A Central American Surf Retreat

Surf, Relax, Repeat. A Photo Essay From Paradise.

After so many surf trips where my friends and I have “roughed it” through Central America, I decided a more luxurious experience was in order as we planned a trip to Nicaragua this summer. I have camped in the jungles of Panama and Costa Rica before, and while it was fun, we felt like spending our time surfing instead of making food, defending ourselves from mosquitoes, and preparing shelter.I have had my fair share of culture in the region and just wanted to surf.

While looking for places to stay, I came across the nicest hotel in the whole coast that caters specifically to surfers. It’s called Mark and Dave’s Hacienda and it can hold up to 10 surf stoked guests. They take care of everything from airport transfers to all meals, and even include a case and a half of beer per person! When my friends found all this out, and checked out their website, the trip quickly jumped up from 4 to 10 people and we filled the whole resort. The coolest thing for us is that there was absolutely nothing else to do but surf, eat, play some games of leisure like horse shoes or ping pong, and sleep.

The upper and lower tile pools right on the beach were a relief after surfing in the tropical heat.

When we arrived at Mark and Dave’s we were greeted by a swell that was way too big for the main surf spots that we went there for. Double overhead plus closeouts pounded the shore and their rumbling kept us up at night. For this reason we had to walk down the beach and surf a more sheltered point break. There was still plenty of size though as 8-10ft face lines wrapped around the beautiful lush cliffs.

The walk down to the point was only a few hundred yards. Along the way we were surrounded by lush vegetation and beautiful vistas.
The easiest way to make it out was to jump off the rocks at the end of the point. But caution was required as set waves would wash over the rocks. One of my friends was washed over and slammed his elbows and knees resulting in swollen cuts and bruises. It's heavier than it looks.
Waiting for a set to pass before I jump in.
Time to jump in! Perfect timing!
My friend about to get cleaned up by a set and washed over the rocks.
Sharp little snails covered these rocks and gave some nasty cuts to my unlucky friend along with . . .
. . . jagged rocks that caused some cuts and bruises as well.
This could have been much worse.
After getting slammed by the wave, he prepares to get sucked over the ledge.
Adios amigo.

On our way back from surfing this point we were ruthlessly harassed by what I thought was a single wasp that seemed very angry and territorial. We ran, we jumped in the water, we tried to bat the little demon out of the air with our surfboards. Nothing stopped it from attacking us. As I ran away past my friend it would stop hassling me and switch its assault to my unlucky walking companion as a ran away. “Haha, it’s after you now!” All the way back to the hacienda it gave chase until we could jump in the sparkling tile pool and stay under for awhile. I’m allergic to wasps and bees. Heavy. As it turns out, this was a very large biting fly. No stings. The little carnivore was biting us trying to get a meal out of our flesh. Next time we surfed the point I left a little earlier as the biting flies seemed to come out at dusk. We surfed the point again and again, hoping for the swell to drop so we could surf better waves nearby.

The first waves of the sets would explode below the cliff along the edge of the point.
There was a lot of water moving at the point. Sets would break 100 feet farther outside the lineup as waves crashed against the cliff and created a weird backwash.
The middle section of the point backed off and allowed for some turns before racing through the inside section.
The inside section of the point was the fastest part of the wave where you could get a few snaps in the pocket if you were lucky
One last backside snap before the wave closes out.

As the swell backed off 3 days later, I finally got to surf the beachbreak that was the star attraction of the region, and the jewel of the country. It was still a bit large, and A-frame peaks barreled and spit in both directions. A paddle out in the riptide was mandatory to get through the pounding tubes. Only two other guys in the group were up for the challenge. After we made it out, one of them decided to go for the first wave of the set, missed it, and got annihilated by the next two larger waves. He quickly went in to shore to take a breather, and then to my delight, charged out again to try and catch a good one. What a trooper I thought. I only got a handful of waves before the wind came up and ruined it, but they were heaving tubes that I did not make it out of. The intensity of those few waves were entirely worth the poundings.

The beachbreak was a few hundred yards to the south and was the star attraction in the region. My first few waves forced me to adjust to the quick drops after surfing the softer point to the north for three days.
It took a few beatings for me to figure out which tubes would allow for an exit.

I woke at dawn on the next day (and every day) to see the swell still holding its size. Another go out at the heavy beachbreak was the call, and only two friends joined me once again as the rest of the group decided on taking a boat up to a left point break a 45 minute ride away. I was there to surf the tubes at the beachbreak, so I stayed behind and got drilled on a few more closeout barrels. I made it out of one finally. But the best part was watching local kids completely rip and come out of all kinds of perfect tubes. I lacked the local knowledge of what wave would be best, but was getting the hang of it.

When I came back from the strenuous session at the beachbreak, The guys were already planning another trip on a boat to a left pointbreak to the south, only a ten minute sail away. Although I was completely tired and full from two helpings of breakfast, I decided to go.

The 10 minute boat ride to the left point towards the south was a perfect way to see the coastline. Once we arrived at the point I was the first in the water.

The point was as beautiful as the surrounding cliffs on the journey there. Sedimentary layers bursting with lush emerald foliage and purple flowers. It looked like Jurassic Park. The swell was still too large for the breaks in the area and the wave was breaking farther out than it should have, resulting in a mushier version of the proper wave. It was still a blast to surf such a gorgeous place with a few friends, although the heat was intense. The looong paddle back to the boat was brutal.

(Sequence: 1 of 3) The point was tailor made for cutbacks . . .
(2 of 3) . . . and was super fun compared to the serious waves at the beachbreak.
(3 of 3) After surfing 3 hours in the morning, and doing a hundred of these cutties during this session in the mid-day sun, I was completely drained.

After surfing each day we had a nice routine going of horse-shoes, ping-pong, sunset viewing and pool swimming, accompanied by many Tona’s (the local beer) and Flora De Cana’s (the local aged rum).

The best horse shoe pit ever, right next to the pool.
The pools were essential to stay cool after a game of pong or shoes.
The rocking chairs were perfect for watching the lightning shows over the ocean each night.
With 10 friends it was easy to have our own party every night.

On Wednesday, the crew went back on the boat to a new location while one friend walked down to the beachbreak with me. Suddenly, the winds switched to perfect offshores that the region was famous for. This was the best day of the trip. Just big enough to get your heart pounding, and perfect conditions with sunny skies. On one wave I pulled into a large tube as my ego was inflated after surfing there for two days prior when it was bigger. As I realized I was not making it out, I hit the eject button and my board slammed my forehead and hit my wrist really hard. The swelling knot on my head did not hurt as bad as my wrist and I had trouble moving my fingers and hand. I caught a few more waves before I was finished for the day.

The next three days were magic. Three sessions a day at the beachbreak as it dropped to a more manageable size of head high to a couple feet overhead. The predominant offshores continued and everything was in it’s right place. All the guys in our group joined me at the break for the first time along with 30 other guys. But when compared to crowds at home in California, it seemed a non-issue. Everyone was spread out and there were no hassles whatsoever.

I was stoked that the beachbreak was barreling all day. . . .
. . . and after the tube section, the wave allowed for some snaps. . .
. . . and then . . .
. . . one roundhouse cutback to finish the wave.

As the sun rose on the last morning of the trip, the swell had picked up a little and changed to a better direction. The water was so blue. After exiting countless tubes, I got clipped on one and put all my weight on my front foot as I jumped forward. After getting rag-dolled a bit, I came up to see my board broke in two. There was only another hour to surf before we had to leave, so I ran back and grabbed my other board and got two more good barrels. It was worth running back for that board.

As we packed up to catch our ride back to the airport we had a surreal feeling of satisfaction yet still wanted to stay.  The 3 hour ride to the airport was our only look at the local culture. Of course it was skewed as one would expect with a drive-by. The dirt road was carved through a dense forest dotted with tiny outposts of civilization. After an hour, we reached a colorful city and paved roads. By the time we reached the poverty and pollution of the capitol we were ready to check in for our flight and make our way home.

As we took off to catch our connecting flight in Panama City, we looked out the window at cinder-cone volcanoes and the massive lake. Such a wild place. When we touched down in Panama City, I instantly noticed it was decidedly more cosmopolitan that the last time I  was there 10 years ago. Capitalism had spawned an impressive row of skyscrapers and man-made bridges to the small islands that were close to the shore. The third-world look of the concrete buildings 10 years ago had gave way to mirrored glass and steel. Even the vibe of the locals in the airport was different. This city was on the move and you could feel it.

I thought of all the waves during the last 9 days as I drifted into sleep in my small economy seat. No crying babies this flight, although my boracho friends were almost as annoying. I woke up 45 minutes away from LAX and went through customs with a smile on my face. I was completely satisfied and still have not looked at what the swell is doing here at home after being back for a full week. As my urge for waves sets in, I realize I must put a wetsuit back on and deal with the crowded California surf once again, which isn’t so bad I guess. In the back of my mind though, I’m already planning on getting down to that place again and wonder how I will make the time and save the money. It’s money and time well spent for sure.

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