Surfing into a Better Life in Puerto Rico with Melvin Soto
Surfing holds different meanings and values for each individual. Some view surfing as an escape from his or her boring lifestyle, some enjoy surfing as a form of exercise, while others see it as a way to connect with nature. For Melvin Soto, it is all of the above and more. Surfing is a way of life, a journey to self-discovery, and a means of creating a strong bond of friendship with his homeland, Rincon, Puerto Rico. The ocean is his greatest connector.
I first met Melvin in Rincon, Puerto Rico, during the winter of 2014/15. He was assertively catching wave after wave with his beautifully designed longboard at Playa Domes. With a unique style, onlookers cannot take their eyes off him He noserides, gracefully maneuvering around the board as if he is skateboarding. I marveled at his 360-degree swirls, while watching him take off on waves. He and I became friends. Luckily, I had the opportunity to get to know him, and surf with his crew. They are all local surfers who live and work in the area, stylish longboards, and fun to hang with as a pack. They each are classical longboard riders and performance surfers, women and men, all enjoying what Rincon offers—a carefree surfing lifestyle. However, aside from all the laughter and good times, I could easily see that these surfers share meaningful, interesting, and deeply emotional stories with one another.
Melvin’s story is filled with unexpected sadness hidden behind his handsome smile and macho appearance. His, and other’s stories, teach me that surfing is a savior. It can redirect our lives, leading us to a better, healthier, happier, and more productive path. This is true for Melvin.
Surf Mei Mei (SMM): Melvin, thank you for chatting with Surf Mei Mei. Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
Soto: My name is Melvin Soto. I am from Rincon, Puerto Rico. I am a surfer, sponsored by as well as working with Mitch Benton Surfboards, which is a custom-made surfboard company in Rincon, Puerto Rico.
SMM: How did you get into surfing?
Soto: I was a professional skateboarder when I was younger. Due to some tragic family issues, and being a teenager, I got involved in the drug scene and a crew that was not good for me. When I was 15, I got into drugs and alcohol; when I was 16, I was in juvenile probation because I beat up someone and did cocaine regularly. I was not happy and life was just horrible for me.
At 18, I decided to change.
I did a work trade with a local surfer,Cualio, with my skills in construction labor, in exchange to get a surfboard and learn how to surf. Surfboards were expensive, but I wanted a change of scene, therefore, I started to surf. Everyday, I would wake up really early for work, and learn how to surf with Coolio after work, as much as I could. This routine got me out of the previous bad circle of friends, addiction and that negative lifestyle.
Instead of wasting his life on drugs, alcohol, jail time, and leading an unhappy and dangerous lifestyle, Soto took it upon himself to change. He decided to take a positive path by working hard, saving money to have a home, and surfing as much as he could. Surfing, and everything that comes with it, provides him with ambition and focus. He gained more skill and experience at longboarding, and was soon noticed by people for his unique and fearless style. With his “helicopter” surfing technique—a 360-degree swirl turn on his longboard—many sponsors noticed him. One of them was Mitch Benton, a California-born shaper who planted his roots at Rincon, PR, after decades of surfing, hand shaping, and traveling around the world.
Soto chose Mitch Benton, because Mitch was, and still is, a long-time devoted longboarder and big wave rider, who has lived and surfed at places like North Shore, Oahu and Oaxaca, Mexico. Mr. Benton understood the beauty of performance longboarding style and also classic Hawaiian noseriding. Last but not least, the shaper’s beautifully handcrafted surfboards are rarely seen these days, as they are 100% handmade. Soto was eager to learn more from a legend like Mr. Benton. As a result, they started their working relationship in 2014.
Mitch Benton Surfboards has a unique invention called Vampi. It is a set of mini fins, placed toward the front of the surfboard. It allows surfers the ability to surf different kinds of conditions while also having more fun performing different tricks. Soto surfs with the “Vampi” on a 9’ surfboard when the wave is as big as double overhead, and when the wave is only small, messy, and ankle high. Mitch’s “Vampi” is so versatile, that it has caught the attention of surfers who want a hybrid performance/classic riding longboard in various conditions.
One can often find Soto surfing his 9’ “Vampi” by Mitch Benton Surfboards at Playa Domes, shredding in all kinds of conditions.
Now, after years of personal struggle, Soto is finally on a happy track in life, with surfing as his focus.
SMM: Why do you choose surfing as part of your life focus?
Soto: Surfing makes me feel good as a person. Waves make me feel humble and challenged.
On Soto’s surfing journey, he befriended a great crew of longboarders who became family to him. They provided him with positive reinforcement, which propelled him on the more affirmative life track. For Soto, surfing is truly the way of life. He has learned how to make peace in life with all its variables, and is happy with his work with Mitch Benton Surfboards. Above all, Soto loves Puerto Rico, where you can surf all year round with warm weather and water.
“I am proud to be a Puerto Rican.” Melvin Soto says.
When Surf Mei Mei asks Soto for a life advice for other surfers who are overcoming negative paths, Soto says, “Enjoy nature. Enjoy life. Be happy when surfing!”
If you think life is boring or not perfect enough, try to get challenged by the ocean, which will make us all humble and learn to appreciate life and happiness!
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