…I hadn’t been in the Soup Bowls parking lot for more than three minutes when a wiry, bald-headed local named Chicken demanded my name in a tone typically preceding violence.
In as friendly a voice manageable, I responded, “I’m Za—“
“F–k you!” he interrupted just as the k sound sputtered from my mouth. “Get the f–k out of here.”
I looked around to assess how realistically threatening this situation was. About 30 feet behind me stood an unconcerned group of dreadlocked Rastafarians gulping down rum and playing dominoes in a dirt driveway. I heard the ping of steel drums pulsing through the speakers at Smoky’s Shack from a block down the road, and in front of me was Soup Bowls—the wave that I, like so many surfers, had traveled many miles to surf. It was onshore and windblown with just two guys sorting through the mess, but the wave was working. It peeled from directly in front of a lone rock 50 yards east of me to the spiny, urchin-stamped shoreline at my feet. It was a wave worth traveling to—and consequently fighting for.
Chicken took two steps toward me, so I tightened my fists as my heart knocked at my chest.
“Get the f–k out of here,” he repeated as he took another step forward.
I was reluctant to believe it, but it appeared the first act I’d accomplish on my first trip to Barbados—a place globally renowned for good vibrations—was get into a fight. I wasn’t sure if that was how things work there, so I accepted the surge of adrenalin, lowered my center of gravity an inch or two, and anticipated the first move.
A half-moon smile shot across his face, and he put his hand on my shoulder.
“I’m just messin’ with you,” he laughed, “but you are one ugly motherf–ker.”
And that was how I met Soup Bowls’ staple lifeguard, Chicken. A bit shaken, he assured me that he was genuinely glad to meet me and, like one of the crew, he hopped in our parked car and we reassessed the conditions.
“It’ll clean up after this squall comes through,” Chicken said. “No wind then.” The car was silent for a moment aside from the thump-thump of rain drops when Chicken looked over at me and said, “I hope you’re a good surfer; otherwise, this wave will make a mess of you.”
His cautionary quip coupled with horror stories about Soup Bowls’ toothed reef had my mind racing. The fact that I was on the verge of brawling five minutes earlier didn’t help either, and just as our crew decided to get in the water, a wounded surfer hobbled across the parking lot.
Dropping into a set wave the day before, the nose of his board had impaled his right leg, which looked like an anatomy class donation: a swollen calf surgically bisected by 60 stitches. After limping to shore and waiting in a blood puddle for three hours, a lifeguard (presumably Chicken) was located and directed him to medical attention.
Pretending none of these things bothered me, I followed TJ, Torrey, and Sterling across the coral heads and into the lineup. The moment we touched water, the sky purged itself, the wind screeched a witch’s howl, and I thought to myself, “Welcome to Soup Bowls.”