Firstly, just to clarify, there’s actually no surfing in San Juan del Sur, per se. The pretty beach right in town is very sheltered and doesn’t have a break. But San Juan del Sur is where you want to base yourself, and explore the beaches immediately north and south of town. There are beginner-friendly beach breaks less than 5km (3 miles) away, and the many surf shops in San Juan offer lessons, rental boards and transportation at very reasonable prices. It’s a good idea to pop into two or three different surf shops and see which one you feel comfortable with before you sign up for lessons.
It’s not just the beautiful scenery, and the accessibility and affordability of surfing in San Juan del Sur that makes it so great. It’s also kind of nice that there are many (but not too many) other beginners surfers around, and the atmosphere is rather jovial. So there’s no need to feel self-conscious wobbling about on your board.
We stayed in San Juan del Sur for three weeks and dedicated some of that time to learning how to surf. Here’s a bit of a rundown of our experiences.
San Juan del Sur surfing: Playa Remanso
After popping into a few surf shops in town, we ended up going with Moke Huhu Surf School for our first surf lesson. The guys at Moke Huhu are super chilled-out and fun as well as professional. On our first day we headed over to the very beginner-friendly waves of beautiful Playa Remanso about 5km (3 miles) from town. Although we both have tried surfing before we’re VERY much in the beginner category. It was great to take a lesson just as a refresher and also to get some new pointers. After a warm-up we did some basic skills on the beach including practice paddling and popping up on the board. Then it was time to hit the water which was just beautiful – super warm and clear.
The waves at Playa Remanso were really quite minuscule that day but I was pretty happy about it as it’d been a while since I’d been on a surf board. Our instructor, Raul, was in the water with us making sure we got our timing right and also, because of the small waves, giving a little extra push on our boards to get our speed up. We were standing up in no time!
Admittedly I wasn’t actually able to paddle strongly enough to catch any waves on my own, and had to be helped by Raul every single time. As Raul put it, I needed ‘mas gasolina’! Just for the record I’m not exactly a dainty kind of gal but I still didn’t have quite enough strength to get the speed required on my own (Steve managed just fine). We had a blast and our two-hour lesson flew by. We had some delish fish tacos from the chilled-out beach restaurant at Remanso for lunch, and went back into the water after lunch for some more practice on our own before returning to town late in the afternoon. A fab day!
San Juan del Sur surfing: Playa Hermosa
In the following days we felt confident enough just to rent surf boards and get transportation through Moke Huhu. On these days we ‘surfed’ on Playa Hermosa little further down south. Hermosa is a gorgeous long white sand beach with a break that is suitable from beginners to advanced. There is one surf school/hostel/restaurant/beach bar on this gorgeous beach, and at the time of our visit (November 2014) they seemed to be adding accommodation so the place is slowly growing and expanding. I’m sure one day not too far in the future there’ll be lots more development. For now however Hermosa is a blissful and relatively quiet beach.
The conditions at Hermosa were quite different on different days. On one of the days the waves were actually quite big and too scary for me. So I mainly ended up just staying close to shore in the whitewash and was still able to get enough speed to practice standing up. On another day it was almost flat, and we had to wait for a long time in-between sets. And we also had some really perfect days when the waves were just big enough for us, glassy, tidy and just fun.
- A two-hour lesson, including boards and transport cost a very reasonable US$35/person through Moke Huhu. We stayed well beyond the two hour lesson practicing on our own after the lesson, at no extra cost.
- If you don’t want a lesson but just want to rent a board and get transportation: board rental and private/semi-private transportation to Playa Hermosa cost about US$20/person through Moke Huhu. You can pretty much go for a full day if you want to but it’s more likely that you will run out of energy in a few hours, and you also need to keep an eye on tide times. The surf shops will tell you when it’s best to head out.
- You can also get a share shuttle from San Juan del Sur to Remanso, Hermosa or other nearby beaches from some of the surf shops in town for only US$5-10/person roundtrip, if you have your own board and you just want a lift. The downside is the shuttles run on a schedule so you don’t have the flexibility of private/semi-private transportation.
- Other surfing beaches nearby: there are plenty more surfing beaches beyond Remanso and Hermosa that are easily accessible from San Juan del Sur, some more suitable for beginners than others. Check out San Juan del Sur Guide for more info on surfing in the San Juan del Sur area.
- Surf camps: if you’re more serious about learning to surf and want to dedicate your whole holiday to surfing, San Juan del Sur and other areas in Nicaragua have surf camps that we hear can be pretty awesome. Surf camps have you all but immersed in the sport, all the while enjoying a gorgeous beach location and meeting some likeminded people.
Note on stingrays
Posting about surfing in San Juan del Sur wouldn’t be complete without mentioning stingrays. We were warned, and slightly paranoid, about stepping on these creatures. Apparently they love hanging out in the shallows near the shoreline and can be hard to spot. We did see quite a few rays and even some in the surf with us, apparently having a great time riding the waves! We religiously shuffled our feet and were fine, but apparently people do get stung every now and then. So if you go into the ocean in Nicaragua (surfing or swimming), remember to shuffle your feet through the shallows.
So what’s our verdict and are we still beginner surfers?
Surfing is hard! I think we will forever remain in the near-beginner-surfer category but we had loads of fun and enjoyed the beautiful beaches and water in the San Juan del Sur area. It’s a great feeling of achievement to catch a wave and stand up on your (giant, beginner-style long) board.
And by the way, I was eventually able to catch some waves on my own without anyone having to give me an extra push, although I think my surfing attempts would have been greatly enhanced if I just had ‘mas gasolina’. If you’re planning to try surfing it’s a good idea to build up some good upper body strength well in advance. Yes, surfing is hard, but it’s also great fun not to mention a fantastic way to enjoy the gorgeous Nicaraguan beaches and get some exercise too.
If San Juan del Sur sounds like your kind of place, there’s some general info on San Juan del Sur in my post San Juan del Sur – Things to Do and Sample Prices.