Watersport with a Bajan Legend

Yes, please! It says much about Barbadians, or Bajans, if you prefer, that their be-all, end-all answer to a question, a statement, a polite request or a loud proclamation is “Yes, please!” The sovereign country has a history stretching back to the 1550s, and a proud culture that has developed through the constant movement of people, tossed together like the soup a surfer might find within the big waves of Bathsheba— a history of slavery, religion, colonialism, uprisings, cricket and roundabouts. Today, a dreamy blue ocean continues to crash against some of the world’s most exclusive resorts and luxurious homes built for the rich and famous. All well and good, but our bucket list is looking for character, which brings us to Bajan national hero, world-champion freestyle windsurfer and island legend Brian Talma.

Having the shaggy-haired, bright-eyed and deeply tanned Brian Talma teach us watersports is like having Tiger Woods give us putting tips. Wide smiles are cracked across the island at the mention of Talma’s name. And when Talma himself smiles, which is just about all the time, his teeth twinkle like piano keys in a New Orleans jazz bar. Over the course of his 25-year career on the worldwide pro circuit, Talma has become the go-to guy for anyone delving into beach culture. At home in Barbados, he operates de Action, a brightly painted little surf shop offering rentals, lessons and a sweet place to catch the action on Silver Sands Beach.
“Action!” It’s Talma’s mantra, bookending his sentences. “Action! We should always choose a life of action!” I’m motivated to learn about new trends in watersport from this living legend, swept up in his wave of enthusiasm. When I tell him that I hope to freestyle windsurf (never tried), kitesurf (never tried) and stand-up paddleboard (never tried) on the same day, he plays a toothy tune with those ivories, followed by a deep belly laugh. Action is definitely in the winds.

Full disclosure: I have been on a windsurfer before. At the age of five, I would lie between my dad’s legs on his long board at the local dam. My dad embraced windsurfing when it first arrived on the scene, and every weekend, I’d spread out at the back of his board, a true windsurfer’s child. Shortly afterwards, my dad moved onto his next fad, cycling. The windsurfer gathered dust in the garage.
Cut to Brian, a man who has windsurfed some of the world’s biggest waves, showing me how to pull up a sail. Roger Federer might as well explain how to hold a tennis racket. I barely stand up and immediately the wind hits the sail, blowing me toward the next island of St. Lucia. Brian swims after me, laughing loudly, ready to gather me up when I inevitably wipe out. Whatever. Windsurfing is old news. On the beach are Canadians learning how to kitesurf, an exploding sport fast gaining converts around the world. Silver Sands Beach, they tell me, is one of the best kitesurfing destinations in the world. Talma, of course, mastered the sport years ago.

When kitesurfing, you’re connected via a harness to a large stunt kite, capable of rocketing you across the waves and launching you 9 metres into the air. All you need is a board, a power kite, waves, wind and a certain amount of lunacy. I know three friends mad about kitesurfing. They’ve all broken bones and twisted knees, yet continue to love it.
Controlling and harnessing the wind, directing the kite, relaunching from a crash and cresting over waves is not something you learn to do in a couple of hours. Kitesurfing enthusiasts in Barbados typically spend two weeks—renting houses or staying in hotels around Silver Sands Beach—learning just the basics.

Brian explains the appeal of the sport: “Action! You can do anything you want, man, there’s no limit when it comes to kitesurfing. Ready for your crash course? Action!”
He starts me off on a small stunt kite, showing me how to swing it in a figure eight to get power, keeping it steady directly above me, sort of like neutral gear in a car. I barely get the hang of it as the midday sun, my sweat and my cheap sunblock stings my corneas. Brian brings out the big kite with the hesitancy of a Ferrari owner slipping the keys to a learner driver. I watch as he demonstrates his control, the big kite powerful enough to blow him to Bridgetown. It costs $1,500 for the kite alone, so he’s rightfully worried I will end up slamming into a building in the nation’s capital. Brian hooks me into the harness, and within seconds I crash the kite hard into the beach, feeling the bone-cringing slam of material on sand. Fortunately, these kites can take a pounding. We launch it again, and I crash it again. It’s disheartening to be so uncool next to the coolest cat on the island.

When I finally get the kite under control, I try a figure eight and immediately get dragged across the white sand, like an ant holding onto dental floss in a hurricane. Twisted on the ground, I turn to Brian.
“I’m sure your local emergency room is busy enough. Let’s move onto stand-up paddleboarding.”
Heck, everybody’s stand-up paddleboarding! Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Aniston, Pierce Brosnan, Matt Damon, Kate Hudson, Owen Wilson, Sting. Perhaps it’s a prerequisite to look like a movie star. The sport involves standing on a long, customized surfboard, oar in hand, riding offshore currents and surfing onshore waves.

Brian demonstrates. Relaxed, his back is straight and shoulders are square. He looks as comfortable standing on water as he does on land. I hoist myself up, bent over like a hunchback, slipping and sliding, wobbling and wiping—much to the amusement of all on the beach. I hope they laugh at those damn celebrities too.
Nobody in their right mind should attempt to learn three watersports in one day, let alone sports that require hours of practice just to reach beginner level. But it did provide a great excuse to hang out with a legendary character like Brian Talma. If you’re looking to tick a few watersports off your bucket list, Silver Sands Beach, Barbados and Brian’s de Action shack will put the wind in your sails.