Santa Catalina is about a days journey from Panama City on the Pacific coast to the north west of the country. It is famous for two things: Coiba Island, apparently the Galapagos of Central America and La Punta, a world class wave regarded as "one of the best waves in Central America" by Magicseaweed.com.
As we were running out of time, for us Santa Catalina was a way of breaking up our journey to Costa Rica. Plus we could get our washing done, chill on a beach and I could add Panama to my list of countries surfed. We checked into Mama Inns, a hotel recommended to us by a couple on the San Blas. It was a beautiful hotel overlooking the beach with a tropical garden of hammocks and plants running down to the sand. There was also a restaurant with a great view over the coast line. Unfortunately I forgot to take any photos of the place, but I have borrowed these from Booking.com
Completely by chance when we checked in, Max and Alexandra, a German couple we met in Capurgana on the Colombian border were in the restaurant. Always nice to see a familiar face.
La Punta is a perfect A frame that breaks over a shallow rocky reef. It only works at high tide and two hours either side. After checking the tides it became apparent I had to surf it at dawn and dusk, meaning I wouldn't have time to wander around town to find a good board. The board selection at Mama Inns wasn't great but it was too late to rent anywhere else for the morning. My choice was between a good shaped fat little board, in okay condition but missing a fin or a very thin battered board that did have all three fins. Not the greatest options for when you are taking on a serious wave over volcanic rock.
I opted for the fat board without its centre fin. When I paddled out the there were about twenty other guys, some of whom were pretty dam good, popping three sixties and getting barreled. The takeoff point was shifting enough to give most folk a fair chance of getting a wave and I caught quite a few cruisey long rides along overhead walls of water. It was one of the best shaped right-hand waves I have surfed, something I have been craving after all the lefts of Peru. Unfortunately the missing fin made turning quite sketchy and unresponsive, but at least I was back in the water again and it felt good.
As I made the long paddle back in and ran up the pathway to the beach to make it back in time for my free breakfast (very important) I nearly stepped on a ginger snake. It reared up and slightly backwards as did I. We edged round each other, never loosing eye contact, then both bolted. I guess I wasn't the only one late for a free brekkie.
I found H in a hammock back at the hotel and we ate breakfast looking out over the beach. Most of the morning was swallowed up trying to work out our plans for what to do next and how to do it. We walked into the little village in the early afternoon to get a bite to eat. We walked down a tiny side road following a crumpled banner which offered seafood, to what looked like a ladies home. We asked if it was a restaurant and then something amazing happened. She said "Si, pero tengo solo langosta por $9" (Yes, but I have only lobster for $9). Considering the cheapest meals we had seen started between $10-15 this was a bargain and came with a bowl of fresh papaya and a cold drink.
We walked back along the beach as the tide was out, then chilled on the terrace at our hotel till the evening. In the late afternoon their was a flurry of excitement (especially from the vegetarians around the place) as the fruit and veg truck arrived !
For the evening session I opted for the thinner battered board with all three fins. It was a bastard to paddle so catching waves needed twice the effort of the previous board, but at least I could play around more on the wave face... or so I thought. After catching a few small slower waves to find my feet I went for one of the bigger set waves. The first section was pretty big, I made the drop, dug the rail into the water and took a turn off the top. As I came back down the wave face, the board lurched back throwing me off head first. When I surfaced I saw that a massive two inch wide, two foot long strip of fibreglass had peeled off and was dragging in the water. After a closer inspection I realised an old gash in the board had cracked the fibreglass and the sheer force of the wave rushing past had gotten under the glass and ripped it open. Not the best end to my session plus it was a long paddle back to shore.
Back at the hotel H was hanging out with Max and Alexandra. They were making more bracelets and teaching H a few tips. I joined them for a beer. After dinner we had a glass of wine with them at their place before packing up ready for our early start the next day to cross into Costa Rica.