The first step in learning to surf is figuring out how
to let go. And there is no place better to let it all slip away than in the chilled-out
surf camps on Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast.
After all, it is hard to worry about mortgage
payments, taxes and the rising price of health care when you are charging down
a wave at 30km per hour, with a turquoise chamber of liquid zen enveloping you
on all sides. Patrick Swayze had it right in the 1991 classic movie Point Break:
“Surfing's the source man.”
But luckily for most mere mortals, you do not need
Patrick Swayze’s bronzed abs to chase this rush. You just need a few basics, a
few bucks, a decent instructor and some choice waves.
Where and when to
While there are surf camps throughout the world, Central
America’s big swells, cheap lodging and free-flowing cervezas make for the
perfect surf-camp combo. There are three top surf destinations in Central
America: Costa Rica, El Salvador and Nicaragua. The waves in Costa Rica are
pretty sweet, but usually too crowded for those just getting started. Further north,
El Salvador can be dangerous
with growing gang and drug-related violence. But in Nicaragua, on this little
revolutionary firmament between the wind, the salt and the sand, it might be
You have two choices after flying into the capital of
Managua: head north for the less-crowded and less-developed beach towns of Playa
Jiquilillo, Puerto Sandino and Playa Aserradores, or head south for the party
scene and higher-end accommodations found on the coconut-brown beaches just
outside the town of San Juan del Sur.
Big wave chasers will want to visit between March and
November, when waves reach 1m to 2m high (up to 4m high in some spots). The
rest of the year, the water is cooler (you might consider bringing a
long-sleeve wetsuit top) but the waves are smaller, making this an ideal time
for newbies. Boards are available to rent in the major surf towns if you do not
want to bring your own.
What to expect
Nicaragua’s surf camps are usually all-inclusive affairs.
Costing $900 to $2,000 a week (expect to pay US dollars for big-ticket items,
but change a few greenbacks for cordobas upon arrival), you can expect air-conditioned
rooms in a beach-front cabaña, boat excursions and all you can eat and drink. Many
of Nicaragua’s gnarliest breaks can only be accessed by launch – private
interests are buying up coastal properties at heart-palpitating rates – so boat
excursions are key to getting the most out of your surfing holiday.
Many of the camps are tailored to intermediate and
advanced riders, meaning you can regularly catch waves, know the difference
between a duck dive and an eggbeater, and are not afraid to charge a wave when
things get big. If this is not you, make sure to email ahead to organise
lessons with fellow novices on more reasonably sized waves.
The average day starts with a sunrise high-tide session
at dawn, on waves crashing right outside your room, followed by a breakfast of waffles
and freshly squeezed tropical juices (do not miss the Nicaraguan favourite of gallo pinto – rice mixed with beans – served
at every meal). In the afternoon, you will head out with a guide on a 20ft boat
in search of more consistent, longer waves. Beginners will get a private
session where they learn how to paddle out, stay afloat on the board, read the
ocean and catch a wave, rising to their feet with hands stretched out in a
flying V. Believe it or not, it is an intuitive sport and most people will
stand up their first day.
Pacific Coast camps
Getting to the private island paradise of Surfing Turtle is half the fun. Take
a bus from the northern colonial capital of León, zip across an estuary on a
boat, hop on a donkey cart, then scuttle your way to a collection of surf-front
bungalows. The camp does not offer boat tours, but there is a good beach break
right out front, as well as a fun traveller scene with bonfires, plenty of Bob
Marley and a far-out utopia hard to replicate in this modern age.
On the idyllic Playa Jiquilillo, Monty’s Surf Camp offers weeklong
stays that include surfing and volunteering for local poverty reduction
initiatives, plus rooms at a quirky beachfront hotel. If you ever get tired of
the breaks, head out to Puerto Sandino, Nicaragua’s answer to pipeline, or Playa
Asseradores with its hollow waves and remote beach.
Pacific Coast camps
An excellent budget option, the Playa Hermosa Beach Hostel offers
easy access to about five beach breaks, plus plenty of tanned and toned surfing
bunnies and beaus.
With a private oceanfront beach house, the Playa
Gigante Dale Dagger’s Surf Lodge offers
boat trips to the bigger waves just outside the sleepy village.
Gigante, Giant’s Foot Surf Camp caters
to beginners in the off-season, with chilled-out yoga-slash-surf retreats.