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South of Puerto Vallarta, serious surfers head down the Pacific coast to find heavy waves and small-town atmosphere.
South of Puerto Vallarta, serious surfers head down the Pacific coast to find heavy waves and small-town atmosphere.

Surfing

Riding the waves in Central America Add to ...



LAS PENITAS, NICARAGUA The waves A consistent beach break that can offer long ripping waves for any kind of surfer when it's good. The beach and the vibe Dark volcanic sand with a few large rocks that jut out along the coastline. A great taste of beach relaxation that's less hurried than Nicaragua's main surf town of San Juan Del Sur. León, a historic colonial city and the former capital, is a short drive away and offers enough museums, architecture, and entertainment for a few days' visit. Crowd factor Nicaragua's main surf breaks are clustered together in the south of the country. Las Peñitas is situated in the north where good breaks are less common and popular, so crowds are rare. Overboard Nicaragua has fewer than a half dozen surf shops; the closest to Las Peñitas is in Managua. Any surf traveller to the country should be sure to bring an extra leash, wax, and even a backup board. Closest airport Augusto C. Sandino International in Managua; about two hours' drive to the beach.

El Tunco in El Salvador has far more colour than your typical resort town, and if the beginner-friendly beach gets busy, there are quiet alternatives close by.

EL TUNCO, EL SALVADOR
The waves El Tunco is home to Central America's premier longboarding waves. Sunzal, one of two breaks in the village, is a long, fun and cruisy right hand point break that is perfect for beginners and experts alike. It sits to the north end of the beach and La Bocana, a fast intermediate beach, is at the southern end. The beach and the vibe A couple of bars line the beach with perfect views of surfers at work and gorgeous sunsets. El Tunco has an eclectic mix of accommodations, from air-conditioned rooms in a large hotel to cheap and sweaty hostels. On weekends at Sunzal Bar, a drum band and fire poi dancers entertain the crowd. Crowd factor Salvadorans are known to be the most territorial surfers in Central America and should be respected. Because Sunzal is such an accessible wave for surfers of all skill levels, it attracts a large crowd. Thankfully 15 other right-hand point breaks that have a fraction of the crowds are within a short bus ride of El Tunco. Overboard El Salvador has a reputation for danger, but visitors to El Tunco shouldn't worry. During my stay there, the closest thing I witnessed to violence was a very energetic outdoor sermon delivered by a Christian pastor. Closest airport Comalapa International Airport near San Salvador; about 45 minutes to the beach by shuttle.

PASQUALES, MEXICO The waves Pasquales is world renowned for its pounding barrels; these are no amateur's waves. Heavy waves pound onto a shallow sand bar only meters from shore.The beach and the vibe Black volcanic sand that stretches on for kilometres, a cluster of restaurants with thatched roofs that serve tasty traditional Mexican dishes and cold cerveza. The small town, isolated on the Pacific Coast, is laid-back; there isn't much to do at night but relax, drink, and listen to the pounding surf. Crowd factor Pasquales is a bit off the beaten track, so crowds are minimal. Serious surfers arrive in the summer months for the biggest swells and when crowds are limited only to the best surfers. Winter months mean smaller waves and more surfers eager to take on the less challenging waves. Overboard Pablo's Hotel, located right on the main beach, is a surfing institution. Autographed pictures of surfing's greats, from Laird Hamilton to Kelly Slater, line the walls of the lobby and give you a feel for the fame and quality of the waves that break out front. Closest airport Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International, Puerto Vallarta; about five hours' drive to the beach.

SANTA CATALINA, PANAMA The waves A point break with both lefts and a longer right that breaks only at high tide over a rocky ocean floor. Punta Brava, another good break that works on a low tide, is a half hour walk down the beach. Both waves have quick takeoffs and a few shallow rocks that make them ill suited for beginners. The beach and the vibe A 20-minute walk outside of town, the beach is essentially empty save a little hostel at one end. The beach usually has calmer waves than other spots in the area and is perfect for swimming. Santa Catalina is a one-street town off the beaten track. Activities between the changing of the tide are restricted to lying in hammocks and sipping Abuelo rum. Crowd factor The main break can't accommodate the large crowd that gathers here when it's good. Big swells during our summer months bring to life other breaks in the area, increasing your chances of finding an empty wave. Overboard Surfer's Paradise Surf Camp (507 (5) 95 1010, surfcatalina@hotmail.com), just outside of town, offers great rates and good accommodation. It's owned by a Brazilian expat who is the local surfing guru. Closest airport Tocumen International in Panama City; about five hours' drive to the beach.

SANTA THERESA, COSTA RICA The waves A range of beach breaks are on offer here. Waves at the southern end of the beach are playful and suited for beginners, while the northern reaches produce faster, hollow waves. The beach and the vibe Vast stretches of sand are perfect for sunbathing. Santa Theresa is a surfing hub within wave-rich Costa Rica. Backpackers, middle-aged vacationers and surfers alike flock here to take advantage of the wide array of accommodation and dining options. Crowd factor Waves can get crowded, but because the beach is so long, it can still accommodate a large crowd. Overboard Nearby is the town of Montezuma, endowed with a series of spectacular waterfalls nearby and a quaint town centre. A challenging hike to the falls offers thrill seekers the chance to jump 15 metres45 feet into the frothing water below. Closest airport Juan Santamaría International in San Jose; about 8 hours to the beach by car and ferry.

Special to The Globe and Mail

* * *

How to avoid surfer scraps

There's a code among surfers. Follow these few rules from Pete Devries

Canada's top-ranked surfer from Tofino, B.C., to avoid a parking lot brawl or having your board broken over your head.

Be aware of your surroundings.

  • Look out for locals: Remember that some locals feel ownership of the waves that hit their beaches. After you fight your way into a wetsuit, take a few minutes on the beach to suss out the situation.
  • Respect the right of way: Out past the breakers, surfers sit on their boards scanning the horizon for a big one coming in. There's a right of way when the wave does arrive. The surfer nearest the peak, where the wave begins to fold, owns that wave. The white foam on the peak travels to either the left or the right and the surfers sit on the side it moves toward. If the first surfer gives that wave a pass, the next in line can take it.
  • Don't drop in: This, the most offensive of infractions, happens when a surfer hops on a wave that some one else is already riding, cutting the first rider off.
  • Control your board: Just because the board is attached to your ankle by a leash doesn't mean you let it fly willy-nilly around in the surf when you wipe out.
  • Be honest about your abilities: Before getting your feet wet, take a look at the water and decide where you belong - out in the big water or up front in the kiddie pool.
  • Share: Even if you're top dog out there, you still have to share the waves. Just because you can catch them all doesn't mean you should.
  • Say you're sorry: If you break one of the surfing commandments, apologize. It may save your car, or your body, from vandalism.

Heather Reid

Special to The Globe and Mail

 

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