Photo: Timo

Other Peoples' Money

by Terry French

Imagine being on a trip that you didn’t have to think about how much you spent... that was my mission about 8 years ago when four New York stockbroker friends of friends asked me to hook them up a rager surf mission to Panama.

They were time short but cash rich, loved surfing and getting loose. ‘We want to rage and get toobed’ they told me. I had some experience arranging big budget surf trips so they asked me to organize everything, with a free trip as my payment.

Surf consistency: 6   Wave variety: 6

Climate: 8   Radness: 8  Budget: 5

Our first night set the tone, expenditure-wise. The swell was on its way, excitement was in the air. The hotel hooked us up with the a taxi driver/fixer called Jesus, who spoke perfect English. I gave him the position of ‘head of entertainment’, since we had no idea of where we were going. Jesus promptly took us to The Elite. The Elite was your archetypical Central American high end strip/ nite club. I won’t go into too much detail but needless to say, imagine four surfing Wolves of Wall Street in a Panamanian den of sin. I was playing the role of straight guy, but there’s only so much you can do. Anyhows, everyone made it to breakfast, if a few grand worse off.

Jesus was waiting to drive us some 8 hours north to the surf. We got out of the city, crossed the Panama Canal via the Bridge of the Americas, tumbling north into the wild, headfirst into one of Panama’s infamous storms. After a harrowing 8 hours on the road, we arrived at a rural outpost and slept in fits in spite of the effects of Jesus’s evil medicine. The next morning we checked the spot we came for... tide too low, big ugly close-outs, brown water, shit, the stockbrokers ‘wanted to get stand up barrels’, and the fact that we hadn’t was apparently all my fault. One of them, who talked often about being Irish (but sounded rather American to me), looked like he wanted to punch me in the face.

The unbelievable thing was not that he administered a right hook to my face whilst seated, but that he did so while also holding a drink in his left hand and with not one but two rural hookers sitting on his lap

We ended up surfing a river mouth by ourselves that was small, but fun. The shape of the surf maybe wasn’t a whole lot different to what the Stockbrokers usually surfed around New York, but the water was considerably warmer. Anyhow, thus far I had yet to deliver the perfect surf. I was under pressure. Anyhows we stayed for three days of beach breaks that were fun, but relatively underwhelming. What made matters worse is the odd decent barrel that come through seemed to always go to me. Even when I let one of the stockbrokers go on a set, it’d close out, I’d get the one behind and get shacked. Jesus compounded things by high-fiving me after each sesh, and not the brokers (I guess high fives are a big deal on the trading floor), before answering his phone to arrange yet more party prescriptions. One of those evenings, the Irish one did actually punch me for ‘taking too many foiken waves earlier’. The unbelievable thing was not that he administered a right hook to my face whilst seated, but that he did so while also holding a drink in his left hand and with not one but two rural hookers sitting on his lap.

Not fancying the drive back to Panama City, the brokers wanted a private plane to pick us up at the local airstrip so I arranged it. Irish was really, really sorry for last night. Jesus set off early in his car and met us that night at Elite. At goodbyes at the airport, the Irish gave me a thousand dollar tip, the other three didn’t. I did some sums and reckoned they’d spent about 19 grand on a 6 day surf trip that witnessed 4 succesful tube rides barrels collectively (3 by me). Fools and their money, etc.

Via Facebook I found out that Jesus ended up finding Jesus and joined one of those shouty, clappy churches. He’d given up selling coke and taken up selling Bibles. One of the brokers actually stayed in Central America and started a fair trade fruit growing co-operative, and apparently hasn’t drunk or partied for years. Two got arrested when all the shit went down after the financial crash, one of them even ended up doing a bit of time. The other one isn’t on Facebook. I still do guided surf tours but on more modest budgets, and have decided that making sure I don’t come out of the tube of the day makes for easier tips than getting punched in the face by passive aggressive venture capitalists.