I am having visions of sunsets across the Pacific Ocean, brilliant colors reflecting off rolling waves as surfers shuffle their feet to the sounds of a distant reggaeton beat. This is El Salvador. Long tarnished by the images broadcasted during its civil war in the 1980s, this tiny country is a surfing mecca often overlooked by the average traveler.
Surfers are lured to this coastline by promises of solitude in secret surfing spots as well as the warm waters that make wetsuits unnecessary.Just south of San Salvador lie the best surf spots. The closest is La Libertad, home to the longest right point break in Central America, Punta Roca. But as you head westward along Highway 2, you’ll also come across Playa El Tunco, El Zonte and Zuncal.
Sounds like the perfect place for me to take my first surf lesson, right? I sign up for an early morning lesson and my instructor greets me with sleepy, bloodshot eyes, evidence from last night’s party. We head down the rocky beach and I fumble with my beginner’s long board which isn’t heavy as much as awkwardly huge. On the beach, he shows me some tips about how to stand on the board, paddling techniques, yadda yadda. Instead of paying attention I am envisioning myself impressing everyone as I effortlessly pop up on my board, riding a huge break towards the shore. In my mind’s eye, I look cool.
“Ready?” My instructor inquires as motions me towards the sea.
I instantly realize just how delusional my day dream is as I struggle to paddle out. My giant board is impossible to maneuver through the incoming waves and my upper body strength has picked the perfect moment to abandon me. Luckily my instructor stays by my side, encouraging me to push through the crashing surf.
Once out of the impact zone, I spend the next hour in the water, paddling and falling off my board in the most unflattering positions imaginable. My pride is impatiently waiting for me on the shore but I could care less. It is hard work, but it is awesome. I feel much more confident with the support of my instructor, as he tells me which waves to go for and even gives me a little push to help me with my timing. My heart races every time a wave creeps up behind me and I giggle with absolute delight just at the fact that I am surfing in El Salvador. I do manage to catch a few waves, not the epiphany moments that everyone else describes but more the “Eeeek! Stay on the board, stay on the board” mantra. All that matters is that at the end of the day, I am exhausted but stoked that I decided to surf El Salvador.