Looking for your ultimate surf trip, far from the crowds and full of adventures this year? Head down to Central America and you might get lucky…
Words by Sophie Everard
For those with an adventurous soul, who seek the unknown and the exhilaration of the journey in search of untouched breaks and exploration, taking that unknown, mysterious path often leads to the most fulfilling and rewarding of shred odysseys
So many of us seem to be in search of that timeless travel fantasy. That of the intrepid explorer on the existential, perennial hunt for a pristine slice of paradise. Or that of perfectly crested, empty waves, tucked into a soft sand haven of coconuts and endless summer shred.
The Balis, Byron Bays and Biarritz’s of the world, with their populous swells and all too often intimidating line-ups of jocking bros and bras can all too often intimidate the tentative and budding surfer. Especially the XY chromosomed surfer. But for those with an adventurous soul, those who seek the unknown and the exhilaration of the journey in search of untouched breaks and exploration, taking that unknown, mysterious path, slightly off the beaten track, often leads to the most fulfilling and rewarding of shred odysseys. As Jack Kerouac, the beatnik king of travel prose so poetically penned, “Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.”
Central America has been well chronicled in surfer’s travel guidebooks. Handfuls of Americans gradually began trickling down into Costa Rica and Mexico during the 1960s, hungry for empty breaks after hearing whispered tales of nature’s barreling promises. Fast forward a few decades, and the once elusive breaks that entranced the first intrepid voyagers are now happily packed out and a staple destination for any global surfer. Nicaragua, however, the largest of the Central American territories, was characterised by periods of political unrest and revolution, stability only coming to the equatorial tropic in recent years. Pockets of plucky surfers have slowly been exploring the verdant and diverse haven, and the mounting murmurs of balmy plentiful surf, welcoming and warm locals and unblemished pockets of paradise has been creeping into the adventurous surfers conscious. Thirsty for those promises of warm shred and discovery, it didn’t take much more than a couple of conversations with former ASP tour surfer Holly Beck, who is now based in Nicaragua and runs the Surf With Amigas surf camps throughout the year for those with a more gutsy disposition, and I was on my way. The scent of adventure and alluring warm waves dissolving any anxiety of my transatlantic solo voyage some 6,000 miles around the globe.
Nicaragua, the largest of the Central American territories, was characterised by periods of political unrest and revolution, stability only coming to the equatorial tropic in recent years.
After arriving in Chinandega, a planetarium-esque starred sky, clearer than any this European based, temporary city-kid has pretty much ever seen, wowed me into my first sleep in my capacious cabana, the gentle hums of surf breaking in the distance a soothing nights lullaby. Waking up to my home for the next week, the El Coco Resort, brain child and dream of three Canadian university buddies and former city workers, Ben, Jamie and Earl, I’m quickly and happily absorbed into the barefoot camp life. As the other surf camp amigas arrive, fast bonds are made. I’m pretty pleasantly surprised that everyone seems to be on the same travel, surf and life hungry page that I am, which I point out to Holly. Her point, that it takes a certain kind of person to make such an extensive journey into the relatively unknown, often on one’s own, pretty much hits the nail on the head. A person with a more daring spirit, and a hunger for exploration and thirst for surf. Hence it’s not really a coincidence, that we all feel the same here.
The first morning’s surf kicks off at 5:30am for a particularly impatient and stoked out group, who cruise on down with the El Coco Loco crew to see the sun rise and catch the first waves of the day. Yes, it’s true, it’s all true. The waves are super warm, they are straight-up sick, and the whoops and yews quickly began. It’s a pretty new experience, surfing at a spot where there are five girls to each guy, and progression isn’t forced but natural and comes from the encouraging hollers and laidback advice of Holly. Joining Holly is fellow surf instructor Jackie, a stoked out vision of Cali-radness who’s endless energy and stoke pumps on the group for hours every day. With some beginner surfers in the group progressing from white to green waves on the first day, it’s not hard to see that the relaxed atmosphere and energy of the predominantly all-girl group makes it easy to try, to push yourself, and to catch the waves of your life within the first day, setting the tone for the week ahead.
Yes, it’s true, it’s all true! The waves are super warm and straight-up sick.
All too often that first intoxicating and addictive dip into surfing can be marred by feelings of tentativity and self consciousness. Heck, it’s natural – we’re girls and as is the case in surfing, the predominantly dude-policed line-up is not often the most welcoming place. Surf With Amigas turns that traditional image of surfing on it’s sun-bleached head, fostering an altogether more laid-back but equally progressive atmosphere. Which allows forgettin some of the more common worries (is my bikini up my butt/he looks like he’ll pummel me if I catch that wave/I’m scared of wiping out) that can plague us. Every morning we seem to be waking up earlier, eyes wide open and racing down the empty beach before the first splinters of gleaming sunlight have even crept over the cabanas. Those who declared they were unable to turn either left/right find themselves full-blown ambi-turners a few sessions later, excitedly encouraged by Holly and Jackie who during second breakfast (you heard me!) or lunch-time (typically heaped up plates of locally grown goodness – think freshly baked burritos, huevos rancheros, grilled fish, home-made peanut butter, crunchy salads and all washed down with homemade lime, watermelon and fruit juices) share video analysis of the morning’s session. Explaining exactly how we can improve, their small hints and tips radically help each and every single one. We spend the afternoons stretching out the happily aching muscles with tree house yoga sessions overlooking the glittering ocean, horseback riding, or some visits around town.
With only a handful of western settlers in the area, a drive around the neighborhood reveals that Chinandega is quite literally, off the beaten track. Pot-holed mud roads take us on a bouncing ride, where, after dodging groups of cows, chickens and smiling, waving locals, we stop off at a local school being built by Waves of Hope, the nonprofit charity established by the El Coco Loco owners Jamie, Ben and Earl. Driven purely by donations, Waves of Hope are pouring support into the local community, fostering a harmonious existence. As the fairy tale goes, they fell in love with the area, wanting to live a purer, healthy lifestyle, surfing every day and escaping the monotony and busy bustle of city life. It’s not a one way existence though, as the whole purpose of Coco Loco/Waves of Hope is to pour the benefits of the visiting tourists with whom they share their stoke of surfing/yoga/food/new friendships, back into the community. Which is achieved by employing locals, paying more than fair wages, providing scholarships and health insurance, and supporting an entrepreneurial training programme to develop and drive local businesses. So far, so zen, and their enthusiasm and positivity is infectious. It is awesomely apparent that the locals are equally as stoked to have the guys live in their town, especially a handful of the local girls, who have gradually been coaxed into the water by Holly and Jackie (funnily enough, swimming in the sea, let alone surfing, is not that common in Nicaragua for locals) and are learning to surf. We spend an afternoon surfing with the local girls, and they are possibility even more amped than us, pumped on by everyone’s encouragement.
The whole purpose of Coco Loco/Waves of Hope is to pour the benefits of the visiting tourists with whom they share their stoke of surfing/yoga/food/new friendships, back into the community.
The next afternoon we pile into a disused army truck and tear through the jungle, Cerro Negro, the most active of the Central American volcanoes, looming black and ominous in the distance. As we hike against the powerful and perilous winds, the setting seems perfectly pertinent, as we are scrambling up the volcano to board down on the very day the Mayans predicted the world would end. We all made it down and against the staggering sunset sky we toast the end of the week, of surfing endless perfect waves, of progressing beyond must of our expectations, of the new friendships that are sure to stay, of stoking our brains out, and of the new adventures that are sure to follow.