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Wipeout Central: Off-Season in Nicaragua


Wipeout Central: Off-Season in Nicaragua

Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.
— E. E. Cummings
Dawn patrol at El Yankee before getting crushed by barrels. 

Dawn patrol at El Yankee before getting crushed by barrels. 

I've been holding back a lot lately in the waves and I don't know why. A few weeks back I had a killer trip to the Pacific and was going for it, without fear, and reaping — er, ripping? — the benefits. But something changed when I got back home: suddenly I was pulling back on each wave, second-guessing and over-analyzing my every move. 

Was it that the waves were easier where I had been? Or was it being in a different place altogether, without the eyes of the people that I know? Either way, another surf trip seemed the obvious solution and I was due for a new stamp on my passport...

Are you familiar with the concept of a border run?

While we're super blessed with powerful passports that let us have unplanned tourist visas to pretty much any country, there is a time limit to how long they'll let us dick around inside their borders. And while three months in a place may sound like a long vacation to some, us permanent travelers and over-sea dwellers find it a little constricting. But without a foreign resident visa, we're required to leave and re-enter in order to renew our visas every 90 days. So why not make a surf trip out of it?

The waves are pumping on the Caribbean side right now so we headed for Bocas del Toro, Panama, one rainy dawn morning. There's been a lot of drama at this border recently after an illegal passport-stamping scheme was busted. One of our crew was denied access for having a suspicious stamp so, after a long and dramatic near-arrest (not her first one!), we accepted defeat and headed back for Costa Rica. This time with five days to spare before her visa would expire. 

So, ummm, Nicaragua? Porque no!

In Nica, it's currently the season for blasting offshore winds of nearly 30 mph — the kind that make it hard to even see where you're surfing cause there's so much back-spray in your eyes. There also wasn't much swell, and what waves we could find were crowded beyond function. So we went and harassed some locals at a surf shop into taking us to some better, emptier waves.

Nena Belen of  TuCamino Travel  skateboarding around the surf shop... SDJS has lots of fun, paved hills.

Nena Belen of TuCamino Travel skateboarding around the surf shop... SDJS has lots of fun, paved hills.

Well, apparently all our frothing made us appear a touch more advanced than we really are, cause we arrived the next dawn to a fast-barreling wedge. Well, shit. Guess we gotta at least try, no? 

A wedge is a strange thing, a magical meeting of two waves at opposing angles, creating a very cool and confusing wave. We barely had time to sort it out and get some wipeouts in before a whole crew of talented, back-paddling bros showed up. We cut our session short after being frustrated by a lack of wave-sharing.

But we both dreamed of the wedge that night. And again the night after. A crowded day at one of the easier breaks had us ready for another try. This time it was barely waist high, so no barrels were really on offer, but there was nothing serious to be afraid of either.

I'm not gonna' lie, we ate it... a lot. But we also went for it.

The beauty of a wipeout is it represents a risk taken — a willingness to push yourself. Sure you chance failure, but if you don't venture out there, you also chance missing out on greatness. 

And so, now back home in the waves I know so well, I'm going for it again. A little confidence and a lot of audacity go a long way. 



The Surf Gods

“Surfing, alone among sports, generates laughter at its very suggestion, and this is because it turns not a skill into an art, but an inexplicable and useless urge into a vital way of life.” - Matt Warshaw

I now know what any surfer can tell you: there is no experience more spiritual than being with the waves.

On the night before, we rented boards and went to sleep early, excited to visit an uninhabited beach with waves rumored to be even more wonderful than those of the beach on which we were sleeping on. At 5:30 am, 15 minutes before my alarm and 45 before sunrise, I awoke ready to go. In the darkness before dawn it was still cold so I pulled my shorts and sweatshirt on over my bikini. Out on the street I met the others, all bed-headed and rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. 

The five of us stacked our boards on top of the taxi we had prearranged and crammed ourselves into the four seats. We arrived at the break, La Barra, with only the slightest hint of light in the sky, stars still bright enough to reflect on the surface of the estuary and an honest-to-goodness white horse grazing untethered in the mist. I felt my cellphone in my pocket, pulled it out and took the most beautiful photo of my pals leaning on their boards against the backlight of the rising sun. 

It's the last thing my phone would ever do. At this moment I discovered that we would have to swim across a deep outlet to get to the beach and there was no way my bundle of clothing I had brought for warmth could possibly stay dry. And so I sacrificed my phone to the surf gods. 

I was rewarded by catching my first wave ever in the wild rush of some very powerful surf (such that probably should have injured me), emerging unscathed and exhilarated. Sitting on our boards out behind the breaking waves, we watched the sun, bright as blood, rise over the edge of the ocean. And over and over the sea took me and my shit-eating grin down, let me test the strength of my lungs while it held me under before spinning me back out into the air. 

After an hour of furious paddling and gallons of seawater in my nose I swam to shore, much closer to God, or death, or whatever it is that I felt more strongly present than ever before. 

Perhaps it’s good that I can’t share any photos from this day, and that I can’t look at any of them for myself. I remember the day more viscerally than I could if I had looked at it through a lens. 

And now every day without my phone is some kind of blessing.  I’m liberated from a kind of pressure to be reachable on a level that is unnatural. Every day, the only thing I’m now responsible to is my own gut instinct, without research or influence — just a glance at the water and what it calls for me to do in it.