SHORT STO­RIES

Tracks - - Tracks - B Y H A R RY PA T C H E T T Nicaragua through the round win­dow.|| MACFAR­LAN

Paul and I had ex­pe­ri­enced having waves taken from us. Not by other surfers but by the busi­ness of holidays. As we trav­elled north from Panama through Cen­tral Amer­ica we scored swell al­most ev­ery­where but some­times beach re­sorts had made mon­e­tary claims over ar­eas where world-class waves broke. In Nicaragua, the gov­ern­ment has made all beach ac­cess and sand un-own-able. Some hol­i­day re­sorts have by­passed this by buy­ing up the sur­round­ing area of surf breaks. They own the land that backs onto the beach and try to shut down ac­cess so they can charge or even stop surfers from get­ting waves.

We'd been told about a wave just like this, guarded by a big metal fence, two large head­lands at ei­ther end of the beach and an hour and a half hike around head­lands and through bush that kept out the waxy riff-raff like us.

We made it to the neigh­bour­ing vil­lage two head­lands away from one of Nicaragua's best beach breaks. We searched for a way to get closer and found him. Dale Dag­ger is an older man who sailed this stretch of the Pacific Coast when he was young, when there were no other whites think­ing about ex­otic wave lo­ca­tions. He set up his base here in the jun­gle be­fore the re­sorts had any idea they were in a prime surf­ing lo­ca­tion.

For a month we stayed in Dale Dag­ger's Jun­gle Shack un­der the nose of peo­ple pay­ing through the nose for beach­front ac­cess to a wave. We rented it for the month at $5 a night. There was a roof, out­house, no elec­tric­ity and only a limited amount of fresh wa­ter. We were the only white peo­ple not in­side the resort, which we di­rectly bor­dered onto.

The last steps of a five-minute walk from Jun­gle Shack to Nicaragua's best beach break re­vealed the ri­fling left bar­rels peak­ing at a small river mouth. And for reg­u­lar foot­ers, down the beach a lit­tle are peaks of­fer­ing the mir­ror im­age hol­low rights.

We checked the waves early one morn­ing but the pre­dicted swell hadn't ar­rived. The re­port said it would grow but it seemed like an­other miss. We sat at the pri­vate beach club's bar and watched the waves. A guy we'd met in the wa­ter in­vited us to his place for a beer. He was stay­ing next to the bar in the most ex­pen­sive of the surf resort's town­houses. We sat pool­side with him and a group of Amer­i­can guys. We were in heaven; free beers and a di­rect view of the break.

There were 30 peo­ple in the wa­ter when we sat down. Af­ter a few beers, and in­tro­duc­tions, the line up started to empty. Resort guests headed in for a lunch served by maids and cleaned up by maids. They didn't know or re­alise that South Nicaragua has per­fect con­di­tions all day and that the only im­por­tant fac­tor is the tide. A gi­ant lake al­lows South Nicaragua to have off­shore winds hit the waves three hun­dred odd days of the year. The off­shore wind cor­ri­dor or your new best friend.

Pool­side we watched the swell start to build. The waves grew from two to four to six foot. It was break­ing mostly left 30 me­tres out from shore in waist to shoul­der deep wa­ter. Bar­relling high in the curl from the take-off with a fun wall that would get steeper as the tide dropped. There were bar­rels of the trip avail­able and we were on the hunt.

Six of us pad­dled out into the empty line-up. Waves came through any­where between a 60-me­tre stretch of beach so we had room to spread out. For two hours it was just us trad­ing off each ride. From the line-up we looked back and saw the gaudy resort but when the bar­rel folded over you it was hid­den. Gone from sight and mind, this bar­rel shot is the nat­u­ral view we came to Nicaragua for. Shoot­ing left or right we aimed for the un­touched head­lands and con­tin­u­ally made it out.

Our salty, air-dried faces cracked with laugh­ter as we passed beers and sto­ry­timed our cuts, grazes, dinged boards, bruised egos and waves of the day. When the sun had set and the maids were bring­ing out the Amer­i­cans' food we left for our Jun­gle Shack's rice and sauce combo. We spent one month hold­ing down the fort in the jun­gles of Nicaragua. We didn't pay much and we got the best waves. Un­like resort guests we got to ex­pe­ri­ence the re­al­ity of daily life in Nicaragua. We learnt Howler mon­keys have a raspy screech like an em­phy­sema death rat­tle. We learnt enor­mous black hog's (like Rowdy the neigh­bour out­side my room's win­dow) don't like be­ing tied up to a tree, that if so they snort and bel­low. And we learnt quickly Nicaraguan farm­ers scare birds from their crops with gun blasts early in the morn­ing.

The resort can feel pre­ten­tious with the houses and golf course but there is a beach­front bar with $1 happy hour at sun­set and a di­rect view of the best peak. For the price of a beer a day we avoided the sounds of the Nicaraguan jun­gle and had full run of a five-star resort.

Af­ter a month of liv­ing cheap and hus­tling the resort's ameni­ties we got banned from the resort. Our sec­ond last morn­ing was with­out swell so we jumped in the beach club pool. Rapid speak­ing Span­ish guards told us we weren't wel­come. Then a res­i­dent friend bought us a round of Mex­i­can iced cof­fee (rum makes it Mex­i­can) and told the guards we were guests of theirs. There was noth­ing they could do and as we pol­ished off more Mex­i­can cof­fees it was hi­lar­i­ous watch­ing the resort's other per­ma­nent gringo res­i­dents look down their nose at us dirty surfers. One pulled me aside and told me not to make my­self too com­fort­able. I laughed.

The next day we stag­gered down to say our good­byes and there was a posse of guards ready for us. We were of­fi­cially no longer wel­come at the pri­vate beach club. The full-time resort res­i­dents had banded to­gether to ban out­side visi­tors. I hope more surfers will be able to slip into the pri­vate beach club but sorry-not-sorry if you can't.

If you want the best surf and you're not wor­ried about get­ting dirty there is always a way to find the per­fect break.

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