Growing Up a Surfer and Rasta in Jamaica Part II. Billy and Maggie Wilmot, and Our Surfing Family. A Scuttlefish Feature.
by Inilek Wilmot
Rude Boys. Photo courtesy of Inilek Wilmot.
My parents Anthony (Billy) and Claudette (Maggie) Wilmot were both Rastafari when I was welcomed into this world. At the time, the Rastafari movement was becoming more established, but still going through crucial stages of development and was viewed by society through a mix of lenses tinted with suspicion, ridicule, mystique and fear, but it was also demanding and commanding respect. When I was born, my father was the best surfer on the island of Jamaica. This didn’t mean much to most people, but would eventually mean the world to me.
Mom and the kids. Maggie Imani Inilek Icah Ishack. Photo courtesy of Inilek Wilmot.
Growing up on the beach in Bull Bay, outside of Kingston, my father started playing in the waves as any young child raised by the sea would. Just as his kids and grandkids would years later, he learned the movement of the sea by playing in the shore break, and he learned to move with it and to tap into its energy. Eventually he learned belly boarding on carved out pieces of cotton wood canoes. This type of belly boarding was a popular pastime among youths at fishing beaches in Jamaica – when the skeletons of old canoes were easy to come by; before fiberglass canoes came to dominate the fishing industry.
Terry “Mush” Muschette, one of Jamaica’s first surfers, drops in at Holland Bay in a 1967 Red Stripe advertisement.
Photo: Jamaican Surf Association
As a teenager my father had a chance encounter with Terry “Mush” Muschette at Cable Hut Beach in Bull Bay. Mush is a Jamaican who picked up surfing while at university in the U.S. He would spend months at a time in Jamaica wandering the coast in search of never before surfed waves–and at that time, he found plenty. He and dad met on one of his wandering days when he was between lonely surf sessions.
Billy Wilmot. Photo courtesy of Inilek Wilmot.
Their first exchange was brief; my father asked Mush if he could borrow his board. Mush replied “Go ahead, but you don’t have to call me sir.” Having belly boarded for years, Dad caught a wave and popped up to his feet on his first attempt. He spun out of control and was back in the water as fast as he was up. Then Mush called him back in and put a fin in the board. That was the start of a friendship that has endured for decades. Mush took my dad under his wing and my dad caught on quickly. Four years and three surf trips to Puerto Rico later, Dad had eclipsed everyone else who was surfing in Jamaica and was the best on the island.
My parents met while attending college at Jamaica School of Agriculture. This was during a period when the Jamaican government was entertaining ideas of democratic socialism, and was focused on securing economic independence and effecting nation building. Integral to that vision was the ability of the nation to feed its population, and so the School of Agriculture was to play a vital role in training young people in the art and science of agriculture. The school became a hotbed of progressive thinkers and a socio-cultural melting pot. The government had made tertiary education free, which enabled brilliant minds from all walks of life to converge in a very fertile environment. These young people from across the island brought together with them the diversity of their different backgrounds. It became a place where Jamaica came to terms with itself through its youth. Their study was agriculture; the perfect field to foster thoughts of identity, independence and self determination.
In this environment my parents also made the transition to Rastafari, and my father became the first Jamaican Rasta Surfer. The foundation for our life as a Rasta surfing family was laid.
The author. Photo courtesy of Inilek Wilmot.
As young boys I and my brothers Icah and Ishack started practicing that Jamaican fishing beach tradition of cottonwood belly boarding, and when I was around nine years old we started surfing on my dad’s boards more and more. In a couple years we were seriously addicted.
Our yard is right at the beach so nothing stopped us from surfing aside from our mother, who ensured we did our homework and chores. Once those hurdles were jumped we were free to surf every day. We were in total bliss and nothing else mattered much aside from family and surfing. There was only one outside friend of ours who started surfing with us, and so none of the kids at school or elsewhere could relate to what we did. They were completely unaware that they weren’t really living; that they were not in touch with that feeling of being truly alive.
Billy Wilmot, with all the power and grace a surfer can exhibit. Photo courtesy of Inilek Wilmot.
Photo courtesy of Inilek Wilmot.
We spent most of our time surfing together as a family and with the handful of surfers that made up the local scene. We were in a bubble that also happened to be a time capsule, because we were riding boards, watching surf videos and getting lost in the pages of surf magazines from the 70s and 80s.We had no idea of where the sport had even advanced to in the 90s. The first surf video from the nineties we saw blew us away. Aerials? Who was the Kelly Slater guy? Where were Mark Richards, Shaun Tomson, Rabbit Bartholomew and Frieda Zamba? It was a strange new world, from which my dad was eventually able to get modern surf boards, and with no crowds and world class waves, we got pretty good.
Ivah Wilmot. Photo courtesy of Inilek Wilmot.
Our typical morning started early. We would make tea for my dad, put the boards on the car, get towels ready, fill bottles of water to wash off with, then wake my dad. If the swell was good we would get to the beach while it was still dark, then wait until there was enough light to see the waves before paddling out. We would surf for hours before either going to school if it was a week day or going home for breakfast if it was the weekend.
My mother is a champion. She had a challenge no Jamaican woman before her had ever faced: taming a pack of hungry surfers every morning. She set the standard that every Jamaican surfing mother will forever be measured against–and she can’t even swim. She managed to keep us all in line and in school through college and university. Education would never be compromised, but when it was quite clear that nothing mattered more to us than surfing, my father decided to pave a way for surfing to provide career opportunities for us. He started the ground work that lead to the formation of the Jamaica Surfing Association; a national governing body for surfing in Jamaica. He sought out sponsors and pretty soon we were traveling to surf and compete from California to South Africa.
Photo courtesy of Ishack Wilmot.
My parents also started a bed and breakfast surf camp at the yard, making surfing our entire life. We called it Jamnesia. When my father said to us “Unuh come up wid a slogan no,” my brothers and I tossed a few ideas around and decided on “Home is where the surf is,” because that was what it was.
Above: The author sets up on a clean right. Photo courtesy of Inilek Wilmot.
Surfing shaped our lives growing up and dictated our lifestyle more than anything else. We were dread-locked and never lost sight of the fact that we were of the rasta community. But we were allowed to be children and teenagers, and never felt that we had to be anything other than children and teenagers. We all have to thank my parents for that balance of freedom to be children while at the same time instilling a sense of identity and foundation as Rastafari.
Inilek Wilmot is a Jamaican professional surfer, musician, Scuttlefish writer and is the director of the Oracabessa Fish Sanctuary. Currently, he’s working on coral gardening, fish and turtle conservation projects. He also happens to be a damn good writer who understands his home island in a way few outsiders – or locals for that matter – ever will. Visit his family’s Jamnesia Surf Camp here: http://jamnesiasurf.com/
Here’s his series on Growing Up Rasta:
Here’s Inilek’s first story for The Scuttlefish: Where There is Life There is Hope. An Ode to Maurice and the Seafarers