Icah Wilmot is riding high on the crest of an impressive career wave that has earned him Jamaica’s first lien on the Makka Pro Surfing Championship, which has been the island’s premier international surfing event for the past four years. Winner of the last two national Surfer of the Year titles (having bagged a total of six such honours), Icah is poised to attain that next-level status as he travels to Virginia to participate in the East Coast Surfing Championship (ECSC) from August 21-24.
Ahead of his departure, the 23-year-old was kind enough to give Pree10 some real insights into Jamaica’s surfing culture, what it takes to become a master of the waves, the risks and rewards of surfing and the rush of catching a big one during a hurricane. The questions start now Icah…surf’s up!
1. How did you get involved in surfing?
I have been surfing for as long as I can remember. I started when I was really young…my father had been surfing in Jamaica from the late 1960s and shared the sport with us [his children] as soon as he thought we were big enough to manage ourselves in the water. When he had sufficient time to take us out, he would round us up and carry the three boys out there. I heard that we took a little while to get really comfortable in the water and start loving the sport. We ended up loving it so much to the point where we all stopped doing swimming, karate and football and just made surfing our one priority.
2. Do you remember your first board and what board do you use now?
I can’t really remember my first board or how young I was when I first started. I do remember riding a 6’4” inch white Clark Foam surfboard when I was really young and also riding a short quad fin surfboard made by a company called Quiet Flight. That board was sweet!
As for the boards I currently use, I’m sponsored by a surfboard shaper by the name of Patrick ‘Quashi’ Mitchell – a Jamaican guy living in Florida, so I mostly ride ‘Quashi’ boards. I have a few boards that I ride depending on the size and conditions of the waves, but my more all-round board is a 5’11” inch tall board. I prefer regular polyester boards with a double concaved, slightly W-shaped bottom and slight tail rocker to make it more manoeuvrable in a wider variety of conditions. I’m currently riding one made by a shaper from Brazil named Fredrico Baltazar.
.3. What exactly is required for someone to become a serious surfer?
Well, for surfing, you just need to come out. Jamnesia [Surf Club in Bull Bay] is the place to learn. The only skill you really need is to be willing to try it. We have a 100 per cent success rate in getting everyone up and surfing within the first 20 minutes. We provide the boards for learning and the instructors. Then, once you learn the basics its all about practice…just surfing as often as you can and pushing yourself to the next level. With time and effort, you can reach your full potential, whether that makes you the best in the world or just cruising and having fun out there.
4. Surfing is classified as an ‘extreme’ sport. What are the risks and challenges associated with it?
When you engage in surfing, you’re not in a controlled environment, as is the case in football or cricket…hence, it’s called extreme. But as with everything else in the world, there are risks. The most severe is drowning, which in most cases is highly unlikely unless you put yourself in a dangerous situation that could have been easily avoided. In surfing, although you have no control of the waves, observing the conditions and the characteristics of the beach and weather will make it very easy for you to avoid challenging situations. Also, when a beginners start surfing, they should do so in very small waves, which are really harmless. Then as they progress, understand the movements and characteristics of waves and the ocean, and understand the currents and other features associated with being in the ocean when it is rough, they will be able to easily manoeuvre through the ocean and stay safe even in very tricky situations. I guess the tricks of the trade you just pick up along the way help to make you into a surfer.
5. How would you describe Jamaica’s surfing culture and lifestyle?
The Jamaican surf lifestyle is really mellow and cool…kind of a family vibe. The surfers are from a wide array of social backgrounds but the love of the sport brings us together. We all can relate to each other as surfers, and you find yourself feeling like somewhat of an outcast when you are out of the water. We all have the same longing to get back in the waves…[and] this tends to make us go on trips together and find similar ways to pass the time in between the swells. This togetherness that we have developed helps to build a surfing family and we all bond.
There’s a musical surfing vibe on the Jamaican scene. The music and surfing in Jamaica go hand-in-hand and complement each other. My father has been the lead singer of the Mystic Revealers from as long as I’ve been around, and so with his musical influence, our lives have been blessed with exposure to really great music from and early age. [My siblings and I] learnt surfing around the same time we started playing music, and this led to most of our songs being about surfing. The musical buzz has spread throughout the surfing community, and has influenced the Jamnesia session movement, which is a live show that we host at home every other Saturday. This keeps producing great musical talents and also influences great surfing talents.
6. Where are the best surfing beaches in Jamaica and do you have a favourite spot?
The best surfing locations in Jamaica are all along the eastern end of the island. Because of how the country is positioned in the Caribbean and how the waves travel throughout the region, the strongest and most consistent wave action occurs in the east. There are hundreds of really great surfing beaches running from St. Catherine right around to St. Mary, and further west has many beaches with great potential given the proper swell direction and conditions… many of these beaches have not even been surfed on yet. But of all the spots I have surfed in the country, I would have to say my favorite is a spot we call ‘Iron Pot’, which is off the coast on a reef in St Thomas, by White Horses.
7. What’s been the most perfect wave you’ve ridden?
I have travelled to many destinations throughout the world for surfing and have surfed many amazing waves. The best wave I’ve caught locally was at a spot called the Zoo, which was destroyed during Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and now ceases to break. Outside of Jamaica, I would have to say the most perfect wave I’ve ridden was at a spot called Chuchucan on the island of Bali in Indonesia. It was amazing…I almost drowned there too!
8. Have you ever caught a wave during a hurricane?
Is this a trick question?? Of course I have…that’s the best time to surf because the waves get really huge and, before the wind picks up too much, the conditions are perfect. We have surfed in pretty much every hurricane since I can remember. It’s really a great feeling being out there and feeling the raw energy of the ocean and being able to admire the strength. It’s just the same feeling as riding that first wave ever, just multiplied by like 30, so it gets me so pumped and I just love it.
“We have surfed in pretty much every hurricane since I can remember. It’s really a great feeling being out there and feeling the raw energy of the ocean…It’s just the same feeling as riding that first wave ever, just multiplied by like 30…”
9. What’s your secret to staying at the top of Jamaica’s surfing scene and what was it like winning the Makka Pro?
Being on top in anything takes a lot of determination to maintain that position, and the commitment to doing your best and working your hardest. Plus, you have to push your talent to always improve yourself each time, and you also have to analyze your technique, making yourself more efficient and productive while doing your craft. I guess that’s the best work ethic to have…do your best all the time and keep pushing yourself.
Pushing myself entails a lot of practice and keeping up-to-date on the happenings in the highest levels of competitive surfing in the world, and then trying to keep my surfing on par with them. This involves training a lot. I surf every day and keep myself flexible and fit by doing cross training, yoga and diving to keep my lung capacity at its peak. This helps me to perform at my best when I need to, and knowing that my body won’t fail me helps to give me even more confidence. Also, being happy makes a world of a difference as it relates to my success. With no worries or sad thoughts in my mind, I am better able to focus on the task at hand, just free my mind and do what I need to do to make my stand in the events.
In previous years [at the Makka Pro contest]… I was not quite mentally prepared to perform at my best, but this year I trained a lot and focussed on specific manoeuvres. After trying several times and always falling short, this win was really emotional for me. When I won it was almost unbelievable…I sat out in the water looking in at the beach and all the crowd cheering. It feels really great knowing that I am the first Jamaican to take the title, sort of stamping my name in history.
10. What do you hope to see for your future and the future of surfing in Jamaica?
I want to bring my surfing to the highest professional level of competition…travelling and waving the Jamaican flag on the international surf scene. I currently work with a few photographers, exploring countries and promoting the region through articles, videos and web features, and I will continue to do this for a few years to come. I have been lucky enough to acquire a few sponsors, namely Insight Clothing, Reef International, Smith eye wear, On A Mission surf accessories, Freestyle Watches, Redbull and Quashi Surfboards, and so have been able to push my surfing career to compete in the international arena.
I am working actively to help to develop the young surfers in Jamaica…to help them stand a chance in the world of surfing and be able to make a charge in diversifying the surfing industry, expanding the scope of the surfing world and helping to make Jamaica more conscious of the profits that can be gained from the multi-million dollar global surf industry.