Below is my chat with Chepe. We discuss his game of cat and mouse with surf and his passion for building with local surf instructors.
Moraima: At what age did you start to surf?
Chepe: I was around 12 years old.
M: At the time when surfing was starting up, were there Dominicans or foreigners involved?
C: There was only six locals, six of us.
M: How did you get involved?
C: Well, people arrived from Santo Domingo that already surfed, for example Hans Muller, who was one of the first to start surfing in the country. He would pick us up from school and take us surfing, but locals from Encuentro and Sosua? It was only five, six of us. Myself, Kuqui, Kakale, Guboy, Titi, Chicho, who lives in England and Genarito who used to live in Cabarete. He was also the windsurfer of the group, who introduced us to windsurfing as well. My cousin Dan, my partner in crime, was also always with me, exploring around Cangrejo, Sosua and Cabarete.
M: What attracted you to surf?
C: I began to surf because of pilots near my grandfather’s farm. We saw a few pilots from American Airlines surfing by the airport, one day that were were running around that area. We saw that, and my cousin and I were like, Wow!
M: The Puerto Plata airport?
C: Yes, all that land belonged to my grandfather but it was later seized by the government and they built the airport…so we saw a pilot, one of the first who came and we were captivated. This gentleman gave us his board, we kept it and even cut it into two pieces to have two boards. When he returned and he found us, he was like wait, my board, what happened?! And we explained, look what happened is that more boys joined us. From two, we had fifteen.
M: And you were all experimenting, without knowledge?
C: Experimenting, with boards from the schools, with wood, all that. There was no other way. After that we moved from the Cangrejo área to Sosua, in search of boards and equipment, and to see if we find something. We used to walk on foot from Sosua, eating mangoes, guava, sugarcane, because there wasn’t much in that area! That’s when we discovered Playa Encuentro. It was total bush, forrest, there was only one access and it was a beach with nothing, for example where we are now [Pauhana Surf School], the area to the right for beginners did not exist. Only the area to the left because this part was too deep, with many sea urchins that have slowly disappeared—
M: Has it changed due to the people using the beach? Or—
C: I think it has changed, generally, due to environmental changes that have happened worldwide, not only visitors. Before there also used to be giant dunes—
M: Of sand?
C: Of sand, and they have disappeared.
M: So did you learn experimenting or did you take any training?
C: Watching, experimenting, later thanks to the airport we found some surf magazines in English, we began to practice more, watch and try new things. Then we began what is the search for anything surf, to investigate surfing. There was this program on Sundays, El Mundo Maravilloso de los Deportes, that was in the 80s. There we watched the first competitions in Hawaii, old competitions but wow no one left their home. We would wait for the competitions but no one could touch the TV at that time. We would watch that and then head to the beach to try to copy what we saw. Without boards, with boards, however. There comes my passion for surfing, which has never bored me and which I will never leave until the moment I die.
M: Do you still surf everyday?
C: Well, now I am injured but yes, every day. Every time I can, doesn’t matter if it’s cold, if there are waves or no waves, doesn’t matter.
M: When did Pauhana open? How did it start?
C: Pauhana, really began before my son was born. I was a river rafting guide, working at Vela, in Cabarete, a windsurf school and that is where Pauhana was born. The name Pauhana, was born of my cousin who was my adventure companion. He decided to leave to Hawaii, his parents travelled to the United States and he was able to travel. He left to Hawaii where he learned Hawaiian Pidgin. We stayed in contact while he went to surf and to study…he contacted me one day and asked me what I was planning to study. I told him, I don’t know, maybe I will study photography but I told him my heart belonged to surf. About a month later, I realized that in Cabarete, people would wait for the afternoon breeze to windsurf and the morning was wasted. Some windsurfers asked me if I could take them surfing, I did and I said well, we can start to give lessons. We began to teach with performance boards, with short boards because there were no longboards or boards for beginners. They did not exist.
M: There were no other surf schools?
C: No, nothing existed yet. The entrance was around Hideaway, not around this part. We began to give clases, five, six and seven people turned to 15 people. And we all arrived in a culo de motoconcho, or a motoconcho line with a lot of boards, it was a lot of fun. Later, more schools arrived…I left. I married at a young age, at 27 years old and my wife got pregnant. We moved to Holland, I studied cinematography in Amsterdam. We decided to return because the climate was ouch! Hahaha
M: That cold weather is not easy
C: Yes. And I began again, to retake up surfing, the adventure, what I have always liked. I began river rafting, I was the first river rafting guide in the country. With that opportunity I was moved away from surfing but I returned yet again.
M: River rafting where?
C: In Jarabacoa. Yes, because everything was a water combination for me. Then I started a cinematography business. It went really well but I missed surfing so much.
M: Was the cinematography for surfers or in general?
C: General. I always liked nature cinematography. I worked for various big companies, making documentaries. Many channels and a lot of work. I was one of the first in the north coast to film documentaries and underwater as well.