Like Ivah, most Jamaican surfers grow up riding whatever craft they can get their hands on. There are no surf shops or shapers on the island, which means any surfboard that finds its way to this corner of the Caribbean comes from abroad. Most local surfers, however, come from working-class families and live off roughly $50 a week as fishermen or laborers just to put food on the table. For them, ordering a board from another country is pie in the sky.
High shipping fees and import taxes keep boards even farther out of reach. Once the customs tariff is tacked on, a $600 foreign-made surfboard quickly becomes $800 or $900 or more—a premium price tag, even for Americans making a comfortable living. One Jamaican surfer later explained, “It’s almost as if we’re buying the surfboard twice.”
Foam blanks, fiberglass, and resin are also subject to a steep import tax, which has discouraged surfers from shaping and manufacturing their own boards. In the end, most locals rely on traveling surfers leaving their boards behind.
Despite being cut off from the surf industry, Jamaica’s surf culture has experienced decades-long slow growth. The island’s perimeter plays host to a handful of punchy, rippable reefbreaks and a bevy of unsurfed waves cloaked by inaccessible roads. It’s an idyllic, relatively empty playground for surfers like Ivah to hone their technique. And with the small collection of secondhand boards sitting at Jamnesia, the Wilmot family has been able to keep the stoke of surfing alive for other kids, teaching them how to surf and supplying the few boards they have to those in need.
“We used to have a lot more boards around here,” says Ivah. “But we end up giving away older boards to people. I’ll surf a board for a while and then send it over to Boston Bay, a town to the northeast. There are a few guys over there who I keep an eye on and make sure they always have boards and wax. Little things make a huge difference here.”
Ivah carefully places his Sharp Eye back down on the pile of boards and nods toward the door. “But I’m guessing I won’t have to do that anymore after today.”
Outside the boardroom, the concrete yard looks like a surf swap meet gone off the rails. The ground is completely covered with boards—205, to be exact—of varying sizes and designs: Al Merricks, Xanadus, Arakawas, DHDs; single-fins, twin-fins, thrusters; stickered, not stickered; hi-fi, low-fi, and everything in between. It’s almost dizzying, even for a Californian, seeing this many unique boards in one place.
Just behind him is a 30-year-old chef named J.J. sifting through a mound of boards, searching for something that will float his 6'4" frame. “I’ve been surfing since I was 7,” he says, picking up a board with too little volume and swiftly laying it back down. “But I’ve never had the opportunity to ride a good board.” He stoops down and grabs a hefty 6'7" pintail shaped by Robin Mair. A grin spreads across his face.