Surfing Nicaragua’s Smaller Waves: My Visit to ChicaBrava Surf Camp
As a young girl growing up in San Diego, I thought that surfing looked like fun. But I wasn’t that coordinated, I didn’t know any surfing girls, and the idea of trying to go out there with the big boys laughing at my uninformed attempts was enough to keep me on a boogie board.
So when I got the chance to spend a few days at ChicaBrava Surf Camp in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua, I was intrigued. A woman-owned surf camp with women instructors and students sounded less intimidating than going surfing with guys. But was this something I wanted to try as a 40+ woman who doesn’t really do adventure sports?
Upon reflection, I decided my life could use a little excitement and female empowerment, so I packed my bags and journeyed south to Nicaragua. I’m glad I did.
Most of the campers are professional women in their 30s, said ChicaBrava founder and surf champion Ashley Blaylock. But the age range is wide. “Chicas” have been as young as 8 and as old as 70. Last year, two women showed up individually to celebrate their 70th birthdays. And both took home photographic evidence of themselves standing up on a surfboard.
Campers have two lodging choices. The Surf House, located in the heart of town, is more hostel-like, with two to three women per room, bunk beds, and a bring-your-own soap, shampoo and beach towel policy. For $1,090 per person, you get lodging, daily breakfast, transfer to and from Managua, surfboard rental, surf instruction, two yoga classes and a one-hour massage.
The Cloud Farm is the more luxurious option at $1,700 per person. Up in the hills above the city, you’ll still share a room but avoid the bunk beds. A cook comes in and prepares three meals daily from organic produce grown on the farm. You can stroll the grounds, where you might see a sloth or a howler monkey. You’ll have use of a pool with a view, and the yoga teacher comes to you. Oddly, the bathrooms in the Cloud Farm bedrooms lack doors, so privacy lovers might feel a bit exposed.
ChicaBrava offers special weeks for women over 40 who want to surf with their peer groups. They usually favor the Cloud Farm, but some choose to stay in town at the Surf House. The schedule remains about the same, says Blaylock, “but the atmosphere changes because the women are in the same age group. They know the same music and TV shows and are having a great time and want to be together.” Those are her favorite groups, she says, and she’s proud to have created a forum where like-minded older women can learn to surf together. “I think we’re probably the only [surf] company that caters to this many women over 50. Before then, a lot of women wouldn’t even consider it. I feel like we implanted an idea for a segment of the population that wants to be active. We said ‘Hey, you can do it.’”
Depending on availability, you can book as a group of friends, a mother/daughter duo, a solo traveler, or just about any other configuration of females. Groups have included bachelorette parties, birthday celebrants, cycling friends and hairdressers.
At ChicaBrava, the schedule revolves around surfing. So the tide dictates daily itineraries. Surf students are divided by experience level and assigned to instructors. During my three-night mini camp, I worked one day with Elsi Marin, the first local girl to surf, and the second with Noelani Anderson, a darling transplant from Hawaii. Both could not have been more patient with my flubbed attempts to stand and my many wipeouts.
I soon saw what they meant about surfing being a microcosm for life. Like so many other things that happen to us, my task was to try, try again. Wrangle my board out to chest-deep water. Wait with my instructor for the right wave. Heave myself up onto the surfboard. Wait for her to push me into the wave and tell me to stand. Raise myself into plank and then try to position my feet perpendicular to the board, in just the right place, before I fell off. The other beginner in my five-person group got up right away. But it was not so easy for me. However, I kept at it and managed to have a few successful rides. The photos the camp photographer took from the shore are a testament to my toil in the waves. No sexy surf girl am I. Instead, every picture shows me grimacing with intention. I would have looked prettier sitting on the beach. But there’s something to say for the gargoyle face of perseverance.
Our work in the waves was rewarded by ChicaBrava’s spa aspects. A restorative class at SJDS’s Zen Yoga was peaceful and relaxing, especially since the screened-in studio is open to breezes. And our massages at Gaby’s Spa and Massage Studio were divine. Don’t let the fact that Gaby has a Laundromat downstairs and a massage studio upstairs make you suspect she and her staff will do anything less than a pro job on your surf-aching muscles. Her Swedish massage felt absolutely perfect and her space is pretty, airy and simple.
At times during my two days in the surf, I thought okay, I got up on the board, good enough. If I can manage to get home without stepping on a stingray or being bitten by a shark, I’ll quit while I’m ahead. But now I haven’t even been home a week and I’m already thinking I’d like to stand up on a board again. And if I did it enough times, maybe I could work my surfing face into a smile.