Arriving to the airport in Havana was like stepping back in time. I’d been to Russia a couple times but Cuba was my first still functioning communist destination. The streets of Havana were rich, raw and human. People from of all races simply hung out with one another, a stark contrast to the urban hustle of America. The buildings were crumbling, many streetscapes looked apocalyptic. Yet we walked the streets late into the night seeking live music to dance to and never once felt threatened or unsafe. The next morning, we attempted to surf the main surf spot in Havana. It was a flat stretch of treacherous reef with beach break like, windswept peaks breaking in the shallows. The surf crew there was beyond stoked. They drove old cars and surfboards they’d fixed up themselves and had infectious smiles.

After a surf we walked back to the home we were staying in and gave the local crew a large care package of surf gear that included eight surfboards, twenty something pairs of board shorts, ten pairs of sandals and countless shirts, shoes and shorts. The gifts were much appreciated as Cuban surfers cannot buy boards or surf gear easily. A pair of trunks to a local grom would likely be cherished for years- rips mended with thread and needle and handed down to the next generation.

Saying goodbye to the Havana locals, we stacked our boards onto a 1950’s diesel bus and struck out in search of better surf. Outside of Havana, Cuba is not setup for tourism. It lacks quality infrastructure which makes getting around much more challenging. The roads are pot-hole ridden and even getting clean water was a challenge. The island is large. Roughly the size of Florida, it’s the largest in the Caribbean. We got knee high crumblers over a deep coral shelf halfway into our trip that allowed for some fun slides and much need refreshment from the sweltering heat.

Looking back, this trip was more about the culture for me. Despite its many flaws I could see the dreams of Che and Fidel in the eyes of these people in this weird parallel universe. I believe that as products of capitalism and lovers of freedom, we as Americans must also come to acknowledge the hidden cost of competing against our fellow man and impact this has on the social fabric of our country. This was easy to see in a place like Cuba where there is little crime, free education and health care. The people seem genuinely happier than most Americans. I think by acknowledging capitalism’s downsides, we can truly appreciate what we have and work to make it better. This world is many shades of gray. After the trip I was glad home and grateful that I have the option of traveling to and learning from this place.

Photos and Words by Cyrus Sutton