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By Steve Fitzpatrick/www.surfcaribe.com
Despite having the odds stacked against him, this Trinidad & Tobago local has risen to the top of his league to become one of his island nation’s most recognized athletes.
Chris Dennis was destined to surf. He just took the long road on his journey. The long road is something to which he’s grown accustomed. It’s a fact of life he’s embraced.
Growing up on the outskirts of Balandra, Chris was the oldest of three children. His father was a farmer and a fisherman, while his mother kept the home and children in line. Ironically, they lived up the hill from a beach called Chris Cove, so Chris, his younger brother, Anderson, and his younger sister, Clarissa, were always around the water.
By the age of nine, mostly out of pure necessity, Chris was already an accomplished spear fisherman. There were mouths to be fed and the ocean was bountiful, so Chris learned to harvest that bounty. When he began to see some of the older local boys riding the waves rolling in below the house at Chris Cove, and with the sea already in his blood, he was keen to try his hand at surfing. But in a place like rural Trinidad nearly two decades ago, that was a mission easier said than done. Surfboards were hard to come by, and those that had them weren’t so quick to loan them to some scrawny kid running wild on the beach.
“I’ll never forget it,” said Chris. “I was about ten years old, thin as a rail, and scurrying all over the beach at Chris Cove in my underwear.” he recalled. “I was dying to try surfing, but none of the older kids would give me a turn on their board.”
Ever the studious optimist, Chris bided his time paying close attention to how these older boys approached the surf whenever he had a chance to watch them. Meanwhile, there were chores to be done. The fields his father cultivated needed tending, so when Chris, Anderson, and Clarissa weren’t in school during the summer there wasn’t such a thing as vacation. On the contrary, they were up at 4:00 am, made the 30 minute walk up-river to the fields, and tended to the crops watering and pulling weeds until noon. For lunch there would be fruit, and lots of it, before heading back home and to the beach to fish off the rocks for dinner. Then back to the fields for more watering in the afternoon. Days were full and there was little time for the surf.
But Chris was always watching. Months went by and all his observation was building a long list of “do’s and don’ts” when it came to catching waves. One day his persistence in asking the older boys for a turn on their surfboards paid off, and he was finally given a chance. “But you only have four tries.” the older boy told him. “Because we want to get back out there ourselves.”Chris looking comfortable on a single-fin at a Puerto Rican slab. Photo by Steve Fitzpatrick/www.surfcaribe.com
Not one to squander this opportunity for which he’d waited so long, Chris was quick to catch his first wave. But it happened so fast that as he rushed down the face of the wave he didn’t make it to his feet. And fearful of damaging the board on the cobblestone beach he hurled himself off the board as it advanced towards the shore. “If I were to ding up their board” Chris recalled, “that would have been the end of my chance to learn!” The same thing happened on the next two waves, but on his fourth and final attempt he made it clumsily to his feet and rode the whitewater all the way to the shallows. He was hooked.You can read the rest of this story at www.surfcaribe.com