There are no road signs to Nicaragua’s powerful beach and point breaks, only a bumpy dirt road that takes two hours time.
Splashing through a watery ravine an hour into the trek, local guide Armando Segura rattles off famous names that have surfed Popoyo, regarded as the best break in Nicaragua…Andy Irons, Dylan Graves, Matthew McConaughey (noteworthy for making an attempt, but experiencing “one of the worst wipeouts I’ve ever seen,” according to Armando). Adriano DeSouza, the Hobgoods, Bethany Hamilton… I suddenly lose track of the conversation as the truck slips into a deep rut on the road and jolts my head against the window.
During the wet season, the dirt road floods with rain, sometimes rising above the hood of passing vehicles. When the rain subsides, Nicaraguan culture seeps onto the road. Cows, dogs, horses and chickens, that are absolutely everywhere.
“You see these chickens, bro?” Armando asks, pointing to the road. “They run when we pass by…see?” And a chicken bolts beside us for 15 yards. “I heard that they’re adrenaline junkies – and when they see a car, they run along side it, bro, to get that adrenaline. Can you believe that?”
Armando, a Nicaraguan native, originally practiced law. But an adrenaline junkie at heart, he felt caged in. And when he realized that he could make a living through his biggest passion, he jetted.
“It’s big, bro. It’s big,” Armando mutters, swerving to avoid a pack of meandering cows.
“The swell?” I replied. “Yeah, the forecast said overhead and an interval of…”
“Yes, yes, the swell, yes,” he says. But also surfing in Nicaragua. It’s only a matter of time before it explodes, you know? Especially with contests like the ISA coming here. And when it does, we’ve got to be ready.”
Therein lies the predicament Armando and other local surfing businessmen face. They want to keep the lineup small, but the wave has been exposed — another victim of the technology age. More business will come, but is it worth hawking their love?
We arrive at Popoyo. Feeling my head still pulsing, Armando points to a shack that overlooks the break. I feel it detonating.
“See that, bro?” he says. “That’s a camera for Surfline. It’s going to stream to the Internet from here, and will bring us even more attention.”
“Isn’t that what you want?” I ask. “More people means…more business. Right?”
“Si, si yes, business is good,” he says. “But if it happens too quickly — it gets crowded overnight, you see — it’ll take all the fun out of it.”
There will soon be road signs to Nicaragua’s powerful beach and point breaks, along a paved road that takes an hours time, Armando tells me after surfing. It will be ready in 2015. His phone rings, stopping him mid-sentence. Probably another client, wanting to surf. He’s ready to do business, and asks when they want to come down. He seems happy. —Cash Lambert