Trouble started in July 2018 in the capital of Port-au-Prince, 54 miles to the north.
The government had just announced a 50% increase in fuel prices following a deal with the International Monetary Fund, sparking protests that turned violent, with protesters looting shops and police firing gas tear gas. Protesters have called for accountability, including over the tracking of $2 billion in PetroCaribe, an oil deal with Venezuela intended to help Haiti invest in infrastructure and social programs.
Economic growth was stalling and inflation was skyrocketing. The question on everyone’s mind: What does Haiti have to offer for the world’s $13 billion, thousands of volunteers and countless projects?
Tourists were barely coming to Haiti – and many Haitians were leaving, including Gilles, who moved to the Dominican Republic in December 2019 for two years so he could find a job and save some money. Today, he is trying to set up a small shop selling snacks and drinks on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Although he wants to stay in southern Haiti, he said, “I really want a job and feel independent.
About half a dozen founders and older members of Surf Haiti were among those who left, mostly to the United States, after entering college or finding jobs.
When the boards started to break, there was no one to bring new ones. Wax has become rare. Visitors slowed to a trickle, and children who had waited on the shore for Pierce to return years earlier were now in college, with no job prospects and no income.
“People who were there to motivate us and support us haven’t been here as much,” Andris said.
And then the pandemic hit. Jules’ bid for the Olympics fell apart when he couldn’t get the support he needed from sponsors and local authorities in Jacmel. Last year, less than a dozen people showed up for surf lessons, a far cry from years when so many people showed up each month.
In recent months, gangs have taken over the main road out of the capital, cutting it off from the south; few dare cross it. Another route, a long stretch of steep and narrow dirt road, is too dangerous if there is even a trickle of rain. Water taxis are limited.
The flow of visitors to Kabic Beach is, for the moment, practically cut off. Surf Haiti’s remaining members say they plan to sell t-shirts with the organization’s logo and handcrafted memorabilia online.
In the meantime, it’s mostly locals in the water, less than half a dozen on this August morning. The regulars are teaching their younger siblings to surf in a bid to keep the sport going. Samuel Andris, Frantzy’s 13-year-old brother, stayed close to shore one recent morning, stopping to watch the waves build up and trying to catch smaller ones.
Further on, Jules practiced his more advanced moves. He learned a few while surfing in the Dominican Republic in 2019, the only competition he competed in overseas. After a while, he got out of the water, patted his foster dog, Brutus, on the head and climbed the steps to the patio of the abandoned house – Pierce’s house, years ago . With no job prospects or a functional gym in the neighborhood, Jules spends most of his time here doing push-ups on the grass.
He still dreams of taking part in surfing competitions in Brazil, Hawaii and Tahiti.
“It’s like someone waking up and having to walk,” Jules said. “I see surfing the same way.” ●