Dispatch: Surfing the El Salvadoran Coast

At a bus station in downtown Guatemala City, you´re likely to see at least a handful of scruffy and skinny guys with a small backpack and a 6-foot surfboard comprising their luggage. Guatemala City is a few good hours from the beach and Guatemala´s beaches aren´t known for their surfing. But it is known as a jumping-off point to reach the more highly coveted breaks here in El Salvador, whose Pacific Coast may have some of the last widely-undiscovered waves on the continent.

That bus takes just four to five hours to reach the capital of San Salvador, and from there it´s less than 45 minutes on El Salvador´s well developed road network to reach the closest beach at La Libertad.

From there, this tiny country’s solitary breaks meander to the west towards the Guatemalan border. I decided to avoid the micro-scene that has developed at the beaches of Tunco and around and headed further west to a newly declared mangrove and estuary reserve near the village of Barro de Santiago. There is absolutely no tourist infrastructure here, save for the lone beach house with four rooms where we stayed. The owners called a local surf bum, and for five bucks, I had my first surfing lesson… completely in Spanish. Now, since we’ve been down here, I’ve been able to summon enough high school spanish to communicate anything I want, but when people begin speaking to me, it’s a totally different story.

Fortunately, teaching a new skill or sport is more of an exercise in show and tell than literal translation and I was able to understood most of what my surf sensei was trying to get across. Unfortunately, it didn’t help my surfing ability. I discovered that at six foot three and with size fifteen feet, it may take a little more than a two hour lesson in a foreign language before I’ll be hanging ten anytime soon. But the waves were great, I swallowed enough sodium for a lifetime, and it was well worth the adventure.

Check out what Nat Geo had to say about El Sal’s surf scene.