"The department of homeland security has designated at this time for this to be terror level code orange. Please report any unattended baggage to the authorities, and please note that if you leave your bag unattended for any period of time that you will be considered a threat to this airport."
Yup, we're not in Canada anymore. This, blaring from the loudspeakers at the George Bush International in Houston, was America's way of serenading us to sleep during our layover between 1AM and 5AM. I kept telling myself:
Warm water.... no wetsuit... warm water... no wetsuit... warm... water.....
But somehow this wasn't, paired with the unimaginably monotone voice of the taped threat-doling lady, helping me sleep. So I began to think of how we got here, on this trip with a final destination of the still-uncrowded waves of Nicaragua. One fall draw ballot with coastalbc.com, and their arrangement with Tom from nicasurf.com, and the cheapest flights available (hence the layover spawned from the sleep loss fairy herself, evil wench) from redtag.com, this whole thing was an amalgamation of the efforts of those in the interweb to fly me to, stay at, and dive into the ocean located in that magical belt between 15°N and the equator. In several hours, we would be transported from one of the coldest Victoria winters that I can remember to 30 degree weather and a bathtub ocean.
Us sleep deprived in the American airport from hell.
Strangely, I still wasn't sleeping.
Regardless, it did happen, and before I knew it I was flying over the most active Volcanoes I would ever care to fly too closely to. As if that wasn't exciting enough, the largest freshwater body in Central America, Lago de Nicaragua, and one that is still imposing and much closer to our airport, Lago de Managua, create consistent, strong offshore winds along the entire Pacific coast, and these winds were pumping. So, landing (more like "dropping") was a character building experience, and here we were, stepping down on the first real leg of this adventure.
I had heard about the handlers at the airport, so I thought I was prepared. I wasn't. It's like they saw surfboards, thought "shmuck", and just thought they could push these guys around. They just walk up, pretend like "obviously you need a ride, so I'll speak a bunch of Spanish and confuse the shit outta you, and then I'll have a client". The worst part is not knowing who is actually supposed to be picking you up, so maybe these random guys grabbing all our bags are actually who are supposed to be picking us up. However, through the Spanish and the confusion, we heard:
"Well, you guys look white enough to be who I'm looking for!"
Dale Dagger himself. And yes, we were white enough. Beers in hand (in the airport pickup zone—welcome to Nicaragua), Dale told the guys holding all our shit to f__ off, and away we went! Loading our stuff into the affectionately named "burrito", grabbing some beers, and driving away into the sweltering heat only experienced at 11°N, our surfing adventure could begin. Away!
The only way to travel down there.
5 metres later, and we're being stopped by the airport security.
I was worried—Dale had an open beer in his hand and made no qualms about hiding it. Some more Spanish (turns out the police just wanted some beer of his own), and we were on our way. Well, sorta. We stopped in Rivas to pick up some food at the local Mexican restaurant (yup, went to Nicaragua to eat Mexican) and to stop by his Rivas boat-making operation (making a new outrigger for the lodge) and in doing so we got to take in some of the Nica-life of the biggest city we'd see in the next week.
Mmmm... mexican... nicaraguan... food.
A few dirt roads, waves to locals, stops at fresh fruit stands, and dropping off dog food's later, we were there. Obviously, thinking about warm water for the last 4 months, the first thing we'd do is run to the water. I brought my skim, and before I knew it there were kids everywhere checking it out. And man! could those kids rip. Little broken half surfboards, pieces of Styrofoam, boogie boards, these kids could rip better than me on a Zed epoxy. Here's Kevin, the local kid that hangs at the lodge, restocking ice and helping out (in exchange he gets to surf, skurf, skim etc... pretty good deal!). Take note of the rippage.
We ended up leaving my skim for him when we left, so he could continue on getting better and cmon, Hidden Bay is a way better skim spot than anywhere in Victoria, so might as well let the board live in ideal conditions!
The view from the "backyard". Ideal conditions much?
After enjoying the water for a while, we came in to some awesome food, some more beers, and we met the staff. After such a big day, we were pretty stoked to fall asleep to geckos and surf.
We awoke the next morning to some Nica music next door and coffee that tasted like it was grown and roasted next door (which isn't far from the truth). Something was missing from our trip so far.... SURF! So first things first, grab all our crap (noting lack of a wetsuit), throw it into the boat, which comes right up on the beach, and two minutes later we're pulling up to Nicaragua's warm water version of Sombrio with no crowds and better waves. Now who is we? Well, Kevin tagged along this morning, but in addition to him, I had the treat of surfing with Scott Aichner, one of the head photographers at Surfer magazine. Turns out he had been there a week before, shooting some pros in some massive surf (www.nicasurf.com/dalespot/aichner.html) and fell in love with the place, staying at the lodge for another week or so. Imagine your job is to build houses all day, and when you finally get some time off, you decide to hang around and build another house. This is what Scott's life is like, except way more surf and way less house-building. Not only that, but he was still super stoked on every wave that he, and you, got! What a guy! Twas a great session, and was the first of many.
The first of many.
Scott at his finest
After a few hours of surfing (don't wanna get tired out, there's too much surfing to be had over the next week), we paddled the 30 feet to the boat (no taking shorepound on the head for us) and arrived back at the lodge to fish fillets, salads, roasted potatoes, classic nica cuisine. Words cannot describe how nice it is to walk in the door, not strip off a wetsuit, and have food waiting. After lunch, headed out to rip with the local kids again cuz we just can't get enough of that warm water!
Now have we mentioned India yet? India is the first, middle, and last reason to come to this lodge. While being a certified Yoga instructor (Yoga with a Nica sunset as a backdrop is something words fail to describe), she can cook, make a mean smoothie (don't worry, secret peanuty and buttery ingredient will remain a secret India), she can RIP (see day 5), and, most importantly on this day, she's quite the surf instructor. So, a walk through the sand and here we were on a beach with no one out, and it's Katie's turn to surf. She had a blast!
When we got back , we were kinda tuckered, so we explored the village a bit, ending up at an internet cafe just up the way. Any thoughts you may have about this country being dangerous are quickly dispelled when you walk through this town. Everyone is so friendly, and happy to talk to you (which may not last very long depending on your brand of spanish).
The highway into town.
So what do you do in a Surf lodge? You surf! So when we got back, I did just that. Back to the reef, session # 3. After this, on pretty much day one of the stay, you'd think I was exhausted and would just want to relax. NO! SKURFIN time bitches! Now you may be wondering... what's he talkin bout. Well, take the boat. Take a tow rope. Take a modded Al Merrik tufflite. Take warm water, unreal sunsets, and everyone's stoke. Now mix it together, and you've got skurfing.
Kevin surfing with "hidden bay" in the background.
Jolyon, the coolest guy you'll meet down there, pioneering the art of skurfing. He works at the lodge, tirelessly helping you get on the water.
Sure, I'll giver a try!
Finally, we had to stop ripping various types of waves & wakes to eat, so we headed down the street to mugi burgers, $1 tonas, and a monkey and parrot that are just insane to play with, all at one of the local restaurants. Too many tonas later, it was time to pass out to the geckos and surf.
A lot of the same. Woke up, coffee's ready, grabbed a board, jumped on the boat, surfed the reef, jumped back on the boat, came back, hella good food waiting. Sound like a good morning? It was, oh it was. One thing I haven't mentioned is the offshores. It is offshore all... the .... time here. Surfing Pacific NW, not always the case (especially surfing ECVI).
After that, the Kate had woke up from her sleep in (enjoying no 3-year-old-wanna-play-wake-ups) and as such wanted to get into the water. So we walked over to the close beachy again, again, not a soul anywhere, and had another mellow surf filled with good times.
What better to do after thatthen have another skurf? Are you sensing a theme here? If you aren't completely toast after this trip, you could kick the governor of California’s ass using only a small spoon. And that's no small feat, trust me, I saw it once. (PS haha your state’s broke!)
Every day ends like this down there.
Well, I got up today, and decided that maybe I should have a little surf. So I did, running down the beach to the local beachie, and again, no one was out. This was the same place as Katie's surf lesson, and sets were head high and fast, clearly the swell was building. So it was more of a warmup and stretch for the surfing later in the day than anything. Not bad eh? Go for a quick "warmup surf". All the south islanders are likely throwing fits right now.
Came back to fresh pineapple (I mean FRESH) and papaya with granola. If you've never had the pineapple from Centro before, you're missing out. It's whiter, crisper, and deadly. You wont stop eating it. I didn't. If that wasn't enough, there was pancakes, eggs, etc... along with a banana pinapple fried mixture... a Jolyon specialty.
The view from the breaky
Then, it happened. I got to surf the left. The beautiful, peeling, long-ass, fun-section left. I spent a great deal working up the wave, as the swell and tide just wasn't quite there, and it was wrapping pretty close to the rocks, but Scott, oh Hawaiian Scott, was pulling into barrels with reckless abandon. It was pretty cool to sit there, catch the occasional wave (to the beach), and watch a few tube rides on the paddle back out. Oh and did I mention? Scott and I were the only ones out. EPIC.
It was time now to finally have a nap in the hotness. And nap I did. And hot it was. Here's an example of how nice it is to nap here, or, well, Katie reading.
So, might as well jump back in the boat and have another surf. Finally, we headed out to the beachy I had been dreaming about since I saw pics on Dale's website. It was head high, tubing, and really fun. That wave dredges man. Did I mention that CoastalBC.com hooked me up with a new board on points, just before I got down there.... the AKA 6'4" for anyone that's looked it up. Well, first session I had was some ECVI storm surf, and wouldn't you know it, first wave, rip the nose off. Now it's a 6'3". Fast forward to my 3rd session on the board, and here we are, surfing this pounding beachy, and the leash pulls through the tail. Well, that board's done for the trip ( I did fix it when I got home, and yes this board still rips).
Finished the night off to some good eats, some money-grabbin poker, and a newly set up horseshoe pit. Good times.
This morning, I was feeling the burn, so we headed back up to Brio, and took in some local hospitality. Following this, Jolien took us out on a tour of the "yoga lots". So far, unsure as to what plots of land have to do with flexibility, but hey, go with what you... don't... know. Sick property though, and cheap as hell.
Could be your view....?
To get a better view of the area, down at the South end of da beach, there is what's known as the Giant's Foot, a local rock formation that looks a bit like a... well... guess. So, why not hike up it? Super nice, dodging cacti, hot as hell, what more could you want? After that, came back to a wicked lunch and I was starting to itch for some surf.
The view from the (almost) top.
Remember where I had that warmup surf? Well, it was firing now. FIRING. So much fun. India came out too, and was ripping all over the place.
That girl can RIP
I caught some hella fun ones too, including some beautiful green rooms that I just about made (I swear!).
Rounded out the day by bodysurfing Gigante with Scott. When the swell's up, this is a beautiful place to body surf, just hop right on and go for the tube. Little baby barrels all over that beach
After that... dinner and sunset yoga. Never gets old.
After non-stop body
destruction, I decided take'n er easy was the name of the game this morning. Lemme tell ya, easy to do when by 10AM its already 30 degrees out. The swell was up, so the local kids were out just in front of the lodge, so I jumped into the water with them. Had a blast, those kids can rip the smallest waves with the greatest of ease.
Totally Slater-esque drop in... eh?
Mini barrell! Get out the RC surfer!
After a bit of that, I decided a bit more swell was in order, and so I took the 5 minute walk over to the next beach. One thing about Nica, all you have to do if you find a crowd (e.g. three people out in the water) you just have to hike over the next headland and it's empty. As such, I went and had a surf by myself for a few hours in dredging beachy barrels, loving what was to be my last full day down here.
On the way back, I decided to jump in the water again at the mini-wedge right out front of the lodge, and away I went. Rough eh?
Later on, a skurf was in order, just to fulfill the general theme of the place, and we ended our stay with a no pants pizza party. I'll let the pictures do the talking.
I know you were dying for some man-skin.
It was time to say goodbye, and it was rough. Mostly rough to say goodbye to the sun, the surf, and the wicked people that made that lodge sick. So, we packed up, leaving the skim with Kevin, and got ready for the ½ hour boad ride to San Juan. It was pretty sick, and the surf spot potential in that place is just mind boggling. Think of the West Coast Trail coastline, with palm trees. Absolutely astounding.
In San Juan, we were able to do the tourist thing, including having drinks at the Pelican Eyes. This is one thing you most definitely have to experience if in Nico, and pictures speak louder than words. 25 bucks later, we had a room, and we could check out the nightlife, which was definitely worth the stay.
If you come to Nica, you HAVE to have a drink here. See why?
24 hours later, we end this where we started:
"The department of homeland security has designated at this time for this to be terror level code orange."
I leave you with me getting a sweet rock barrel, and the two happy customers at the end. Thanks again CoastalBC and Hidden Bay Surf Lodge! Times of our lives!
Anyone who has any questions about the Lodge or just surfing in Nica in general can email me.