While the boys squabble in the sand, Brett Barley makes a case for pacifism. Bocas del Toro, Panama | Photo: Nicola Lugo

Turf War: Red Frog vs. Surfrider Exec!

Who knew a little pier could lead to all of this?

Just short of a Bloodfeud is something I like to call a Turf War.

What it lacks in blatant ferocity, the Turf War makes up for with its politics and tactical maneuvering. This is not an ear-biting, crotch-kicking, eye-gouging brawl but rather a display of will and aptitude. If a Bloodfeud is won with an iron fist, a Turf War is won with shrewdness of mind.

And right now, right in the this very instant, we are in the midst of an epic Turf War between Red Frog Bungalows and a pair of Argentine investors. The two sides are in a fight for control over a popular surf break in Bocas del Toro, Panama. Let’s look at the details:

Four days ago, we posted about a pier being built at Playa Paunch. I came to learn about it by way of Kelly Slater, a regular BDS visitor, who reposted one of Red Frog Bungalows’ (the main (only?) surf camp in the archipelago) Instagram pleas. It reads:

Happy World Ocean Day! Unfortunately this is how the residents of Bocas Del Toro spent their day! Protecting one of the best surf spots in the Caribbean. They started to illegally build a 40 meter pier over the reef. The community knows exactly who is up to the stunt and it is a shame that these people think their big money can destroy something that is for all of the world to enjoy. The surfing community in Bocas Del Toro showed up in force to stop this illegal activity. This I s horrible for our coastline, horrible for tourism and extremey dangerous when the waves are on! This benefits one or a few people and not the country of Panama.

Jake Tellkamp, a past BeachGrit contributor who wasn’t killed by police fire, jumped on the news for Stab Magazine. His initial story was about Kelly’s take on the situation, but the real meat came in part two, when Jake broke the news that it was Ernesto Gutierrez, a former leader of the Surfrider Foundation’s Argentinian branch, and his nephew Juan Medo, who had tried to illegally build the pier.

I spoke with a local friend, who conveniently has PhD in Surf/Eco Tourism and teaches college classes half a mile from Paunch, about the Argentinian pier venture. He said:

For the Argentines (it’s the same people building the big hotel and restaurants behind the wave), I think the pier is for boats to pull up so people can go on land without swimming to it, can theoretically walk out to the surf without urchin dancing, also can have boats there to transfer guests around. I don’t think they wanna kill the break but I think their plan is shit and people underestimate all the factors that make waves great.

Now, back to the Stab piece. Jake went on to speak with Red Frog owner, Scott Balogh, who had this to say:

Surfing is the number one draw to Bocas del Toro, and its waves are of tremendous economic value bringing in tens of millions of dollars every year. This development would benefit very few, and none of those being locals.

A seemingly altruistic statement, but what ulterior motives could lurk beneath Scott’s impassioned plea?

Below the post was an interesting comment (originally posted in Español but Google Translated to English for the sake of our audience), highlighting some of Gutierrez’s finer moments before tossing a jab at Scott from Red Frog:

Dear Stab Magazine:
We know the trajectory of Ernesto Gutierrez, pioneer of Argentine surfing, former President of Surfrider Argentina, of his love and respect for the coastal environment, who made many efforts and campaigns, which were reflected in the preservation of La Paloma, one of the scenarios Emblematic of the surf in our country, avoiding the construction of two stones of 90 meters that were going to destroy two pocket beaches associated with the cliffs and the world class waves that break in that location. The same at the mouth of the Arroyo Las Brusquias of the site of the final disposal site of the Municipality of Gral. Pueyrredón and the construction of a breakwater in T both in Mar Chiquita and SunRider Beach in Mar del Plata
Also his commitment and achievements in the Rise Above Plastic Campaign where we obtained ordinances in localities of our country for the prohibition of the plastic bags of a single use.
We think that it is difficult to take action against the environment in the place where you live in Bocas del Toro Panama and if we think that there are interests on the part of Mr. Scott Balogh to promote his business venture at the expense of the good name of our former President.
Best regards
Gustavo Huici
Executive Director Surfrider Argentina

And do you see what is happening here? Red Frog has held a monopoly over the surf scene in Bocas for quite some time, and they have no interest in new competition. By discovering a weak point in the competition’s scheme (an illegal pier), they were able to kindle the flame of environmental responsibility and local economic strife to start a social media shitstorm. It’s bloody brilliant!

As we know, the pier has since been put on hold by local authorities. My local contact explains:

[The Argentines] claimed to have paperwork approving their pier and lied to everyone about the size and scale of it. The protestors blocked construction and the correador (the local gov office that handles property titles and building permits from the municipality) came and reviewed the permits and said they did not have proper concession to build over the reef. They are going to keep pushing for it though. It ain’t over…

And what a wonderful time to be alive. Scott from Red Frog has played his hand beautifully, but I wait with great anticipation for Gutierrez from Surfrider’s next move.

Before I go, just a couple questions for the audience:

  1. If the allegations are true, would you be surprised that an ex-Surfrdier executive would pull such a move at a known surf break?
  2. Whose side are you on? My heart says Red Frog is in the right, but those motherfuckers charge like $250 a night. Maybe a little competition will do the region some good…

“That was a fucking Great White, man!”

Bodyboarder tossed like salad in Western Australia!

Does a non-fatal hit by a Great White count anymore?

When a middle-aged bodyboarder was tossed like salad by a twelve-foot White yesterday and swam to the beach without his little board, oh I hardly swatted a eyelid.

What would’ve been front-page news a dozen years ago is missed by even by the vast aggregators of surf news.

But this footage of the bodyboarder touching land immediately afterwards makes the skin crawl. Huddled between the feet of a half-a-dozen other surfers, lungs inflated by the rapture of safety, the bodyboarder Paul Goff says,

“Oh my god. That was the biggest thing I’ve ever fucking seen.”

Another surfer says, “That was a fucking Great White, man.”

Even better, two almost identical headlines in two days!

From Perth’s Sunday Times, 

The 48-year-old was relatively matter-of-fact yesterday as he recounted the terrifying incident just hours after he safely reached shore.

But he admitted that during the unknown minutes it took to swim the 80-odd metres to the beach he had no idea whether he would make it alive and counts himself lucky.

“I didn’t know how far the shark was behind me, whether it was coming up behind me or had stayed out,” Mr Goff said.

“To be honest I wasn’t entirely sure what was going to happen.”

He did not look back at all, just concentrated on swimming as fast as he could. As he reached within 30m of the shore, two of the other bodyboarders who had been in the water with him walked back into the shallows and their yells to “swim, swim, swim” had him fearing the worst.

Wearing fins, he could not stand and they dragged him the final metres out of the water. He said when he finally composed himself a few minutes later to look out to sea, he realised the predator had not chased him but was toying with his board.

The black and white bodyboard was now more than 100m out and Mr Goff sat watching for several minutes as the shark circled and nudged it.

Mr Goff is unsure just how big the predator was. But witnesses believe it was a 3.5m to 4m great white and Fisheries officers have now taken the board, which was later recovered by volunteer marine rescuers, to see if the bite marks in it will reveal exactly what attacked him.

When Mr Goff and two others had arrived at Casuarina Point – the spot known locally as BP – just before 8am, there was just one surfer in the water.

One of his mates commented that the lone surfer would be dismayed at having company. But Mr Goff replied that he should be pleased, saying if there was a shark attack the man’s chances of being the victim had reduced from 100 to 25 per cent.

That joke would come back to haunt him less than an hour later. A man in a look-out tower reportedly saw swirling and thrashing in the water just before the shark struck.

But Mr Goff said neither he nor the other six surfers in the water with him saw anything in the clear 2m-deep water in the moments beforehand.

“I had no warning at all that it was there,” he said. “The camouflage colour of the shark – that’s what it’s there for, it protects them. I didn’t see it coming.”

Mr Goff admits to being surprised – and very lucky – that the predator chose to attack the board rather than the noisy, moving target he was.

He said he did not think the incident would keep him out of the water and did not think the shark should be killed since it had not hurt him.

“I probably got the best result I could have,” he said. “People say I should have bought a lotto ticket, maybe, maybe not.”


Julian Wilson makes an assessment of what could have been. Playa Paunch (we think), BDT, Panama | Photo: DJ Struntz

Good News: Panama’s Pier Postponed!

Chalk one up for the little man!

And it appears our efforts were not in vain! The people of Panama (and the world) have spoken and local authorities were forced to listen. According to the @redfrogbungalows Instagram, the construction of an allegedly illegal pier at Playa Paunch has been postponed. Please read below:

And does this not give you hope? Hope in the sense that we, the little people in this very big world, have the power to effect change through unified action? It warms my heart like puppy yawn.

Now, let’s break down this announcement.

The phrase, “on hold for more investigation” is ambiguous in nature, but it affords the Bocas del Toro locals time to strengthen their case. If they can prove that the project is in fact illegal, then maybe they can stop it entirely. Or maybe not, because, well, Central America and corruption go together like South America and corruption. Or North America and corruption, if we’re being honest.

When they get into the part about, “Keep the threats to yourselves and continue to be peaceful to get this situation resolved for once and for all. Let’s make our community in Bocas Del Toro be a positive role model for the rest of Panama and the rest of the world,” I can’t help but shudder.

It seems that in every positive movement around the world, there are a few (or many) wild individuals who take it too far. They feed off the movement’s energy but tend to alter its direction to fit their personal desires. Like the lunatics who kill cops under the blanket of BLM, or the lunatics who shoot up abortion clinics in the name of Christ.

By using a worthy cause to justify deplorable actions, the lunatics delegitimize the movement while simultaneously hurting innocent people. What a shitty pattern!

Here’s hoping they can settle this dispute practically and peacefully.

“That’s a fucking White Shark, dude!”

Fifteen-footer beaches itself! Winemaker wades out to examine!

Our love for the flashily reckless great white continues! Without words, these titanics of the sea speak volumes!

Here, we see the winemaker Dale Pearson wading out to a Great White shark whose navigation skills have left it gesticulating on a shallow sandbank. And, Pearson, who knows the shark can’t get to him snatches the rare opportunity to examine the White.

“Holy fuck me right. Holy shit, holy shit,” he says.

Ironically, it’s the mostly inoffensive stingray that strikes and not the White.

“It was a calculated risk. I am neither brave nor stupid. I knew the shark was too shallow and out of range. The stingray however did get me. I have over 37 years of ocean exposure and this is my first stingray hit. Very painful.”


Prepare for the kiss of death! | Photo: Strandloopertjies

Watch: Skeleton Bay Comes to Life!

The clips are pouring through!

Oh, commenters — you both break my heart and give me reason to live!

With you, I’m often made to feel ignorant, arrogant, and unwanted. Without you, well, I wouldn’t be in a position to feel anything at all.

It’s a strange thing, to write for a demographic so much older, more knowledgable, and oftentimes better writers than yourself. Every day I push the rock up the mountain, only to get kicked in the nuts by Nick C. or Longtom or even our beloved moderator, Negatron, at the midway point. I hope they never stop.

Because the pain is good. It forces me to strive for something greater than clickbait mediocrity.

But sometimes the comments find a soft spot. I’m left gutted on the floor, soaking in a mess of what were once my internal fluids. It’s painful beyond belief.

Seas Nail got me yesterday with dagger: I know no one in Panama unfortunately, but I did hear guys were calling skeleton ‘best ever’ on this last swell. Have you wept yet or are you saving it for a mental breakdown episode in your late thirties?

So yeah, not a writing or character critique, but goddamn if he didn’t find a weak point. Skeleton Bay has been my primary goal for the last three years, and I had every ability to chase this swell. Just didn’t love the forecast nor did I want to deal with a disgruntled missus. There’ll be another chance, I (and she) told myself.

And there might be. But this was the swell, apparently.

But then, a moment of positivity. Another commenter, Head Dip, posted a link to the video from the Skeleton swell, along with an intriguing prompt. He said:

Do a post on what it would’ve taken to get there.

Latest “Spit” podcast david lee scales and scott bass break down how much time it took for him to get 3 barrels in 4 foot Southern Mexico pointbreak. How much prep/travel time would it have taken and how many waves would you need for it to be worth it to travel halfway around the world?

Let’s watch the video first, for reference.

My intial impression is that, while the waves were clearly remarkable, I can’t say this is the best Skeleton I’ve seen. The caves are large and bulbous, true, but they don’t seem to run the same way I’ve seen in years past. Maybe it’s the swell, maybe it’s the bank, or maybe it’s the downfall of the wave as a whole — as predicted by multiple surf sites and locals of the region — but it doesn’t quite look like the world’s best wave in this clip.

So I can’t say I’m that depressed by my exclusion. From the looks of things, guys were lucky to get a 3-5 second tube, which is fucking amazing any day of the year, but not for Skeleton. You go there in search of something from another dimension, which I didn’t see much of in this clip.

In response to Head Dip: For me, it would have been worth it to go on this swell, almost regardless of how I performed.

I look at it like this — the 80-hour (round trip) travel and $3k spent would be forgotten in short time. The memory of surfing the world’s best wave on a massive swell would stay with me forever. If I got the wave of my life, unreal, but to expect such a thing — especially with no knowledge of the lineup and such a short window of opportunity — would be foolish.

My recently discovered goal in surfing is that, when aged forty or fifty, I’ll be able to look at any surf film or magazine (I’m calling for a resurgence around 2038) and say, Oh yeah, I’ve been there, with a smile and wink.

It’s about dedicating myself to something that’s important to me. And this is more important to me than… just about anything.

I’m sure that’ll change when I start popping out keikis, so as far as I see it, the time is now. Which is tricky, because the savings are quickly depleting and I still have responsibilities at home. Becoming an adult is learning to wear several different hats, but almost none of them match your favorite boardshorts.

So yeah, Head Dip, I’ll spend all my time and every last penny for a shot at perfection, or at least another pin on the map. This is my thing!