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Paddleboarding Encounters at Silver Sands Jamaica

As the sun rose over the Caribbean Sea, it began to slowly burn off the haze clouding over Silver Sands Jamaica. Although not flat calm, the water was noticeably more welcoming for paddleboarding than it had been for several days, when rolling waves crashed over the coral reefs not far from the shore.

zion paddling back to set his fish pot I set up the inflatable paddle board on the beachfront at Endless Summer Villa and counted the strokes as I pumped it up, stopping when I reached one hundred and twenty-five, as it then seemed firm enough for my sixty-seven kilogram body. I decided it would be best to launch near to the boundary wall separating Silver Sands from the Jacob Taylor Beach as there is usually more sand and less rocks and reef there. In no time, I was setting off, pointing the nose of the board directly into the swells.

Very soon I encountered more waves than I had expected and realised this was going to be more of a kneel-down than a stand-up paddleboard outing. I didn’t mind as I had already intended this session to be more about communing with Nature than getting a workout.

I love how a paddleboard glides smoothly over the water. I never cease to be amazed by the clean clear Caribbean Sea at Silver Sands, and this morning was no different as I enjoyed the quiet, the water morphing from one shade of blue into another, glimpses of the reef and the sandy bottom, and the occasional pelican. The sun continued its ascent, creating picture-postcard images all around.

I spotted a fisherman in the distance, rowing his canoe out towards the reef, and I decided to chase him. When I caught up with him, I realised that it was Levy Williams, also known as Zion, riding his “Zion Train” fibreglass-and-wood boat Northeast into the rising sun. Zion rowed vigorously to climb over the swells which were much higher near the reef. I followed him, eyeing him intently as he got nearer to his fish pot which was placed in shallow water just inside the reef.

canoe in the distance zion, aka levy williams, inches canoe It's Zion, aka Levy Williams.

Zion told me that he was now sixty-eight years old and that he started fishing at age sixteen. This was easy to believe as his tanned muscular body and bleached dreadlocks painted the picture of the life of someone who spent a great deal of time in the punishing tropical sun doing manual work. When he pulled up his fish pot from the bottom of the sea, one could be fooled into thinking that this was a much younger man, were it not for the grey beard and hair on his chest, and a bit of a paunch.

zion, manoeuvring to his fish pot Zion, manouvering to his fish pot.
Zion dragged the fish pot up the side of the canoe and across it, balancing it there, while he took a long pole to push the catch out onto the floor of his boat. It was not a huge catch, but he did have some nice ones, and I offered to buy one; but he told me that he could not sell me any as he was filling an order. Fair enough.

zion pulling up his fish pot from the bottom of the sea Zion, pulling up his fish pot from the bottom of the Caribbean Sea.
using a long stick to get the fish out of the trap zion with his pole for extracting the fishes from the trap I wondered what Zion was up to when I saw him take out a sharp knife and cut some citrus fruits in halves. He threw them into the fish pot and then continued to bait it with stale bread. When I expressed surprise, Zion advised me in his usual stern manner that the pot can be baited with anything that people eat. “The fish dem eat it too!”

floating markers for the fish pot zion putting the citrus in the fish pot When he had lowered his fish pot back to the bottom of the sea, Zion began to row aggressively to the North and I figured he was going to slip through a narrow gap in the reef out into the “open”, unprotected waters. The passageway was fairly flat, but waves crashed vigorously onto the reef on either side. I thought it wise not to follow him out there, so we said our goodbyes and I turned my board around to head back to the Silver Sands Beach, now a sliver of sand in the distance.  

zion examine the fish pot zion lowering his fish pot to the bottom of the sea after setting the fish pot Zion rowing through a gap in the reef About halfway back to the shore, I spotted a familiar looking figure heading my way. He was riding on his trademark old beat-up windsurfer with a red Red Stripe Beer crate strapped to the bow. Seeing Shine brought a smile to face and I paddled hard to get over to him. (Read about Shine here.) Unlike Zion, Shine greeted me with a smile so big he gave the sun competition for producing a warm glow. 

shine on his windsurfer Shine was heading out to the Northeast towards the Harmony Cove beach on his usual conch-fishing expedition. I noticed his wetsuit was falling apart, and he told me that Dan and Mary of Tallawah Villa had given it to him just five months ago. I had no idea that anyone could go through wet suits so fast, but Shine does go out to sea almost every morning.

shine with his homemade paddle Shine offered to bring me back a few conch so I could have them for my lunch, and then he was off, paddling away towards the rising sun. I sat on my paddleboard for a few minutes, not moving, in awe. First there was Zion, and now Shine who is sixty-six years old and as fit as could be. I wondered how he and Zion could be regarded as “poor” men.
View of Silver Sands, from the reef As usual, whenever I go on an early morning paddleboarding trip, I enjoy it so much that it makes me wonder why I do not make it a habit. I said to myself, “tomorrow!”

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