Panama Field Trip | Caribbean Bliss – Vissla AU
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Panama Field Trip | Caribbean Bliss

Life is a circle. Cyclical. Cylindrical. Everything rounded, rolling, tumbling, tubing, turning — and back again. Like water molecules and memories. Like tubes draining off a jungle. Like a frontside rotation and forehand hack. Even an S-turn and wrap-around traces infinity: 8. Two circles. And all surf trips are circles too. Surfers leave, search for cylinders, find some, then return again.

This theory, however true as it may be, probably wasn’t on the minds of the four surfers deep on assignment on the Caribbean side of Panama. Rather, their thoughts were light and buoyant and you could tell it in their surfing. Maui’s Matt Meola and South African Brendon Gibbens could barely stay in the water their vibrations were so weightless and carefree. It must be something in the waters. They flung from sections and spun and grabbed and tweaked and stomped. Surf-acrobats. Surf-aviators. Not that the other two on crew — Maui’s Clay Marzo and Californian Derrick Disney — weren’t floating on the feeling as well. Derrick stroked over bottomed-out Panamanian ledges, air-dropping late and merry on his homemade 4’11” fish. And Clay felt just as weightless too, tossing his tail over the lip in the most Marzo of fashions, so light he’d have to grab his board by the tippy-toes to hang on before riding out his patented and outlandish maneuver.

But let us back up a bit. How did we get so light and so deep in the jungle?

Getting to the Caribbean side of Panama, and then to these gorgeous emerald cylinders is not some easy two-stop-connecting flight. Indeed there are planes and taxis and then water taxis because suddenly the roads cease since the jungle on Panama’s Caribbean side has gobbled them all up. The foliage is too dense, jaguar roars too vicious, toucan colors too brilliant for silly infrastructure like highways. So we revert to water travel — which for a surfer is only natural.

But back to how they got there, guided by the bearded and benevolent Corban Campbell — who scouted the gems off this jungle’s shores a month prior — he would lead Marzo, Meola, Gibbens and Disney to an island off of an island. And this island, too, had a shortage of paved roads, so the crew found their waves by way of golf-cart. This method of transport, however, was quickly confiscated by more “responsible adults” because if there’s one thing authority doesn’t get — it’s that golf carts are made to go H.A.M. in. Made to slip sideways and leap over bumps. Made to party in. I mean, look at them: the vehicles just beg for fun.

Golf cartless but not broken, Corban knew of some waves off of this island off of an island. Waves they could boat to, but also need to swim to. It would be worth it, exclaimed Corban. The four other surfers could only imagine the cylinders that awaited so they took took the chance, swam some gear to shore and the waves thumping in front of them were majestic. Everyone got well-pitted and Marzo was so in-tuned and weightless that many on his backhand, he didn’t even paddle for — just turned in the pocket and stood up, no-handed. Miraculous.

Buzzing off the countless tubes, before trip’s end, Corban took the crew to a friend of his that ran an organization called Give and Surf that does amazing things out of the bottom of their hearts for the local community around them. The boys decided to par-take, to complete a circle, as they had been given so much tube-time — so would they give the place some of their own time. The boys visited a school and created art with some students. It was an amazing way to end a surf trip. To complete a circle. Before beginning another one.


Brendon Gibbens

Derrick Disney

Photography by Kenny Hurtado