Caribbean Playgrounds

Windsurfing and kiteboarding the northwest coast of Puerto Rico
by Gina Bradley
To find some of the best kitesurfing, windsurfing and surfing the Caribbean has to offer all you have to do is get on a plane and head to Puerto Rico's Northwest Coast, Aguadilla. This coast can be windy, wavy and the cliffs that surround the bays create dramatic landscapes, beautiful beaches, and coves. From mast high waves to flat clear waters, it is the perfect place to go if you do multiple water sports, ensuring that no matter what the conditions, you are going to spend plenty of time in the water on your vacation. The best part about going to Puerto Rico is that the island is vast and varied, so if for some reason you feel you need a change of scene, different conditions are just a few minutes to a few hours away. However, most of the time once people discover this coast, leaving is never an option.

Puerto Rico is a United States territory, so you don't need a passport to get on or off the island. Most everyone speaks English there and if not, there is always someone around to help out. They use the American dollar, so there is no fumbling with money or figuring out currency exchange.

Getting There and where to stay
There are multiple direct flights out of the New York Airports to Aguadilla, (BQN is the airport code) on major airlines and charter companies. The airport is small, it has only a few flights a day so there are never excessive lines or waits for flights, all the rental car agencies are right there at the airport. Since it is such a "board intensive" destination they are really good about dealing with board bags and I have never lost gear.

The best place to stay is in the town of Isabella, which is about ten minutes from the airport, at a beach called Shacks beach. There are great apartments to rent through Villa Tropical 787- 872-7172. It is run by Mike, who has been living on the island for over twenty years and keeps his places in amazing shape. All the units have outdoor decks and ocean views and some are so close to the beach that you feel like the ocean is part of your living room! There are other hotels closer into town that may have cheaper night rates like the Hotel Parador La Cima 787-890-2016 or the Sonia Rican Guest House 787-872-1818. For those with unlimited travel budgets is the Villa Montana, also right on Shacks beach, 888-780-9195 and if you don't stay there, then plan on a meal or two at their beachfront restaurant.

Where to go to get wet:

Shacks Beach
Shacks Beach is probably the most popular spot for intermediate to advanced kiteboarders and windsurfers. On any given day there can be as many as a dozen kiters out on the water, but the place can handle more if need be. The winds blow side/off shore and there is a current that pulls in the same direction as the wind, so it is important to have your upwind skills perfected before going out. There is only about fifty yards of protected water to get yourself launched and moving before heading out to the reef. The bottom is mostly coral reef and there are plenty of sea urchins, so booties are a must. If the swell direction is right, waves can break perfectly on the reef making for some of the best wave sailing and kiting surfing around, but definitely for experts only as the wave is fast and hollow; this makes for an unforgettable, gear and body crunching experience in the whitewater if you fall. Shacks Beach is curved inland, making a large inner bay downwind from the launch. If you can't get back upwind, you can always land on a beach downwind and walk back to the launch site.

Surfer's Beach
This beach is a very popular surfing spot, and when the winds are up it gets blown out and makes for a decent sailing spot in North East winds. The reef here is not as shallow as the one at Shacks and therefore is a more forgiving place to sail. It has a rock and sand bottom which is much nicer on the legs and feet. If the swell is not too big, this place is fine for intermediate sailors and kiters. The launch can be a bit tight for kitesurfers, so make sure you have an experienced person launch your kite for you. Unlike Shacks, this beach has a jagged and rocky coast line, so getting caught downwind can make for a very painful walk back. Surfers Beach is about a fifteen minute drive from Shacks Beach and it is located inside the Ramey Airforce base; it is easy to find if you ask for directions once you get to the shopping center. Don't miss the Ramey Bake Shop if you find yourself there.

Jobos Beach
By far the most forgiving site for kiting and windsurfing is Jobos Beach. It is just east of Shacks and is a nice walk (without gear) from one to the other. Jobos is a very popular surf and boogie boarding spot, and you will find plenty of kids in the far corner by the outcropping of coral heads, surfing the waves there. Since it is a fairly large bay, kiters and sailors tend to sail in the middle away from the surfers. There are lots of restaurants and bars along the beach so it is the perfect spot to bring family and friends.

It is best to bring your own gear as the closest shop is in San Juan and last I checked, they were happy to sell stuff (and would deliver it to me in Isabel) but not rent it, unless I was going to sail there in San Juan. The same goes for kite gear.

The wind is always the best at Shacks. It is usually the most windy spot on the Northwest coast, especially in the winter months. For windsurfers your sail size can range anywhere from a 6.0 to a 5.0 depending on your size and a wave board. Kiteboarders would do well with a 9.5 to 11.5 Naish size equivalent. I have seen some strong winds blow through, where a tiny sail or kite would do, but then it is usually only the hardy who would brave the white water that comes along with the strong winds.

Other Activities
If the wind disappears, there is still plenty to do along the North West Coast. Some of Puerto Rico's best diving can be found right at Shacks Beach. It is recommended that you go out with someone who knows what they are doing because it is a tricky but very exciting dive site. There is also great boat diving to be found all along the coast heading south, try Aquatica Aguadilla Underwater Adventures, 787-890-6071. For those who like to snorkel, you can do so inside the reef at Shacks Beach, but make sure you check with a local about the currents and conditions before heading out. There are all sorts of reef fish and coral formations that come very close into shore, but once again, check with locals about tides and currents. Tropical Tours is located very close to Shacks beach and offers horseback riding on trails, the beach, and in the jungle. It is well run by a husband and wife team and the tours are worth checking out (787-872-9256).

This area of Puerto Rico is also famous for it's world class surf break; starting in the Northwest Corner of Isabella, all the way to Ricon, and a few points further south from there. All the windsurfing and kitesurfing spots double as surf spots when the wind is down and the waves are up. The best place to go if you are just learning to surf is Jobos Beach because it has the most gentle of breaks. Any local surfer will give you the low-down on where to go based the swell direction and your skill level. There are plenty of surf shops all over the area to buy, rent or repair boards.

Probably the most wonderful thing about coming to this remote spot in Puerto Rico, is that you can also do nothing but sit on the beach and enjoy the solitude. The beaches along this coast are long enough so that you can find your own private spot if you are willing to walk along them for a few moments. Pack a picnic lunch and make sure you bring beverages for when the sun goes down; here you will find some of the most dramatic sunsets in the Caribbean. Like the Northwest coast, these are not to be missed!
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