Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Surfers Getting to the Pointe in Puerto Rico

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Surfers Getting to the Pointe in Puerto Rico

Article excerpt

RINCON, Puerto Rico -- Matthew Ruggiero surfs the Web in search of waves.

It was a less precise business when surfers from Ruggiero's hometown of Montauk on Long Island first started flocking to Rincon some 30 years ago. You arrived and waited weeks, if necessary, for the waves to come.

"Now it's all on the Internet," says Ruggiero, 25. "They got cameras set up on beaches, and you just connect and check it out."

The waves he's come for are now passing Cuba, Ruggiero says, taking a sip of his beer. "Two more days and they're here."

Rincon is the endpoint of the range of low-lying mountains that form the backbone of Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory that is the easternmost of the Greater Antilles group of Caribbean islands. From a height of about 1,000 feet (300 meters) they plunge, grassy land giving way to a massive rock -- the island's triangular westernmost tip.

Ruggiero, like many of the surfers here, can hold forth on the interplay of meteorology and geography that make Rincon a mecca.

"In the winter, the low pressure systems make their way from the Pacific across the United States. On the Eastern Seaboard they form bands of waves that work their way down the coast, past Florida and on to the northern coast of these islands."

On a napkin he draws Cuba and Hispaniola, the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. After that, the waves come crashing into the rock at Rincon -- which is also where the choppy Atlantic gnashes into the placid Caribbean sea, mixing things up.

The rock -- it's dubbed "The Pointe" -- seems pointed directly, defiantly, daringly at the onrushing waves.

"There's more breaks here than they'll ever know," Richard Partington says wistfully, referring -- he explains -- to the precise points along the shore when the formation of rock and sand conjure up a surfer-friendly breaking of waves.

Partington, from East Orange, N.J., has been "coming here 25 years, living here 10." He came after a traumatic divorce and worked as a bartender, in construction -- whatever it took.

"When I first got here I went for months without electricity or water, because of a hurricane. Then some Puerto Ricans robbed me of everything I had. Some people couldn't take it here. But me? I don't care."

Fred Douglass, 52, whose guest house and beachfront bar are a meeting place for the surfers, tells visitors how it all began.

"A surfer from Montauk just happened to come down here in the late 1960s," says Douglass, who four years ago packed up his picture framing business in Manchester, Vt., and moved to Rincon.

This nameless pioneer discovered the hard-to-beat combination that every child in Rincon can recite today: great waves all the time, warm water in winter, and a secluded beach.

"His friends started coming down every winter after that, because their own town kind of shuts down in winter," says Douglass, whose guest house, about 200 yards (180 meters) from the rock, bears the inspired name "Beside The Pointe."

Ruggiero is one of scores of surfers from Montauk currently in the town of several thousand, whose mostly transient mainlander population is variously estimated at between a few dozen in the summer to perhaps 800 in the peak season of October to April. …

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