Surfer, soap opera star, and prolific musician— ambassador Icah Wilmot stands in a category of his own.
Born and bred in Bull Bay, Jamaica just 8 miles east from the country capitol in Kingston, Icah continues the Wilmot family legacy by sharing his love and passion for surfing with his local community and beyond. But as talented as we know he is in and around the water, it wasn’t until our most recent trip to Jamaica that we learned that there’s a whole lot more to this soulful legend than we even realized.
Check out our full interview with Icah Wilmot below.
Hey Icah, tell us where we are right now and a little about your home here and what makes it unique?
We're in Bull Bay, Jamaica just east of Kingston. It’s a small fishing community on the beach with tons of little waves and reef breaks around. My family's lived here since my grandparents bought the land here in 1950-something. And so, three generations growing up here now. And all of us surf. Dad taught me and my brothers how to surf, and now we teach the kids. Lots of water influence in the community. The vibe is always mellow here, typical Jamaica. When you're down here on the beach, you lose track of what day it is because it's just so relaxed. Kind of hard to stay focused sometimes haha.
“It’s hard to explain it, but if you think of what goes into that ONE wave—it’s so spiritual. It heals you.”
Can you tell us your earliest memory of surfing?
I got hit by a car when I was about 9 so I don’t remember much from my youth before then. I do remember that my dad always had boards around so we’d just grab them and surf as much as we could. Looking at videos and photos from back then helps me remember. We used to be afraid of the big waves because we were little groms, so we just surfed the little reef behind here, and when the waves get big we'd go and watch. Back then, my dad had old surf videos like ‘I Crave the Wave’ and ‘Bali Hai’ and some really old videos like that. So, we'd be on the beach filming when they're out surfing, and we'd be singing the soundtrack from those videos because the waves were so good.
So, we know you've traveled all around the world and have seen a lot of different surf cultures. We’re wondering what you think makes Jamaican surf community and surf culture unique?
For me, Jamaican surf culture is unique because it's so small and inviting. You'll paddle out and you're new or maybe never surfed in Jamaica before and when you get out in the water, everyone welcomes you with open arms. You paddle out, people are super interested in where you're from and what your story is. And if you need help, people will be like, "Oh yeah, come over here. Don't sit on that peak.” It's so deep they're going to get pounded." So, yeah, it's super nice and really welcoming.
“I think you need role models and people to look up to when you’re growing up—to help you look towards the future.”
We feel like your family is truly instrumental to the foundation of surf culture in this community. Do you feel a responsibility to keep that tradition alive? Just wondering what it's like to have such a legacy here and how that influences the next generation.
When we were groms and my dad saw that we were getting really good, he wanted to go out of his way to go seek support for us because he didn’t have the same support when he was younger. He found boards and sponsorships for me and my brothers and as we got older, I was the first person to pursue surfing as a career in Jamaica. It was really rough trying to navigate the whole industry and even after 15 years, I'm still making my way. But I think you need role models. You need people to look up to in anything you do in life. And when I was younger, I didn't really have a person in surfing to look up to.
The next generation of surfers, which is my younger brother, Ivah, Shama, Ronald, Garren, those guys are now in their early twenties and they're now at the point where they're getting out there and actually getting a lot of support. It’s a bit more feasible for them. They are paving the way for the groms who are 10, 11, 12 years old. I think it has opened up their minds to be like, all right, this is really cool, and we can actually do this. We can form a real industry in this country and it can be feasible to pursue surfing either professionally as a career. More options are becoming more and more available.
Any advice for up-and-coming groms?
Anything you’re into doing—just go for it. Don’t be afraid to try things. The more fun that you can find in what you’re doing, the more rewarding it’s gonna be.
Also, try not to compare yourself to the other surfers around you. That is what I try to tell the people that I teach. Everyone is so different, and you just can’t compare. You have to just focus on having fun and surf for yourself.
“Music kind of just molds itself into everything you do."
How did you find your love for music?
When we were younger my dad had his band called the ‘Mystic Revealers’ and he would tour all around and one day he got me a base guitar and from there, yeah just started through all that. Their band would be rehearsing every day and they’d be practicing and recording music. We got to be around that environment, hearing really good music every single day, rehearsing all day, every day.. and we just kind of just tapped into that. From an early age we started writing songs, making our own little beats and creating custom rhythms and everything.
What would you say is significant about Reggae music?
Reggae music is a big part of our identity in Jamaica. It started out as the voice of the lower-class people. People who were common, middle-lower class. Reggae has a lot of soul and a lot of real meaning behind the music. It's not fast hop or upbeat dancing music, it’s mostly slow rhythms and baselines that you can really connect to on a very thoughtful level.
We also hear you’ve done some TV acting. Tell us more about that.
When we were young, in the early '90s, my dad’s friend wanted to start a TV show and he asked if he could be on it just to help him to get it off the ground—because back then my dad’s band was really popular, so everyone knew him. So, he was like, all right, cool. I'll help my friend out. And so he went on the show and that went on for 20 years. Then at a point in time it came where all the cast was getting older and they're like, we need younger people in this and so they asked me and my brother to audition and we got the part.
I was in the drama club and in the school choir in primary school and have always been a performer. So, when I got that part, I really enjoyed it. The thing that was kind of weird about it was that in Jamaica, everyone would see the stuff on the soap opera and wherever you’d go, they almost seemed like they thought it was all reality haha.
Do you have any words to live by?
I don’t really have any words to live by, I am more of a doer. I like doing stuff and helping people as much as I can. Making life better for the people that I meet. For me, my whole purpose in this world I think, is to create better opportunities and make life better for who I meet. And wherever I am, whether I see someone struggling surfing, I’m going to get off my board and push them into a wave. If I'm walking down the street and I see someone who is homeless, I'm going to give them the $2 in my pocket because they need it.