PLAYA COLORADO—The world’s top surfers are not immune to the enchanting spell that Nicaragua casts on first-time visitors.
Former world champion Sunny Garcia has competed on the best waves in the world, but this week’s ISA World Masters Surfing Championship in Nicaragua is “a breath of fresh air for me,” Garcia says.
“The country is beautiful, the water is warm, the waves are good, the people are nice, the food is good—you can’t ask for a better place to come,” the Hawaii native told The Nicaragua Dispatch Monday afternoon, after winning his morning heat in the tournament.
Garcia has surfed extensively in Costa Rica over the years, but after one day surfing at Playa Colorado, he says, “So far, I like Nicaragua better.”
The surfing conditions in Nicaragua are perfect for tourism, he says. The waves are fun for experts, but surfers don’t need to be professional to look good here.
“I would recommend people come down here; the waves are fun and they’re not big or dangerous,” Garcia says. “It’s really easy to surf here. There are lots of beach breaks and there have been a lot of really good waves since I’ve been here.”
He adds, “If I want big gnarly waves, I can stay in Hawaii and get that there. But here I can get fun waves and good weather and be around good people.”
The ISA World Masters Suring Championship, which has brought together some of the world’s best 35-and-older surfers from 26 countries, has “been a blast so far,” Garcia says.
“Everyone is having fun representing their country,” says the six-time winner of the Triple Crown of Surfing. “It’s a great event—just look at all the people who came down here. This is just a feel-good event.”
A Watershed Moment for Nicaragua
Event organizers from the International Surfing Association (ISA) are equally impressed with Nicaragua.
“Today was an excellent first day of the event because it was very well organized,” says ISA Contest Director Marcos Bukao, of Brazil. “The competition was supposed to start at 8 a.m. and we started at 8:01. Many times when I go to countries that don’t have a strong tradition in hosting competitions of this sort, the first day of the event is spent making final adjustments. But here everything was done very, very well.”
For a country that has never attempted to organize a surfing tournament of this magnitude, Nicaragua got it right on its first try, Bukao said.
“The organization here is on the same level as what I have experienced in surfing competitions in the U.S., South Africa, Brazil and Australia—and those are countries that have events like this every weekend,” Bukao told The Nicaragua Dispatch. “Everything here is perfect. This was a very nice surprise.”
In addition to the excellent preparation and initial execution of the week-long tournament, the surfing conditions have also been good, Bukao says. While the excellent weather so far this week has provided for some of that, the ISA official says Nicaragua is privileged to have great year-round conditions, a consistent off-shore wind and a sandy ocean floor (the only time it’s advantageous to have a “sandy bottom”).
“This is all very important for tourism because the great majority of surfers are not professionals,” Bukao says. “Most surfers who come here are tourists who like sun, a sandy beach and safe surfing conditions—and this is what you have here. It’s a friendly beach, it’s not aggressive.”
This week’s Internet feed and international media coverage of the championship tournament will do more to showcase Nicaragua’s natural beauty and excellent surfing than any event in the past, Bukao promises. And due to the international nature of the event, the surfing tournament will attract surfers from all over the world, not just the United States.
“Lots of people from around the world are going to be tuning in this week and what are they going to see? A hot, beautiful, peaceful, safe and friendly country with good waves,” Bukao says. “Most certainly many of these people are going to make Nicaragua part of their vacation plans.”
For most people—including Bukao and Garcia, neither of whom had given this country much thought before this week—Nicaragua is still unexplored territory. And that’s what surfers want, the ISA official says.
“Surfers like to know new places and Nicaragua represents a new offering,” Bukao says. “Nicaragua does not have the multitude of surfers that other places have; there are lots of spots here where you can still have the wave to yourself and your friends—this is paradise for surfers.”
After this week, Bukao predicts, Nicaragua will earn its place on the map.
“I think the history of surfing in Nicaragua will be divided into two moments: a before and after the world surf championship,” he says. “I saw this happen in Ecuador years ago and Panama more recently…In a few years, Nicaragua will be an international destination for surfing and surf-tourism will become an important part of the country’s income.”