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.]

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