The youth will shine—Jamaica’s surf scene through the eyes of Billy Mystic.
Heads Lifestyle caught up with old friends Patrick “Quashi” Mitchell, surf visionary and maverick Renaissance man and Billy Mystic, the patriarch of Jamaican surfing to get an update on the evolution of Jamaica’s surf scene, the transformation of Jamnesia surf camp, the accession of the Wilmot kids, and a rundown on their latest projects for the little island in the sun.
Heads Lifestyle: Quashi, are you still shaping surfboards for the local scene?
Quashi: I am now based in Florida and on occasion still shape boards for a select few. As for shaping boards for Jamaica, it’s been a while. Many of the surfers in JA have grown their skills so much that many are picked up by top tier surf shapers and big surf brands such as Hurley and Smith Optics, Freestyle, Electric, Body Glove and others. I consider it an honour to see them reach this level knowing where things were when I was sending surfboards home.
Billy Wilmot: It’s been years since I got a Quashi board! Ha! Ha!
Ivah Wilmot riding a modern fish shape. Photo: Ishack Wilmot
HL: The evolution of surfing follows the type of boards surfers are riding. What are they riding in Jamaica these days?
Q: With the level of surfing in Jamaica on top these days you see a lot of high-performance short boards. However, with better surfing comes experimentation. Kids are trying all sorts of boards and learning to rip on them. Then there are preferences. For example, if you watch Ivah Wilmot, he is riding fish, bigger boards, wider, fatter, and all kinds of odd shapes and ripping them just as hard as any short board.
BW: Most surfers are surfing boards donated by the VANS Positive Vibe Warriors surfboard drive which consisted of everything from 7'0" single fin Pipeline guns to 4'6" mini grom boards and literally everything in-between. The best rippers are on top industry brand designs.
As far as surfing, the kids have blown up. They are killing it and surfing at as high a level as anywhere on the planet.
HL: How has the Jamaican surf scene changed over the last 10 years?
Q: As far as surfing, the kids have blown up. They are killing it and surfing at as high a level as anywhere on the planet. More Jamaican surfers are travelling to places like California for stints of time, and Hawaii and other islands in the region.
BW: The kids have gotten really good!
Shama throwing buckets at Lighthouse
HL: Have there been any memorable swells?
BW: The best swells were the waves from Hurricane Matthew in 2016 when we had five solid days of double to triple overhead surf with light offshore winds. It was epic! Also in February of 2017 and 2018, we had solid swells and the footage that came from those days is insane.
The best swells were the waves from Hurricane Matthew in 2016 when we had five solid days of double to triple overhead surf with light offshore winds. It was epic!
Q: I remember the last time I went surfing at Lighthouse, no one else wanted to go. I was Jonesing to surf so I went out only to get hammered and pummelled. The kids today know these breaks like the back of their hands whereas I’ve gotten older and every swell at my age is memorable and historic!
Billy Wilmot, the godfather of Jamaican surfing charging solid hurricane swell. Photo: Ishack Wilmot
HL: Have any new surf spots been pioneered?
BW: With the low crowd situation in Jamaica, there are not many reasons to go looking for new spots. Back in the 70s most spots were sought out and surfed. Only after like six weeks of continuous swells do people get fed up of surfing the same spot and decide to go out and ride the less frequently surfed spots. Because the waves are so good where we live and nearby, real surf exploration is still fairly rare.
Q: I have a list of spots I want to try but haven’t yet.
HL: Have any surf spots been wiped out by major weather events?
BW: Fortunately not.
Q: After the loss of the Zoo—man, that wave was so freaking perfect!—we don't want to lose any more. Trust me!
The Wilmots, First Family of Jamaican surfing. Photo: Ishack Wilmot
HL: How has Jamnesia surf camp evolved over the years?
B: Jamnesia is constantly evolving, little by little. Jamnesia now has 18 beds and tent and hammock space. And with the donation of 200 surfboards from the Positive Vibe Warriors, there are lots of boards for everyone.
The little plan Billy and I had to grow surfing and put Jamaica on the map years ago has gone well beyond what I could have imagined.
Q: Jamnesia has also blown up on the musical scale (pun intended). The Wilmot Family opened their home not only to surfers but also to musicians looking for a place to learn and perform. Live music nights are held regularly. Look online; you’ll be blown away by how many of today’s reggae greats have honed their craft on the stages of Jamnesia! I smile because the little plan Billy and I had to grow surfing and put Jamaica on the map years ago has gone well beyond what I could have imagined. Billy and his family have taken it so much farther. The Jamaican government should put a surfboard statue down at Half Way Tree in thanks.
Billy Mystic performs at one of many Jamnesia music nights. Photo: Ishack Wilmot
HL: After 10 years, who is Jamnesia's clientele?
BW: Mostly European surfers especially from Germany, but also lots of Americans, Japanese, South and Central Americans.
HL: Are there any new local pro surfers or standout surfers?
BW: The top surfers in Jamaica currently are the Wilmot brothers Icah, Ivah and Inilek, Elishama Beckford, Garren Pryce, Shane Simmonds and Ackeam Phillips. The top women are the Beckford sisters Elim and Esther and Imani Wilmot.
Q: I remember when I made the first boards for Billy and his kids. They were tiny little kids! And there was no one else around to make boards for.
Icah Wilmot—one of Jamaica's top surfers sharing a wave with his wife @sandycurlz
HL: Has surfing in Jamaica caught on internationally or is it more of a local scene?
BW: Jamaica can now boast a small but viable international surf tourism industry.
Q: Jamaicans are go-getters. Surfing is now embedded. At one point in time, we had to convince other Jamaicans that there were surfers on the island. Now, everyone knows and recognizes the surfers. Years ago, I remember telling my uncle who owns a well-known hotel on the island about what Billy and I were up to and he was like, Ok, sounds good (smirk inserted). A few years later, he was driving by the Palisadoes where the Jamaica Surfing Association was hosting an event and he called me in Florida to say, What the heck is going on out there? You guys have a HUGE crowd and cars everywhere. I just laughed.
At one point in time, we had to convince other Jamaicans that there were surfers on the island. Now, everyone knows and recognizes the surfers.
HL: Are there any new surf schools?
BW: Jamnesia is the only official surf school but private lessons are given by a number of surfers on both the north and south coasts. Jamnesia has seen a major increase in learn-to-surf clients over the past two years.
Ivah Wilmot teaching the youth the joy of surfing. Photo: Donald Delahaye
HL: Have any Jamaican surf brands evolved out of the scene?
BW: Not yet but Quashi is intending to start producing some dope fins and surf accessories out of Jamaica next year.
Q: Yes, the Quashi International brand is still alive. Billy has always had the desire to create a local industry and we have been looking at ideas that can be viable on the island and help grow the brand. Clothing was already a small part of the Quashi International brand but this round it will be bigger. People love so much about Jamaica—the surfing culture, the music, Rastafari and all that we live and breathe every day. This is what the Quashi International brand is about—truly living the culture. We used to have a slogan—Your Caribbean Culture Brand—on some of our shirts. Surfing and surfboards are only one aspect of what we do.
Quashi International custom surfboard model card. If you fill out one of these, good things soon come.
HL: What is the future for Jamaica surf?
BW: Well, the kids getting better and better, and an increase in surf visitors. We are seeing more Jamaicans with meaningful sponsorship deals. Jamaica is planning to attend all major competitions including the coming Olympics. Jamaican surfing products to the world! Quashi International to the world!
Q: Jamaica is the type of place that people gravitate to. They are either mystified by its culture or they embrace it wholeheartedly. Either way most will come and see for themselves what this place is all about. Jamaica will continue to be loved. Jamaica’s future is great. Surfing is the same—once you surf, you’re hooked.
Jamaica is the type of place that people gravitate to. They are either mystified by its culture or they embrace it wholeheartedly.
As for what is in the future for Quashi, the man? Nuff things! I am playing bass in a new roots reggae band called 1 Tribe Band. I also have a ton of side projects in the works, including starting my own financial services business, a cannabis business and, of course, Quashi International will be coming forward soon with new products. With Billy onboard, it’ll be sooner rather than later.
Click here to read the original article by Patrick “Quashi” Mitchell published in Heads Magazine on the history of Jamaican surfing.