Die-hard surfers are a different species to the rest of us. These are the people that will traverse two countries in as many days in search of the next wave, who will turn down the extra beer and set the alarm clock to 5 a.m. and who somehow manage to travel with baggage even bigger and more cumbersome than ours.
Even after having lived in Australia for three years, and swallowing more sea-water than beer attempting this national past-time, Emily remained a novice, and Andrew coming from a country where venturing into the ocean requires full-body wet-suits and a hardy soul had never even contemplated gracing a surfboard.
But, in coming to Nicaragua, we were both determined to be a little more serious about learning the basics. It is one of the world's up-and-coming surf destinations with the Pacific coast being blessed with world-class breaks and a number of travellers visiting the country solely to eat, sleep and surf and surf some more.
Unimpressed with the pricy shuttles to crowded beaches in San Juan del Sur and the limited accommodation options up north, we were desperate to find somewhere that could satisfy our dreams of empty beaches, idyllic locations and some waves that wouldn't swallow us up whole. And, after wandering along a dusty road, we discovered it at Nicawaves - our surf camp for the week.
It was purely by chance that we heard about Popoyo, a surf destination unknown to most beer-guzzling backpackers, yet renowned amongst the locals and pros for its stretches of secluded beach, glassy waves and almost guaranteed daily surf.
As Popoyo is primarily a location for already accomplished surfers to test themselves, we were happy to find a beach break perfect for newbies just 15 minutes walk from our room (ask a local or member of staff for 'Mag Rocks Right' - it's just on the other side of the large rock formation pictured below.)
It was a beautiful and undisturbed location, with golden sand bordered by forest. And we had it all to ourselves, save for a family of wild horses, roaming dogs, fishermen and local kids playing on the sand. The isolation helped Andrew get over his embarrassment at spending more time falling off the board than standing on it, and we didn't have to worry about getting in the way of the pros, who are spoilt for choice on the other nearby surf spots (see video).
We spent a few hours there everyday and, by the end of the week, although feeling more battered and bruised than when we arrived, we could actually, you know, surf!
For those with more experience looking for bigger and better breaks within walking, biking or driving distance from Nicawaves, check out this video and grab a board!
the surf camp
Opening its doors to the public in 2009, Mike Dennison has created the ultimate retreat for the serious surfer. With friendly local staff, an army of pets and and a excellent accommodation, Nicawaves is an ideal location for those looking to escape some of the more crowded resorts in Nicaragua
Vibe: Set in 7-acres of lush, tropical garden, each day we woke up to nature at its best with butterflies, birdsong and beautiful landscapes; a truly tranquil setting to swing in a hammock and enjoy your morning coffee.
This is not a place to party-hard and sleep off your hangover, instead it is a relaxed and friendly environment to unwind after a day spent chasing waves with other like-minded travellers in peaceful surroundings.
Rooms: There are a variety of good value options to suit every type of traveller - from the budget backpacker to those on a two week vacation looking for a little more luxury.
Prices range for $9 for a dorm bed to a variety of rooms and stand-alone casitas from $25-75/night.
After seven months on the road, and a number of nights spent in varying degrees of squalor, we have come to have see certain amenities as pure luxury - hot showers, comfy pillows and proper mattresses are three of these, and Nicawaves does each very well. Unlimited hot water in showers you actually want to stand under and where you can even abandon the flip-flops!
Most also have their own porch or terrace if you just feel like kicking back on your own with a beer and a book/
Restaurant: The on-site restaurant has excellent portions, fresh ingredients and tasty plates available morning, noon and night. Whilst some of the evening meals are a little out of the budget-backpacker's budget, unlike some restaurants, you can also choose the cheaper lunch options (such as burgers or burritos) at night.
The restaurant is also the main social space of the camp with TV, music and a bar where guests plan their surf or enjoy a few beers together.
The Popoyo region as a whole is really quite remote so, outside of your accommodation, dining or grocery options are limited. There are a few tiendas on the main road where you can pick up some snacks and water, but don't expect to find much else.
Services and Amenities: Restaurant, surf-board rental (variety of boards for all heights and levels - $10/day or $60/week) , bespoke surf photography, surf packages and transportation, surf guide and coach on site, bike rental, parking, night-guard, airport transfers, boat trips, hot showers, wi-fi, air-con, laundry service, massage, cable TV and an army of pets on-site.
how to get there
Popoyo is off-the-beaten track but, thankfully, Nicawaves is still easily accessible by public transport. Most of the other hostels or hotels in the Popoyo area require a taxi ride after the bus or a 7kms+ walk.
Bus: From Rivas bus station, you need to find one heading to Las Salinas. They run fairly frequently throughout the day. Ask the driver/ticket collector to be dropped off in Popoyo.
It takes approximately two hours to reach the turn-off for Nicawaves. You'll know you're there when you see a few signs on the right-hand side of the road pointing to 'Magnific Rock'.
Take the dirt track on your left for approximately minutes and you will see the entrance to Nicawaves clearly sign-posted on your left.
Word of warning - Rivas bus station is home to more than a few young guys trying to scam travellers into taking a taxi to Las Salinas/Popoyo. They'll usually approach you just as you arrive or on another bus to tell you insistently that there is no bus today or that the last one has just left so you have to take a taxi with them.
Do your research before you travel to get an idea of bus times (drop Mike an e-mail) or try to ask one of the older men or ladies in the station waiting-area when the next bus is and you'll be fine.
Car: Make your way from Rivas towards Las Salinas. When you see a few signs on the right-hand side of the road pointing to 'Magnific Rock', take the dirt track on your left and you will see the entrance to Nicawaves clearly sign-posted on your left.
Airport: If arriving from Managua airport, Nicawaves can arrange pick-up and drop-off.
To make a booking: click here
All photos in this post were taken either on site at Nicawaves or at the neighbouring beaches by Andrew & Emily.