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a man riding a wave on a surfboard in the water

In BOP faces we talk to local legends: the people of Punta Cana that make this place so special. In this edition: Rafael on his love for surfing, the birth of Macao Surf Camp, and how one TripAdvisor comment changed everything!

Macao beach is the favorite spot for many people in Punta Cana. In BOP faces, Lola Manzanas and Amil Maleck mentioned it as one of their favorite beaches. For Rafael (60) it is the same. You cannot miss him when you go to Macao beach, because the first thing you see is the Macao Surf Camp on the left. A surf shack with surf boards in the yard and picknick tables where you can sit and enjoy fresh fish right in front of the coastline. Rafael is either out in the water surfing, giving instructions to his surf instructors, speaking to clients, or overseeing if everything is going as planned in the surf school.

Love for surfing

“Only a surfer knows the feeling. You are not attached, you just have your board. It is the closest thing to walking on water. Every wave is different,” Rafael describes the feeling of surfing.

He surfs every day. Although it is part of his job as one of the owners and instructors of Macao Surf Camp he does not feel like he is working, because he is doing what he loves.  “When I arrive at my office, which is Macao, I forget everything!”

This love for surfing stems from Rafael’s teenage years when he was growing up in Santo Domingo. As the captain of the National Swimming team of the Dominican Republic he trained vigorously every day. In the morning from 5:15 to 6:30 AM and in the evening from 6 to 8 PM.

But at the age of 17 he found himself bored with doing the same daily laps in the swimming pool. Although the team travelled for competitions to different countries like Jamaica, Colombia, St Croix and Puerto Rico, Rafael had set his mind on surfing.

“I surfed before, but when I was 17 and finished high school I decided that I just wanted to surf, and I quit the swimming team against my father’s will. He was against it because in that time there had been shark attacks. But I was already stoked on surfing. This was in 1975.

I started organizing surfing and skateboard competitions as the President of the Surfing association with the help of the Ministry of Tourism in places like Cabarete and Puerto Plata.”

Although surfing remained his passion, Rafael pursued another career path and moved from Santo Domingo to Punta Cana 14 years ago. “There were new opportunities here. I worked in interior design and furniture, but when the real estate crisis came in 2008 everything changed.”

“We found ourselves with a lot more time on our hands, so my friends Gustavo, Armando and I surfed more. At first, we started teaching Armando’s kids to surf on the weekends. Soon we started teaching other local kids too.”

Just one comment

“One day a Canadian guy wanted surf lessons and he got our contact. He came to surf with us. The other weekend he came back with his family. ‘Do you know TripAdvisor?’ he asked me. I did not know what it was. ‘I will write a review and you will see what happens!’ he said. And he did and from then on, we grew. We started getting reservations every day and it became a business! It was a mobile business. 14 surfboards were loaded up on a SUV. We picked up the clients and brought them to Macao for the lessons. Stacking up those boards on the car all the time, was damaging and not to mention the hard work of putting things in storage again. That is why we decide to look for a place.”

Macao Surf camp

Macao Surf Camp is a household name in the area. It is the first surf school that was authorized by the Ministry of Tourism in the Dominican Republic. Rafael speaks proudly of the school that the owns with his friends Gustavo and Armando. They build the place 7 years ago. “There were left overs of cabins ruins. With the help of the local church and other sponsors we built it into what Macao Surf Camp is now.

Gustavo is actually the first person who owned a surf board in the Dominican Republic. In the 60’s there was a civil war in the Dominican Republic. The American soldiers came and brought surfboards to the island. Gustavo was dating a colonel’s daughter and bought the surfboard from the colonel. He is a legend and a pioneer!”

Giving back to the beach

With Macao Surf Camp Rafael organizes Beach clean ups, to help the environment. The next one is on the 5th of June. He also worked together with the Tourism police Cestur to develop life guard services on the beach. “Surfing on Macao Beach is not dangerous. We teach kids from 4 years old how to surf. My daughter Amanda who is 8 surfs too and Gustavo’s dog is also a surfer. But of course, you do not need to go out alone. That is why we have the buddy system. We always go out together.

Christian surfers

Rafael is also the minister of the Christian Surfers, an organization that is active in 38 countries. Spreading the word through surfing is their mission. He is proud to be part of the organization. “If I would be living anywhere else than Punta Cana, it would be Australia. I went there for the Christian surfers convention. The people were so friendly and nice and the waves are great there too!

Favorite place

“Macao beach. You have not arrived to Punta Cana, if you have not been to Macao beach.”

But if Macao beach will remain the beach that Rafael knows, is a question mark. There are plans for having 7000 hotel rooms in the area. In addition to this making a part of the beach private is also included in the future developments. That is why on Thursday the 31st of May 2018 a march was held to protest against these plans. “We fully supported this march,” Rafael explains. “Macao beach is the beach of the people of Higuey. It is for everyone!”

Future plans

“In the future we hope to have a place where people actually can sleep and spend nights at Macao Surf camp!”

If you want to try out surfing lessons then you might be lucky on the 9th of June. Macao Surf camp will host a party to celebrate their partnership with the brand Quicksilver. Expect food, live music and free introductory classes!

Want to know more about Rafael and Macao Surf Camp? Check their Facebook and Instagram and website.

Photo: Rafael’s daughter Amanda surfing with Gustavo’s dog Jack Alvarez