Saturday, May 21, 2016

Nica: The Chinanadega Red Cross Lifeguards

I am not sure of the origins, but Nanz Zekela, Del Mar bodysurfer, has been connected with Jorge Tercero Ceo of the Nicaraguan Red Cross (Cruz Roja Nicaraguense) in Chinandega, where he works to train lifeguards.  She was aware that they had no fins for the guards to use, and, preceding our trip, organized an effort to acquire fins for us to take down to them.  She enlisted Chris Lafferty and Jody Hubbard, along with Del Mar 17th Street Chief Lifeguard Pat Vergne, in the effort.  Rusty's in Del Mar donated four pair of DaFins and DaFin discounted three additional pair that Nanz bought.  Between them, Chris and Jody Hubbard carried the fins to Nicaragua.

After lunch on our first day, Suday, Jorge arrived from Chinandega with a pack of teenage lifeguards, and were presented with the fins.  We were about to leave for an afternoon surf in "the Bay," mentioned and mapped in my last blog entry, and the carload of guards decided to join us!

Chris presents the fins at camp
As we finned up and swam out at the bay, it was choppy and disorganized, with crumbling waves from waist high to about chin high breaking from close in to about 75 yards out.  As our tribe scattered, ranging from Hayley outside on her longboard to Chris working the inside, where the surf was a bit cleaner, the pod of lifeguards spread out among us.  Shortly, it became a medley of party waves.

Two and three guards would take off on the same wave.  Excellent swimmers, even though there were only maybe eight of them, their grinning faces seemed to be everywhere!  Initially, the direction they chose on waves, if any, seemed to be random, and there were a lot of straight in and whitewater rides.  The chaotic surfing seemed strangely congruent with the waves themselves.  It was clear that they were having a ball.

At the Bay
After the session at the Bay, the enthusiasm and appreciation of the guards was abundantly evident.  We had vague plans for a "competition" the final day, and each of us had brought a prize for the competition.  It occurred to someone that we should invite the guards to join us for the competition.  They agreed, and there was even some talk about a local TV station covering it.

We weren't sure they'd actually show - we'd set 6am for the time and Chinandega is a 22 mile drive inland from Aposentillo.  By 6:00, most of us were in the water, near the camp at North Boom, when they arrived on shore and swam out.  I recognized several from earlier in the week, but knew no names.  One of them, Juan Canales, latched onto me and followed me everywhere in the line up, never more than a few feet away.  Isolated my our mutual inability understand each other - Juan having no English and my Spanish being extremely limited - it took a while (and some continuing imposition on Bret to translate between waves) to understand what was going on.  Eventually, I came to understand that they were out there to learn from us, how WE surf the waves - riding across the face - and that this morning was their test.  Juan was looking for me to grade him.

Quickly, the guards had assimilated the concepts of traversing the wave and respect for another surfer already in the wave.  Now, we saw them cutting across the wave faces, often with the back arm extended skyward, sailfish-style, in mimicry of how they saw our lay-back styles.  Infectious grins spread from Nicaraguan to American.  

A moment found me floating beside Chris L. between waves.  

"Zoom out from here," he said.  "It's incredible; our group of Americans, able to afford the luxury of a surf trip to Nicaragua, sharing the waves and stoke with these kids.  Just think about it: amazing."  (I hope I properly captured the sense of that, Chris.)  

The CR (Cruz Roja ... i.e., Red Cross) guards accompanied us back to camp, where we'd taken up a collection to buy them lunch with us.  As we gathered to award the prizes that we'd brought with us, the guards shocked us:  the prior day & evening, they'd labored to make prizes for us!

Wooden stands and plaques, with handpainted words (in English) memorializing our trip to Nicaragua, flying the flag of Nicaragua.  We were speechless!  

At lunch, the guards presented several of us with friendship bracelets.  I was proud to receive one - in good, blackball colors of yellow & black - from Juan, who then sat by me at lunch.  Again, we imposed repeatedly for translation, this time on Briguitte, who patiently indulged us.  It's clear that Juan's ambition is to come to the US, to compete in the Worlds (World Bodysurfing Championships in Oceanside) and continue his education.

Juan & Hank
After lunch, the guards circulated, seeking to have us sign the fins.  Each came, pre-signed with a stylized "N" and "Z" from Nanz.  We added our names and exortations...I hope they last.

At the lunch, Juan had asked for my Facebook information. We're now "friends" on Facebook and exchanging iMessages.  Jorge and at least two of the other guards are also on Facebook, and friended with me as well as others from our pod that are active on Facebook.  As I commented in a prior post, and as is implicit in Chris' comment to me in the lineup that Friday, the world has, indeed, become so small.

I fear I have fallen short - far short - of conveying how exceptional and moving to all of us this connection was, but, hopefully, I've given the reader at least a hint!  Big thanks to Nanz for making this happen and to Pat Vergne, Rusty's and DaFin for their support!

[I hope to complete this series with a post on the pod that traveled to Nica, and a profile of our camp, Rise Up Surf.]

Friday, May 20, 2016

Nica: An Island Point, a Long Beach and a Bay (Part 2)

An Island Point

This break will be the toughest to write about.  While some of our tribe had their best rides of the trip, even among the best of their lives, at the point, I didn't.  In fact, I didn't catch a single wave.  Nonetheless the excursion to the point was one of the most memorable of this trip.

Waves wrapping around the point
A few miles south of The Boom is a bulbous peninsula, attached to the land by a narrow isthmus, that protects an estuary to the north.  Though arguably attached to the mainland, it's referred to as "the island."  The northwest corner of this peninsula creates a point break, with a long left that starts off the end of the point then slides around a broad, flat shelf of rounded rocks and into the deep water to the north.  The preferred take off is off the end of the peninsula, with the rock-strewn shallows straight ahead, just a few yards.  The ride takes you over the flat shelf, protected only by a couple of feet of water, until the exit to the north.  Alternatively, larger set waves would present a shoulder, right at the northwest corner of the spit of land, from which the rider could skirt the north side of the flats for maybe a 3/4 ride.

Camp, The Boom and the Island Point
The first outing to the point was mid-morning of day 2.  Most, but not all, of the tribe gathered on the beach on the protected north side of of our camp to board a punt that would shuttle us to the point.

The Punt - Photo: Bill Schildge
On the way south, we rose and dropped on a growing southwest swell.  As we neared the point, the skipper, Melquings's uncle, Martin, suddenly gunned the motor.  Off to our right, an open-water wave with a 9 foot face was threatening to broadside the boat.  For several seconds, we raced below the face as the shoulder grew closer, then seemed to move further.  Dressed for surf, we clung to our gear to save it, should we capsize.  Then, as suddenly as it arose, we were over the shoulder to safety.

The break lay 150 yards ahead of us to the south as the boat slowed and we scoped out the break.  Soon, we were into the water and swimming over to the take off zone.  

At first, the surf guides took a few waves, starting well outside of where any of us could.  Eventually, Chris and Bruce, our most expert surfers, got it dialed in.  Meredith caught one, on the corner, and then moved over to the preferred take off where she got perhaps the longest rides of the session.

As the session wore on, one after another of the pod moved into position, mostly at the preferred take off, and got their ride(s).  Inside, in the deep water to the north, Froggy floated with his camera and water housing, exhorting me to get mine.

I am not expert in surfing point breaks.  As they go, this may not have been particularly sketchy.  Or, maybe it was?  Nonetheless, I wasn't inclined to take substantial risks on an alien wave in the middle of nowhere on the second day of our trip.  A slide over the shallows from the preferred take off wasn't going to happen; not, at least, for my first wave.  Instead, I hung on the corner, where Meredith had got her first wave, and from which, on larger waves, you could skirt the shallows.  But the swell was dying and fewer waves were breaking there.
At last, the wave came.  A large set wave, setting up a corner for an easy drop in, exactly where I'd been lingering.  I girded my courage and started to kick.  Our guide, Andrew, had taken off on the wave, way outside.  But he'd already had a number of rides, and this was what I'd been waiting for.  The customer and all that, right?  As I started to push harder and align myself, Chris called to me NOT to go.  I nearly ignored him, but pulled back before it was too late, to watch Andrew go screaming past me, below me, chased hard by the barrel.  As I watched, it was clear that Andrew really had no exit.  He was too deep to kick out, and couldn't straighten out into the white water as that would have run him across the rocky, foot-deep water.  He could not have gotten out.  

Unfortunately, it was a single wave set.  There was nothing behind it and the swell was fading with the tide.  For another fifteen to twenty minutes, I waited, and waited, as one-by-one, the others returned to the punt.  And no wave came.  Ultimately, I had no choice but to swim back as well, skunked for the session.
View from camp of the beach to the North from which we launch the punt
Some of our group returned to the Point, on subsequent days.  Hayley, who had just watched on that first trip, had her best longboarding sessions of the trip at the Point.  George told, and retold, the story of his 200-yard slide there, with increasing enthusiasm each time.  For me, though, the Point on the Island remained a "coulda, shoulda..."

The Bay
In correction to my introduction to Part 1 of this segment, we actually went to "the bay" on the afternoon of the first day.  We went with the purpose of meeting up with the Chinandega lifeguards, to deliver to them the fins that Chris and Jody had collected for them, at the urging of Nanz Zekela.  In a separate post, I'll delve into the guards, and the bonds that we forged with them, a highlight of our Nicaraguan excursion.  I'll revisit our first meeting, as well.  For now, a brief description of the session.
The Bay
This was our only session in a bay, rather than open beach break or point.  Conditions were far from ideal, with a steady onshore making the moderate - chest high surf - jumbled and crumbly.  Waves broke pretty much anywhere and everywhere.  Long rides were rare and tubes non-existent.  Nonetheless, the waves were able to be ridden, some outside, but more inside.  The real memory of this session was the camaraderie in water and the meeting with the guards.  Of that, more later.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Nica: An Island Point, a Long Beach and a Bay (Part 1)

On the second day, we hit three alternative breaks, each quite different from The Boom, and quite different from each other.

 The Long Beach

As a group, shortly after 5:00, the 12 of us loaded into two venerable, white Land Rovers, Hayley's long board firmly attached to the roof of one.  In the growing light, we drove about 30 minutes north through the rural backroads that lace the Nicaraguan coast.  While we passed a school or playground here, a restaurant or bar there (one plastered building roughly labeled in hand by paint, "Hotel Roma Ristorante"), we encountered no villages.  Mostly, it was one-room, corrugated tin shacks, with roofing of various local materials.  Cows, pigs, chicken, horses and an occasional goat lingered in collapsing corrals, or simply wandered the roads.  However, throughout, lines for electricity were evident.  Many structures had satellite TV dishes and those that didn't had rabbits ears.  Rarely were we out of cell service.  The world is a connected place.

George & Julie; Briguitte - Photos: Bill Schildge
 Eventually, a taste of salt in the air and a small rise to the west hinted that we were back near the water, shortly confirmed by roadside salt evaporation ponds.  A left onto a dirt road took us several hundred yards to a long, broad expanse of dark sand.  It was difficult to see how far it stretched in either direction, but in front of us, maybe 150 yards offshore, was a consistent, shoulder-high+ break.  Gradual humps for peaks - not A frames here - could be seen peeling both left and right.  Many tended to crumble a bit, but some were pretty hollow.  The DMBC crew may disagree, but it was somewhat like Del Mar on a good-sized west, during low tide, when the swell is catching the outside sand bars.

Though breaking far out, the swim out was not at all bad and shortly I was in the line up, getting the feel for the fat swell lifting and dropping.  Much like Del Mar, again, the breaking point for the waves shifted in and out.  This is more difficult for a surfer such as I - a sustained take-off, with more speed rather than quick acceleration is required.  My shorter, whip-like, extra-soft Duck feet are less designed for this than the longer, stiffer UDTs worn by most of the DMBC crew.  No doubt, though, it's unfair to blame the fins, when the principal problem is the skill and habits of the rider!

Struggles to find the right take off point for my style notwithstanding, I got my share of waves in a 90 minute session.  Two will remain with me ... the best two waves I'd had in 2016 to that point.

I had noticed that, every 10 minutes or so, one or two big rights would come in about 50 yards north of the road, as steep and hollow as there were, anywhere in the break, that day.  Most of the pod was surfing a bit to the south, following the lead of Chris, so, with patience, the wave would be mine.  Eventually it came, just as expected.  I was  rewarded with a steep, fast, extended barrel that gave me several seconds in the tube before the inevitable close out.

Bill & Jody; Julie; Drew - Photos: Bill Schildge
 After that, I drifted south to where the rest of the pod was scattered, riding what looked like fun, but somewhat crumbly, shoulders.  I was presented with a left shoulder, bending right where I floated outside and dropped in.  It proved to be my longest ride of the year.  A slow-peeling left took me deep inside, past many of our tribe, along the way.

This was our first real group outing, and it was a real joy to float in the line up and watch 10 bodysurfers, along with Hayley on a long board and Drew, and our two guides, Andrew and Melquing, on short boards, stretched out over a hundred yards, working the waves in the style unique to each of them.  I fear, as is too often the case, I was among the last to find a long shoreboat in.

Bruce; Hayley; Meredith - Photos: Bill Schildge

We had a moment's concern as our Rover refused for a while to permit Andrew to engage the four-wheel drive necessary to release us from the mucky sand, but eventually the vehicle relented and we were on our way back to camp.

At this point, I apologize to the reader, again, for my continuing verbosity.  Again, I've reached the outer limits for a blog entry and will continue with the other two breaks separately.

HHH; Chris; Bret - Photos: Bill Schildge

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Nica: The Boom (Part 2)

So, The Boom gave me the best of my sessions in Nica, with four stand-outs.  Along with the break itself, I profiled the first in Part 1, my first session in Nicaragua. 

The Best of It

A mid-week morning, the tribe scattered to different breaks, with the majority going to the Island Point, which I'll describe in a separate post.  I had come down with a cold, which now was in my chest, while Bret and Julie both had minor health issues as well, so the three of us elected to stay back and hit the local beach instead.  

This morning dawned similar to day one: tinged a hazy orange by the emerging sun.  As we rounded the curve in the road and the surf came into view, it was sufficiently compelling to beckon us immediately: around shoulder high, slightly off-shore, with a good pulse of energy and lots of peaks.  Very much like the first morning, with a bit more size.  Rather than heading down to The Boom, proper, we got in right away.  For maybe 30-40 minutes, we rode in playful and plentiful waves.  But each of us was feeling a desire for more: more speed; more energy and power; greater consequences. 

I suggested to Brett that we consider heading down to The Boom, in front of the palapa. He agreed, and suggested that we swim it, rather than walk.  Julie concurred. For the next 20-30 minutes, we gradually worked our way south, limiting our waves to rights that would carry us on and kicking lazily between waves.

Bret - HH GoPro

The extra power of The Boom made all the difference.  The waves were hollow and fast - but not too fast to bodysurf, and substantially larger.  Occasional sets, most often single waves, would arrive with with real punch.  Immediately, I was scoring steep slides and golden-tinged tubes.  The adrenaline got pumped, countering the enervating warmth of the water.  One right, enclosed by a clear, crystalline curtain in front and the reflected golden-orange glow of the rising sun infusing the back of the wave stands out in my mind's eye.

After one of these rides, maybe 15-20 minutes after we got to The Boom, a large, one-wave set caught me inside.  I dug deep and made in under and through without problem, but, coming up, I realized that, with my cough and chest congestion, I was struggling to regain my breath.  As I stroked out to the lineup, I realized that, if it had been a two or three wave set, I might have been in trouble.  As perfect as the waves were - and these were the best, for me, of the entire trip - I realized I ought to go in.  We'd been in the water for over an hour and a half, but it was not without a lot of regret that I started looking for my final wave.  

After one more good right, and then a "shoreboat" to carry me ashore, I turned to watch Bret and Julie.  Julie caught a screaming left, clinging to the steep wall in full layout, chased but not caught by  the tube.  Within seconds, then, there was Brett, dropping in on a long, well-formed, sloping right shoulder, working it to well inside.  Two of the best rides that I observed all week.  

Just Like Home

One morning, later in the week, the entire tribe gathered at North Boom for the morning session.  We were spread out over maybe 200 yards, with moderate peaks pretty much everywhere.  

Meredith - Photo by Bill Schildge

Our camp is set on a point that separates the Boom area from another, long beach to the north; the road runs along the south side of camp, down to the beach.  However, there's still a 150 yard stretch of beach to the right (north) of the road before the point juts out.  Most of the time, we head to the south of where the road comes out, and that's where everyone was spread out this morning.  I kept looking north, though, to stretch in front of a large white house that sits beachfront, to the south of and below our camp.  The waves looked eerily like San Clemente - State Park - at it's best during winter swells coming out of the northwest.  Mostly peeling rights coming off the point, with steep, fast faces.  Pitching enough to get tubed but not too fast to preclude a long, sustained ride.  

I know how to ride those waves!  I swam up to test those rights and found myself solidly in a comfort zone of familiarity.  The waves were easy to catch with a quick 1-2 flutter kick, before setting an edge and racing to keep in front of the curl.  For close to an hour, I worked those waves, all to myself.  Yes, a lot like SCSP on an excellent day ... but without the horde of surfers that would have been all over it in Southern California!

All In Good Fun

The fourth memorable session in the Boom area was also Boom North.  This time, what made it so memorable was not only that it was the morning of our last full day, but that we were joined by the Chinandega lifeguards to whom we'd brought swim fins.  A pod of 9 guards joined the 12 of us, plus our surf guides, for a party session.  
Jody - Photo Bill Schildge
 As I think about it, and considering the length that this post has already reached, it strikes me that the full description of this session may better come with a post focused on the guards.  The fact is that the friendships forged between our contingent and these guards are a lasting highlight of this trip, and this last session at the Boom was integral to it.  So, I'll conclude I've taxed the readers' endurance sufficiently and leave further treatment to another posting.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Nica: The Boom (Part 1)

The Boom.  It stretches to the south of the point upon which Rise Up Surf camp is situated.  A mile long stretch of extremely fine, dark sand that lies wide and bare when the tide is low (-1 foot) and fully covered when it's high (+9 feet).  Perhaps not a pretty beach, but the waves make up for it.

 We reach it by walking 100 yards down the green-lined, rutted dirt road from the entrance to Rise, opening to the view (at low tide) above.

I write about it first because it's not only where I surfed the most, but it also had, for me, the best waves and best sessions of the trip.  Here we found the peeling and peaky waves I love most.  

The actual break, The Boom, lies about 1/3 of a mile south, marked by a small, low, frond-covered structure called a palapa.  Here, an undersea canyon channels wave energy into greater size and force, a similar effect to Black's Beach in San Diego and El Porto in LA's South Bay.  While the best, and strongest, surf is there, when the swell is decent, we found excellent, peaky waves right below the camp (I'm referring to as "Boom North"); waves that were a little more forgiving when The Boom, proper, got gnarly and nasty.  The remainder of this blog contains scattered photos from The Boom and Boom North.

Julie at The Boom - Photo: Bill Schildge

I surfed The Boom or Boom North some nearly every day, including afternoon sessions in low tide and onshore winds, creating pretty small and sloppy conditions.  But four sessions in the Boom area stand out.

First Session
I begin with the first morning in Nicaragua.  Having slept little, lying awake since the first rooster crow before 4:00, I wandered into the common area of camp a bit before 5:00, to find it deserted save for one of our two surf guides, Melquing, and a fresh, hot, pot of coffee.  Shortly, Drew came in, bodyboard pack on back, raring to go.  Drew had been in Nica for several days already, and wanted to head down  to south of the palapa.  

A breeze blowing from inland carried the smell of burning trash fires, as to our left the sun rose a deep, red ball in the early morning smoke and haze.  Walking on very fine, dark sand, squishy - almost mud-like - from the receding, extreme high tide, I was already sweating as I accompanied Drew south to the palapa.  My first view of Nica surf was of abounding peaks, maybe shoulder-high, groomed by the offshore breeze.  

Jody at Boom North - Photo: Bill Schildge
 Drew wanted to explore further south, so I turned back to see if I could find more of the pod, and encountered Melquing, leading Bruce south to the palapa, and joined them.  Though most of the group would wear bodysuits, or at least rashguards, to protect against jellyfish/sea lice as well as sun, I chose to wear trunks only, unless forced to add on.  At The Boom, in front of the palapa, the surf was an extra foot or two, but somewhat faster and more closed out than the peaks I'd seen walking down.  A small group of sticks - board surfers - worked the peaks as I waded into almost enervatingly warm (mid-80's) water.  

Much longer than those I'm accustomed to in Newport and San Clemente, the swim out wasn't as tough as I had feared, and soon I found myself out in the shoulder & sometimes head high line up.  It was a bit too fast for me, so there were no long rides, but Bruce was getting some nice ones a bit to the south and Melquing was having fun on his board.  It was the first time that Melquing had seen "real" bodysurfing, and he was finding it intriguing. 

In the middle of the session, I kept getting fouled in the fairly strong rip that shifted around the edges of the underwater canyon that created the extra intensity at The Boom, demanding some extra swimming.  After an hour and a half, I ended what was to be the first of three sessions that day, tired and satiated.  Returning up the beach toward camp, I found the rest of the crew had not bothered with the extra walk down to the palapa, but instead were scattered across those many peaks that I'd first seen nearby camp.

The Boom (Part 2) will be shorter, presumably, and cover the three other, memorable sessions at The Boom and Boom North.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Nica: The Blogger's Dilemma

I started this blog to chronicle, at least for myself if not for anyone else, my bodysurfing sessions, experiences and history. Today, I find myself with an interesting challenge – I’ve just returned from six days of wonderful surf in Nicaragua, with a fantastic pod of bodysurfers.  In short, the best multi-day period of surf of my life.  Yet, during the excursion, I wrote not a word.  And now, the dilemma is how much to write – I could write so much! – and how to organize it.

Rather than a daily journal, my thought is to present this in separate pieces, covering the breaks we surfed – The Boom, The Point, the broad beach and the bay – and a few key topics: the pod, the Nicaraguan Chinandega Lifeguards and the travel.  It makes sense to start with the “home” break to our camp, The Boom.  Those wishing just to read surf story or view the surf photos should skip to that, Nica Blog Post #2.

That's because a bit of context is required before jumping in.  The trip, six days of surf cradled between two Saturdays of travel, was to a surf camp called Rise Up Surf, which is located on the south-facing Pacific coast of Nicaragua.  It's in the less-popular (for surfing) north of Nicaragua.  If you're trying to find it on the map, it's due west of the city of Chinandega, in Aposentillo.
Rise Up Surf from the water.  Photo Bill Schildge
The facility, which I'll describe in a later post, has a dozen rooms, surf guides and vehicles, and a full staff.  Our group consisted of 12 surfers:  10 bodysurfers: Jody, Chris, Bret, Bruce, Julie, Briguitte, Bill, George, Meredith and myself; a bodyboarder/bodysurfer, Drew; and a long boarder, Meredith's partner, Hayley.  Together, we took over the camp.

Our pod with the Chinandega Lifeguards.  Photo Bill Schildge
Daily, we surfed near camp at The Boom or ventured to one of the other breaks, sometimes all together and sometimes splitting up to pursue our respective preferences.  The next few blog posts are my stories from those days.

Before proceeding, though, I need to thank Jody for organizing the trip, Froggy (Bill) for photo-documenting the trip and my Del Mar surf friends, Bret and Chris, for urging Jody to include me and me to join in.