Pro Surfer Otto Flores Discusses the Latest World Surfing Reserve in Puerto Rico

It’s something of a right of passage for a surfer, not unlike turning off H2 on the trip from Honolulu to the North Shore. It’s dropping in off Avenida Borinquen through the Punta Borinquen Golf Course and seeing those beautiful lines on the horizon at Wilderness.

It’s been called the East Coast’s Hawaii, but Puerto Rico is an international destination in its own right. And now the Punta Borinquen region (Aguadilla) has been deemed the 11th World Surfing Reserve (and the first in the Caribbean) by Save the Waves Coalition.

Ambassador Otto Flores, sampling the best of Punta Borinquen. Photo: Courtesy of Jeremy Koreski

“We’re basically talking Surfer’s Beach to Crash Boats,” Puerto Rican pro surfer Otto Flores tells ASN. Flores is a Patagonia ambassador, and will now serve as a World Surfing Reserve ambassador representing Punta Borinquen. “This will put a magnifying glass on what needs to be protected. And now we have one organization with all these different key parts, combining forces for one cause.”

The World Surfing Reserves is a program of Save the Waves Coalition, which is a nonprofit focused exclusively on conservation of surfing coastlines on an international scale. Punta Borinquen will be added to a list of established surfing reserves that includes Malibu, California, Ericeira, Portugal, the Gold Coast of Australia, Bahia de Todos Santos in Mexico and Punta de Lobos, Chile, in which Patagonia and Flores also played an important role.

Save The Waves proactively identifies, designates and preserves outstanding waves, surf zones and surrounding environments around the world. The program serves as a global model for preserving wave breaks and their surrounding areas by recognizing and protecting the key environmental, cultural, economic and community attributes of surfing areas.

Las Ruinas, a world-class reason that Puerto Rico’s Punta Borinquen has been named a World Surfing Reserve. Photo: Courtesy of Francisco Javier Gil

In order to be selected, a local stewardship council must submit an application report making a case as to why the region deserves to be named a WSR based on wave quality, ecological significance, surfing history and culture, as well as the local support.

It’s a global model for preserving wave breaks and their surrounding areas by recognizing and protecting the key environmental, cultural, economic and community attributes of surfing areas. 

The team was put together by Gerardo Lebrón, founder of Olita, the Puerto Rican surf/lifestyle brand that also works to get local families out of poverty. It includes marine scientists, fishermen, coastal engineers, voices from the surf industry, environmentalists and activists.

A key part of the process was getting letters of endorsement from different influential people and groups, but the Local Stewardship Council managed to get the support of groups like the Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation as well as Hon. José J. Pérez Cordero of the Puerto Rican House of Representatives.

Puerto Rico’s pro surf contingent involved with the Local Stewardship Council (left to right) Gabby Escudero, Dylan Graves and Flores. Photo: Courtesy of Roberto Lebron

“We have experts that give us credibility which is really important when you deal with legislators,” expalins Flores. “Kathy Hall is a member of the Local Stewardship Council. She was a co-founder of the Liga Ecológica Puertorriqueña del Noroeste and she’s a powerhouse. It broadens your network.”

It’s important to understand that becoming a World Surfing Reserve doesn’t give the area any legal protection.

“Much of this designation is symbolic,” admits Flores. “But this is the catalyst for putting international eyes on the issue. It’s such an important step toward legal protection of this coast and people taking us seriously.

“Our studies show that the reefs and coastline are responsible for an estimated $29 million a year in revenue. Now the government entities are aware of the economics.”

This coast has long been traveled by surfers. Its reefs, points and legendary bakeries are woven into the fabric of surfing.

Nearby Rincón was the site of the very first surfing world championships in 1968. The entire Northwest Coast is an international destination and a de-facto winter retreat for many East Coasters with a longstanding local scene. It’s home to all types of waves and styles, fused with Latin and Caribbean cultures.

And Punta Borinquen is capable of hosting world-class surf events. In 2010, Rip Curl bought the Search Pro, a WCT event to nearby Middles.

Sunrise on the famed Northwest Coast of Puerto Rico. Photo: Courtesy of Lebron Laboy

But Flores adds that it’s not just about surfing.

“It’s such a beautiful, simple place,” Flores tells ASN. “I was just there with my family this weekend. It offers diversity of recreation as well with diving, hiking, paddling and so many other resources. And there are 100 endangered species identified in that area.”

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