How the Barbados reefbreak, surely a contender for most consistent surf spot on the planet, got its name.
While the 90’s have been fairly easily revisited in fashion terms; boxy sweatshirts, baggy ankle flappers and chunky soled trainers, it’s hard to think of any particularly 90’s surf spots to indulge a fascination with all things late 20th century.
Except maybe the Bajan reef called Soup Bowl, located in beautiful Bathsheba, Barbados.
Somehow out of the surf world at large’s sights for a couple of decades now, the hollow righthander, notably one of Kelly Slater’s favourite waves, used to be all the rage.
A fave hunting ground of the Brits, from alpha pro Russ Winter to general winter trippers eschewing Hawaiian hassles or Canarian sandstorms, before wet season Bali was a thing.
Meanwhile, American East Coasters never needed much persuasion to head down for swells, nor did other Windward Islanders from the Antilles chain, like Willy Aliotti.
Yet somehow, its popularity waned. For one reason or another it went overlooked as a destination. Today, considering how fun the surf is, how epic the weather, water and vibes, and long it’s been on the scene for, it’s probably got the lowest concentration of surf camp/yoga retreats of any tropical surf spot in the known universe.
You can’t even blame Indo for reaching critical mass sucking every tropic lusting tripper into its orbit, it works on the opposite season.
That said, everyone’s heard of Soup Bowl. But what does it even mean?
It’s actually part of an etymology geek’s trifecta; Barbados (sometimes referred to in slang as ‘Bimshire’ as if some distant English home county) is derived from os barbudos – the bearded ones in Portuguese, a reference to bearded Caribs who once inhabited the island.
The Old Testament’s Bathsheba, wife of King David was said to bathe in milk to keep her skin beautiful and soft, and surf covered white waters of the east coast swell puller were once likened to Bathsheba’s bath in both appearance, and health giving properties.
Which brings us to the wave called Soup Bowl, the jewel in the crown of Barbados’ Atlantic coast.
So consistent is the wave that it makes a good case for being one of the most consistent waves anywhere. Sure, it’s generally accompanied with a bit of wind, but a mix of N Atlantic groundswells and the non stop trade belts that blow all the across the Atlantic from Africa, mean the shallow reef that hauls out of deeper water is fringed in surf of some kind, basically all the time.
Josh Burke, local pro ripper and QS standout told me last year on a particularly fun glassy day he’d “Never, ever seen it flat.”
He’s lived there all his life.
While the end bowl section, particularly on N swells that bend back in on the wave with the trademark barrel section you’ll have seen in clips, makes a fine visual curvature, positively bowl-like in every sense… soup?
Rumour has it that the early surfers came out on a huge swell and were blown away by the boils. A ferocious rip races out across the super shallow (and urchin infested) reef at the best of times, and during sets, the rips hitting shallow sections of the reef give rise to huge boils, the spectacle looking like a soup bubbling on the cooker (remember convection heating, from school science?). The name duly stuck.
Whether Soup Bowl makes a popular culture comeback like chokers and plastic Filas, or remains, like Global Hypercolour dancefloor temperature senstive tees largely consigned to nostalgia, remains to be seen.
Cover photo: Manuel Claudeville-Morell