Two years ago, I devised a plan for the ultimate El Salvador-to-Nicaragua surf trip, traversing between the countries by the ferry boat, Ruta Del Golfo.
Along the way, I’d planned to hit a surf spot in the Las Flores area, known as the “wild east” of El Salvador. Located in the jungle at a headland of mango trees (that’s the best hint I can give), the eponymous point break awaits the dedicated. But I never got to surf there—that time.
The surf forecast predicted the waves would be too small for the point to do its thing. I canceled my trip and called an audible, skipping the area and gunning it by shuttle bus to the barrels of The Boom in Northern Nica.
This year, I got my redemption. And, if you buy into Jason Lee’s logic in the movie, “Vanilla Sky”, there’s nothing sweeter than success after you’ve tasted failure.
“The sweet is never as sweet without the sour.”
After getting skunked on my first trip to the region, paranoia had manifested itself in. Was I about to do all of this again—the planning, making reservations, driving for hours—only to get rejected?
The anticipation was palpable. This was my chance to go back and find out what lay twenty miles down that dirt road in the jungle. The forecast was vacillating between perfect overhead waves with favorable winds all day and erratic winds that could blow out the surf for two out of three days. I was back at the casino. Rolling the dice again.
I began the journey, starting from a surf camp on the Western side of El Salvador called Mizata Point Resort (Check out my experience surfing for four days). I drove five hours, dipping in and out of coastal and mountain towns. The most arduous part of the trek was the last forty-five minutes—all dirt road—which, literally and figuratively—shook me—and made me question what I was doing. Every couple of miles, I sniffed for the stench of a fool’s errand. As I arrived at the Los Mangos Hotel, I felt sweet relief. I’d made it.
Immediately, I scouted the ocean. There was good swell in the water. From a distance, I could see the point, but it was hard to understand if it was working. There were a few surfers out, but it was late and I’d have to wait until the next day for a definitive answer.
In the morning, I woke up at 5:00, fueled up on Salvadorean coffee and did the get-ready-to-surf dance.
I could see a group of surfers already trading off waves at the point. And not a breath of wind in the air—unlike what the forecast had predicted—it was on.
The point intimidated me. Maybe because I was alone. Maybe it was the hype. Maybe I’m older and more careful. I decided to warm up by surfing the beach break in front of the hotel. The wave was fun, crumbly and more suitable for longer boards or fish surfboards. It could’ve been a blast—were it not for its world class neighbor a few hundred meters away.
Why was I wasting time? Sweet redemption was a few paddle strokes away.
The crown jewel of the coast is revered for its barrel sections, as steep walls unfold with power and speed, perfect for critical maneuvers—all wrapped in an idyllic cove you’ve likely noticed by now.
As I paddled over and took a closer look, 6-7 ft faces arrived at a regular pace. The crowd wasn’t bad. And the wave broke in several sections, making it easier to take turns and spread out. The conditions weren’t as good as it gets, but it was still solid.
The surfers I met were from the US, Brazil, Chile and France. In the mornings, boats of surfers showed up from Las Flores—other sessions were lonelier. Throughout the next few days, I surfed with the same crowd and got to know a few.
One evening at sunset, I experienced an extreme moment of euphoria that I’ve rarely felt in my life. After snagging another reeling point wave, I sat in the warm waters alone and watched a vibrant November sunset blast colors across the sky.
Nature has a knack for brewing sentimental reactions and it caused me to evaluate my connection with this world – and to think about those no longer physically attached to it.
My grandfather instilled great values upon me. He had a quiet confidence; self reliant to a fault. He built his own house, crafted furniture in his woodshop and traveled as a salesman for Glenshaw Glass Company in Pittsburgh, Pa. He never bragged or told stories to elicit recognition. He seemed more satisfied to sit back and bask in what he sowed—knowing he’d done enough for his family—and wasted little effort proving it.
Solo trips manifest deep retrospection. You’re alone with your thoughts, witnessing them float by like clouds in the sky. Observing without distraction. Identifying future intentions, grasping onto them and storing them away like a squirrel collecting nuts for the winter (with an impending return flight to New York).
Life allows too little time for reflection in nature. Or maybe it’s just the right amount. It’s hard to know how much sour is needed to enjoy the sweet. But when the sweet comes—savor it—for it can dilute a whole lot of sour.
By Ross Cauvel, writer, photographer, surf addict