SAN JUAN DEL SUR
Surfing Capital of Nicaragua
IT HAD BEEN A REALLY TOUGH DAY. Dale Dagger, an exMaui soul surfer who has been scoping out Central American breaks since 1972, was piloting his 25-foot canopied lancha, the Veronica, north from the southwestern village of San Juan del Sur along the Pacific coast. During ten years in San Juan, Dagger has scouted and named nine excellent breaks within 90 minutes of the village by boat. Unfortunately, this particular morning, he was uttering words that reduce a grown surfer to tears. "It's strange," he said. "It was great a couple days ago."
So November isn't prime time for surf. As Dagger pointed out such favorite spots as Cowadunga (named after the sizable gifts cattle leave on the beach), with three separate peaks and rights and lefts that are consistently head-high, I was feeling like a chained-up mutt at a T-bone packing plant. It got worse when we cruised past his 32-foot surfing flagship, Masayita, which had dropped off eight surfers from New Hampshire at a place he calls Beach Break. Not to crowd them, we anchored a couple hundred yards south and dove in to bodysurf their leftovers.
Afterward, we headed a mile south to Dagger's favorite village, Gigante, a collection of palapas and concrete. At La Gaviota, one of two restaurants, the owner brought us each a pound of garlicky lobster tails, as well as rice, beans, salad, and beer. We gorged.
"Surfing in Nicaragua is all about access," Dagger said between tails. "There isn't any. The beaches are public, but the land in back of them is all private, so it's extremely difficult to get to the best breaks. That's why going by boat is the answerand if one place isn't going off, you can move on to the next."
Dagger makes a practice of keeping spots secret and uses his own monikers: Cowadunga, the Left, the Reef Break, the Other Reef Break. "I think the majority of surfers would prefer not having places named," he said as we finished, while Blanca, our hostess, prepared two large cots for siesta. "Because they want to discover a place before the hordes get there. And the hordes haven't reached Nicaragua. Yet."
Our siesta ended when Blanca blasted the volume of her telenovela. We waddled out to the water and did our best to bodysurf off lunch. At sunset, we caught up with the New Englanders, sprawled on the deck of the Masayita, almost too trashed from seven hours of surfing to lift a beer. Almost.
SEASON: March to October (when the southern swells hit)
OUTFITTER: An eight-day tour aboard Dagger's Masayita, with hotel lodging, airport transfers, and breakfast, lunch, and beer daily, costs $960 per person. Dagger (011-505-458-2429, [email protected]) rents boards; bring your own stick and wax.
WHERE TO STAY: Most surfers stay three blocks from the ocean in San Juan at the 17-room Hotel Villa Isabella (singles or doubles, $65 per night; suites, $75, with breakfast; 011-505-458-2568, [email protected]). A pool was set to open in March.
WHERE TO EAT: Piedras y Olas in San Juan would be three-star dining anywhere; go at lunch and swim in the café-side pool. In Gigante, La Gaviotaa.k.a. the Lobster Loungesells a one-pound lobster tail with two beers and a siesta for $6.
SAN JUAN DEL SUR