‘Nothing better than surfing’
The idea of surfing is something foreign to most Barbadians. Many have never tried it and even more have no interest in getting involved in the aquatic sport.
But for Nicholas “Nick” Donowa, it is a sport he loves.
Nick has been surfing since 1975, has represented Barbados and even coached the Barbados team at international surfing meets over the years and has played active roles in the administration of the Barbados Surfing Association (BSA) and Caribbean Surf Network (CSN).
He is now coaching through The CSN Surf Camps run from The High Rock Café in Bathsheba and focusing on the younger surfers.
Nick recalled learning to surf on a wooden board in The Basin at Bathsheba where he and other youngsters in the area watched and met the likes of Mark Holder and Ken Mayers.
There he developed his surfing skills but on the death of his father, he was uprooted and moved to Canada, which put his surfing career on hold for over ten years.
“The cold weather meant no surfing, so I improvised. To satisfy my appetite for surfing before [there was] snowboarding in Canada and those parts, I would put a toboggan on a sled and stand on it so I could keep practising my balance.
“All the Canadian kids were asking what I was doing and I said I was preparing for surfing when I go back home,” Nick said.
Even with the invention of snowboarding which he learnt while in Canada, he longed to surf at home.
“There is nothing better than surfing in water,” Nick said.
In 1992 Nick returned to Barbados and shortly afterward got involved with the BSA’s Surfer Of The Year series, which was his first opportunity to give back to the sport and essentially ignited the fire in him to get back into surfing.
The following year he was voted to the BSA committee and worked at preparing Barbados’ team to compete at the international level.
However, he recalled that when they formed teams to compete abroad, the teams would start training months in advance and see results but they needed to go to a higher level. That led to Nick’s becoming a certified surfing coach.
While assisting with a CSN-organized three-year Caribbean tour, he realized that most of the surfers were in the 18-to-25-year-old group and the organization was starting to coach our children too late.
That led to Nick’s surf school, the focus of which is not on competing and winning, but getting the children from a young age to be comfortable with their island and developing their skills.
“When I was a kid aspiring to surf and I was down here, all I saw was the local Bathsheba people and they were 99 per cent black, but there were white Bajans who would surf.
“It was different in the ’80s and ’90s when I hung out more on the South Coast and there was a huge influx of Bajan Whites. Everybody just loved surfing and I found that all barriers – colours, social and financial – broke down.
“There is no colour; they come and they surf and they hang out and no one is disrespectful. There would be some poor black boys with old beat-up boards and they would say can I try your board and that was no problem and that is where I saw the magic happening.”
He said it must look funny when they compete off-island that a 90 per cent black island would send a team of 12 of which 11 or all 12 were white.
“Most of the time the cost of the board, the wet suits or the trip to represent Barbados could be a quarter of your yearly salary if you come from a certain strata. It can be expensive to get accommodation, transportation, food for the trip,” he explained.
This, he said, raised the question, “Are we taking the best team or are we taking the team we can afford?”
Nick said that at times they had sent their best teams away and they got knocked out after the first few days, which brought home to him the importance of coaching.
He said coaches need to keep their children pumped and uplifted when they lose after doing their best.
Nick recalled the highlight of his coaching career was taking a junior team to compete in France and they managed to go from 28th to 14th in the world.
“In our world, if you don’t come first you did not do anything [wrong], but for me this was the highlight – the children were so happy with their achievement and it was a good feeling,” he said.