Travel Tales: Nate Zoller in Puerto Rico

As someone who never turns down the opportunity for adventure, Nate Zoller recounts his latest adventure in Puerto Rico. 

Nate Zoller deep in a barrel in Puerto Rico
Photo: ​​Jorgito Rivera

“Yo Nate! What are your plans next week? The forecast for Puerto Rico looks pretty good, I’m going and have a place you can stay if you can pull it!”

Puerto Rican flag on the beach
Nate Zoller on the beach

Puerto Rico - La Isla Del Encanto - March 2023

I was carving through a deep powder turn in the middle of a Mammoth Mountain blizzard when I felt a buzz in my pocket. I ignored it; my focus was lasered into this technical tree run with over two feet of fresh. As I got to the chairlift at the bottom, I felt another buzz. I took my gloves off and checked my phone as snowflakes landed into puddles on the screen. “Yo Nate! What are your plans next week? The forecast for the Caribbean looks pretty good, I’m going and have a place you can stay if you can pull it!” I looked up to the sideways snowfall and low visibility and put the phone back in my pocket. I spent the chairlift back up daydreaming of the warm Caribbean sun on my skin. By the time I got off at the top I had made up my mind, I was going.

Nate in a barrel
Photo: Nate Zoller​​

The text was from my Rhode Island friend Holland, turns out he had been in contact with our mutual sponsor Neon Wave and hatched a plan to score some fun Puerto Rican waves I booked my ticket and had to get out of Mammoth before the next blizzard arrived in a few hours. I got home, packed my surfboards and boardshorts and got on the flight the next morning. I arrived in PR late at night and after a 3-hour car ride I made it to Rincon, where we’d be staying for the week.

Nate doing a layback turn
Photo: @raisedbysummerstudios​​
A view from the waves at Rincon
A surfboard next to a truck

The surf around Rincon was fun every day, with playful rights and clear warm water. Turtles swimming under me as I paddled into waves, the tropical Caribbean breeze and sunshine just what the doctor ordered after a long, cold, wet California winter. But I had visions of Puerto Rico on a big swell. Of the slabs I had seen in videos and magazines. Originally I was only supposed to stay for a week, but a cold front off the east coast had other plans. A new series of swells had developed and were en route to Puerto Rico with very light winds. Exactly what I had dreamed of. I changed my plane ticket and extended my stay another week to see this run of swell out.  

I must have checked the forecast a hundred times leading up to the swell. I just couldn’t believe I would be in the zone for what looked like a five-day run of perfect conditions and back-to-back swells. After speaking to a few local friend’s, we made the call to check out a wave I’d always dreamed of surfing. It’s a long hike through a jungle trail just to be able to see the wave from front on. But right as we got to the zone it was obvious the swell was maxing out the little bay. A right and left slab break off a rock outcropping, which you must take off next to in order to get behind the peak. I didn’t want to watch it for too long and freak myself out, so I followed my PR local friend Ale off the rocks and skirted out just before the next massive set washed through the lineup.

Wave slab
Photo: Ardiel Jimenez​​

The waves were super heavy. 8-10 foot slabs breaking in front of sharp rocks. If you chose the wrong one, you could get washed into caves down the beach. People have died here, it’s no joke how intense and challenging the spot is. But I had waited years to surf it and I made sure to pick only the waves I thought I might have a shot at making. I picked one good barrel that I was able to backdoor and make the exit. I was stoked. An hour later the wind puffed up and I was ready to go in for some water. A set came in and I looked at it with doubt, but once a local yelled “Go Nate!” I went head down full send. I barely got to my feet before getting launched into the lip, getting sucked over and onto the reef. My back got a nice tiger scratch, but luckily I was fine. I came in to Holland and the crew more scared for me than I actually was. They thought I wasn’t going to come up, the wipeout looked that bad.

Nate going over the falls
Sequence​​: Ardiel Jimenez

We went and surfed some mellower waves that afternoon, which was a relief. But the next morning we were back at the slab and the swell had dropped just a bit, making it the perfect size for the right. Since I had put in time with the small crew the day before I had a bit of an understanding of how the tricky slab worked. That session the wind stayed nice until 12pm, allowing everyone enough time to get some good ones. I was able to successfully make a few memorable waves and to share that with the locals and feel their energy in the lineup was something I will never forget. The Puerto Rican’s are some of the coolest locals I have ever surfed with. 

Nate in a barrel
Photo: Ardiel Jimenez​​

"The Puerto Rican’s are some of the coolest locals I have ever surfed with."

Nate in a barrel
Photo: Ardiel Jimenez​​

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