Hurricane Irma, which spun into existence on August 30th just west of the Cape Verde Islands, was initially a cause for excitement for east coast and Caribbean surfers. But that excitement was short lived. On September 5th, the very first day of Irma's swell, 16-year-old Zander Venezia lost his life in a freak accident while surfing in Barbados, casting a dark and ominous shadow over the storm from the start. The next day, with the surf world in shock and mourning, Irma's winds jumped to 185 mph as the storm took aim at the Lesser Antilles.
Irma made direct contact with Barbuda, St. Maarten and the Virgin Islands on September 6th as the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic, in the middle of a 40-hour period with sustained winds of 185 mph, breaking a worldwide record previously held by Super Typhoon Haiyan, the Pacific cyclone that tore through the Philippines four years ago.
And just like Haiyan in 2013, Irma's blow was devastating.
Barbuda is currently in such bad condition that its residents have all been evacuated. The Virgin Islands and St Maarten, while at least sitting at higher elevation, didn’t fare much better. No power. No water. No food. Nowhere for its residents to go. While information is murky regarding just how much help (or lack thereof) is being provided to each individual island at a government level, Jon Rose and Waves For Water, along with a core group of surfers that includes Ben Bourgeois, Otto Flores, Jimmy Wilson and Dylan Graves, are currently en route to the area to assist at the ground level.
I don't have the words yet to describe how I'm feeling. One of my favorite places on the planet has been completely destroyed. Normally I would cover up where I'm going , rarely post the best photos from my trips and always throw a smoke screen where the photo was taken. I respect the Caribbean islands so much and have always done my best to keep it as special as the first time I went when I was 12 years old. Right now all this changes and I have to put these places on the map and do my best to let the world know how much is needed to get people back on their feet. I have teamed up with someone I trust and long time friend @jon_rose / @wavesforwater to help the islands that have been effected the most. It's going to be a very long road but in just the past two days the work this team has done has blown me away! Thank you Jon and thank you surfing for giving us this platform to help these wonderful people in such a dire situation. Link in my bio and more info coming daily! Thank you everyone who has messaged and has reached out. 💯🙏🏼 📷@billywatts
"We've been getting some pretty horrifying news about the conditions of the islands we've all been to, know, and love," Dylan told us.
Puerto Rico, Dylan's home, was fortunately spared when Irma tracked north after leveling many of the islands just to the east. Still, it’s been a somber week for Dylan, having been one of the first on the scene in Barbados at the time of Zander's drowning, and then seeing Irma devastate his Caribbean neighbors the following day.
"I kind of went numb. I was stunned." Dylan continued. "After going through everything with Zander in Barbados and then watching as a huge Category 5 was about to hit all my family and friends, it felt like doomsday. And for a lot of people on Barbuda and in the BVI's, it really was.
"At this point, I'm really amped to jump onboard with the Waves For Water guys because they can provide a direct need at this crazy point in time. We're going to base our operations out of St. Croix, where we'll have access to a few different boats. We're going to start by bringing these filters to Tortola and then we'll take it from there. The goal is to distribute as many as we can and to educate everyone on how to keep them and use them in the future, if this ever happens again.
"It's been an emotional week. And I'm definitely nervous to get down there and see how bad it is. But these islands have given us so much and it's the least we can do to give back."
If you're able to donate to Waves For Water and the Hurricane Irma relief initiative, please click here.