San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Playa Maderas Attracts Surfers of All Skill Levels

SAN JUANDEL SUR – North American surfers may have been the first international surfers to discover the world-class breaks off of Nicaragua’s Pacific coast, but a rising tide of local talent is quickly making the sport a local institution here.

Next week, the roving national surf competition, featuring local talent from San Juan del Sur, makes its way up the coast to La Penitas, León, where the country’s leading shredders duke it out for the chance to compete on the international stage.

Watching the contest can be both exhilarating and humbling. Exhilarating to see surfers burst through a pipeline or flip off the top of a break. Humbling if you want to take to the waves yourself, yet have no hope of getting out past the first ripple.

But this fast growing sport has also produced its own helpful experts who are willing to share their know-how with beginners.

Arena Caliente, located in San Juan del Sur, is the veteran of Nicaragua’s surf camps and a hot bed for producing up-and-coming stars.

The school fielded the majority of Nicaragua’s national surf team, which placed second in its first international competition last year. The event was held last July in neighboring Costa Rica (NT, July 12, 2006), and the Arena Caliente instructors have high hopes for sucess if a similar competition makes it here.

“We will win on our waves,” predicts Byron López, who runs the school.

López and his two brothers started Arena Caliente six years ago with the help of Brent Woods, a U.S. surfer who now calls Nicaragua his home. Arena Caliente has put together several surf-camp packages, ranging from a week-long session to a one-day class.

For $35, you get an hour of instruction, a board for the day and a trip to Playa Maderas, one of the area’s most popular surf beaches. A beat-up van takes you on a bumpy twenty-minute ride to Playa Maderas, which has a small bar and restaurant where you can relax and watch the surfers, if you prefer.

The waves here are described as “playful.” The two main breaks are fast and racy with the occasional barrel sections, but it’s nothing too serious to threaten beginning surfers who can catch waves closer to shore. A constant offshore wind keeps the waves at an average of four to six feet, leaving few bad days to surf. The most consistent swells start up in March and last through November.

There are all kinds of things that veteran surfers are drawn to, such as pipelines and Aframe breaks. But for beginners, it’s about one thing: standing up.

During a recent “beginner class,” my instructor, Jamer, started me out on the beach, where I lay flat on my stomach on the board and practiced jumping to my feet.

The key is to bounce up in one fluid motion, feet spread apart, and hold your balance as the wave peaks, Jamer explained.

Easy enough to do on the beach, but once in the ocean, I was like a sinking ship, bouncing around like an amateur boxer who just stepped in the ring with Mike Tyson (circa 1986).

Otra vez,” my instructor says, meaning for me to try again. I get smacked around some more until I finally remember that spreading my feet further apart helps me maintain the balance better than holding them together like I’m about to dive in a pool.

With a push to get me going, and the encouraging shouts of “suerte,” or good luck, I finally stand up on the board, riding the wave for, what seemed in my mind, a glorious 20 seconds.

It wasn’t graceful, but I did it. But by the time I figured out how to stand my entire body hurt, so I let my instructor enjoy the waves while I head back to nurse my pride and bruises with a beer.

“Don’t worry, you can’t learn how to surf in a day,” says one veteran. My instructor returns from the water and agrees.

Más practica,” he says. He’s right, I need more practice.My body was sore and I won’t be ready for any surf competition soon. But at least I caught a break.

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