For as long as I could remember I wanted to be an explorer, the kind of explorer who traveled across the ocean in an outrigger canoe like the ancient Polynesians, who didn’t know what they would find on the other side, or perhaps nothing at all. I wanted to be like the Spanish conquistadores looking for the City of Gold (without the genocide of the indigenous), sailing across the seas to find the new world. Or like the pioneers that came across the American continent heading west to carve out something for themselves out of the wild and raw land.
However, by the time I was old enough to do something like that, it had all been done. All of the world had been discovered, and there was little left to pioneer. But then at 15 years oldI fell in love with surfing and it catapulted me into a different journey that allowed me to become my own type of explorer and pioneer.
Catching the surf bug in my teens was one of the most pivotal points in my life. Growing up in Central Florida we were always in the water, snorkeling in the springs, fishing in the rivers, and waterskiing and wakeboarding in the lakes. My grandmother lived in Atlantic Beach just outside Jacksonville, and I would get ocean time a couple of times a year. I would see guys surfing, and I always knew that - deep down - I was a surfer. I was just drawn to it. I started skateboarding very young, but it wasn’t until after my parents got divorced while I was in the 9th grade and I moved with my mother to Jacksonville that I would actually get a board and start surfing. From that point forward all I could think about was surfing.
As a child my mother exposed me to many other cultures. She was a teacher, had served in the Peace Corps in Brazil, and had studied abroad in Italy. In elementary school she volunteered me for a Spanish dance group that her colleague, who was the Spanish teacher, had started and desperately needed a couple of boys to join. My journey to better understand Latino culture started here, and it led me to diligently study the Spanish language throughout high school and on to a major in Spanish and Latin American Studies in college. It also helped me become good friends with two Puerto Rican classmates who took me on my first surf trip to the island when I was sixteen. That trip was eye opening for what real waves felt like and it only added more fuel to my burning desire to travel, explore, and perhaps even carve out my own place south of the border in a wave-rich locale.
In 1996, after graduating high school, I ended up just an hour south in St. Augustine, Florida, attending Flagler College. It was the only legitimate 4-year college that I could find at the beach on the east coast of Florida, and as it turned out, there were quite a few other like-minded surfers who had the same mission while attending the college. I ended up running with a great crew. We carried out strike missions up and down the coast, surfed between classes, showed up in our wet baggies and sandy feet to class, and took trips to Puerto Rico and Costa Rica together. We also put together one hell of a surf team that competed in the NSSA college events.
Growing up as a surfer on the east coast, I constantly dreamed of surfing elsewhere as the waves just weren't that good or consistent where I was. My friends and I dreamed of setting up surf camps in Costa Rica, or figuring out how we might be able to get an MBA in Australia or California, or maybe working for the surf industry or whatever career we needed that might take us off to find better surf. In 1999, my roommates Lance, Luke and I made a purchase that helped lock in our respective fates. Our landlord was a surfer and a successful real estate broker. We would also later find out that he was one of the largest marijuana growers in northeast Florida after he was indicted, found guilty and went off to serve the sentence for his crime. But before fall that, he presented us with an opportunity to buy some land in Nicaragua.
He had met J.J. Yema, one the first gringo surf pioneers of the southern zone of Nicaragua. J.J. was putting together a surf lodge and financing it through the sale of lots. We were shown a video of J.J. ripping a beautiful big left, groomed by offshore winds, and were immediately sold. Sight unseen, we committed to buying one of the lots for $5,000 (split 3 ways). The legend was that the wind blew offshore all day long, 300 days a year, the water was warm and the perfect surf was empty. Our plans then became focused on finishing school and figuring out how to make enough money to hopefully build a place and potentially move to Nicaragua.
Fast forward: It’s many years later and Lance has developed a very successful surf and fish charter and touring business in Nicaragua (www.surfaricharters.com) . Luke went on to get his MBA in Australia, then got his pilot’s license, and now lives in CA and surfs regularly, exploring the empty breaks of the Channel Islands. I wound up in Costa Rica, owning a Coldwell Banker franchise and developing real estate in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. I later sold that franchise and exited out of the real estate business when the global financial crisis occurred in 2008. However, during my real estate days I developed a private gated community just up the street from that original $5,000 lot we had purchased back in 1999. The project is anchored by a small boutique hotel that caters to surfers, surfing families, and travelers looking to explore the southern coastal zone of Nicaragua (www.lajollanica.com). Today I have four children who have all been happy to learn how to surf, and our family enjoys spending time in Nicaragua during summer vacation.
Last summer while in Nicaragua with my family, glad to be away from the doldrums of another Florida east coast summer, I received a message from my friend Randy. I met Randy through a business partner and surfing legend, Henry Ford. Randy comes from a surfing family. His dad runs surf contests and they are San Clemente, California locals. Randy’s quite a bit younger than I and he’s been working with Catalyst Surf Shop and Lost Surfboards for many years. More recently he started his own solar company. As it turns out during a phone call, Randy had decided to get married and wanted to make sure that he and his boys put together one last epic surf trip before tying the knot. I told Randy that I would be stoked to host him and his friends as soon as my family returned to Florida. I would take one for the team and stay the extra week to make sure that his crew got dialed in to the best surf that Nicaragua had to offer.
Randy and his crew (Jacob, Jose, Jeff, Jake, Chad, and Mike) couldn’t quite get it together to all get on the same flight, so some of them flew to Managua, another ended up in Liberia, Costa Rica, and then a couple more took the absolutely longest route possible going all the way to San Jose, Costa Rica, then coming up by van across the border. Finally, after many hours of travel and coordinating ground transportation, border crossings on foot and difficulties with surfboards in customs, all the boys made it to the hotel. The guys were arriving at the tail end of the southern swell season but had lucked into what looked like would be a decent run of waves. After a couple of cold Tonas and some celebratory shots of Flor de Cana, the boys called it an early night to prepare for the next day's surf.
We all awoke to the smell of strong coffee brewing and the crowing of dawn patrol roosters. The early pink and yellow hues of the sun were starting to push over the mountains to the east. The boys rallied. We started putting together the gear and the boards that we would use on our first session. There was a good chance that the outer reef might be surfable that morning, and it would probably be the only chance we would get since the swell was forecasted to start dropping. Jacob, who glasses and finishes boards at Catalyst Surf Shop and Lost Surfboards and is also the bass player for the up-and-coming band Tunnel Vision, was frothing to get a few waves at the outer reef. He wasn’t expecting the surf to be so big, so he borrowed an old gun that I had stashed at the hotel. We loaded up the truck and headed down the dusty, rough dirt road to Popoyo, about 5 minutes away. We pulled up and from the looks of the peanut gallery atop the large sand dune overlooking the wave, it was evident that it was going off.
We were all still moving a little slow, but Jacob didn’t hesitate, he paddled straight out to the outer reef and proceeded to trade massive waves with two local legends. The rest of us took our time and, after watching him lock into a few gems, we decided to paddle out to the more gentle Popoyo main peak (the wave that JJ surfed in the original video that convinced us to buy in 1999) where we took turns on the beautifully groomed lefts and rights. The wave could be compared to Trestles, but the left here tends to be better than the right. It’s a high-performance wave. The takeoff can sometimes get a little hairy with a shallow reef at low tide and a sometimes shifting take-off zone, but it’s very ripable, and almost always seems to pick up some swell year-round.
For four more days we traded waves, drank cold beers, and talked story. We ventured up the coast in panga boats searching for more waves, finding several fine groomed reefs, points, and hollow beach breaks to froth over. The boys stayed stoked, surfed out and sunburnt. It was truly a successful trip. The guys had coined the trip “Randall’s Last Scandal”, but truth be told there was nothing scandalous about this bachelor party. It was just a bunch of guys who grew up with the same dream, to travel to far off surf-rich destinations in search of an epic adventure, perfect waves, more tube time, and the glory of getting that sick one in front of your boys. Creating memories and satisfying that burning we all have for adventure is what this trip was all about. It brought fulfillment to our lives, revitalizing the soul through surfing, travel, and adventure. Needless to say, Randy returned home ready to marry. The trip was so successful the boys are planning another trip down in late spring for Jose’s bachelor party, and I might just have to join them.