WSSM - Rails & Tales -- Nicaragua

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RAILS & TALES . . . Nicaragua

nicaragua By Dan Olson

Sunset at the Cloud Farm

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The CHICABRAVA Surf House, only steps from the ocean and surf

Popoyo Surf Lodge Surf Guide/Photographer, Renato CG. Thanks for the photos!

Every surf trip leaves it’s mark. My new battle wound/tattoo, after getting wrapped up in my board at Romanzo

Sunset at Popoyo Beach


CHICABRAVA owner, Ashley Blaylock, clearly in her element at her home break in Nicaragua. Photo courtesy of CHICABRAVA

hen we left Hawaii, we knew that if we wanted the biggest and craziest waves, we should just drive up north here on Oahu, Hawaii, to our own backyard. But if we were looking for an adventure, a memory creating surf trip that we would dream of for years to come, then we should head to Nicaragua as planned. Regardless of the size of waves we would get, we were looking for a vacation away from the crowds and aggression. Blast off from Hawaii… touchdown in Florida I grabbed my Fluid surfboard from a friend in New Smyrna (thanks Gabriel & Amanda), who had been storing it and Sandra’s brand new “Chicks Stick by Lola- Little Screamer” that she was dying to try out for the very first time. Rental car jammed with boards and bags, we made our way to the Taca Airlines counter at the Orlando Intl. airport. Flying TACA is always a pleasure. The staff is friendly, and they don’t act as though you are wasting their time, trying to check in surfboards. They’re eager to help you explore their country, and it shows, and with surf travel and tourism just beginning to boom in their country, they’re always curious and excited for you to experience “some of the best waves in the world”. There are several ways to get to Central America on Taca, such as non-stop flights, that are a little pricier, but get you there super fast- and are great for those with schedule restraints, or the option of multiple stops, which gets you a better rate, AND the opportunity to see other countries like Guatemala, and El Salvador, en-route. Though you’re only visiting the airports, it’s a great way to stretch your legs, cruise the gift shops for souvenirs and coffee, and then hop back on board a Taca flight, where you’re served ANOTHER free meal, and complimentary juices, sodas, coffee, and yes- even adult beverages, too. International travel on Taca is like no other these days—they still believe in customer service. Touchdown: Managaua, Nicaragua We made it! CHICABRAVA’s driver was waiting for us to take us back to camp, so after loading our boards, we piled in the A/C’d van, and eagerly took off. The main roads and highways were extremely busy, and packed with cars, horses, mopedtaxi services and yoke-laden oxen pulling heavy wooden carts. What a trip!

Sweet sleeping accomodations at the CHICABRAVA Surf House

The Nica’s are a very friendly people, much like the Salvadorians we met on our previous surf trip to El Salvador (Read about it in our Wtr/Spr ’11 issue).

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Rails & Salvador RAILS &Tales TALES. ....El. Nicaragua

JJ & Kims girls (also below), owners of the Popoyo Surf Lodge. How killer would it be to grow up surfing at Popoyo?!

I once caught a fish...

Photo by: Renato CG Not an uncommon sight to be trading uncrowded waves at Manzanillo

Ashley Blaylock, owner/operator of CHICABRAVA Photo courtesy of CHICABRAVA

nicaragua Unlike our less-welcoming closer neighbor, Mexico, who in recent years hasn’t been the biggest fan of their neighbor to the north, the Nica’s greet you with a shine in their eye and big, welcoming smiles, un-begrudging you of your American heritage, while eager to have you there and enjoying yourself. About 2 hours later, and after a quick stop for lunch, we arrived at our first stop, CHICABRAVA, where we were met by its lovely owner, Ashley Blaylock. A transplant from the USA, Ashley set out on her own down here, dancing to the sound of a different beat, and making her dream of running her own surf camp a reality. She offers two different styles of lodging, from the eco-conscious, boutique style Cloud Farm (yes, you’re practically in Heaven when you’re up there), located on hundreds of acres of indigenous forest, fruit orchards and organic gardens. It’s quiet and peaceful- perfect for the surf/yoga enthusiast, to the Surf House, which is located on the main street, beachfront road in the town of San Juan Del Sur. Here the surf breaks are within a rock-throwing distance, as well as nighttime entertainment and local restaurants galore. We chose the Surf House, since we would only be there for one night and we wanted to experience the Nica culture. After a quick nap that day, we loaded up the van with our boards and headed out for our first surf of the trip, to a spot called Romanzo. We were told that Nicaragua boasts off-shore winds over 300 days per year, so the CHICABRAVA staff assured us that the conditions we would see were NOT normal (messy), but should clean up the following morning. Regardless of conditions, we were stoked to be in the water and were charged up. Romanzo is a great left-hander that offers a peak for almost all levels of surfing, but that night it was heavy and heaving, as the remnants of one of the biggest swells of the year continued to pound Nica’s shores further north. We scored, enjoying solid 8’ – 12’ sets, with a couple super long lefts that made it all worthwhile. This place rocks for the goofy-footers! Back in San Juan, the CHICABRAVA Surf House was a bed & breakfast style lodging, with a full Nicaraguan breakfast included, so that left us free to choose from many of the local restaurants for lunch and dinner, which was a nice cultural experience. After a great dinner with Ashley and

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Photo by: Renato CG Plenty of left-handers for the goofy footers in Nicaragua. Dan dropping in at Playgrounds

JoJo, the only girl we saw surfing in the Popoyo area while we were there, turned out to be a dive specialist, that trains astronauts for weightless moonwalks in a gigantic tank, at the NASA training facility in Texas... AND she surfs the tanker waves as well. What a rad chick! Photo by: Renato CG

Photo by: Renato CG One eye on the lip, one eye on the sandbar, at Playgrounds wSSm | | 29

RAILS & TALES . . . Nicaragua

Photo by: Renato CG Beautiful rock walls and massive cliffs surround the line-up at Manzanillo

Dan’s new friend, Erik, a local Nicaraguan surfer, sports a matching mohawk, courtesy of Sandra

Popoyo Surf Lodge

nicaragua her boyfriend at a restaurant built so close to the beach, the high tide lapped at its base, we chatted about her adventures in both business and life in Nicaragua. We then wrapped up the night with a walk through the town after dark, complete with ice cream and floats. Now thoroughly exhausted, we slept soundly, in eager anticipation of an early morning surf session. Sure enough, bright and early, Sarah Powers, our surf guide, gathered us for our second session back at Romanzo, where the conditions did indeed clean up! Glassy, fun, and not nearly as many close-outs as the night before, we returned to the CHICABRAVA Surf House for a filling breakfast with Ashley. TIME TO SWITCH IT UP 12noon rolled around and so did the driver from the Popoyo Surf Lodge, our next and final destination for the remainder of the trip. Coming from the busy shores of Hawaii, we were looking for an intense getaway, to get lost in the countryside and forget civilization for awhile. Popoyo promised even bigger, glassier waves and utter seclusion from the world. Two hours later, we pulled into Popoyo Surf Lodge, and were greeted by our surf guide, who would be coordinating our surf times (“Anytime you wanna surf, guys!”) and meals. The lodge, where all meals were served and internet access was widely available, was HUGE! Their large and friendly staff included boat captains, surf guides, cooks, maids, and security. They even had a beautiful pool and hammock area to lounge in, and some friendly monkeys right outside our “Casita” door, for entertainment. We often snuck them down bits of fresh fruit from the 3 full meals we received each day, and marveled at the difference between the male and female species when it came to eating. Yep, even in monkey form… females are much more ladylike than their counterparts. Popoyo Surf Lodge is within minutes of several world class breaks, and also enjoys access to breaks only accessible by boat—which was all provided for us by the Lodge. If you’ve never been on a surf trip that utilizes boats for those harder-to-reach breaks, then you’re missing a true blessing. The cool morning air and sun on your face, and a full breakfast digesting in your belly as you zip across the ocean face is an experience you’ll never forget. So much energy is conserved by not wrestling through sets and monster close-outs just trying to reach the lineup. The motor stops, anchor drops, and there’s the wave! Our first Popoyo session was spent at a glassy

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Popoyo Beach

Massive and glassy, Sandra at Playgrounds (the PERFECT name for this break) on her new Chick Sticks by Lola “Little Screamer” a board custom made for this surf trip. Thanks Lola! ( Photo by: Renato CG

No need for words... see above caption. Above and below photo sequences by Playgrounds Surf Camp

A “Casita” at Popoyo Surf Lodge

Real Nicaraguan Monkeys! wSSm | | 31

RAILS & TALES . . . Nicaragua

Looking for a possible doggie-door at Playgrounds Photo by: Renato CG

A magical beach ride at Popoyo. Photo by Mike Harvison, who then took a self-portrait (right) as we rode away on the beach. A great surfer, who loves his country and is always down for a good laugh!

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At the beach launch, headed for surf only accessible by boat

Local chicas on the beach, who lit up with delight as Dan surprised them with a silver wrapped, strawberry and sprinkles frosted pop tart. They were ecstatic!

nicaragua perfection of a split-peak wave, called Playgrounds. With its smooth, cobblestone reef bottom, it spits perfect lefts and rights, with sets rolling in as far as the eye can see. We enjoyed it for HOURS as Popoyo’s staff photographer, Renato CG, caught the action from shore. Thanks Renato! Back at the Lodge, we became friends with the staff, and after receiving a trim myself, Sandra was happy to carve up the scalp of Erik, with a matching mohawk. Nice! These Nicaraguans are really great people. This photo sums Nicaragua up perfectly...

The next few days were filled with surfing, boat trips, and afternoon surf checks, though most days we were so exhausted from the day’s sessions that we simply looked at the closeout beach breaks, and decided to lay by the pool and tell surf stories, or walk the nearby beach. On our last night there, we were walking the beach under a gorgeous setting sun holding hands when we spotted two teens riding towards us on horses. These were personal, not rental horses, and they were out for their nightly run on the beach… and amped! I flagged the guys down and asked them if we could rent them for a half hour. They agreed, and we hopped on. Sandra had grown up with horses, but it had always been a dream of hers to cruise, ok, RUN, one on the beach. That night, as dusk set in, we raced down the beach, smiling from ear to ear, laughing, and wondering just how in the world we find ourselves in these exotic locations. This experience was truly a gift from God, and completely unexpected. Take-off, touchdown, plane changes, and we were Hawaii bound once more, reliving the magical moments and epic surf, in the beautiful country of Nicaragua. This is definitely a surf destination NOT to be passed on, a real goofy-footers paradise. However, don’t wait too long before booking your surf trip here and expect to forever enjoy un-crowded and secluded breaks all to yourself, because the word is out and spreading fast... that Nicaragua IS an epic SURF destination! 



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