San Juan del Sur was our first stop in Nicaragua, my 47th country! This was surf country and time to test out what I’d learned in Rio the month before.
After a short taxi ride to Tanque, we left La Fortuna behind and hopped on a chicken bus to the border town of Peñas Blancas. The usual shouts of “cambio, cambio, cambio!” greeted us, as men clutching thick wads of cash offered fairly awful exchange rates as we left their country.
45 minutes after leaving the border, we pulled in to the largely one storey town of San Juan del Sur. Wooden fronted shops, bright coloured buildings and bare footed surfers were everywhere. We had a wander around, found a brilliant little guesthouse in a local family’s house and had an early night.
We’d heard that Playa Maderas was the beach to surf around here, with huge waves rolling in. Not ideal for a beginner like me but reliable sources claimed that Maderas would be perfect for newbies that day so I grabbed a board and hopped on the shuttle. The reliable source turned out to be anything but reliable.
“Those waves look massive!” was my reaction as we pulled on to the beach. My initial excitement very quickly transformed in to a realisation that I was supposed to be surfing those monsters. Way out in the distance, far better surfers than me carved down the face of the left handers, making it look easy. Locals carefully stepped to the end of their longboards, hovering for a few seconds before retreating back to the safety of the middle of their boards.
I paddled out in to the…CRASH. Before I knew it I’d been crushed by the first wave to come towards me. Ok, regroup, back on the board…SMASH. A second wave broke, lifting my board up and throwing me backwards towards the shore. Right, I’m getting out this time I thought to myself. Paddling harder now, I watch the wave approach me and flip the board over, clinging on underneath it for dear life just as my Brazilian instructor had taught me. The wave cruised over me. I was alive, back on, paddle. CRASH. Tumbling down under the water I feel like I’ve just met my match on an episode of Total Wipeout.
This surfing lark is harder than it looks! That day I did manage to get up on a couple of waves as they crumbled close to shore, but will need to come back with a lot more skill and experience if I’m to conquer the beasts further out! I ended the day with a throbbing arm, my tricep strained and hurting from numerous wipeouts.
Two days later we headed to Remanso, the beginners beach where the waves were much smaller. Unfortunately my arm hadn’t recovered, but it was still a great spot to watch the locals try out their new tricks. The guy that had driven us to the beach span around 360 degrees on one his first waves, jumped on his mate’s board and surfed another together, before doing a full headstand on his board as he cruised in to shore!
By night, there are a couple of rooftop bars back in San Juan del Sur, perfect for reflecting on a day in the Nicaraguan sun. I enjoyed a beer with the main thought on my mind being that I really really want to get good at surfing!
Have you been surfing? Did you fare better than me?!