During Hurricane Igor, most Barbadians were running for shelter. That's when Brian Talma, this small island nation's prolific SUP man of action, paddled out to meet the epic swell. SUP magazine caught up with Talma, aka Irie Man, aka Mr. Action, to get the full story.
Sure, Talma fell in love with the surf growing up on the small and idyllic rock in the Lesser Antilles. But it wasn't until the mid-'80s, when he went to study at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., that a new door opened with intercollegiate and national windsurfing events. Talma graduated and moved back to Barbados to open his first windsurfing shop. He went on to join the pro windsurfing circuit and made the Barbadian team for the 1988 Seoul and 1992 Barcelona Olympics. After years of lobbying to get a Barbados stop on the tour, he succeeded, and won the Barbados World Cup in 2003 and 2004. Still competing, he was instrumental in creating the Professional Freestyle Tour as a member of the Professional Windsurfing Association Committee. Now the action has encompassed SUP as Talma, 45, infectiously stokes the growth of the island's standup scene from his deAction Beach Shop in Silver Sands—the island's prime watersports hub. He's a Naish rider, has hosted his own TV show promoting beach culture, and after his successful 16.5-hour August 27 bid to circumnavigate his home island by SUP, Talma shredded record swells this fall courtesy of Hurricane Igor. — Phil White
SUP mag: So you almost missed the hurricane swell?
Brian Talma: Yeah. I was doing my Beach Culture thing, promoting SUPing and this lifestyle. I did the SUP World Cup in Germany, which was amazing for the sport; it was hard work … long distance. I also did Baja, Mexico, being entertained by Kevin (Trejo) and his crew from SoloSports in Punta San Carlos. After a month on the road, driving and flying, I was met at the airport by my brother, Kevin. He had this huge smile on his tanned face. I knew what deAction was, as I was following Hurricane Igor—the waves were pumping in Barbados. He told me I'd missed the first day's surf, but tomorrow the waves were meant to be bigger. Action!
What were the water conditions like during Hurricane Igor? The next day, it’s off to Bathsheba, the eastern part of Barbados. We rounded the ridge and started our descent. Wow, all I could see was lines of swell. Electricity was pumping through my veins. The water was perfection, double over-head and glassy. The channel was working perfectly for paddling back up into the lineup. We were looking out at Parlor, one of the best SUP breaks in Barbados. It was holding the swell better then the world famous Soup Bowl, which is a little north from Parlor's.
Were there other people in the water with you? Soup Bowl was totally washed out. This meant all the surfers that could handle the action were out; it was my brother, who SUPs and about five other surfers. It was beautiful—any wave I wanted, I had.
What are the advantages to standup paddling versus regular surfing in high wind? It gave me a huge advantage. I wasn’t getting in the way of the surfers and had all the set waves. I was picking off all the bigger sets and the majority of the surfers cleaned up, too. My brain was smiling and I was dancing across the water.
How long did the swell last? Igor lasted for a week or more, with each day bringing more action at different breaks. A few days later, I got High Rock, which is between Parlor's and Soul Bowl. It was amazing, with perfect barreling waves, double over-head. It was just me and my brother. It was the best SUP session I’ve had. The wave was basic—drop, turn and get barreled. This set rolled in, and I found this huge wave and drop. The whole bottom dropped out, and I just turned. I got completely covered and all I could see was this small opening, which I was gliding toward. Once I found the opening, the lip came over again … Wow, my brain was on fire! I saw another opening and I burst out of the barrel. Once I was out, I pushed my fist to the air to claim it. ACTION! I had just won the competition: life!
Were the conditions any calmer for your Barbados circumnavigation? It was calm for most of it, at one point I saw dark clouds forming over the Bathsheba area, when I was easily two miles off-shore. I heard thunder cracking, and really dark clouds with a haze of grayness surrounding Bathsheba. Then a bolt of lightning striking down ….Shit!! I pointed my board in the direction of shore and started a B-line to the beach. The worst predicament was the wind was gusting off shore and it was too difficult to paddle directly into it, so I paddled across the wind toward shore.
How long did the storm last? I battled these conditions for about an hour, then the storm slowly diminished and my brain relaxed and smiled. I was a few miles pass Bathsheba and off Long Pond (the eastern part of the island), just off the breaker and feeling safe again. It was about 1:30 p.m. I was fatigued, mentally and physically. With the simple motion of sitting down on the board, I felt my body cramping up. Should I give up, I had covered half of Barbados already? No! I hydrated and downed a granola bar. Then I put my bag behind my head and shut my eyes for a few minutes. That gave me a second wind and I pulled myself back into standing position. At that point, I wanted to get around the Northern coast as fast as possible because there is nowhere to come in if something went wrong.
How did you navigate in the dark? I used the hotel lights and my flashlight to maneuver through the coral reefs on the west and south coasts, the last two legs of the journey. When I saw Spring Garden Highway, the last piece of the west coast, I had to make a critical decision: was I going to give up or continue around the critical harbor wall? I was concerned with the possibility of funneling off shore winds picking up and after all I had been paddling for over 13 hours. "No one knows I am out at sea." "I need to get home to my family, they must be getting worried"…these were the thoughts going through my mind.
What kept you going? My body was gone, it was numb and I was breathing much harder. I was sporadically howling into the air. My mind was in a zone, and I had only had a few last gulps of water left. I spotted a boat light off the pier, a lone fisherman. I begged him to refill two bottles with water….yeah man, I am back in action!
Top photos by Kenny Hewitt