The Scuttlefish

Love the Ocean. Wish you were here.

Category: jamaica

A Thanks to Brian Lam, Matt Warshaw, Jeremy Spencer, Chronicle Books – and Everyone who’s Made this Ocean Life Possible

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My first ever rejection letter. Courtesy of Surfer Magazine and Matt Warshaw. 1989. 

It’s weird the stuff you decide to file in your folder book of memories. The above note is one such recently found object. It’s my very first, of very, very many professional rejection notes. If you’re a writer, you get used to rejection notes from editors. If you don’t, well, you’d better find other work. Aside from being a first, what makes this letter so very damn special is that it was written and signed by none other than Matt Warshaw. If you’re a surfer who’s worth even a grain of salt, you know him. If you’re not a surfer, suffice to say that the author of The History of Surfing and editor of The Encyclopedia of Surfing is to our sport as Ken Burns is to baseball – or James Michener is to Hawaii.

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Not too long ago, I stumbled upon Warshaw’s note in the back of my garage, amidst a stack of yellowing articles and letters. I’d completely forgotten this little nugget, but I vividly remember when it arrived. It was late 1989. I was a hopeful young journalism graduate, freshly minted from the University of Georgia, freshly cast off by my UGA girlfriend and freshly rendered unemployed and homeless by hurricane Hugo’s godawful smashing of the South Carolina coast. Forlorn and filled with a twenty-something’s boundless capacity for angst, I’d found temporary refuge in the basement of my dad’s Atlanta condo, and a temporary job shuffling fonts around on a Macintosh computer at his advertising agency. I reckoned the only way out of depression and self-pity was to write, and get the hell back to the beach.

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“I was Just a General Prick.” Barbarian Days Author William Finnegan on Surfing, Relationships and the Decisions We Make.

Ed’s note: This is the final entry in a four-part interview with Barbarian Days author William Finnegan. You’ll find links to all the interviews at the end of this one.

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“But everything felt different without Caryn: harsher, more jagged.”
William Finnegan, with Caryn Davidson, 1971. Photo courtesy: William Finnegan. 

CD: There’s something that struck me in reading Barbarian Days, and in my own life as a 48-year-old who’s now married with kids. First. I’m glad I had kids late, and second, I still feel really, really bad, sometimes terrible, about the way I’ve treated some of the women in my life. And that’s in part because of surfing. I wonder if you feel the same way. Just judging by the relationships you describe in the book. I mean, you were almost a father at 18. I’m wondering if you ever consider that alternate reality. What if you had become a parent young, and was surfing so much of a relationship killer? Were you a selfish sonofabitch? I was. I just wonder how you look back at the relationships you describe in the book, and what surfing did to those relationships.

BF: The short answer is I feel the same way you do. Both about when to have kids – also late, in my case – and what kind of boyfriend or partner I was when I was younger. I include in the book a conversation I had with a guy named André, a big-wave surfer. We met in Madeira. He was from Oregon, and he was really young, so I was surprised to hear that he was divorced. He started telling me about it, and it was a stark little story. Surfing broke up his marriage. You know, “These women gotta know what they’re getting into,” that sort of thing. He was actually hilarious. He said, “It’s like if you or I hooked up with a fanatical shopper. You’d have to accept that your entire life would be traveling around to malls. Or, really, more like waiting for malls to open.” He wasn’t trying to be funny. He was just thinking it through, from the other side, and I thought, Wow, great analogy. While we were talking, we were driving around looking for waves, and it wasn’t good, the tide was too high, so we ended up sleeping in the car by a surf spot — just a couple of shoppers waiting for the mall to open.

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Madeira, 1998. Relationship killer. Photo courtesy: William Finnegan. 

But I never really experienced that kind of stark conflict with girlfriends over surfing. “What do you mean you’re going surfing?!” For one thing, my life was rarely that settled or domestic when I was young. More often, with a girlfriend, we’d be traveling. So I might be dragging her to Maui or Sri Lanka or wherever. The girlfriends I’m thinking of, as I say this were people with more smarts and education than I had, people who really wanted to do something in the world, but who just weren’t sure what that was yet. Which left them open to my agenda, which almost always involved looking for waves. I usually had a portable project—I was usually working on a novel—so I was okay with living in a hut in the jungle near the coast in Sri Lanka. And maybe my girlfriend had a project to work on, which would be good, but maybe she didn’t. The whole enterprise was driven by my surf mania.

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Living In a’ Kingston. Beauty and Struggle in Jamaica’s Metropolis.

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Sunset over Kingston, Jamaica. Photo: Ishack Wilmot.

Soon after the rich and wicked city of Port Royal sank into the sea in a biblical 1692 disaster that reads like a latter day Sodom and Gomorrah, the town of Kingston rose from the ashes. Before Port Royal was destroyed, the Liguanea Plain upon which Kingston was built was farmland with fishing shacks dotted along its coastline.

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After Port Royal’s destruction, many surviving land owners from the wicked city were allowed to rebuild along the shore of the broad Liguanea Plain – across the vast harbor from old Port Royal. The government of the day did not intend for Kingston to be any larger than Port Royal and a stipulation was made that the transplanted land owners could not purchase more land than they had owned before. But how things would change.

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How “The Story of Oracabessa Fish Sanctuary” in Jamaica Was Told

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Screenshot from “The Story of Oracabessa” by Project Moana.

They sailed in slow like the tide one evening. Sailboats often take shelter in Oracabessa Bay’s artificial harbour, which was engineered by the government of Jamaica as part of a project to expand the then thriving banana port. That port expansion was later abandoned as other ports became more important points of export. While the reclaimed land was purchased by Chris Blackwell and is now part of Goldeneye, a heaven-on-earth type resort where many of the world’s wealthiest and most famous escape to paradise, the harbour remains public thoroughfare and is one of the few places on Jamaica’s north coast where one can drop anchor without mooring fees.

The crew paddled to shore in a tiny dinghy, landing at Oracabessa Fishing Beach, also called ‘The Bond Beach.” Its name is a reference to a particular chapter of the town’s rich history, in which a man named Fleming, sitting around a desk in his seaside cottage, dreamed up a hero by the name of James Bond. Such subtle references as the name on a sign are the only tangible links to this fascinating fact. It creates mystique that can be explored within the collective memory of the community by those who take the time for conversation. The stories to be found are like hidden gems; which are always better hidden.

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The Incredibly Creative Jamaican PSA’s of the Wilmots and Friends.

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Screenshot from “Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica.” Watch (and listen) to the video below.

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Apart from his astute storytelling on The Scuttlefish, Inilek Wilmot works (and lives) as a fisheries conservation biologist, a professional surfer, and here, you’ll see, a handy songwriter and musician. The Jamaica Environment Trust was looking for a jingle for their “Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica” campaign, and without hesitation, knew just who to call.

Here’s a little backstory on the project from Ini:

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Growing up a Surfer and Rasta in Jamaica. Part III. A Trial by Fire and Herb. A Scuttlefish Feature.

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Growing up Rasta. Photo Courtesy: The Wilmots. 

My parents were once active in the Twelve Tribes of Israel organization – which is one of the major houses of Rastafari. Twelve Tribes came about for the purpose of repatriation to Ethiopia. The iconic Rasta colors; red, green and gold, when worn or arranged with the red at the bottom is indicative of the Twelve Tribes. You may have noticed this arrangement in the head-dress of Iconic reggae singers including Bob Marley. Twelve Tribes is also the Rasta movement with the strongest reggae music legacy. At their headquarters in Kingston, there is a music room located front and centre, which has honed many reggae greats.

The other major groups are the Bobo-Ashanti and the Nyabinghi Order. The Bobo-Ashanti wrap their locks in turbans and have separated from society in their communal village called ‘Bobo Hill’ in the hills of 9 Miles, Bull Bay. Curiously I have never visited the camp–which is only a mile from where I grew up – for no other reason than I’ve never had a reason to. However, my earliest exposure to the Bobo was in the person of a family friend named Priest Harrold who would visit regularly. He was without exception immaculately neat and one of the most pleasant persons I’ve ever known. As a little boy he would refer to me as ‘My Lord’.

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Growing Up a Surfer and Rasta in Jamaica Part II. Billy and Maggie Wilmot, and Our Surfing Family. A Scuttlefish Feature.

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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.

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Mom and the kids. Maggie Imani Inilek Icah Ishack. Photo courtesy of Inilek Wilmot.

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Growing Up a Surfer and Rasta in Jamaica. It Means Being More of an Outsider Than You’d Think. A Scuttlefish Feature.

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Marine biologist, fisherman and musician Inilek Wilmot (second from right) talks about the myth and reality of growing up a Rastafarian – and a surfer – in Jamaica. Photo Courtesy: Inilek Wilmot. 

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Inilek Wilmot. Not too Far from Trenchtown. Photo: Billy Wilmot. 

I grew up Rasta in Jamaica; I also grew up surfing on that rock. I didn’t and don’t however, see myself as a ‘Rasta-surfer’ – distinct from other surfers my family and I knew. The Jamaican surfing community was – and still is – so small that we’ve only ever seen ourselves as just surfers. We were spread across Jamaican cultural and socioeconomic borders but were a small enough tribe that there weren’t really any sub-groups – except perhaps being from Kingston, Bull Bay (the coastal community near Kingston where I grew up), or out east in rural Portland. Each of these subsets had their unique qualities, but whenever and wherever we came together, the fact that we were surfers has always overridden everything else.

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From Left: Brothers: Icah, Inilek and Ivah Wilmot, Trinidadian Pro Surfer Jason Apparicio and Billy Wilmot.
Photo Courtesy: Steve Gorrow

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