Australians have Bali, Californians have Baja, and Floridians have Puerto Rico. Kelly Slater first went to PR as a 15-year-old and calls it his “Little Hawaii”. The parallels between the islands are pretty striking. While not open to the same brunt of swell as the aforementioned, Puerto Rico is littered with limestone reefs and palm trees, bathed in tepid water, is part of the USA and home to a surprising and thriving surf scene.
Gas Chambers is PR’s Snapper Rocks doppelganger, the only difference being the consistency. Perched on the lee side of the island it takes either a big North Atlantic swell or a local hurricane to bring the place to life, and if it breaks half a dozen times a year then the local boys consider themselves lucky. For most of the year the place moonlights as a boat harbour, and you’d struggle to recognise it as even a wave, let alone a world class one. But under the influence of a serious pulse Gas Chambers springs to life, and any kind of geographic or man-made structure in the vicinity seemingly becomes a surfable wave. Gassies breaks in the shadows of a black rock cliff, the resulting wash giving the wave it’s trademark wobble, a la Snapper. From there it’s a sandbottom barrel that gets cleaner and faster as it makes it’s way into the harbour. Gas Chambers has a neighbouring wave further inside called Crash Boat, which breaks around a concrete pier and can get all-time itself. As you might have guessed, the fact it only breaks a handful of times a year means it becomes mucho crowded, mucho quick.
The Puerto Rican coastline might hold more surfable set-ups per mile than anywhere with the exception of Oahu’s North Shore. All coasts of the shoebox-shaped island get waves, some are which are well known, others well known just to the local boys, but under a decent swell it’s one of those coastlines that just comes to life. The northern coast from San Juan to Aguadilla is open to more swell and has some set-ups that will handle big, powerful waves, while the western side of the island – where you’ll find Gas Chambers – tends to be more protected with longer, funner waves. A little further down the coast from Gas Chambers is a classic little surf town called Rincon that once hosted the 1968 World titles and is littered with fun righthand point waves. Surfing took hold early here on Puerto Rico, and today you won’t be short on company in the lineup.
Puerto Rico is a cool slice of the Spanish Caribbean and well worth exploring. There’s plenty of history to absorb, the food is an interesting fusion of Latin American and Caribbean, and the women are so beautiful they can melt you at 50 paces with just one look. The downside of traveling around PR is that there are lots of Puerto Ricans – over 4,000,000 people live on an island one-sixth the size of Tasmania – so don’t go expecting too much solitude. The roads clog easily and in certain parts of the island you’ve got to watch your back, but as with anywhere the more adventurous you are the more space you’ll find to roam. While it’s quite a slog to get there from Australia, if you do happen to find yourself in the States on other business it’s just a short bump down and one you’ll be quite glad you did.
GAS CHAMBERS - Fast Facts
Zone: Northwest Puerto Rico
Overall rating: 7/10
Best size: Four to six feet.
Best months: November-March
Swell direction: Northwest
Best board: Your shortboard will do the trick.
Length of ride: 100-200 metres.
Ability level: You’ll just need to be an expert in acquiring set waves from rabid crowds.
Other options: Plenty of reefs, beaches and points.
Bring: A hire car, a step-up board, your best Spanish pick-up lines.