This weekend some of the brightest young talents in surfing are flocking from all over the Caribbean to join the Under My Wings surf camp with Ian Walsh in Jamaica. Their host is none other than the king of the island's surf culture, Billy Wilmot. Globe-trotting Chris Sullivan donned his Bermuda shorts and jetted off to meet him.
Billy Wilmot, aka Billy Mystic or Uncle Bill, is a living legend in Jamaica. He came to prominence as the lead singer of The Mystic Revealers who burst onto the global reggae music scene in 1985 with their first major single, Mash Down Apartheid. Produced by Jimmy Cliff, all proceeds from its sale were donated to South Africa's ANC to support the struggle against Apartheid. Subsequently, Wilmot has pioneered the Jamaican surf scene from and linked up with Red Bull for Under My Wings with Ian Walsh, based at his surf camp, Jamnesia, eight miles east of Kingston at Bull Bay, St Andrew.
Can you tell me about, Under My Wings?
It’s a Red Bull scheme in association with the Jamaican Surf Association that’s been going for the last 10 years. It’s basically a youth development and exchange programme that encourages kids to come from all the Caribbean Islands to surf with us and get to know each other. Because even though we might all be in the Caribbean, there is a lot of sea between us and people from Trinidad might never come to Jamaica and vice versa. So we encourage that, as there is a lot of rivalry and sometimes animosity because the cultures can be very different.
What’s Ian Walsh doing with you?
He’s a member of the Red Bull surf team and he is coming down to mentor the kids. He is the type of guy we’d like the kids to look up to and follow his lead.
And I can think of worse things to do than surf in Jamaica…
Yeah man… and we are trying to make it an option for the youth. A sporting endeavour with the right concept; because to surf you have to understand the sea and nature and live with it and respect it. You learn about reefs and tides and the wind and have to interact with nature. Water occupies 2/3 of the earth so kids have to learn about 2/3 of the earth.
One doesn’t automatically think of Jamaica as a surf spot.
No, but Jamaica is blessed with an eight-month surfing year, with the calm spells broken up into one- and two-week spells scattered throughout the year. It’s a beautiful place to surf.
And how is it taking off?
It’s going from strength to strength. We have people coming from all over and it’s creating a whole industry.
So everybody wins?
Yes, because we all know that we can’t all be world-class surfers but, people can learn and then mend or make boards, became a life guard or a judge at competitions, sell surf clothing, wet suits or even run a hotel for surfers. We want to expand the idea to more than catching waves and teach kids that they can take this idea a lot further.
I suppose this helps the South Eastern side of Jamaica, which isn’t known for tourism.
It does. Because surfers need teachers, food, drinks, hotels. This is an alternative and new tourist attraction for the island and we need all we can get. We are trying to steer it down the road and develop it into an industry that will employ JA youth and keep them outta trouble
Where are the best surf spots?
Oh there are so many. Near us there’s The Lighthouse, Copa, The Zoo, Buff Bay and then if you want to go further there Prospect, the mouth of the Rio Grande, Peenie Wally, Shark Cove, Boston, Long Bay, Orange Bay, Hammer Pit and The Ranch! And it’s all good surf.
Are there any young Jamaican surfers we should look out for?
Yes, there are some great young kids all winning medals – my son Ivah Wilmot and Shama Beckford who are just 13, Ackeem Taylor who is 14 and Garren Price who is only 15 years of age and won the 2009 National under 16 Championship. Then there’s Shane Simmonds who’s just 18, Icah Wilmot, Inilek Wilmot and Ikan Phillips all doing very well and competing abroad. The Jamaica National team takes part in regional and international team events such as the World Surfing Games, which will be held in Peru this year and the Pan-American Surfing Games that was last held in Brazil.
And how does the music fit in?
Jamaica is a musical country and music is in everything still play with the band and we put shows on at the beach with Protoje and No-Maddz and lots of otter young talents.
It seems you’ve managed quite a big project. How did you do it?
Well I had a lot of help from the likes of Red Bull who have really been there as well as Insight Surf Clothing, X-Trak surfboard traction pads and surf accessories Quashi surfboards and the Jamaican government who give us a grant each year. We could never have got this far without the help of all these people.