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Surf’s Up

On Tortola’s north shore, the waves roll in to Josiah’s Bay Beach and create some of the best surfing conditions in the Caribbean. Aside from the stunning view and fantastic weather, the vibe of this beach is unique.

“Josiah’s bay is a majestic gem of a place that brings all walks of life down for all different reasons, surfing being one of them obviously,” said Steve Howes, owner of Surf School BVI.

Howes was born in Australia, grew up in South Africa, and has surfed in more than 20 countries. His English parents wanted Steve and his brother to be safe with the ocean just outside their Durban, South African home and enrolled them in a surfing and lifesaving club. Howes learned and rose through the ranks as a junior lifeguard and then became a qualified lifeguard at age 14. After working after school and on weekends, Howes then became a full-time professional lifeguard after graduating. He moved to England and worked on the Cornwall coast and later lifeguarded on the New South Wales coastline of Australia before accepting a contract with the British Virgin Islands to train lifeguards in the Caribbean.

After years of enjoying the waves of Josiah’s Bay Beach, Howes was continually approached by visitors wanting to know where on Tortola they could learn to surf. He would often take his own board out with someone and show them some basics. 

“Watching people get so stoked about surfing out there made me want to do this every day,” said Howes.

Ready to make a business of his favourite hobby, Howes approached BVI-born surfer (and founding editor of Surfer’s Path magazine) Alex Dick-Read with an idea. They formed Ground Sea Adventures, catering to intrepid travellers wanting to make the most of all of the fantastic eco-experiences that the land and sea of the BVI has to offer.


Based in Josiah’s Bay, Surf School BVI was born in 2012. People come to the beach to relax, rent surfboards and bodyboards, and on calm days kayaks and paddleboards or snorkel gear to explore the marine life. Howes and his staff teach people the ins and outs of surfing and often teach people of all backgrounds and experience levels. Their surf lessons are their most popular service and are offered in private or group session formats. People can rent high-quality surfboards for the day or the week, and get instruction from lifelong surfers that will help them learn to read the waves, position themselves on the board and most importantly, have fun learning something new.

“Lots of people happen to just be on holiday or passing by on a boat and not even realize you can catch waves here,” said Howes.

Most people want to learn to “catch a wave”, and this is something Howes tells people takes a lot of time. While reading the water and knowing what’s coming can be done, it often takes hours of time on a board in the water to get the hang of it. Beginners shouldn’t be discouraged, however, since plenty of fun can be had at every stage of learning to surf.

“Every day you’ll take a good wipeout, but most people keep coming back for more,” said Howes.

In addition to offering surf lessons, Surf School BVI is the heart of a community of people that love the ocean and the BVI. After Hurricane Irma, people were looking for events to bring the island together in a positive way during an extremely difficult time. Surf School BVI was approached by a couple of surfers that thought a family fun day combined with a friendly surf competition would be an event that people could enjoy together. Now in its fifth year, the competition has grown to other times of the year, including Christmas and Easter (complete with surfing Santa and Easter Bunny categories). Everyone is welcome to compete, including kids and what Howes calls the “old boy legends”. The event attracts a large community following each April.

Howes never fails to appreciate the ocean’s power and implores everyone to give it the respect she deserves.

“One thing I always tell my guys is never have your back turned to the ocean; always be looking at it. That’s something that was drummed into me from an early age,” said Howes. 

While he won’t reveal his favourite surfing spots in the BVI, he says that any and all types of waves are available to people wanting to experience them. 

“The more we know about the ocean the more we respect it. No wave is the same and the energy that has travelled for thousands of miles to land on our shores is something special.”


Photography by Carolina Ansaldo

Sara Sherman
Sara Sherman is a former St. Thomas resident and the editor of Virgin Islands Property & Yacht.
Sara Sherman

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