Twenty-five years ago, Ernst van Vliet parked his station wagon full of windsurf rental gear on a stretch of Bonaire beach on Lac Bay – a little known spot on this Dutch Caribbean outpost known only for diving. It was 1988.
Virtually no one was out there. Sorobon Beach Resort, then an intimate naturist enclave, was a cloistered mystery to the clothed and curious. There would be no Lac Bay Resort for several more years (where Martin and Miriam’s Kontiki Beach Club now thrives). Bonaire Windsurf Place was just a dream in the minds of locals Elvis, Patoen and Roger. It was so quiet and the natural setting was so spectacular, you felt like you were on the very edge of the windsurf world. But it was less than 90 miles due east of the famous Fisherman’s Huts of Aruba, the Caribbean mecca of sailboarding.
Our company (Great Southern at that time) had been sending divers to Bonaire since 1986, and my own windsurfing addiction had started the same year. By the time I met Ernst in November of 1990, he had “expanded” Windsurfing Bonaire to his beachfront equipment container and a small palapa shading a driftwood bench. I spent that day on an aged Mistral board and 6.0 North sail ripping around the bay entirely alone. Just me, all day. You didn’t have to be a genius to figure out that this place was the best kept secret in the windsurf galaxy.
Ernst and I hit it off, then struck up a business plan of “Ernst, you need our toll-free number in your magazine ad so we can tell the story and get them here”. Like executing your first jibe … timing and balance and technique and luck … whoosh. We were off.
Windsurfing Bonaire became Jibe City. Great Southern became Bonaire Pros. Lac Bay became mecca. Twenty plus years of history pulling away and leaving “paradise” and “used to be” in the rear view mirror. You could have taken our Bonaire travel company out of the equation, shuffled the players and the results would still be the same. The Beatles would have been discovered without Brian Epstein and nothing could have stopped Bonaire windsurfing on Lac Bay from becoming what it is today.
What a ride it has been.
– Andrew Reppeto
If Paradise is Lost, How Come Everything is Better?
Let’s fast forward from that day in 1988 when Lac Bay windsurfing began, to today. In some respects, only the bay itself is the same. Jibe City and Bonaire Windsurf Place (Lac Bay’s other equally successful windsurf center), anchoring one part of Sorobon Beach, have fully blossomed with full service windsurf rental and instruction, restaurant / bars, well stocked surf shops and extensive beachfront lounging . With Sorobon Beach Resort’s upgrades and philosophical transition to “clothing required”, the changes are a significant shift from the earlier days of rustic and nude. Kontiki Beach Club, just around the bay, has continuously evolved into a better version of itself, with constant renovation of the original buildings (there from the earliest beginning of development on the bay) to the addition of two villas and casita-style apartments under their umbrella of management.
Did we lose true paradise from what was clearly a minimally developed, virtually unknown oasis 30 years ago? Perhaps. But nothing man has built here is able to deter from the sheer beauty of Lac Bay’s environs. Nature still dominates the views, sounds and peacefulness of the area. In retrospect, very little has been added by the original hospitality pioneers that started their unique tourist endeavors three decades past. What has changed is the natural evolution of ownership, constant improvement in a responsible and limited way, and the commitment shown to the bay itself and the needs of both locals and visitors. For those looking to windsurf, relax, explore and enjoy Lac Bay, the current owners and companies represented here have improved the experience within their services by tangible leaps. Call it the maturation of the destination and the stakeholders that serve the bay.
My most recent visits in September and December of last year reinforced this viewpoint. Professional services and top flight gear and instruction are truly the norm at Jibe City — without a doubt better than it has ever been since we first walked on that beach in 1990. The steady hands running Bonaire Windsurf Place maintain their formula of the highest level of service and equipment. Both Sorobon Beach Resort and Kontiki have modernized and refurbished to more current tastes with style and service in mind.
While these changes have been realized in more recent years, it is the context of Lac Bay’s beginnings, not so very long ago, that make them all the more remarkable and appreciated. And for us middle-aged fun hogs that “have seen it all”, that improvement makes me sleep better, jibe more often and smile much longer. In my little world, that qualifies as paradise.