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


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

Tripping Fins: Baja

We left Cardiff at 5:30am, quick 30 minutes to the Border and it’s a whole different world. We stopped to check the first beachbreak south and found gorgeous shoulder high, glassy peaks breaking in the thickening fog. We knew the water temp had dropped significantly at home and we knew it’s always colder down here.

Suited, we walked down the cobblestone street as light poured through the old archway. Yeah, it was cold. June ice cream headaches with stunned fingers and toes. But the bending bowls! Oh those bending bowls. A reinforcing south swell was joined by a touch of NW windswell to provide hollow rides all along. We warmed a bit chasing the peaks in out of fleeting rip currents as a thickening fog swallowed the coastline. Wind picked up side offshore and we departed, heading south. A vibrant fogbow illuminated the beach as we meandered south again.

With no plan for the rest of the morning, we picked a random spot on the map and headed down a winding road scribbled across the prominent peninsula. Reaching the end of the road, we found a beautiful cove, a small town and a long street market. And lastly we found the star of the show: La Bufadora! An impressive blow hole, tucked into a fold of the coast. Every surge of swell entering the Cove focuses into a small crevice in the cliff, blasting water and rainbows hundreds of feet into the air.

La Bufadora!

We drove to our rental just in time for a siesta before some glassy waves in front of the house at sunset. There is something very special about checking the surf from the roof deck then walking out of your abode, to the sand and into the Ocean without ever losing eye contact with the sea.

We had a delicious dinner at one of the fine local restaurants on the cliff with some proper Mexican hydration the locals called Tecate. Followed by astrophotography on the deck, we slept well.

We woke at dawn the next morning and groggily checked the surf. Glass. Not a single breeze or breath of wind. Chest high peaks with a few bigger sets graced the sandbars out front. Of course the water temp hadn’t come up so we gutted up for the chill. But once again, chasing fun peaks kept us warm. As the sun rose over the hill, a deep fog settled in. All of the sudden we weren’t just witnessing a fogbow, we were inside the fogbow. Vibrant colors refracted out the fog and we hooted in excitement as the combo swell kept producing glassy bowls. 

We hadn’t seen another surfer since we’d been down but out of the fog a guy paddled out and caught a couple fun waves. We started chatting and it turned out that like Swell Lines staff, the guy is a special needs educator in North County San Diego…cheers to summer vacation!

We moved to a different rental down the beach and when we arrived, the very sweet owner, Cathy greeted us with her squad of delightful Mexi-Mutts that she rescues. She showed us around her gorgeous house full of amazing stained glass and stone-work.  She also offered us a unique amenity that more rentals should offer: puppy time with a new litter she recently rescued. Everybody could use some puppy time in between sessions of tube time.

The sun was high and the peaks remained glassy so we went to the beach out front. After a solid round of beach paddle ball, with a nice sweat going, it was time for a swim. Air temperature in the mid-80s…water temp feeling like mid-50s. Rising tide pushed the wave energy inside and provided more fun, invigorating waves.

Get out of the sun, siesta time. Then towards sunset, we were watching the waves thinking about an evening swim. But the sky was cloudy and the wind was up a bit onshore. It didn’t look enticing. Then a set of wave clouds formed over the horizon. We had to go swim and just to add a little spice, we only wore trunks. Even the deep bone chill was worth the few barrel visions and fun waves we caught before heading to dinner still shivering. A shot tequila warmed us from the inside while enjoying a Radiohead sing along on the deck of the rental while the Ocean sand backup.

The surf remained glassy and fun the next morning before we packed up and headed north. A record-breaking one hour border wait and we were home with wetsuit rashes, fatigue and a joyful haze. Another successful, simple adventure across the border…we should do that monthly.

Chasing the Weasel

By Jason Hackworth- @SuperBiscuitSC

There’s a spot on the Westside that’s well known as being one of the last holdouts of true, old-school localism; the kind of place where if you’re not a Westsider, or friends with them, you probably shouldn’t be out there.  When it’s working, it’s one of the best tubes in town, and every local pro, ex-pro and general ripper will be on it, sitting amongst a small pack in a very compact takeoff zone.  Although it shows up in magazines and Surfline quite a bit, it’s never explicitly named in print, to my knowledge… one mag of note even did a feature on it in the 90’s, dubbing it “Weasel Reef”, so for the purposes of this story I’m going to go with that.

I found myself staring at it the other day, leaning against the wooden fence that acts as a railing on the edge of the cliff.  The direction was a bit off, it was smallish and kind of blowing sideshore. But it was definitely working.  And there was no one out.  No one else even watching it.

I had swam out there once before a few years ago, but when I got to the peak it shut off completely.  I found myself treading water for 20 minutes before giving up and heading home.  Now as I watched another set barrel messily over the reef, I found that I was a little nervous… it wasn’t so much that I wanted to go but I felt that I had to go.  Otherwise, I’d probably be kicking myself for the rest of my life.  I had just eaten a hamburger and was fairly hung over… so I wasn’t quite feeling one hundred percent.

Suiting up and grabbing the MiniMother and the UDT’s I had recently acquired in a trade, I started back toward the cliff.  A couple of cars away from mine was an oversized black SUV, with tinted black windows and various stickers.  I felt my UDT’s bump against something on the car, and there was a slight rattling sound.  I turned around as I walked, surmising that the fins must have bumped into the trailer hitch that was protruding from the back of the vehicle.  Seeing that there was no damage, I moved on.

“Hey yo!”  I heard a few seconds later.  Rounding the corner of the truck came a younger guy whose look kind of fit with his vehicle- oversized white shirt, baseball cap sitting too high on his head, white socks pulled up past the hems of his low hanging shorts, neck tattoos.  

“What the f###, you just hit my car and walk away?!?”  He said, raising his arms in the air in a threatening fashion.

“Sorry man, I think my fins accidentally bumped into your trailer hitch there.”

“So that’s what you do?  Just hit people’s  cars with your f###ing fins and just walk away?”

“It was an accident… sorry man.”

He huffed and puffed a little more, and then turned to get back into the truck, still muttering and cursing to himself.  How he thought that the Malaysian rubber UDT’s could have possibly damaged his steel trailer hitch I have no idea, but he was certainly angry about it.

The altercation had actually served to distract me from my nervousness, and I turned and continued toward the edge of the cliff.  Still nobody out.  I slowly picked my way down the steep rocks, eventually jumping off of the last one onto the sand.  Walking toward the other side of the cove, I picked my swim spot just south of where the peak was and walked in, gearing up with fins and camera once I had cleared the shorebreak.  I took my time swimming out to the peak; never having caught this place before when it was breaking, I wanted to get a feel for it and not take too many on the head.  I also found myself turning to scan the cliff from time to time, expecting to see people with boards coming down the rocks.

“Oh shoot… this place is super shallow!”  I had moved to tread water and I came across the rock shelf reef not 4 or 5 feet below the surface. Watching the gurgles and boils in front of the incoming set peaking just outside confirmed this.  Given my condition, I decided to err on the side of caution and remain just at the edge of the reef for the time being.

The first couple were too walled, so I swam over them.  The next one had a nice corner however and I began to swim in an arc a little deeper, getting into position.  The first drop was quick and bouncy from backwash off of the cliff and after riding for a couple of seconds the barrel threw over me and pinched shut. I swam under and through the back.  

On two more, I was able to pull in; I thought I was going to make it out of the first, but it pinched shut on my head and I got rolled for a bit.  The second was bigger, with a jacking, steep entry.  The MiniMother held its edge, as it always does.  This one had the crazy drop but less time in the tube as it closed out…my wave selection there had been a bit lacking.  My next was another steep drop to a long ride almost all the way in, but no barrel.

Resting at the peak for a bit, I saw the group of groms clambering down the rocks with shortboards.  Another set was approaching, and I swam for and caught the second wave, driving down the line until the end section closed out over me, leaving me again almost all the way in.  That was enough for me… I wasn’t in the mood to jockey for position with the groms, and decided to call it a day.  Back on the beach, I leaned against a rock and watched it for a while, soaking in the scene and in disbelief that I had just scored Weasel Reef to myself for a half an hour or so.

After negotiating the rock climb back up, I noticed that the black SUV was still there, this time with a familiar smelling smoke emanating from it.  I approached the open drivers side window and saw its occupant with sunglasses on now, and sporting a big smile.

“Hey man, just wanted to say sorry again about the trailer hitch thing.”

“Ah it’s cool” he grinned.  “I was up in Tahoe yesterday snowmobiling with my friends, and on the way back someone nailed the back of my car, you see that big dent there?  Anyway, I got back late, and missed my court hearing, so I guess I was just all pissed off about that.”

“Ah, yeah… well, that’s understandable.”

Back at my car, dressed, and wrapping my wetsuit in a towel, I see my new friend get out of his truck and start walking towards me.  As he gets close, he holds out an unopened can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

“A little beverage, bro?  Always good after the salt water and a boogie session.”

Still a little hung over (and slightly confused about the boogie comment) I hesitate for a second, then find myself reaching for the can.  “Uh… for sure, man.  Thanks!”

“Have a good one!” he says, returning to his truck.

The Pabst is kind of warm… but as I lean on the hood of my car sipping it, taking in the view of West Cliff Drive and the passing pedestrians, I figure it’s a pretty fitting way to wrap up an afternoon of chasing Weasels.


Perspectives from Professional WaveRiders

Rob Machado:

Rob Machado

Bodysurfing played a huge role in my development as a wave rider.  My first memories were from the shore break.  It was my first understanding of what it felt like to get tubed.  From there I graduated to riding a body board and then eventually on to a surfboard and I took those same fundamentals of “how to get tubed” along with me ever since.

I love when I see guys bodysurfing.  I always give them the right of way.  It takes so much more effort to get in the line up and put yourself in the right spot for the right wave… They deserve more respect.

I still bodysurf and I don’t leave home without my fins… Always in my car or in my board bag.
*Cover Photo: Sean Davey

Greg Long:

Greg Long Photo: Robert B. Stanton

Bodysurfing…. The most pure and beautiful way to experience the act of wave riding. Every surfer out there should occasionally take a step away from their conventional wave riding craft and dive back into the water with nothing but a set of fins. There is no freedom quite like that which you experience when you’re body surfing, fully immersed in the ocean, gliding in harmony with mother natures energy. Body surfers are welcome in any lineup as far as I’m concerned.

Gary Linden:

Linden Surfboards

Bodysurfing was my first experience riding a wave and one I will never forget. My Father grew up in Hermosa Beach and started teaching me about the Ocean from an early age. In those days there were no Boogie boards so we learned to bodysurf. Once I had a feel for how the Ocean worked with the currents and swells it became my number one priority. I eventually got a surfboard but the knowledge acquired from bodysurfing is still in use to this day.

I am really stoked that a group of guys are bodysurfing at the beach where i always surf. It reminds me of what we are out there for, to feel the force of nature. Bodysurfing is the root of all wave riding and seeing it being enjoyed keeps it all in perspective for me.