Talking to Brian Talma is like having a conversation with a kaleidoscope: colorful, ever shifting and changing direction, but always sharing a boundless passion for everything he does that elevates those in his orbit back to the center of what he loves about water sports. There are facets within facets to Talma, who is a charismatic waterman with a background in both art and business, as well as being wickedly talented across multiple watersports disciplines. Plus, his personality roars like a lion.
From the beginning, Talma set out on his own path. This brown-skinned, blue eyed, bleach blond maverick had his sights set on having maximum fun from an early age. He roamed the streets as a youngster with the self-appointed “South Point” gang and hustled his way into parties, happenings and close misses with the authorities all over the island of Barbados. He is as much a part of that 16 X 21 mile island as the palm trees along the shoreline. His family history even includes a grandfather who reigned as governor for a period of time. Talma’s rise as an internationally acclaimed watersports athlete, and his personal focus on maximizing his exposure as a Bajan native creates much of the narrative surrounding him today.
A Quick History of an Island Paradise
Barbados is the easternmost Caribbean island nation along the southern chain of the Lesser Antilles islands. Before deciding that this sounds too far away, Barbados is easily accessible from all over the East Coast of the United States and has non-stop flights from most major hubs. The island itself developed over a million years ago out of the original collision of the Atlantic crustal and the Caribbean plates, together with a volcanic eruption. First inhabited by the Amerindians who crossed from Venezuela paddling long dugout canoes over the ocean, Barbados was later discovered by the Portuguese. The first English settlers arrived on the island on May 14, 1625 under the command of Captain John Powell. It was at this time the island was claimed on behalf of King James I. Today, Barbados holds its freedom as an independent British commonwealth.
Within a few years of the English arriving, most of the land on this 166 square mile island was quickly deforested to make way for tobacco and cotton plantations. During the 1630’s sugar cane was introduced into the agricultural system, and sugar cane maintains its dominance as a chief export even to this day. The secondary source of commerce in current times is tourism.
Back in the 1600’s, cotton, tobacco and sugar cane plantations all relied heavily on the use of indentured servants to till the soil. White settlers who agreed to serve as planters in Barbados began shipping slaves from Africa, along with convicted criminals, to grow the crops. This established the groundwork for the integrated mix that is a part of Barbados culture today.
Even after slavery was abolished in 1834, many former African slaves remained in Barbados to take advantage of the excellent educational system available on the island. In time, some gained prominent offices in Barbados while others entered the regular work force, with a few still choosing to remain in the sugar fields.
It was into this rich, mixed history that Brian Talma was born.
Bronze Skin, Blue Eyes and a Separate Identity
“Legend has it that my great-grandfather sired over 80 children in a full spectrum of shades and colors. His name was Edmund Ward - a wealthy, white plantation owner in the colonial days, with an apparently healthy sexual appetite that took him to wandering through the villages. My great-grandmother, Ellen Niles, was one of those black village women who caught his eye.”
Talma’s recollection of early family gatherings includes “swimming in a sea of relatives - a plethora of skin tones from black through all shades of brown, to white - all family”. Although he was more interested in surfing than exploring his cultural heritage back then, his roots play a big role in the athlete and man he has become today.
The family moved to Oistins, the smallest town in Barbados that included a historic fishing village. Located adjacent to both South Point and Freights Bay, two of highly favored surf breaks in Barbados, this move placed Talma deep in the Bajan beach culture where he would discover his talents as both artist and waterman.
His mother was an artist, trained at Sarah Lawrence College, with a dream of opening a National Gallery in Barbados. Spending time at her side growing up, Talma began to understand the use of art as a form of cultural expression. His mother ‘unlocked’ the secrets of symbolic art for him and Talma’s artistic side began to take form.
As he says, “Symbolism Art - for me - is creating symbols that are inspired by my ancestry, heritage and culture; symbols that tell a story depicting and reflecting my lifestyle. These symbols and styles don’t change, so whenever you see my art, it reflects Bajan beach culture and embraces this lifestyle.” Talma’s colorful, Bajan-themed paintings of flying fish, turtles, surfers and other whimsical creatures welcome visitors throughout the town of Oistins today. His artworks are affixed to telephone poles throughout the town, adding a sense of personality and place to its teeming fishing village.
Talma’s own form of resistance to the norm came as he witnessed what he believed to be an imbalance within Bajan cultural norms towards the ruling white class. He saw that one had to conform to truly prosper under these norms, and it was not in his DNA to do so. Talma’s mixed background and exotic looks (bronze skin, blue eyes and blond hair) put him in a no-man’s land. He wasn’t white but he was still viewed as privileged by his darker Bajan friends who saw his skin color as an entrance into a coveted society. As he says, “I couldn’t fit in anywhere. I was getting it from both sides.”
But his artist's sensibility didn’t help Talma much as a youth. “Both of my parents, who were of mixed black and white heritage with good educations and respected careers, were accepted into Bajan society. They followed the rules (mostly), but their minds, hearts and home were open to all kinds of colors and classes,” says Talma who recognizes that this is where he began to forge his own path and identify with the counter-beach culture.
He found his identity in the water. Starting out as a surfer, Talma transitioned into windsurfing where fame found him at the outset of the burgeoning sport. He explains, “I believed in the beach and knew it was going to provide, as nothing else mattered to me. I had an adventurous childhood growing up in South Point, but my worldview started changing with the Gow School in New York, and right after that, a business degree from Eckerd College in Florida. From there I went home to open up my own surf shop. After one season of operating my shop and windsurfing all day, I was back traveling the world on the professional windsurfing tour. The rest is history.”
What Talma discovered in the waterman lifestyle was a way to shake off societal norms that felt too constricting while pursuing his own dreams of developing an action watersports school and traveling the world as a competing athlete. His prominence on the PWA windsurfing world tour, (where he regularly landed in the Top 10), coupled with his larger than life personality and welcoming smile, made him a natural target for sports photographers. Talma has graced the covers of more magazines than he’s had time to count. Not always because he was the ‘best’ in the water, but - as he puts it - because “I was the one having the most fun.”
Enter AcTioN Man!
Part of Talma’s rise as a celebrity windsurfing and watersports athlete with multiple sponsorships lies in his ability to project himself into gatherings, entertain the crowd when he is not on the water and keep the energy level HIGH whenever he’s around. “ACTION! ACTION!! ACTION!!!” is the call that echoes back to him wherever he goes because Brian Talma is always at the center of any action that is going on.
Over time, Talma’s call for AcTioN! has turned into part of his personal brand. Anybody who knows him repeats the rallying cry with enthusiasm for whatever is about to happen next. As Sam Bitner, of the International Windsurfing Tour says, “Action is not simply a filler word to toss into any sentence for getting people pumped up. It’s about love and family and keeping your community thriving: It’s about being active, energetic and smiling through it all. When I think of this use of action, I realize it’s actually quite similar to the idea of aloha, which I have grown accustomed to from living in Maui for the past decade. Action is aloha of Barbados.”
Ebullient, happy and perpetually stoked, Talma rides into any competition looking more to connect with people than worry about who’s on top of the podium. He competes well and when the heat is on, AcTioN Man (as he is known), is fully focused and prepared to perform to the heights of his impressive ability. He claims the win each time he competes by reminding the crowd, “Whoever is having the most fun, wins!”
“In the beginning stages of my professional career, my mother used to ask, after a competition, how I did. I would come back so amped up, that even on the off chance if I didn’t win, I would say I was world champion because in my brain I had more fun than anybody else. I was like the flying fish soaring in the sky with the birds,” saysTalma.
“The Brain Smiles and Life Sings… Happiness Rings!”
Part athlete and part sage, Talma’s own brand of watersports competition made him a favorite across multiple continents. People were drawn to his big smile and fun-loving perspective in an arena where most world-class athletes were fighting for position to be on camera or on top of the podium in order to leverage their exposure in front of sponsors and potential future sponsorship. It was a world worth fighting for, but Talma refused to fight.
Talma continued to travel and compete, often finding himself standing on the podium for windsurfing events around the world. His personal brand and calls for “AcTioN!” made him a popular water sports figure with a huge fan base. When not traveling, Talma would return home to his watersports camp on Barbados where he promoted wind and watersports, mentored young athletes by helping them in the water as well as coaching them on the business side about their important relationships with sponsors. At the same time he was still offering windsurf, kite, stand up paddling and - most recently - wingfoil lessons to those who made the pilgrimage to his compound on Silver Sands beach. His style is warm and welcoming. He introduces each visitor into his world, the Bajan beach culture, and the enormous rewards of living a life connected to the water. He loves ‘being paid to play’ and promotes this beach culture in everything he does.
It was on one of these trips home that Talma realized he could, in fact, give legitimacy to the beach as a way of making a living and promote tourism to Barbados by doing so. That’s when he launched the now famous Beach Culture World Tour.
The BCWT became Talma’s primary calling. This cultural revolution asks event promoters around the world to rethink how they plan, develop and execute watersports events. As Talma says, “My idea came from realizing that life is bigger than the biggest sporting event on this planet. It’s about people connecting, respecting each other and understanding different cultures.” His vision was to show organizers how to hold events in such a way that benefitted both the local community and also gave athletes and spectators an opportunity to learn about the lifestyle, cultural background and history of the places they visited.
The Beach Culture World Tour (BCWT) + Organic Tourism
As with everything in Talma’s world, the BCWT became an opportunity to have fun and promote his lifestyle of ‘being paid to play’ around the world. In concept, the BCWT can be a competition within 5 separate events: windsurfing, surfing, kiting, stand up paddling and conch blowing. Talma oversees the competitions, the media and the awards ceremony, which often include plaques made out of wood with his own artwork colorfully displayed. Each BCWT event had its own flavor depending on the local community, participating athletes and conditions.
“I had my first official Beach Culture World Tour World Championships in Trinidad & Tobago in 2014,” recalls Talma. “Niki Borde, the organizer, gave me full creative freedom. I executed the BCWT World Championship just how I envisioned it. I convinced some of the best action water sport professional athletes and personalities in the world to come compete, including Kevin Pritchard, Diony Guadagnino and Hope LeVin. I got the media organized and staged the event using the BCWT judging system for the “pros”. This system allowed each pro athlete to vote for who they thought was the best athlete on land and on water, but they couldn’t vote for themselves! The BCWT is a lifestyle tour, so the person who has the most fun wins. Then the pro athletes would help organize the amateur athletes’ competition and entertain the fans. We were cranking “deAction!!!”
A water sport competition where the pros vote for each other and then organize and judge the amateur competition? Sounds like fun, right? And so it was launched. Over the years since, Talma’s special brand of stoke and competition has been overlaid on several events including the Maui Pro windsurfing competition in Hawaii, his own events in Barbados and - most recently - the Master of the Ocean world competition in the Dominican Republic. His dream is to offset the impact these events have on local communities by making sure they support and promote local businesses, giving visitors a chance to experience the region's culture by direct person-to-person contact within each venue.
As Jason Hudson has said, “Many eco-sport tourism locations attract people from all over the world, Talma’s mission is meant to grow on this trend. The difference with deAction World and the Beach Culture World Tour is that growth can be directed back to the benefit of the local community. Time and again expats will come in, gain wealth and homogenize the local culture. Talma’s mission is meant to continue development of local culture, a true Bajan experience unchanged by those who visit the island.”
Organic Tourism vs. Colonial Tourism
As Talma tells it, he’s had some difficult experiences with people he has welcomed into his shop, his camp and his world. What generally starts out as an altruistic move on Talma’s part by giving certain individuals the equipment and skills they need to become kite or wind or stand up paddle instructors, has turned time and time again into a battle as they later try to set up business within the same vicinity as his shop and poach off of the steady clientele he has established at Silver Sands beach. He calls this influx of competition to his business, and to other businesses, an example of Colonial Tourism, where a newcomer from another country or region comes into an already occupied and established area and tries to dominate. We’ve all seen this happen.
So Talma pushes back. Protecting his cultivated haven on a stretch of pristine sand on the south shore of Barbados doesn’t win him any friends. He’s caught between wanting to help others - which makes him happy - and preserving his business on Silver Sands Beach. He struggles with losing the support of the Barbados Tourism Bureau due to their looking elsewhere for cultivating sports tourism to Barbados (think WSL). As he navigates his way through these turbulent waters, his focus today is solely on supporting his family of five children: Starlite, Sunshine, Rainbow, Ocean and Lion.
Another thing about de AcTioN Man: when sitting and talking about these challenging times, a brief shadow might pass behind his eyes but it doesn’t stay long. With a shake of that long, wild hair and a grin that lights up the room, he tilts his head back and shouts, “I AM A WATERMAN!” with a howl that dissipates negative energy. It is both impressive, and highly entertaining.
Mike Gebhardt, a friend and former Silver & Bronze Olympic medalist in windsurfing, has this to say about Talma’s personality: “People remember Brian for what he is; his positive presence. Even though he is a world class and accomplished athlete, it’s his strength of the stoke in his personality and desire to pump everyone else up that is his greatest legacy. Not too many people I know are like this. He is an unforgettable character.”
Master of the Ocean and the Beach Culture World Tour
As much artist as he is athlete, Talma’s watersports compound sits today on the sands of Silver Sands beach on the south coast of Barbados. It is a carefully constructed camp designed for contemplating the quotes from his book (also aptly titled,“deAction!”) that are splashed along the sides of the buildings surrounding deAcTioN apartments, as they are known. They are there in order to maximize everyone’s stoke on a pristine, tropical white sand beach, with one unbelievable turquoise ocean, situated on a windy corner of a tiny island to capture the best of the day for windsurfing, wing foiling, SUPing, kiting and surfing. This corner of paradise holds enough color and carefully crafted wisdom to keep visitors busy for days.
Part athlete, part sage, with a healthy dose of creative artist and a splash of edgy energy thrown in, Brian Talma has been on the leading edge of Barbados’ water sports tourism for over thirty years. His history as a competitive water athlete includes championship victories in windsurfing, kiting, SUPing and, most recently in 2022, he captured the renowned title of Master of the Ocean at the Dominican Republic’s contest across five different water sports disciplines. Here’s how it happened:
Talma was hired by Marcus Bolm and Patricia Hiraldo, event organizers in Cabarete, the wind & surf epicenter in the Dominican Republic, to help them promote their event in January 2022 and articulate his stamp of the Beach Culture World Tour as a part of the festivities. Talma says his job is to remind organizers that “you can hire locally, you can spend locally.” In order to achieve his stamp of approval, he needs to make sure organizers are doing just that.
Partly inspired by his own struggles, Talma asks event partners to remember first to look to the members of a community to see where they can help. As he reminds us, “The first way you deal with humanity is with the human aspect. If I’m struggling, I’m not worried about what’s happening to the environment.” Thus, his Beach Culture World Tour is a rallying cry for these great watersports events to look to the local communities they are impacting and see if they can improve them through their presence in some tangible and lasting way.
Talma’s mission for the Masters of the Ocean event was to align the organization with a local non profit that supported the community. Together, they decided on supporting Happy Dolphins. Happy Dolphins is a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower youth of the north shore of the Dominican Republic through a connection to the ocean. Happy Dolphins, DR has been in existence since 2014 and promotes proper health and physical well being through outdoor activities and watersports, while raising awareness along the north coast to respect and care for the environment, especially the ocean. They also train instructors in swimming, surfing and lifesaving as a portal to creating decent jobs for young people who have limited resources among the coastal and tourist areas.
Hiraldo says, “Our economy depends on tourism, beaches and nature activities, which is why we believe that generations should grow up with a connection to the sea, taking care to keep it free of plastics and other pollution.”
In Cabarete this year, Talma not only helped set up and organize the event, he also competed. The Master of the Ocean is a renowned competition across four separate water sports categories, each one awarding points to competitors based upon their performance. It draws the top men and women water athletes on the planet to compete with each other. The top male or female competitor with the most points is crowned with the illustrious title of “Master of the Ocean.” This year, at age 54, with a lot on his plate, Brian Talma - at long last - brought home the title.
Organizer Patricia Hiraldo says this: “Brian brought his high energy to the 18th tradition of the Master of the Ocean. Our brains were left smiling and our hearts singing! There are few watermen on the planet who deserve the crown of world champion of wind and waves. The Carabete community has embraced deAction Man to its heart as his work is based in organic tourism, education, art, culture and sports. We hope to share many more ocean adventures together with Brian!”
It appears that Talma’s original beach culture/counter culture plan is coming to life. Barbados has the highest rate of repeat visitors in the Caribbean, and if you ask a visitor why they return year after year, they will tell you it’s about the local Barbados people.
As Hope LeVin, professional kiteboarder opines, “deAction Resort on Silver Sands Beach, Barbados is akin to the temple of a religion. Once you've made the journey there, everything about the BCWT begins to make sense. It’s love of the environment and ocean, appreciating and supporting your community and loving your sports to the point that you’ve been on the water so long, you’re in a happy state just sitting under a coconut tree on the beach without the energy or desire to be anywhere else in the world.” Shine on, AcTioN Man!
Dive Deeper into daAction: Read Talma’s book “daAction” (to be released in May 2023), available at daAction Shop on Barbados or any of the Beach Culture World Tour stops. Also available online at: www.briantalma.pro