It was early in the morning as we loaded up the truck and headed south on the 115. The town of Rincon was just beginning to wake up as we drove through the main square, past the grocery store, and through the tunnel of mango trees that shade the road to Mayaguez. We made it through the city before traffic got too bad and then we were off, heading south in search of adventure and hopefully some fun, little waves.
Our goal was Playa Inches, a beach nestled in the town of Patillas, located on the southeast corner of Puerto Rico. My boyfriend Brian had been here before, but I had never been to this area of the island so I was excited to see something new. Patillas, which is the Taino (indigenous people of PR) name for a native type of watermelon that was grown in the area, is surrounded by San Lorenzo to the north, Yabucoa to the east, and Arroyo and Guayama to the west. This entire area is known for producing sugar cane and oranges. Patillas is also home to the Carite Forest Reserve, a 6,000-acre reserve featuring a dwarf forest and panoramic views of the town of Ponce and the Caribbean Sea. The Carite Forest is also home to “Charco Azul,” or “Blue Puddle,” a natural pool fed by the river rains of the Rio Grande de Patillas. Because of this, Patillas is known as “La Esmeralda del Sur,” or the “Emerald of the South.”
As we made our way from the northwest corner to the southeast corner, I was amazed at how much the topography changed within just a few hours drive. Especially once we were on the other side of Ponce, Puerto Rico’s 2nd largest city centrally located on the south coast, I was amazed at how arid and dry the land was. Compared to Rincon’s lush, tropical foliage, the south coast reminded me more of a desert, like somewhere in Southern California. Seeing this allowed me to gain a little better understanding of the water “crisis” I kept hearing about. In Rincon we are blessed with a lot of rain during the summer months; other areas of the island aren’t so lucky and experience water rationing due to this shortage.
Anyways, the trip to Playa Inches from Rincon took us about 2 ½ hours… Our trusty truck, Dora the Explorer, gets a little sensitive when we push her over 60mph so we kept it nice and steady. The beach at Inches is made of river rocks with little, typical bars and restaurants scattered along the road. The beach is called “Inches” because of the surf spot out front: it’s a perfect, left-hand point that breaks over a shallow reef made of fire coral. At certain spots it’s literally inches between you and the bottom. Sketchy, yes, but that’s what makes the waves so good.
We got to the beach around 9am and took a look at the surf. Not great, but not flat, plus it wasn’t very crowded, so we decided to give it a go. Inches is probably the most popular, and the most consistent, wave on the southern coast of Puerto Rico, so it can get very crowded with surfers and boogie boarders from all of the surrounding towns. And paddling out at a new surf spot for the first time is always a little intimidating: you don’t know the lineup, you don’t know the locals, and you definitely don’t know want to piss anyone off (it’s a surfing thing)… but my boyfriend and I have been doing this for a while, so we knew what to do: sit to the side, be respectful, and stay out of other people’s way.
I was pleasantly surprised with both the quality of the waves and the friendliness of the other surfers in the water and on the beach. Smiles were exchanged, high-fives were slapped, and waves were shared. We hooted each other on and took turns catching the set waves. Everyone was happy and everyone was having fun… what surfing is really all about. We surfed all morning and by the afternoon the waves had dropped and the crowd had picked up so we decided to kick back, eat some lunch, and enjoy a couple of cold cervezas with our newly made friends.
By the late afternoon it was time for us to head back to our little corner of the island. We packed up the truck, dusted the sand off of our legs, and said our goodbyes. Business cards were exchanged, hands were shaken, and hugs were given. “I’ve got a place for you to stay anytime you are in San Juan,” one gentleman told us. “No, come to Luquillo! You guys can stay with me and we will go surf!,” urged our new friend, Iris. The local boogie boarder chimed in, “Next time you’re down here I’ll show you two some different surf spots. There are a lot of good waves!”
It was right around dusk when we made it back to Rincon. We drove through the tunnel of mango trees that welcomed us back to the “country.” We made our way past the grocery store, through the town square, and finally to our driveway. We left that morning with the intention to just catch a few waves, but when we returned home we realized that we had received much, much more. During our day trip to south coast we were able to experience, first hand, the beauty of community: the power of a smile, the importance of connection, and the simple reminder that, essentially, we are all the same. Thank you, Playa Inches, for such a great first experience. We will definitely be back!