Review of Surf with Amigas, Women's Surf and Yoga Retreats held in Nicaragua and Costa Rica
One recent evening after weeks without swell at our local break and a couple of glasses of wine, I jumped on the internet to research surf spots in Nicaragua and came across a review of Surf With Amigas , a women’s surf coaching retreat founded by retired professional surfer Holly Beck. Fuelled by impulse and alcohol, I shot off an email to Holly asking if there were any available spots on an upcoming trip. Waking sober the next morning to a reply from Holly, I realised I had somehow committed myself to a whole week of 24/7 female bonding with twenty women I had never met. After a bit more back and forth with Holly about my surfing ability, board sizes and objectives for the trip, I lay down my 50% deposit and booked a waxing appointment.
My husband and I have been on many surf trips where I was the only female surfer or there were only 2 or 3 of us. There is upside and downside to this arrangement but I have to say it had never occurred to me to attend a women’s only surf camp. However, despite surfing for over 20 years, I classify myself as a competent but not confident surfer. Big, hollow waves still cause brain freeze after all these years and the chance to improve my technique and confidence in fun uncrowded waves where I didn’t have to hassle with a bunch of guys was appealing.
Boarding the plane to Managua, I was reminded of those summers my parents would drive me to the annual “sleepover” camp while I sat in the back seat wracked with doubts – “Would I have a nice tent mate?” “Would the other girls talk to me?” “Would I be among the last picked for kickball teams?” “Would I like the food?” and “Would the camp counsellors steal the treats our mothers sent in our care packages and make us run around in the dark in our underwear just because they thought it was funny?”
Arriving at Managua airport, I was met by half the group and the retreat’s shuttle driver who immediately took my ridiculously heavy board bag and duffle off my hands. During the 3+ hour drive in torrential rain to the eco resort where we were staying, I felt for the driver who had to contend with the deafening noise of 9 very excited women getting to know each other and multiple requests for pee stops which he graciously obliged. All with very different lifestyles and surfing abilities but bonded by a shared sense of adventure, I loved these women already. I started to relax and release my fears of being vaporized by the estrogen bomb.
The retreat was held at El Coco Loco an eco-resort in northern Nicaragua opened in 2010 by three Canadian lifestyle entrepreneurs with a focus on surfing and yoga and a goal to promote sustainable development within the community. To that end, they have created a beautiful, peaceful and welcoming environment with thatch roof cabanas with outdoor showers, open air yoga studio, sparkling pool and comfortable dining and lounging area where you can have a fresh squeezed juice, smoothie or cocktail anytime of the day while you lounge in a hammock, read, watch surf videos or debate the state of the universe with fellow guests.
The kitchen serves delish, healthy meals that cater for all dietary requirements with an emphasis on fresh produce and international dishes. The owners’ commitment to the environment is evident in the use of local building materials, composting toilets and water and energy saving initiatives such as ceiling fans instead of air conditioning and no hot showers. The El Coco Loco team also founded Waves of Hope, a Canadian based NGO that has raised and invested over $300k into the local community to support education, infrastructure and health. The mutual friendship and respect between the local Nicaraguans living in the village and the El Coco Loco team and their guests is obvious in the way you are welcomed with smiles everywhere and the friendly rivalry during the weekly Amigas versus locals kickball game.
After a late arrival at the resort, dinner and meeting the rest of the group, Reesie one of the surf guides set out the schedule for the next day and the rest of the week. We were divided into two groups – 5 of us who were experienced short-boarders were allocated to one group with two surf guides, Aura and Alex. The remaining group would be learning the basic skills on longboards with the other four coaches. We were super stoked to learn that due to the swell, wind and tide conditions the week would be perfect for some of the outer breaks which the short-boarders would have an opportunity to access by boat. Bit of a shock though when we heard that the tide schedule meant we would be up at 4:30 am (!) with the goal of being in the water by 5:00 am.
Our days pretty much followed a rhythm of up super early for coffee, granola and fruit, then short boarders would either head out to one of the outer breaks in the boat or surf out front with the longboarders depending on conditions.
Around 10:30 am we would return to the resort for a huge hot breakfast and relax and digest followed by a surf coaching lesson.
This was the most valuable part of the retreat and I think what makes Surfing with Amigas stand out from many of the other surf camps. Each surfer would be shown a video of that morning’s session and Holly would provide a blow by blow analysis of what that person did well and what they could improve on. Drawing on her years of experience in professional surfing, Holly brings a laser focus to exactly how each person can adjust their technique to become a better wave rider – whether it is a more powerful paddle, slight shift in stance, redistribution of weight, shoulder position or better wave selection. Every single person was able to leave the retreat with specific actions to work on to become a better surfer.
After a late lunch, the afternoon might include a surf, restorative yoga with the sublimely calming in-house yoga teacher Nikki Belcher, competitive napping or an organised activity such as horse riding on the beach or volcano boarding at the nearby Cierra Negro volcano (the youngest volcano in Central America and most active in Nicaragua).
Evenings were cocktails and lounging in the pool before showering for dinner. Given the early starts, it’s not surprising that other than one night when we went to the local salsa club, everyone was in bed by 9:30 pm.
It’s so hard to explain how different a surf trip with a bunch of women is! The atmosphere was completely relaxed and supportive. The girls were calling each other into waves and cheering every ride (and wipeout). The surf guides are just an amazing group of gorgeous, fun, stoked girls who get even the beginners into some pretty gnarly waves and make sure everyone has a great time. They clearly love life and want everyone else to as well.
Holly has incredible surf knowledge gained through years of competitive surfing and studying swell patterns. In addition to the daily video coaching, each day included a separate lesson on things like “The anatomy of a surfboard”, “Breaking down a duck dive”, “How to do a pop-up” or “How to read a surf report”.
I don’t think I ever laughed so hard on a surf trip. With this group, everything was “super-sized” – super cute wave, super cute bikini, super fun day, super paddling to catch a wave. Sprinkled among the “super” helpful coaching tips were specific tips very relevant to female surfers – such as “don’t mess around on the inside pulling your bikini back over your nipples and out of your crack – just paddle like hell”. “Use your boobs to turn.” “Keep your s**t tight” meaning legs together in a ladylike manner while paddling. I think everyone managed at least one “frothgasm” during that week.
Would I go again? Absolutely! Is a surf trip with a group of women different than the usual outing with a bunch of crusty, feral guys? Yes! I felt supported and motivated and at the same time, restored and peaceful in ways I haven’t experienced on other trips. I don’t think I will give my new besties an exclusive, but a chicas only surf camp is an experience I recommend to anyone learning to surf or just looking for a different way to experience the sport.