Paddling Panama

When it comes to exploring the seldom seen corners of Central American coastline, there may be no better way than on a stand-up paddleboard.

Our story begins with two Hawaiian watermen who have made traveling their occupation. Coming from the picturesque, aquatic wonderland of aloha, our adventurers both acknowledge they are blessed to consider the islands home, but are nevertheless eager to fly across land and sea to reach more remote destinations.

For this jaunt they set their eyes on Panama. Oahu's Noa Ginella and Maui's Kody Kerbox couldn't resist Panama's tropical allure. They gave themselves two weeks to explore the eastern shore, specifically the Bocas del Toro region, a group of Caribbean islands that boast incredible waves and amazing adventure opportunities.

"The mission is to check out the waves, the epic scenery and everything Bocas del Toro has to offer," Kerbox explained before setting out.

SUPing Panama

The flight into the archipelago is breathtaking. A strand of green islands dot azure water. The town of Bocas, on the island of Colon, is vibrant and full of young backpacker types from Europe, South America, Canada and the United States.

"It's always cool to see and explore a new place," said Ginella.

Restaurants with delicious food are plentiful and cheap; the fish is fresh and the meat is local. The island people -- an ethnic mix of Spanish, Indian and Creole -- are friendly and welcoming. Many speak English, making it easy for a group of island-hoppers to get around. Colorful water taxis zip in and around the island chain and are the standard mode of transportation. It's a waterman's paradise.

Upon arrival, Ginella and Kerbox check in at the Pukalani Hostal on Colon. The family-run hotel is brightly painted, surrounded by tall palm trees, and situated right on the beach with an oceanfront pool and boat dock. For the next 14 days, transportation in and around Bocas del Toro will consist primarily of boat taxi and paddleboard.

There are several surf spots to be found around Colon. Out of the gates, the boys get into some waves at Paunch. A good left with a shifty right when it's smaller, Ginella and Kerbox wash off the road grime in playful two to three-foot surf. And because timing's everything, the following day the surfers are lined up to compete in the ASP National Surf Circuit at Paunch, where they're met with pumping four to six-foot waves. Kerbox wins the Stand Up Paddle division.


When it comes to surf of unusual size and power, stand-up paddle boards are earning their spot in lineups around the world. From this first exploratory mission in Panama to more familiar waves like Jaws and Mavericks, the use of a paddle is proving invaluable for getting getting into big waves.

Sunburns, sunsets and fiestas ensure for the next several days until a new swell pops and Panamanian SUP surfer Ricardo Chiari offers to take Ginella and Kerbox to a spot called the Bluffs. A thumping beachbreak with left and right barrels, it's just up the road from Paunch. The sandy, unpaved route to the beach bends its way through lush rainforests and then courses along the very edge of the ocean. At times, the car has to wait for the waves to stop before it can continue. The road is characteristically Bocas; wild, tropical and relaxed.

By far the highlight of the trip is Silverbacks. The sucking right slab breaks off the island of Bastimentos, and is accessible only by boat, but represents more than just the wave of the trip for these surfers. Chartering new terrain, Kerbox rides the first wave ever caught on a SUP board at Silverbacks. It's six-to-eight feet with occasional ten-foot bombs rolling through. The group is in awe.

"We heard rumors that it could be going off and also heard it was a rare wave," Kerbox explains. "To score this insane slab wave the way we did was awesome."

The trip was a success by all standards, measured with incredible waves and local experiences had by all. Bocas del Toro is a beautiful place to travel, and Ginella and Kerbox returned to their friends and family back home in Hawaii with no shortage of stories. Panama fulfilled the travel impulse, but what always seems inevitable is when one journey ends a new one ignites.

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