As I struggled to lift my hulking board onto the roof of our surf jalopy parked on a narrow street in Nicaragua, I wondered if I was in over my head, literally. I was about to embark on a week-long journey at the all-women’s surf camp Chicabrava. I was about to live like all the surfers do—and celebrate my forty-ninth birthday doing so. Here there are no buff surf butlers to help, just a tiny blonde instructor from Germany named Stef. This trip was about girl power.
Picture a surf camp and you likely conjure images of fit young women with Victoria’s Secret-worthy thighs and perfectly tousled hair. The owner of Chicabrava, Ashley Blayloc, explains that nothing could be further from the truth. “We get women of all shapes, sizes and ages. I’ve even taught grandmas to surf.” The name Chicabrava translates to Brave Girl.
Guests arrive with a wide array of skills, but share a singular goal, to master the pop up (surf slang for standing up on your board) and ride a wave. The camp is located in San Juan del Sur, a famed surf destination where the sun always shines and the winds are always perfect. It’s the destination of choice for beginners and diehard surfers alike.
Accommodations are sparse. It’s not about the room; it’s about the waves. There are two houses to choose from, Surf House in town and Cloud Farm, which sits high on a hill with sweeping views surrounded by a working farm. The rooms are shared, mosquito nets are included, and meals are eaten family style. For everyone who has ever wanted to go back to summer camp, but with rum, Chicabrava is a dream come true. Instead of a chilly lake, however, you have an infinity pool and someone else makes your bed.
Mornings start early with classes on wave theory and how to perfect the pop up. After the first few days, they add the thrilling (and embarrassing) aspect of video review. While it’s hard to watch yourself wipe out, often many times in a row, there is no better feeling than seeing yourself ride a wave.
On the first day, on the first wave, I popped up like a pro and rode all the way in. It turned out to be beginner’s luck and was followed by at least three dozen wipeouts. While waiting for waves (Mother Nature is frustratingly unpredictable) I had hours to chat with the instructors. The only local turned out to be an anomaly in Nicaraguan surfing, a sport that is almost entirely male. Being surrounded by other women, one who had only recently learned to swim, and emboldening instructors was an inspirational soup that is hard to define. When I finally rode another wave all the way to shore three days after my beginner’s luck, I jumped off the board and burst into tears. I didn’t see them coming. I cried for joy, for exhaustion, for making my instructor proud, for turning forty-nine on a surfboard and surprising myself.
Chicabrava San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Starts at $1,300 for one week, and includes accommodations, meals and surfing