lunes, 6 de febrero de 2012

Bigfoot and Surfing

In the last month, my days have been filled to the brim with anything and everything to do with Quetzaltrekkers- hiking volcanoes, working office shift, doing finances, preparing trips, etc etc etc. It’s a challenge to squeeze in other activities when on the half day you have off, all you want to do is lie around and relax for once, but I have made time to go surfing! Ever since I found out that the west coast of Nicaragua is a surfing destination, I planned to go. Here’s how it that became a reality.

We are all sick of rice and beans. If you want to eat cheap, that’s what there is, but sometimes you have to treat yourself a little to change things up. The other night a group of us volunteers dressed up and went to the Pure Earth Café, a vegetarian restaurant connected to Bigfoot Hostel. This was a bold move- According to certain sources, Bigfoot and Quetzaltrekkers have an animosity that goes back for “generations” of Quetzaltrekkers volunteers. I believe it began when Bigfoot “invented” volcano boarding, and Quetzaltrekkers “stole” the idea. So you could say we’re competition. The critical difference is that Bigfoot workers are paid, and Quetzaltrekkers is a nonprofit- a fact that the volunteers are more than ready to rub in the faces of Bigfoot employees. Another distinction is that when Bigfoot goes volcano boarding, they go to all extremes. Boarders are heartily encouraged to try to break the speed record, the ridiculously high and improbable number of 82 km/hr. Volcano boarding is the hostel’s focus. For Quetzaltrekkers, Volcano Boarding is just a so-so day trip, and we would all 100% rather lead 2 day camping trips, so we roll our eyes at their aggressively competitive attitude. Most importantly, we wear NEON GREEN boarding suits and Bigfoot’s are ORANGE.

But volcano boarding is just the surface; the animosity runs much deeper. Philip, Bigfoot’s owner, has serious issues with the Quetzaltrekkers board of directors. The board of directors, who I know nothing of, are permanent while the volunteers are very temporary- even our directors stay only a year. This in turn means that we don’t stay long enough to really understand Leon and the relationships between its residents and characters, including the relationship between our board of directors and Bigfoot. (For example, Phil has been living here for 7 years). Phil refuses to explain the history of the rivalries because we are here so briefly, wouldn’t understand, and needn’t be burdened.

In truth, Bigfoot is a really cool place and the people who work there and stay there are for the most part interesting, nice and very chill. At dinner, I wore Marie’s dress since I brought absolutely nothing in the realm of “nice” or “cute”. After a delicious broccoli fettuccini, Marie and I wandered over to the bar to chat with Phil (he’s also head over heels in love with Marie). Most of the volunteers at Quetzaltrekkers have an inherited and baseless grudge against Bigfoot, which Marie and I think is ridiculous. We decided to attempt to make peace, and have become sort of the liaisons between the two organizations. A chat with Phil became a heated, but not unfriendly, discussion during which we demanded to know why we can’t all be friends?! Finally, we made the decision to demonstrate our willingness to cooperate through giving them some business. Along with a restaurant and touring company, Bigfoot also has a surf camp called “Rise Up Surf.” Marie and I decided to sign up for 25 dollar surf lessons for the next day.

So we went surfing! We had been told to meet at 9 at Bigfoot, so I set my alarm for 8 and was just crawling out of bed when the doorbell rang. I ignored it- everyone has a key for god’s sake and it couldn’t be a client. Then it rang again. And again. I finally gave up and opened the door in my pajamas- it was Eddie, Bigfoot’s newest employee, looking frustrated and impatient.

“Are you ready? We have to go right now!” What? I told him we were supposed to meet at 9. “No no, 8 o clock- we’re gonna be late.” He told me to run and grab Marie. I told him 10 minutes. I frantically grabbed coffee and a bathing suit while shouting for Marie to wake up, and we ran out the door. Once we got to Bigfoot we immediately complained to Phil, who had sent Eddie, and in his smooth way he made ups understand that he just decided to change the time, and it’s all good, we’re here, there’s no problem, it’s totally chill, and we were like yeah, chill, no problem and forgot about it all.

The package we got for the day was actually a really good deal. 25 bucks for a 3 hours lesson, transportation (it’s a 45 minute drive), lunch, and board rental for the whole day. We had to be back at 5 for a meeting, but I’m sure they would have let us stay longer. It was me, Marie, and one other girl. When we got out of the van I instantly picked out our surfing instructor, Ben. He is the exact image of the typical surfer dude- tan and buff with longish wavy bleached blond hair, a couple tattoos, and a superchill aura. We all told him our names but we were all addressed as “dude.”

The house that Bigfoot rents for the surf camp is awesome- I actually like it a lot better than Quetzalplaya. It’s more rustic and feels more lived-in and youthful. The best part is a round straw roof gazebo-like structure on the beach, complete with a bar, kitchen, a dining table and a smaller hangout table with chairs. Surfboards lean up against the gnarled driftwood gate like out of a surfing postcard.

We donned rash guards and sunscreen, picked out boards, and hit the beach right away. I’ve been told it’s the standard to spend an hour or so practicing movements on land before trying out the waves, but we probably spent about 5 minutes dry- just enough to understand where on the big, softer long boards to lie and how to strap them to our ankles. (Long boards are the ideal beginner boards because of their stability- short boards are the next step up). Running into the water, I realized I had no idea how to even get started, wasn’t even sure whether to face towards or away from the waves. Well, you face away from them, I was told after making a fool of myself by lying down backwards. I floated around and observed for a couple minutes and then took a shot at the “white surf”, the last stage of a wave’s life when it rolls in a mass of foam into beach before being sucked back in by the ocean. This part of the wave is perfect for beginners because it’s gentle, close to the beach, and the waves are more or less predictable at that point.

It was difficult nonetheless. After an hour or so of practice, I was able to stand up a couple times, and that was super fun. Ben paddled around between me, Marie and Other Girl, offering tips and helping us find the right spot on a wave to begin paddling and stand up. Timing is essential in surfing. Stand up too early and you won’t have picked up enough speed, so the board will sink or tip. Stand up too late and you will fall forward and crash in a floating somersault.

We took a snack break of fresh fruit and spent a couple more hours in the water before having lunch. I had graduated to the next level, where you place yourself directly before the wave’s crest, just as it’s swelling and gathering momentum. The idea is to stand up right away and ride down the face, all the way to the beach. It’s hard. I kept standing up too late, but a couple times that worked out because I was able to enjoy the adrenalin rush of soaring down a crashing wave on my belly, and then stand up once it had dwindled into a calmer and more horizontal slide. The steeper waves were especially exciting because you ride down head first like a waterslide and go quite fast.

Lunch was made and served by the landlord’s housekeeper, so it was “comida tipica de Nicaragua”; rice, beans, chicken, and fried plantains. Of course, we had to take a little siesta after lunch and had some fun with the pet baby raccoon.

After lunch, a creeping cloud cover had turned the sea into a steel gray sheet of rippling aluminum. Flocks of white birds darted across the sun and soared and dove above the water. The tide had come in substantially, so the waves were crashing right on the sand, maybe 50 feet closer than before. It was obvious right away that it was going to be a lot more difficult, and we all struggled.

After an hour or so the others retreated to the gazebo. I had been sitting very far out, waiting for the perfect wave for like half an hour. It was becoming apparent that the perfect wave wasn’t coming any time soon, let alone any waves at all. I was just way too far out at sea. Determined to make the most of my surfing day and my 25 dollars, I paddled closer in to the beach and took a couple rough rides way too close to the beach, and kept crashing full force into the sand and getting beat up. The last straw came when I somersaulted under the board and it crashed into my head. The boards aren’t very hard or heavy but it hurt a little, and catching a glimpse of the others lounging around to Pink Floyd and sipping on fruit drinks, my more reasonable side made the executive decision to call it a day.

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