Mountaineer and entrepreneur Yvon Chouinard used to say that adventure starts when everything goes wrong. To understand that in a visceral way, stand atop a paddleboard, surrounded by uncharted mangrove islands and the wild, scenic Turks and Caicos cays, and scan the vast horizon.
Out here, a slight shift in the wind can change everything, and nature always has its say about your plans. Twenty years in business on Providenciales as outdoor outfitters taught that to the staff at Big Blue, and a lifetime on the water convinced surf legend Dave Kalama long ago.
Put those two sources together and you begin to grasp the spontaneous, curious spirit of Kalama Kamp, which returns to the TCI for its eighth week-long edition this October. Once notable as one of the first instructional camps in the early years of stand-up paddleboarding, Kalama Kamp now enjoys an international reputation for its improvisational relationship with Turks and Caicos’ stunning natural environment.
Kalama, a native Hawaiian who travels the globe teaching the sport he helped invent, considers his TCI camp unique.
“TCI is more about the adventure of SUP.” he said. “TCI itself is an adventure, really. It’s about adventure in the mangroves and seeing wildlife and going on these full-day ocean adventures and discovering things along the way that we didn’t have any idea we were going to do. Maybe Philip did, but it feels like we are getting ourselves into adventures, and who knows what’s going to happen? But it ends up being a lot of fun by the end of the day.”
Philip is Big Blue co-founder Philip Shearer, who – despite his other duties – dives into Kalama Kamp head-first. He’s joined by Big Blue instructor Ray Azemard and sports psychology counselor John Denney. “It is, without a doubt, a highlight for me in the year,” Shearer says.
Their program is like a week-long day camp for adults, but check your assumptions about a set schedule at the door. Shearer believes in playing the hand Mother Nature deals – in tide, wind, waves – and brings decades of local experience to making the most of it.
Heavy wind on Provo mocking your plans? No problem. By the time the campers have wolfed down their breakfast, the boat is packed with gear and they’re off to North Caicos. A truck waiting at the dock ferries them across to Middle Caicos to launch a quickly organized downwinder – covering long stretches of rolling, open water with the wind hard at their backs.
“We went on a boat, then in a car, drove across North and Middle Caicos, back in the water and paddled on our boards to the most remote and incredible beaches,” Kalama said, recalling that improvised camp day. “Not a soul or a building in sight. Just an absolutely incredible experience.
“It’s one thing to be on a beautiful white beach with hotels with lots of other people around, nothing wrong with that. But when you really feel like you’re in a remote location, it creates memories for a lifetime.”
Shearer calls SUP “a great tool to access the water,” and speaks at length about how it changes a person’s vantage point, how seeing more changes your perspective. And because SUP is so easy to learn, “it’s completely accessible for the average person. You just have to want to be outside and enjoy the natural surroundings.”
“It is also highly sociable Shearer adds, “especially when people’s technique becomes effortless and that is where Dave comes in.”
The camp is offered to all skill levels and covers everything from the basics to more advanced skills, such as racing and wave surfing, “When we started nearly 100 percent of people hadn’t done it,” Shearer said. “Now around 50 percent of people have stood on one.”
Kalama provides the deep technique, Shearer the local knowledge. Denney is the thought coach, popping up for one-on-one conversations, expanding horizons, removing mental barriers to performance.
The resulting program “is really well rounded,” Denney said.
“One of the great experiences is that each and every Kalama Kamp, a person catches a first or best wave of their life. It never gets old, seeing that look on someone’s face. It leaves you speechless sometimes.”
Kalama knows it’s his job to help campers develop efficient, effortless technique, but feels that the camp’s lasting value is in the experiences it provides.
“It is ultimately about those experiences that they just wouldn’t get to on their own,” he said. “To share those experiences creates a bond. It’s quite special.”
photographs: Philip Shearer/Big Blue Unlimited