Gringos Locos

Words & Photos: Garrett Cortese

Getting There:

Despite spending most of my time on boats in the sun, my favorite time of the year is winter. Normally, the time right around New Year’s is spent back home in Northern California with my family and friends as we take advantage of Lake Tahoe’s plentiful snow. But when Erik “Gator” Lutgert gives you a call just before the holidays to see if you’d like to come on a trip to the Dominican Republic, your normal winter plans are immediately questioned. So when the New Year rolled around this past January, rather than hitting the slopes of the Sierras, I hopped on a plane from Miami, FL to Cabarete, República Dominicana with Gator, Randall Harris, Drew McGuckin, Kyle Rattray, Derek Cook and the original wakeboarding film master Ronn Seidenglanz for a little filming trip – and some more fun on boats in the sun.

Upon our arrival at the very tiny airport, and after paying $20 to get into the country, we were greeted by Adam Trotman and Lee Debuse – two cheery blokes from the United Kingdom who now work as wakeboard instructors in the D.R. (Sidenote: If you thought listening to a British accent was fun, you should listen to a British accent speaking Spanish, it’s amazing). With some “holas” and “como estas” out of the way, we loaded our gear into the cars and headed for the hotel. This is where the adventure began.

Apparently Dominicans are fans of the road, but not necessarily fans of the rules of the road. It’s scary. Signs and painted lines that would normally be laws anywhere else are more like optional guidelines in the D.R. Passing isn’t just allowed, it is encouraged, and it is done all the time, anywhere anytime. This basically means the middle of the road is a free-for-all of motor vehicles of all shapes and sizes flying at each other in what we might call a suicidal game of chicken, but what the Dominicans might call “Tuesday.”

The hotel was only ten minutes away from the airport, but that was Dominican time, it was really more like 20 minutes. Either way, by the time we got to the hotel I had almost crapped my pants twice just from the crazy driving antics of the locals (and our imported hosts, who did a good job of fitting in with said locals while behind the wheel). Once we arrived we were immediately impressed by our temporary home base – The Extreme Hotel. The Extreme Hotel had everything a group like ours could want: beach front property, a nice little bar/restaurant, a pool, and a fully legit skateboard halfpipe (with a roof over it so you could ride in the rain). Plus, there was wireless Internet throughout, which meant we could all check our MySpace pages as often as we wanted.

Drew with the f/s flip

Kyle Rattray hopping around

Cabarete The Yasica River

Just down the road from the Extreme Hotel was the Yasica River, which is home to the Cabarete Wakeboard School that Adam and his girlfriend Sanchia own and operate. In case you missed the May issue of Alliance, the Yasica River was number six in the A- List’s top ten places to ride in the world, and for good reason. First of all the scenery is amazing. Secondly, there aren’t any other boats on the river, except for the occasional local paddling a canoe made out of a tree trunk. Third, the river winds quite a bit in stretches, so if the wind is blowing one way, just go around the corner to find protected water. And last, but definitely not least, beer is super cheap in the D.R.

Our first full day in Cabarete was spoiled by a rainstorm, so we hung out beachside and in the halfpipe for most of the day. When the rains calmed a bit Drew, Kyle and Derek took a PWC out and tried riding through some of the waves just off shore. None of them had ridden in the waves much before, but they had a blast despite the bad weather.

That evening Adam and Sanchia took us away from the “tourist” part of Cabarete (the main street running right along the coast) and into one of the small neighborhoods. We ate at a small, family-run restaurant and the food was unbelievable. Seriously, Dominican food is so good that it alone is worth the plane ticket to get there. Two young boys were our servers while the mother and

father cooked the meal. One of the boys was named Randal. Immediately he was calling Randall Harris his “hermano” (brother) and even brought out his toy pistol so they could pose together for photos.

The next morning we woke up for a true dawn patrol session. The rain was gone and we were greeted with a gorgeous sunrise over the river, and an occasional “moo” from a couple of nearby cows. At the time of the trip Adam and Sanchia were battling the Dominican customs authorities on their newly purchased Super Air Nautique Team Edition, which meant all the boys would be riding behind their old, but trusty, direct drive Sport Nautique.

Some of the guys were bummed not to have a fully-loaded wakeboard boat, especially because they were filming for the new team video, Transgression, but when Adam tried to apologize for the less than ideal wake, Derek, who was the first to ride said, “Dude, are you kidding? I’m just about to go wakeboarding in the Dominican Republic.”

We spent the whole day on the water riding and enjoying the scenery and the company. Derek and Kyle are both extremely smooth riders and they showed it. Randall went fast and huge because, well, that’s what Randall does. Drew rode behind the Sea-Doo and impressed everybody with his inside out shuv-indy’s, varial flips and other moves. Even Gator got out for an afternoon ride and pulled out some of his old tricks. The day wrapped up with Randall taking one last set and blasting off some double ups. The boat was crammed with the entire crew, a couple of the instructors from the wake school and a couple of people from the hotel who had come to get lessons – regardless of affiliation with the industry or knowledge thereof, everybody was impressed by Randall’s riding.

Gator’s still got it

Kyle and the local wildlife

Who says you need a big wake?

Santo Domingo and the Isabela River

The next day we loaded up a couple pickup
trucks, attached the Sea-Doo to one of them
and made the trek across the island to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. The drive had to be one of the most beautiful I’ve ever taken. The road from Cabarete to Santo Domingo is a small one that goes over a large, lush mountain range and the views were simply unbelievable. Plus, winding through some of the small villages up in the mountains was really incredible. Small houses and shops were built right up against the road and many of the locals could be seen sitting on front porches talking to each other while kids played soccer or chased chickens. Ronn and Randall sat in the bed of one of the trucks for the entire journey and you could see the joy on Ronn’s face while he filmed with his 16mm camera. I have a feeling you’re going to see more than a few shots from that three-hour drive in Transgression.

The drive took longer than expected, especially after a long lunch break somewhere in the middle, so we didn’t get to downtown Santo Domingo until dark. Earlier, I mentioned the craziness of Dominican drivers around the Cabarete area. Well take those “loose guidelines” and apply them to a large metropolitan city during rush hour, and you have a glimpse of our experience getting into Santo Domingo. Horn honking in the States is kind of obnoxious, which means it usually gets your attention. In the D.R. horn honking is just a way of life, there is so much of it that it becomes white noise. And if you’re driving without honking your horn on a regular basis, you’re not driving correctly. At one point we hit an intersection with four lanes of traffic each way, two of which were left hand turn lanes, and the light wasn’t working. So what you get is a gigantic cluster of cars going all directions and blocking all lanes of traffic. Mix enough horn honking to drive a flock of geese crazy and a handful of tourists and you had pure comedy.

We eventually made our way down into the historic colonial district of Santo Domingo. Adam knew of a cool hotel that was built in the early 16th century that we were slated to stay in. When we got there, though, there weren’t enough beds for everybody. Tired and hungry, Drew, Kyle and Randall headed to a Hilton, while Gator, Derek, Ronn, Adam, and I stuck around. Those of us who stayed were pretty excited to check out some of historical Santo Domingo and get some food, so we headed out on foot for a little evening adventure.

Back in 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, the Dominican Republic (then known as Hispaniola) was the first place he landed. Santo Domingo was the first city of the New World and was established officially in 1498. So Santo Domingo has much of the “firsts” for the New World, and many of them are still intact today. It was really cool to walk along the first cobblestone street and see the first cathedral, fort and castle. What used to be a giant courtyard for the fort is now a walking street of restaurants, all of which have tables out in the courtyard. We sat down for dinner at El Muséo de Jamón, which translates to the Museum of Ham, but it should be called the Museum of How to Cook All Kinds of Meat Incredibly Well. For a flat fee we could eat as much as we wanted and waiters would just come around with different cuts of different types of meat and slice some onto your plate. The six of us stuffed our faces until we couldn’t eat any more. It was honestly among the ten best meals I’ve ever eaten, and it wasn’t that expensive either.

In the morning we met up with the Hilton guys and headed out to the Isabela River. The scenery along this river is just as gorgeous as the Yasica River, but it isn’t quite as conducive to wakeboarding. The river was pretty overgrown with lily pads, making some areas really narrow (so narrow at points that Randall couldn’t ride). But again, we were all so stoked to be hanging out in the Dominican Republic and riding in such a unique place that a small boat in a small river didn’t really matter. I’m sure all of the guys were frustrated in some way or another because they wanted to be able to get some solid riding on film for Ronn, but Randall gave everybody a good laugh and shed some light on the situation when he asked, “How can we whine like little school girls when we’re wakeboarding in the Dominican Republic?”

Drew transgressing

16th century crash pad

Who else but Randall?

Derek Cook loves a good stalefish

The Trip’s End

After the riding session on the Isabela River we packed everything back into the pickup trucks and headed back to Cabarete. Ronn and Randall rode in the back the entire way again. A final dinner was planned at a little restaurant on the beach that had some awesome BBQ going. Some of us stayed out a little later than the rest to partake in the cheap Dominican beer and rum, while some went back to the Extreme Hotel to crash after the long drive and big dinner. I eventually made my way back to the hotel, but a couple of the guys went with the U.K. boys to the local casino to see how much money they could lose.

In the morning we had planned to go back to the Cab Wake School just down the road, but Mother Nature wasn’t cooperating again, so we all just chilled at the restaurant on the beach and waited for our flight.

In wakeboarding terms some might have called this an unsuccessful trip. But I would disagree. Not every wakeboard trip needs to be about doing the hardest tricks or putting together the craziest lines. In my opinion wakeboarding doesn’t need to be 100% aggro all of the time. A wakeboarding trip is successful when you and your friends have fun, and if that fun can be had in a beautiful spot like the Dominican Republic, then it’s even better. Some of the guys got on the plane back to the States with just three rides under their belt, but everyone had a huge grin on their face that read something like, “Wow, I just got to wakeboard and hang out in the D.R. …” Needless to say, the entire crew was bummed to be leaving such an awesome, friendly, laid- back, paradise. Ronn came back pleased with his shots, so the trip was definitively a success. By the time you read this, Transgression will be on store shelves, so check it out.