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Surf Shacks 043 – Karina Petroni

Karina’s home in the Bahamas is truly dreamlike. It is a place where even Hemingway would feel right at home. Between the Cuban tile floor, the extensive sea glass bottle collection (arranged by color mind you), and the lush, tropical indoor / outdoor vibe, the place has a colorful character that feels authentically Bahamian. In case you’ve never heard of her, Karina is former pro surfer turned model & adventurer. Originally hailing from Florida, she moved to the Bahamas seven years ago after falling in love with her husband on a visit to the island. She now spends her days living the dream in paradise; traveling abroad, exploring their local island chain with all of it’s hidden gems via their sea plane, and hosting travelers on their property, showing them all the unique experiences that the Bahamas have to offer.

Who are you? Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m Karina Elizabeth Bergheim Petroni, my mother is Norwegian and my father was of Italian decent. I am 50% Viking and 50% Mafia, a very spicy combo. 

I was born and raised in the Canal Zone of Panama, where my father was a pilot taking ships through the extraordinary Panama Canal. My upbringing was filled with adventure and numerous “bare foot” escapades.

I started surfing at 9 and quickly became involved in the local surf competitions which snowballed into a full blown professional surfing career by age 12. I surfed on the world tour for about 11 years and I am still the last woman from the East Coast of the USA to qualify for the world tour.

I met my now husband back in the fall of 2009, quickly fell in love and married him in 2013. I have now lived in The Bahamas full time since 2010 and have adapted to yet another adventure-filled lifestyle that involves flying in sea planes to look for unchartered waves, spearfishing our meals and diving in the clearest waters I have ever seen.

I still have my wonderful ties in the surf community and industry and have somewhat rebranded myself into a “adventuring water woman.” I have had the pleasure of collaborating with like minded people and creating beautiful imagery and content through out the last couple years and plan on creating more magic in years to come.

Where, when and how did you first learn to surf?

I started surfing in Atlantic Beach, Florida, my parents were commuting between Panama and Florida by the time I was 6 years old. My parents had me in the water at 6 months, and had me boogie boarding at 4 years old, although my brother didn’t push me into my first surfing wave until age 9.

What brought you down to the Bahamas?

I came down to the Bahamas on a 3 day weekend whim with a friend back in the fall of 2009. I met my now husband David, quickly fell in love and married him in 2013. That is an incredibly short answer to that question! [laughs]

What are your favorite parts about the area where you live and the community?

The Bahamas is a very special place.  There are pros and cons to living anywhere in the world. The cons are that it is very inconvenient to live here, anything that would take you 1 hour to do in the US, takes about “tree” here. The pros are there is endless beauty surrounding you and you have so much freedom. The more dependable you are upon yourself living down here, the happier and less frustrated you will be. I love how the Bahamians are a very happy people, they love to laugh, fish, crack jokes, enjoy the simple pleasures of life and can speak very openly about God and their faith as it is a very strong Christian nation. They mostly pride themselves off the fact that the astronauts state “The Bahamas is the most beautiful place to look at from space.”

We see you posting a lot of pictures on Instagram of you and a sea plane. Is it yours? Where all do you fly to?

Yes, the sea plane has now become the first wife, I definitely “take the back seat,” but I don’t mind, because she’s pretty sweet. It has always been a lifelong dream of my husband to have his own sea plane. He flew in both his parents’ seaplanes his whole upbringing down here, and quickly fell in love. It is a feeling like no other landing on the water, pitching the anchor and paddling out to the waves. It is well worth the extensive maintenance.

Got any secret spots in the Bahamas you can tell us about?

Well, if I told you about them they wouldn’t be secret anymore. Anyone who makes an effort to come down, visit us and brings some food and wine with them, gets the privilege of seeing some special places!

What are your favorite parts about your home?

One of the reasons our place in Harbour Island is very special is because it used to be David’s mother’s house. It has been in his family for about 20 years, so most of the soul and great ambience it possesses comes from the tremendous amount of love that surrounded it for so long. A lot of adventures have spurred from this home and it has some fabulous, classic, roots.

Tell us about your bottle collection here.

The bottle collection is mainly from David’s mom, the castaways she didn’t want. David and I found a lot of them ourselves as well. Since the Bahamas is such an old nation and used to be occupied by the British, there was a vast amount of old bottles and artifacts kicking around. David’s mom quickly got wind of it, and started diving them up off the bottom, if you like treasure and fancy old, rustic, crude bottles, this is quite an addicting hobby.

What are your favorite things to do besides surf here on the island?

My favorite past time besides surfing has to be free diving. The Bahamas boasts some of the most beautiful and clearest waters in the world. The marine life here is just spectacular. On almost any given day you can throw on your fins, mask and swimsuit and go out and glide next to the Eagle Rays. The underwater world here is like no other.

Do you ever get island fever?

Yes, I get island fever from time to time.  A lot of people think it’s absolutely crazy how we live and don’t quite get how we cope. The most popular question we get asked is, “What do you do all day?” we laugh at that one. There is an endless amount of things to do when you live on an island, we are constantly repairing things, maintaining things and getting into projects. You have to work hard to play hard around here. It isn’t like you just flick a switch and the light comes on, you have to create it yourself. I have a huge appreciation for power, water and all the small details that we take for granted living in the USA after living down here.

What do you want people to know about the Bahamas?

Currently The Bahamas is facing serious environmental threats. The most poignant being, the threat of China being able to commercially fish in this country. China has been in talks with The Bahamian government and there is rumor that they will be allowed to conduct commercial fishing operations in the country. The Bahamas marine ecosystem is so delicate and overfished already, that the introduction of China fishing here will essentially destroy the future of the Bahamian marine life. The oceans are what link us all together in the first place, so we should do everything we can to protect it.  It would mean a lot to us along with the whole country if everyone took a moment to sign this petition.

What do you not want people to know about the Bahamas?

Unfortunately, there aren’t any waves in The Bahamas…

Any parting thoughts, words of wisdom, sage advice?

Try and live each day like it was your last. Life is so precious, we have no idea how many days we have left. Praise each birthday you’re able to receive, as age is something deprived of many. Try to have a passport full of stamps rather than a house full of stuff and never stop exploring, dreaming and discovering.

Planning a trip to the Bahamas? Book Karina’s home as a vacation rental here:

Touchstone Properties

/ Photography by Captain Barto, interview by Matt Titone

Check out more Surf Shacks here.

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