Perfect waves in Nicaragua

Tripping Fins: Nicaragua

I‘d seen the photos and heard the stories…tropical beachbreak barrels and offshore all day! What? Really? Its perfect offshore all day? Apparently, Lake Nicaragua sits just inland from the coast and disturbs the typical land/sea breeze cycle. After 10 years of the afternoon, blown-out sea breeze in Southern California, it was a must to check out the mythical Nicaragua land breeze.

I left home at 5am, easy Uber to the airport, no problems through security, stroll to the gate and wait. Excitement building. I’d been worried about a tight connection in Dallas to Managua. As I entered the jetway, my phone buzzed…the flight from Dallas to Managua was cancelled. Damn. I quickly called American Airline customer service and had just enough time hear something about mechanical issues and no flights to Managua until 2 days later. The flight attendant forced me off the phone in preparation for take off. I spent the entirety of that flight cursing under my breath.

Arriving in Dallas, I found a long line of disgruntled passengers waiting for a chance to voice their frustration and amend their broken travel plans. One of them, Kelly Anne, lives in Encinitas and was also headed to the same surf community in Nicaragua. After a 2 hour wait, the rep found me a flight to Mexico City that afternoon and then to Managua the next morning. Mechanical issues at least guaranteed a hotel room in Mexico City.  But now the great mystery…what would become of my checked bag containing my swim fins. Would I ever see them again? Would I be able to experience the magical Nicaraguan conditions?

I arrived in the seeming chaos of the Mexico City airport at 11pm local time. A couple of helpful American Airline employees helped me acquire a hotel voucher and track my bag…it was in El Salvador. Optimism at a new low. When I entered the hotel lobby at midnight, a couple hundred travelers waited in line for a room. Finally, I laid down in bed at 2am and slept for 2 hours. By 4:30am, I was back in the chaos of the Mexico City airport. Quick flight to Managua, still fuming at American Airlines for the delay and missing baggage.

Gusto Pablo. First time I’ve been picked up with a sign…extra credit that it’s spelled wrong.

Gusto Pablo met me outside the airport and drove me the 3 hours to the community that’d be home for the week. Gusto Pablo dominates the hectic roads of Nicaragua. Not in a dangerous way, but in a supremely confident manner. The beautiful countryside and colorful towns flew past. At one point, we were hung up in a traffic jam in a town because of a festival passing through. Pablo simply found a dirt road to the right and proceeded to take his small sedan over and through the rutted, flooded road. We pulled back onto the road on the other side of town and continued toward the coast.

We drove into the idyllic surf community and quickly arrived at the home that I had rented a room. It was beautiful: four rental units surrounding a pool and the home of the owner, plus a large common room. A small river runs through the backyard and the whole property is surrounded by thick forest.

After dropping my bags, I walked the few hundred yards to the beach. Wow…a gorgeous tropical paradise. Not pumping swell yet, but sure enough the wind was offshore and a fun, high-tide shorebreak womped onto the sand. A rainbow appeared as a quick squall passed through and I jumped in the Ocean, finless, for a quick womp. The forecast showed a slow start to the week with a very solid swell filling in after a couple days.

Ken and Bruce on film.

I walked back to the house to meet Mateo, the owner of the home and his parents Ken and Judy that had just arrived. Turns out, they live about a mile away from me in Encinitas and would be staying for couple weeks. Their friend, Bruce, also joined for a few days. Ken and Bruce are retired teachers and they are all delightful people.  

As darkness fell, a man appeared in the driveway. American Airlines slightly redeemed themselves. My bag was delivered to the house all the way from the Managua Airport. I was elated! I had my swim fins! Plus, I could finally change my clothes after two days of humid travel.

I woke at 5am everyday of the trip and rode a bicycle to the beach with my fins. The first couple mornings, the surf was small but still gorgeous. I went for a long walk down the beach and into the forest on the way to a little fishing village. I was blown away by the vibrant ecosystem: butterflies, iguanas, birds and howler monkeys.

The food at the house was delicious! Three meals a day, all super fresh and healthy…perfect surf fuel. Ken and Bruce vs. Mateo and myself commenced a table tennis tournament after dinner each night. I was the weak link and it took us a couple games to overcome the craftiness of the older gentlemen, but we eventually figured it out.

Even when the locals said it was flat, there were still fun, chest high waves finding their way across the sandbars. The swell filled in over the next two days. Every set larger than the next and becoming more consistent. I swam 5-7 hours each day: session at dawn, after breakfast, after lunch and at sunset. If I wasn’t swimming, I was on the beach with my camera.

A set wave stands up in the wind and crackles as the top is blown off. Dive deep into the darkness. Dig fingers into the sand, ears pop as the water weight passes over top. Push off the bottom…surface blind from the sudden bright light and the spray. Pure exhilaration! 

I dealt with a stomach issue one afternoon but I considered it a right of passage for my first trip to Central America and was perfectly fine by the next morning. My trip was scheduled for 7 days, but after scoring the best waves of my life, I extended for an extra 3 days. The swell peaked in the double overhead+ range and the conditions remained mostly flawless. During 12 hours of daylight, maybe a front would blow through for an hour and the wind would switch onshore. The other 11 of hours were either light wind and glassy or perfect offshore.

I went to the beach every night with my camera and tripod in an attempt to photograph the Milky Way in the light-pollution-free sky. Tropical clouds made that difficult but I witnessed some spectacular lightning storms on the horizon. I even scored a super fun moonlight swim on my final night.

Twas a spectacular trip! I hope to go back for a full month next summer. Many thanks to Mateo, Ken, Judy, Bruce and their staff for all the wonderful hospitality! If you are looking for a Nicaragua surf adventure, I highly suggest contacting Mateo:
Website: VRBO
Instagram: @NicaTime


2017 Point Panic Experience


Written by Kanekoa Crabbe, Event Director

Photographs provided by Jeff Kawelo instagram @unko_shots


“Point Panic was unreal!  90 feet and glassy!”  The words of the late-great Rap Replinger were jokingly uttered from person to person on Friday & Saturday, September 1st & 2nd at Kaka’ako Waterfront Park.  Why?  Because for the first time in over two years, the Oahu south shore surf finally pumped!

With over 80 entered wave riders and nearly 20 hopeful alternates, brand new competition caps from DaFin & Vissla, a 6-man team of judges and an obnoxious Hawaiian bodysurfer blowing his conch shell every time a solid set popped on the horizon, the bar of performance bodysurfing was once again raised higher than ever before.  From the Wyatt Yee triple-spinner to the Kaneali’i Wilcox front-flip/barrel combo to the B.K. Holt & Kai Santos belly spins to the Matt Solomon ridiculous perfect 10 in-and-out barrel and the Mark Cunningham record ride time from the main peak to the Kewalo basin channel, this annual celebration epitomized what Hawaii’s best bodysurfers do at Hawaii’s best bodysurfing wave.  Super-woman Sanja Duplessis surfed a ridiculous 6 heats on Saturday and placed in 3 finals.  A dozen teenagers charged the solid Point Panic surf while being encouraged by huge cheers on land and with major support from the water patrol elders observing from the channel.  One of those “teenagers” became the youngest Point Panic Grand Champion to date; a record that will stand the test of time.

18 year-old Wyatt Yee silently rose to the top earning 1st place in the 19&under bodysurf division, 2nd place in the 19&under handboard division and 1st place in the prestigious Grand Championship Bodysurfing Final.  Following in the footsteps of 2015 Grand Champion Kaneali’i Wilcox, Wyatt was assertive, smart and patient in his 5th heat of the day on Saturday and emerged from his underdog/underage status to winning the most important heat of his life.  Besting one of the greatest bodysurfers in the world, runner-up living legend Mark Cunningham continued to set the example of pure bodysurfing for all as he does year after year after year.

Mahalo nui loa to all the supporters and sponsors for assisting, contributing, donating and giving of your time, efforts and/or services to help run this 9th annual grassroots, community event for all to enjoy!  They include DAFIN, VISSLA, HAWAIIAN SOUTH SHORE, Vertra Inc., Menehune Water Company, Surf News Network, Scott Hawaii, Soaptopia, Redwings Cleaver Handboards, 662 Ride Shop, Willie Mai’i, Ben Severson, Larry Russo Jr., Nick Menas, Bill Wise, Cal Stanton, Pat Caldwell, Wayne Takamine, Rocky Canon, Mark Cunningham, Jeff Kawelo, Kamaka Jingao, da “boyz” under the tree, the Lehano & Crabbe Ohana and everybody who helped set up on Thursday and break down and clean up on Saturday.  With your kokua and aloha, we will continue to perpetuate the purest form of wave riding at Point Panic in the years to come for the people of today and for the future generations of tomorrow.















































Niknonos wave photograph

Analog Bodysurf #3

In the 3rd installment of Analog Bodysurf, we feature a variety of photos taken with a variety of cameras, in a variety of locations.

Nikonos- V (1984). Underwater film camera.

I have very much enjoyed the challenge of shooting the Nikonos V in the water. Judging the focus distance as a wave approaches, setting the focus and taking the shot at the correct moment…makes for intrigue when the negatives are scanned.  Some photos are trash, some are interesting even though out of focus and rarely, a photo is well composed and focused.

Nikon FM2

Perspectives: Love to Hate World Bodysurfing Championships

Perspectives: World Bodysurfing Championships

Why I hate them and why I’ll never miss a year.

The World Bodysurfing Championships is a yearly bodysurfing contest held at the Oceanside Pier in the middle of August. It is hard to overstate how polarizing this contest is among dedicated bodysurfers. There are many riders who refuse to participate. There are also many bodysurfers who have been attending for 20+ years. To better understand the dilemma, let’s examine some of the elements from the oft criticized competition.

What makes a contest legitimate? The first answer is impartial and accurate judging. The good news is that Oceanside gets it right most of the time. The judges are mostly bodysurfing enthusiasts who are “trained” each year. The good thing about the WBC format is that in each round the top three performers move through to the next round. With each heat consisting of 6 bodysurfers, it would be a rare occurrence if the best bodysurfer didn’t make the cut in the early rounds. In this regard the contest is more of a bodysurfing marathon, measuring the ability of the bodysurfer to maintain performance over the course of two days. This format is efficient, but not without fault.

The limited judging pool must tire after so long a focus on bodysurfers spinning in the whitewash. It is easy to sort the talented bodysurfers from the recreational, but when the semifinal or final heat is stacked, the judging needs to be at its top to parse the nuanced differences. It isn’t always. All heats are judged by the same criteria with the exception of the Grand Finals. Both the Women’s and Men’s Grand final heats are judged differently, in that the criteria is completely thrown out the window. The competitors are instructed that the judges will simply determine who is the “best bodysurfer of the heat.” As you might imagine, these vagaries seem a bit unsettling to the habitually competitive. It seems like a tough line to draw for men and women who are committing 75$ and two days of their time to compete. Some people don’t realize the prizes have changed over time as well. At one point, the grand champion would win a trip to Hawaii.

The waves are the most scrutinized aspect of the contest. Each year the waves fall somewhere between toe and shoulder height. How could you possibly consider someone “World Champion” when they were bodysurfing one foot waves? These are legitimate concerns. The title is dubious when the waves are hardly contestable. A second wave “problem” is that all the final heats are held in the afternoon when, with very few exceptions, the wind is absolutely ripping apart any chance for the surf to be above average. Even on the days when Oceanside has a beautiful pulse of combo swell, the wind is not to be overcome. The waves are victim to the unavoidable trade-off when holding a surf contest sans a holding period. The lack of a holding period is an economic decision and the only sure-fire way to drum up a crowd of 300+ bodysurfers. And there’s the kick.

Having no holding period and a stomach for less than ideal waves is the only viable option for the largest gathering of bodysurfers in the world. Every year, I meet competitors from other continents stoked to be a part of this event. It may be a result of self-claiming the world champion or it maybe the contest’s consistency and longevity. No matter the cause, I’d regret missing out on seeing legends like Fred Simpson, Cunningham and Stewart. Do I have to reset my  competitive thought process? Yes. For the sheer volume of bodysurfers, WBC does a great job. The heats have to be 15 minutes long and run all day. That doesn’t mean it is the best venue/process for determining the best bodysurfer or “champion” of the world.

In the end, I’m able to swallow my qualms with the contest. Each August I get excited again to see the teams and once-a-year friends. It makes me smile to see board surfers blow-horned and pushed aside for a single weekend. Even for the habitually competitive, we can recognize what this event is really all about.  This is the tribe weekend and there is nothing else like it.