Micco from Puerto Rico: A legend twice over

“Don’t let a full plate keep you out of the water.”

Those words of wisdom were recently bestowed upon me by Miguel “Micco” Godinez and I have a hunch it’s a mantra he takes to heart. So often we have what we consider to be the weight of the world on our shoulders, but a step back, a trek into solitude or an adventure into the abyss can often provide the therapy our day-to-day lives require.

Nobody needs to remind Godinez of that virtue. He’s a surfer, hiker, paddler, adventurer and a founder of Kayak Kauai, which he and his brother Chino started in 1984. The pair came up with the idea during a five-month paddle expedition from Seattle to Alaska, covering over 1,000 miles in the process.

More than three decades later, Micco is still traversing the globe in search of thrills. This past January, he defended his longboard title at the second annual Legend Surf Classic in Rincon, Puerto Rico. His initial win at the 2014 contest came from having to surf just one heat.

“If you could stand up, you had a good chance of winning,” he joked.

He attended that inaugural year after organizer Monty Smith contacted him and Jonathan Damm, who resides on Oahu. The two decided to head east and re-connect with some old surf pals.

This year, the Legend Men Longboard division grew to three heats.

“Competition was more keen with around 18 old fogies,” he said, adding that a Floridian contingent made up the rest of the final heat, so word is beginning to spread as the contest has gained some momentum.

Fred Hemmings, the 1968 world champion and former Hawaii state senator, and 1966 world champ Nat Young — who Micco says has inspired his own cutbacks — each attended this year’s contest.

Heading to Puerto Rico from Kauai may seem like quite an endeavor for a smallish event, but Micco grew up surfing those distant breaks off in the Atlantic.

“I am Cuban and left with the revolution to Puerto Rico, where I grew up surfing uncrowded surf spots in the San Juan area,” he said. “My formative surfing was often alone at my home break of ‘Stop VIII,’ catching one empty wave after another on the peninsula leading to Old San Juan. Evening patrols were often looking in the distance to the sun setting over the Morro Castle.”

The migration of Cubans to Puerto Rico became a common theme throughout the 1960s, with the number of Cuban residents growing from roughly 500 to 25,000 on the small island during that 10-year span. It was during that exodus that Micco also found his new home and created some of the friendships he hoped to rekindle with his travels back the past two years. Those formative years in his teens and early 20s were when surfing, for him, grew from just reading surf magazines and seeing pictures of the gathered crowds in California and Hawaii to actually developing his style and charging waves.

It’s been more than 40 years since Micco, who turns 63 in May, moved to Hawaii. He considers Hanalei his home break and surfs the Bowl when small and the Point when bigger. That many years around the islands are more than enough to develop an appreciation and humility when it comes to Hawaiian waves. He remembers a particular session at Waimea Bay that almost claimed his life.

“I learned that day that the wise man knows how much to chew off, and the ocean will always win,” he said.

Wise or unwise, Micco continues to bite off quite a bit on his adventures. After winning his Legend title this year, he headed to Peru for some sessions at Punta Hermosa, Punta Roca and Arica in northern Chile. He left the sea and headed to the mountains “to trek and hike while this old body still can.” That included a five-day journey around the Ausangate Mountains, which boasts an elevation of more than 20,000 feet. Micco said it was like going back in time and seeing “houses of adobe with thatched roofs, similar in look to old Hawaiian hales.”

That preceded four days along the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu, a trip to Lake Titicaca and hiking through the Colca Canyon. He was hoping to get some pumping sessions in the surf town of Cerro Azul, but he had to be treated for the possibility of rabies after a dog bite, which was a frustrating encounter, to say the least.

“I watched 8-foot waves peeling off the point with just a handful of surfers,” he said, but had to stay on dry land while receiving injections of hemoglobin.

But Micco doesn’t seem like someone who stays grounded for very long. For almost his entire life, the ocean has provided not only leisure and business, but has greatly affected his personal life, as well — he met his wife while guiding a kayak trip along the Na Pali coast.

With Kayak Kauai’s summer season ready to heat up next month, I’m sure Micco won’t be sweating the day-to-day grind too much, which should be a good reminder for the rest of us to do the same.

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