adjacent to Jamaica's numerous surfing locations. We ultimately would love to see a Jamaican on the World Tour and Jamaican Surf Brands competing in the international surfing marketplace.
2016 Garren Pryce @ Lighthouse: Image courtesy of Billy Wilmot
Who are some of the top surfers in Jamaica today?
Ivah Wilmot, Shane Simmonds, Shama Beckford, Icah Wilmot, Ronald Hastings, Garren Pryce are currently the top tier surfers in Jamaica and the ones leading the local charge. Ultra talented, they would no doubt be fully sponsored if the resided in surfing's "1st World". Other surfers of note are Ackeam Phillips, Luke Williams and Akeem Taylor.
Tell us about the photos we received:
1977 Jack Murray, etc.
This Photo was taken at the Zoo. A pristine river mouth that became known as Jamaica's "Pipeline". By this time it had usurped The Wreck as Jamaica's #1 surf spot.
1967 Terrence Muschette
This was actually the first Jamaican surfing picture used for commercial purposes. It was published on a '67/'68 RED STRIPE BEER Calendar
-1969 Wreck Tony Lancaster ( Top image )
This is a pic showing some of the ORIGINAL Jamaican surf crew on the beach at The Wreck, the prime surf spot of the era. The original Hobe surfboard at far right was the example used to produce the other home made boards in the picture.