Life is for the adventurous. That's the attitude we take whenever embarking on a journey devoid of up front details but rich in downstream rewards. Pulling the trigger on a trip with a healthy list of unanswered questions is the essence of adventure. Such was the case on our Foil X excursion to Central America in September when a last minute cancellation on a program regularly booked three years out gave us a golden opportunity provided we could commit quickly. Three days prior to game time, I was booking a ticket in the hopes of scoring on what had been a bucket list trip for my son, nephew, and Chuck Patterson - the go-to-guy for last minute surf adventures.
Foil X was born out of the creative genius of co-founders Lance Moss and James Jenkins. Moss and Jenkins have known each other for over a decade beginning when James was a grom interning as a general utility player in Moss' surf excursion pursuits. Jenkins has since matured into a professional athlete and entrepreneur as a sponsored rider for Armstrong foils and a stunt man for a well-known Netflix series based on the area where he grew up. Moss and Jenkins put their capital to work investing in jetskis, boats, and property to pull together the ingredients for a world-class surf travel enterprise. "We're building the equivalent of heli-skiing for the foil community," says Jenkins. "We provide our clients with the highest wave counts of quality waves they'll ever experience in their life."
I knew a handful of people who had done this trip in the past and I always ogled over the stories and waves they encountered. This elusive secret spot seemed capable of delivering machine-like waves breaking far enough from shore that tow foiling was the best and only way to ride them. I had put in my time learning to foil in smaller waves and was eager to test my skills in an environment that pushed my level of comfort in size and extremity. I was headed into the cherished domain of the most sought after tow foiling experience in North America with an intimate crew and little time to pack.
The first flight in our itinerary was the last time anything felt routine or matter-of-fact. After touching down in Central America and finding our way through baggage claim and customs, we were instantly met with a marketplace of taxi services and transportation offers that felt as intense as the floor of the New York stock exchange during a rally. Through the crowd we spotted our guy who muttered the words Foil X then displayed a sign with our last names scribbled in dry erase marker. The four of us were ushered to a generously-sized van with ample roof rack space. We scaled the ladder on the back door of the autobus and immediately began the process of stacking board bags and lashing everything down. The humidity was hitting us hard and it was at that moment that I was grateful for the extra t-shirt I had stashed in my backpack before boarding the bus for the long drive to the border.
I knew we were close when we came upon the long line of tractor trailer trucks waiting to get into the country. The trucks were queued up for miles for what would be a multi-day process to clear the border and continue to their delivery end point. We had made it to the first crossing where we would re-enter the madness of customs agents and baggage handling with our van driver, Javier, as our agent and escort. We shuffled our board bags in and out of the customs office trying to make sense of everything happening around us then learned that our van driver would not be taking us any further. At that point he showed me a photo on his phone of the man that would meet us on the other side and take us the rest of the way. I felt like a spy who'd been given the identity of his next contact. The mystery and intrigue of Foil X was already living up to its reputation.
We made the trek by foot across the hot pavement dragging our board bags behind us. We were passing through a dimension of purgatory where chaos reigned, wits were sharp, and current nation state was ambiguous. As we approached the far side, we were met with yet another marketplace of drivers and custodians all eager to assist us in our travels. I scanned the faces of the overly enthusiastic group hoping to lock eyes with the man I'd seen in Javier's photo. The gentleman we were looking for stepped through the crowd intercepting us just as we were handing our belongings to a convincing imposter. "Hola, my name is Juan from Foil X, please follow me." Juan helped us get through immigration and customs before loading all the gear onto our second and final van of the trip and making our way to our final destination.
The sun was just beginning to set when we rolled up to the Foil X compound - a couple of side-by-side thatched roofed hostels right on the beach in full view of a pounding shore break. We dumped our stuff, said a quick hello, then hurried out for a surf to wash ourselves of the dust, dirt, and fatigue from a full day of travel.
The next morning was an early start with the Foil X crew already in motion well before sunrise. The jet skis were staged on the beach and Logan (aka low dog killer) was en route to the marina to fetch the boat - a 28-foot panga that would be our base camp for the day. We inhaled some coffee, granola, and fruit then hurried to assemble our foils after getting the word that we'd be pushing off in the next 15 minutes. The jet ski ride out to the panga did more to wake my tired soul than the two cups of coffee I'd had back at the hostel. Dodging the heavy closeouts seemed more easily done when synchronized to the loud and inspiring James Bond theme music that was playing from the on-board waterproof speaker. As I stepped from the back of the ski onto the awaiting panga, my adrenaline was red lining and my expectations for the day had doubled. We were in the midst of professionals living out their dream jobs and doing so with style.
We motored up the coast taking in the views of the virtually untouched landscape as far as we could see in either direction. The two jet skis were well out in front doing their work to scout the location of our first session. As the boat came to a stop just short of the channel, we saw one of the skis drop into the first wave of a set giving us our first look at the size and scale of the swell. "Who's up first?" were the first words uttered in our direction by one of the jet ski pilots that morning. Chuck and I both slipped into the water, grabbed our respective tow ropes, and slung ourselves onto the first wave of the trip. I was beyond pumped to be sharing the first wave with my hulking friend. We criss-crossed back and forth in figure eights for what seemed like a mile. I was laser focused being mindful of the fact that my warm up wave could easily end in a collision if any of my moves were too erratic or mistimed. We both kicked out to the channel and looked up to see AJ and Liam already in the water and in line with the skis as they approached the boat.
The four of us traded waves for hours getting into the rhythm and timing of the jet ski pick ups and whips. Early in the session we all had our hands up when a ski approached looking unsure as to who's turn it was. Before long we realized that wave count wasn't going to be an issue which cut the need to keep track of order. As each of us waited for our pickup, we were constantly entertained by the non-stop relentless wave riding that could only be made possible by jet ski assist. The drivers were like jugglers feverishly working to keep the pins in the air. Each time a rider dropped the rope the ski was on course to pick up the next rider, whip them onto a wave, then pick up yet another rider. Keeping everyone up and riding with as little downtime as possible was the game being played out by the drivers who were committed to giving us the highest single day wave count of our lives.
The final wave of that first session was another duet this time Chuck had partnered up with Liam who exited their follow-the-leader campaign with an artful and clean back flip into the channel. The first air had been hatched and the one-upmanship had begun. Liam Strobeck is a new member of the Naish foil team having been introduced to the brand by his mentor and fellow teammate Chuck Patterson. Watching the two of them push one another was emblematic of the unbridled enthusiastic grom versus the poise and patience of the statesman.
The tides controlled the schedule. When one spot stopped working, we'd move to the next. The boat was a welcome respite during the transitions. There was plenty of water and carbs on board to satiate our sun scorched bodies and restore some energy for the next session. The wave counts are truly undeniable. There is no shortage of waves with a ratio of one ski for every three riders. Each location offered something a little different. Our first stop offered up multiple peaks with an end bowl section next to the channel. The next stop was a high tide A-frame that grew as it climbed over the reef. The wave pinched on itself as it approached the bay then came out of deep water onto a shard of reef that gave it the perfect pyramid shape. The offshore winds made for huge plumes of whitewater spitting off the backs and snowboard-like turns on the face.
Our six-person group size created just the right amount of downtime between rides to optimize the eight hour days on the water. The fifth member of our squad was Chip McGraw - a fellow classmate of Moss from a small college in northern Florida who majored in Latin American studies. Chip knows everything there is to know about the history of Central America. He frequently held our attention on and off the boat detailing the significance of where we were and the immediate history with the surrounding countries and the United States. Chip is a life-long surfer and active entrepreneur with more than a few irons in the fire to keep him busy. Our sixth man was Robby Felder, a fine art collector and gallery owner from San Antonio. Robby has an insane collection of vintage surf boards and loves everything about surf culture. He's mad about foiling and was equally as surprised and excited to get the call about an opening in this last-minute trip. Surf excursions are about waves, adventure, and meeting new people. We were scoring on all accounts.
We saw a bump in the size of the swell after experiencing what I was considering a pretty big day the day before. Lots of questions about foil wing sizing for the added size were circulating the compound that morning. Clients arrive with all the gear they'll need for the trip. Lance and his team encourage clients not to bring the same front foil wings they use for small waves because they're too slow and provide too much lift. The waves we experienced were well overhead and fast. High aspect wings with a narrow profile were on call for these conditions. The faster the foil, the better control the rider has in bigger surf. I began to wonder how the team handles clients of variable ability. Fortunately, our group was competent enough to ride everything we saw. But what happens with a less experienced group? What are the qualifications to jump onto a trip like this and how much foiling experience does one need to have before committing? "We make sure our client's skill level is where it needs to be to ensure they have a positive experience," says Jenkins. "If you're proficient dropping the rope behind a jet ski or boat and riding the wake, you're good to go."
The absolute worst scenario on any remote excursion is injury. No one dares utter the words or discusses the probability for fear of manifestation. I subscribe to a strategy of elevating risk on a commensurate scale to number of days into a trip. Getting "sendy" on day one is for the bravest of heart. No one knows the suffering better than an athlete who gets sidelined on the first day of an extended adventure. However, those teachings and philosophies are born from the older, wiser and less risk averse participants. Youth knows no consequences for they live closest to the moment as a reminder to the older generation of how they once lived. Fortunately for us, our hosts are no strangers to danger and are equipped with the skills and expertise needed for minor cuts and scratches. The ante is automatically raised when foils and big surf are in the mix as my son AJ discovered after receiving a couple staples to the back of his head on day two.
The next morning we ventured off in the opposite direction heading south to an outer reef that was ideal for the bigger pulse in the water. The conditions were glassy allowing the panga to slide effortlessly through the oily conditions up and over the swell. We arrived in the channel and got our first look at a set. The waves were easily twice as big as anything we saw the day before. "Ok, who's up first?" asked Lance with more than a little bit of enthusiasm in his voice. Lance and James put in another long day that day towing us into an endless number of absolute dream rides. These were hero waves, the kind of waves that make anyone look good. With the whip of the ski and the perfect placement by the driver, every ride was a dreamer. The early morning sun threw a golden sheen across the oily surface calling out the various boils that needed to be avoided. Getting into these waves early allowed us to s-turn down the face putting ourselves as deep as we dared before making our way down the line.
The only thing better than riding waves that day was watching the glory of your family and friends catching the biggest and best waves of their lives. We had front row seats in an amphitheater of awe as we watched yet another and another amazing wave ridden by our crew. To share that moment with my son and nephew was truly magical. As the ski approached me for a pick up, I often redirected them to one of the boys instead. I had become overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude for the opportunity to be in this place with these people. So how much is enough? That's not a question you generally ask yourself on a day when you're negotiating with a crowded lineup for a few mediocre waves, but it certainly enters your mindset on a trip like this one. I applaud the groups that can show up and ride every hour of every day built into this four day program of perfect waves. But for me, I had hit that wall of self-indulgence when enough was enough and anymore would be bordering on glutenie.
And so it went for the rest of the day and the days that followed. Each day felt like ground-hog day. We'd wake, eat, foil, and sleep then do it all over again. The dinner hours were extra special giving us time to connect with each other and swap stories from the day. Cole was the man on the media having shot video and photos throughout the day then putting together a slide show for us to enjoy every night. I was particularly impressed with the hours this staff put in every day. These guys were hustling for close to 18 hours a day between prepping, operating, planning and closing each session. Despite the amount of physical labor none of them could imagine doing anything else. They were a tight knit bunch who made it look more like fun than work and we really enjoyed sharing waves and getting to know them all. Thank you boys.