Huntington Beach, California. Bondi Beach, Sydney. Hanalei Bay, Kauai. If you’re a surfer, you know these beaches well. But did you know there are killer waves right here in Kingston? Jamaica’s beaches along the north and south coast have perfect surfing conditions for eight months out of the year, largely due to wind swells from the northeast.
Just along the southeastern coast at Eight Miles in Bull Bay is Jamaica’s first (and only) surf camp, Jamnesia. The camp is the work of Billy “Mystic” Wilmot, who for more than 40 years has championed surfing in Jamaica. Growing up in the 1960’s, Billy says, surfboards weren’t readily available on the island. Billy and his friends would “surf” on makeshift boards, often repurposing old fishing boats into small boards just big enough for a belly.
His love for the sport has grown into a movement, and he’s brought his sons Ivah, Icah and Inilek along for the ride. (Icah recently won the 2015 Makka Pro, Jamaica’s biggest surfing competition, for the third time.) The Wilmots have worked to legitimize Jamaica’s cred in the international surfing community, and they provide a haven for new surfers in their own neighborhood.
On a trip to an international surf competition in the early 90’s, Billy realized the surf in Jamaica’s Bull Bay was on par with some of the best beaches on earth. The only difference? There was no one there to teach the local youth how to surf, or outfit them with gear. During his subsequent trips abroad, Billy worked to establish connections with brands to donate boards, repair kits and other essentials. More surfboards meant more children were introduced to the sport, and could hit the waves. Today, surfing continues to provide a positive outlet for the kids of Bull Bay—and help them stay out of trouble. Billy and his sons believe that it is important to keep surfing alive in the community by funding local surfing events, after-school programs and international trips to surfing competitions.
The Wilmot family (all seven of them) runs the surf camp, which opened in the late 1970’s. As the surfing community continued to grow over the years (and the number of visitors outgrew Billy’s home), he built seven rustic, tin-roofed bungalows to accommodate guests. Anyone looking for a surfer’s paradise in Jamaica will find it at Jamnesia. They are also likely to find a motley crew of surf lovers from around the world, perhaps a Florida professor on summer break lounging on a hammock, or a group of friends from California.
Everyone at Jamnesia hits the waves together—and while you may have come alone or with friends, you are sure to leave this surf camp with new buddies. In the evening, dinner is served as Red Stripe and live music flow freely. Throughout the day, everyone gathers in the open courtyard, chatting on the wooden benches, reading, playing a game of football.
In the future, Billy hopes that the neighborhood kids are able to gain further exposure to the surfing world—through traveling abroad, watching videos, and receiving visits from pros—and rise to the next level of surfing. The family hopes that both professional and avid surfers will continue to make their way to the island specifically to try out the sweet waves. Billy jokes that he often drops guests at the airport with their hair still dripping with sea water. Everyone thinks they know what Jamaica is all about, says Icah Wilmot, “until they find a place like Jamnesia.”