Whether you've seen it on television or actually been to an event, you must agree that those surfers riding their brightly coloured boards over seemingly angry waves are extremely cool. Surfing is a very physically challenging, competitive sport. But it's not just for a privileged few, says newly appointed president of the Surfing Association Che Lovelace. He's working on making surfing seem more "inclusive." He met with me last week for a coffee and conversation and launched into a discussion on surfing and some of the goals of the surfing association-mostly geared toward development of the sport and youth involvement. He admits that in the 1980s there weren't a lot of "coloured people" surfing, but adds: "That started changing with my generation and now we have had champion surfers in T&T come from diverse backgrounds." Lovelace said a wide range of people are involved in surfing these days. "I have known people as young as ten and people as old as their early sixties who surf," he said, adding that in T&T, unlike other countries, surfing was a male-dominated sport. If it's still seen as the preserve of a few, that's because, he says, "You might not see a lot of people surfing, because as a sport it can be extremely challenging as you progress. "Riding a board on waves is a very difficult endeavour. There are learning moments when it can be straightforward but it is a major challenge. "The learning curve is also so sharp that you have to take on a lot of factors, so it happens sometimes that a lot of people will come and try surfing, but not pursue it to the next level."
Lovelace began surfing in his late teens, after meeting friends from Port-of-Spain who were interested in the sport. He said in those days surfing wasn't taught; if you wanted to learn, you would do so by trial and error. "Now if someone wants to learn, they can probably contact the surfing association and we can recommend an instructor," said Lovelace. There still aren't many certified instructors, though. He said of the ten certified instructors he knew of, only a few were teaching. This is another issue the association will tackle. Lovelace has been involved in the association since its inception more than 20 years ago. "The previous board was very good, They worked on regular national competitions and introduced the International Surfing Festival," he said. The surfing festival took place last weekend in Toco. He also spoke about a pilot programme launched by the association in 2010 which focused on exposing primary school students to surfing, especially children in coastal areas. "Aside from finding good competitive surfers, we feel that there is a recreational and social component to surfing that would be vital to young people," he said. In Trinidad, most surfing takes place on the North Coast, in areas like Toco and Salybia.
Lovelace said in Trinidad people surf almost every weekend, as the island has waves all year round, so people usually just check the weather forecast and surf when they want to. "Tobago is different, though. Tobago has a surfing season, which is actually from October to April," he explained. Lovelace admitted that though the majority of surfers come from city areas, the best ones are usually those who grew up near the beach. He gave Chris Dennis from Toco as an example. A surfboard can range in price from US$400 to US$700. Lovelace added, however, that professional surfers benefit from sponsors for gear and equipment. "In T&T we have a few advanced surfers that compete on an international level. Besides myself there is Chris Dennis, Jason Apparicio, Allen Davis and some others." Lovelace said the surfing association usually held one national competition a year, as well as the international surfing festival. "Besides this, the International Surfing Association (ISA) holds competitions throughout the year and a lot of them have been in South America recently, so regional surfers can benefit from this." He says there are many aspects to surfing that people are not aware of-competitive, social and therapeutic. Lovelace wants the association to be more active in environmental issues. "We should be guardians of the ocean. Surfers are closer to the water than most other people. With fishermen, they are on a boat-we are half in, half out," He said the association was looking at ways to align itself with environmental organisations. But mostly he wants to get more people involved just for the sake of surfing. "It is one of those things you are better off for having tried," he said, describing the surfer's life as healthy and socially conscious. "Trying surfing, even if just once, can only enrich the process of living."