Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

The First Women Surfers of Nicaragua

I just came back from an extended trip in Central America.  There is something about that place warms up my bloodstream, making my veins swirl with a spicy happy. I love the people’s smiles, ignorant of their poverty.  I love the smells of street food, grilled bits that tingle my nostrils.  I love the sound of the ocean, the waves seemingly omniscient.


What I do not love about Central America are the catcalls, the bemused glances, and the persistent inequality of women.


“Women are meant to do three things here in Nicaragua,” said Elsi, a local surfer I met at Chica Brava surf camp in San Juan del Sur. “Cook, clean, and have babies.”  Elsi, however, had other plans.


The Nicaraguan native taught herself to surf over seven years ago after her surfer boyfriend repeatedly laughed at her dream to ride the ocean. “I watched him surf and said, ‘Hey I wanna do that!!’ ”  However he discouraged her, telling her it wasn’t for her.  Elsi wouldn’t accept that and decided to paddle forward herself.


“He wouldn’t teach me so I taught myself,” she told me.  Elsi got a board and learned to surf by imitating other surfers and patiently listening to the ocean. Armed with natural talent and diligent practice, she became one of Nicaragua’s first female surfers and joined the national surf team from 2006-2009.


I watched her effortlessly catch a wave while we were at Maderas, one of Nicaragua’s more challenging breaks.  “She’s ripping.  She’s good,” acknowledged one male surfer in the ocean with me.  But male surfers weren’t the only ones fascinated by her.  Ashley, the owner of Chica Brava Surf Camp, recruited her to teach more women the art of surfing.


Ashley created the all-women surf camp with a mission. She told me, “First, I wanted to encourage more women to surf!  But women are so competitive with each other when men are around.  They are supportive when it’s just them.  Women bring out the best in each other…..so why not an all girls camp?”



In addition to getting more women in the waves, Chica Brava also works to help local women rise above one of Nicaragua’s largest problems: prostitution.  Nicaragua remains a poor country where human trafficking still occurs.  Although the government has started to crack down on trafficking offenders, many young girls are still caught, enslaved and coerced to perform sexual acts.  Chica Brava designed a special camp for recovered victims called Camp Bella. Camp Bella helps the girls regain their dignity and self worth by mastering a beautiful feat: surfing the ocean.  For if a woman can steer a board into  crashing waves, couldn’t she accomplish anything?


According the camp’s mission they ‘give these women a fresh new sense of identity, self-confidence, value, hope, the desire and inspiration to thrive, and the freedom to embrace their natural identities as beautiful, powerful, Nicaraguan women.‘


Perhaps with more women in the waves from all backgrounds, the men of Nicaragua will start to view femininity differently and young girls will be inspired to break traditional molds.  When women master surfing they show that they are more than just sexual objects and housemaids.  Not only are they capable of building businesses and dreams, but they are also really good at ripping.


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