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15 Oct

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#9

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The Drop…#1

The Drop…#1

Take a look at the sequence and you’ll understand I won’t be too bummed to go back home to Nicaragua after visiting family this week in San Diego. It was supposed to be a surprise visit home, but I F***ed up on F***book and posted my plan to return on my High School reunion page…I guess everybody was able to see it, so…Surprise (idiot!) It will be fun…25th high school reunion, see some family, do some needed shopping…lose my tan, gain some weight drinking really good beer. I need an al pastor taco stat! Then maybe some Pho. A buddy got us some tickets to a Charger’s game. I’m not much of a football fan, but I love a good party. I don’t think it’s going to be barreling like in the sequence when I get back…but you never know. Surfline has a swell forecast for about the time I return…;-)

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14 Oct

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I’m the worst watch dog. We had a 7.4 earthquake and I didn’t even wake up much less bark. It took the tsunami warning alarm to scare Kayla into making me stir from my slumber. Once awake, the alarm was pretty scary… the robotic voice rattling off ” este es el sistema de alerta de tsunamis , por favor evacuar el área de immediate…” on repeatedly for the better part of two hours. This is not the first tsunami warning we’ve had so the process is a bit tedious…even to a point where it’s become a ‘cry wolf’ process. However a tsunami would kick a wolf’s ass anytime anyplace. Here’s the process:
1. Evacuate anybody unnecessary on the property- we didn’t have any guests on hand so we didn’t evacuate anybody last night, but normal we would keep three people on hand.
2. Put someone on “ocean watch”- we designate a person to watch the ocean to look for signs of abnormal and rapid tide drop precursory to an arriving tsunami. This is best left to someone with ocean knowledge and often falls to me…I delegate tasks as I stay on watch for any signs of abnormal activity.
3. Load the essentials- two staff are assigned to get a truck running and ready at the gate and then load it with medical supplies and water, once those are loaded we branch into food, tools, fuel and then valuables. Once all of those are loaded someone is dispatched to check the internet for any news.

Last night’s earthquake was only 80 miles from our location. The average tsunami travels in excess of 400mph or about 6.67 miles per minute. It would have taken the tsunami 12 minutes to hit our location which was about the time it took for us to get the plan somewhat completed. Of course the real question is “how long do we wait?” In this instance we waited an hour. After many phone calls from staff without internet inquiring about the truth of the situation I felt comfortable telling everyone to go to bed again.

The house sits about 5 meters above sea level….the second floor about 10meters above sea level. I feel pretty comfortable here surviving all but the worst of tsunamis. We have some higher ground close by and some ‘high ground’ about a mile away. It’s still pretty nerve wracking in the middle of the night to wake up to the alarm telling you to ‘leave immediately’.

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9 Oct

I’m sitting next to Monty which is not his name. In earlier years, on a surf trip to Costa Rica, he was frothing to go to “Montypalo”. “Montypalo guys…we’ve got to go to Montypalo!” he repeated it enough times to earn the pseudonym of Monty. He is sunburned, as am I. Our receding hairlines are not assets in the tropical sun. The sun will find any spot you can miss with sunscreen and it has found our recesses. My tongue is pickled with salt water as are my fingers. Monty’s are the same. I slur slightly because of my pickled state as we, Monty and I, make mindless chit-chat. A set, 15 days old, descends on the outer reefs. White water reflects a mile out to sea as we casually paddle using one arm only, the one stroke motor I call it. It takes one minute and seventeen seconds for the first waves of the set to start standing up on the sand bar we sit upon. I can look down and see my shadow on the sand 8 feet under me, under the water, where this beautiful unseen sand bar shapes these stellar waves that have traveled 9000 miles from New Zealand to be here, with me and Monty, just he and I. The set matures and we paddle over what seem to be perfect waves while looking for something a fraction more perfect. It’s just he and I. The winds are light and feather the cresting lips just enough to give off a cooling spray, but it’s not enough of a blow to make much more than a little texture on the otherwise smooth ocean, save for the swells relentless march. The boat bobs in the distance just far enough away to make the Canon 400mm lens more than effective. Marvin, the trigger man is ready, he waits for our cue. More perfection passes under us, we’re picky because we can be, because it’s just he and I, Monty and me. A dark line growing in size and morphing in shape approaches and it has “the look”. There’s a sixth sense that helps you choose one perfect wave from another perfect wave. It’s a skill honed over years of watching and waiting and making many mistakes. This wave has “the look”, my spidey sense tells me so. “Do you want this one?” I ask Monty, I’m happy to share because it’s just he and I. “No man, you take it”…I spin around and paddle. I don’t have to paddle hard, I’m in the spot, the wave would have taken me even if I didn’t want it, but I do, want it, that is. My surf board accelerates and I lean to the left turning the board down the line as I pull my legs up under my body and press down with my feet. The board drops away and I accelerate. As my legs extend I aim just slightly angularly up the wave and suck my legs back up under me again until I reach the point where the wave goes just past vertical, then I turn, just slightly again and again press down, I accelerate more. Akin to swinging your legs to get higher on the swing, I pump to get more speed, you can never have enough speed, only too little. I’m unable to think, time is still, I know whats going to happen as the wave steepens and bends in all three axis. I am living trigonometry, I am hydrodynamics on display, the shutter of the Cannon 400mm fires at 9 frames per second. The steep part of the wave, where I need to be, moves down toward the trough as I aim down to trim myself into it. I squat as the lip starts to throw and I duck my head to make sure I’m under it, lest I ruin this otherwise perfect moment. The sound changes once inside the wave. Children at the water park hear the same echo as they wind down the snaking tubes of the water slides, coddled at the bottom by the splash pool. My ears echo now as the opening to my water slide moves away from me. There’s no exit now except down and so I go, down the tube, toward the splash pool at the end. It’s just me now, Monty and Matapalo are not on my mind, only the exit vacillating closer, then farther away, then closer again. Sand stings my eyes, thrown by the wave vomiting behind me. I can’t tell the difference between the sting of sand or the sting of water, they hurt equally nice as the sun once again shines down on me. I angle up, toward the feathering lip and feel weightless as I fly up and over and down again the back of the wave. Perfection meets my eyes, another water slide, this one has Monty in it and he’s far from Matapalo. Who wants to go there anyway? This is freight trains, this is our water park and for the moment it belongs to us, just he an I.

Epilogue: I don’t always try to get to artsy in my writing, but today we had a “moment”. Yeah, Monty and I were there alone for a bit, but then a couple other guys joined us and we were happy to have them. Chris Kokotos, also know as Koko, or since I’ve met him Koko-Loko was there too. As was Darren Ott…who got the lucky nickname of D-Rot;-) It was just one of those days when 5 stars wasn’t enough of a scale to measure the perfect moment we all got to share. Just some guys getting some waves, hooting because we couldn’t help it, and getting barreled for the same reason.

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9 Oct

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Where did they all go? While the crowds were pretty minimal for the last month, things just got really empty here in Miramar and we’re actually looking for people to surf with. It’s a positive problem. We hit Freighties about 1 hour after the low tide and nailed the sweet spot. It was a little mushy when we arrived, promptly turned on for about 2 hours and then got mushy again. It was just nice to now we made the right call and got everything out of it we could. Of course with only 4 of us it was like doing laps. Even though it was only shoulder high it was one wave after another after another etc… It’s not helping the tendonitis in the shoulders that’s for sure. Looks like today will be a repeat…or let’s at least hope so.

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6 Oct

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It was actually 4:36am when I woke up and decided that since I needed to pee I might as well get the coffee on as well. It was still dark for another 45 minutes, no one was stirring, except for the f***ing roosters so I went back to bed. 5:30…Josh, the guide, gets up and stumbles around getting the breakfast buffet set up. I’m sure he was happy to find the coffee waiting for him. The sun has just come up and it’s now light enough to see, I hit the snooze button one more time. 6am and I’m stumbling through the yard with a hot cup of coffee trying no to spill it…I weave like a wounded airplane coming in for a crash landing, but I find a chair before I hit the ground. Guys are leaving this morning at 9am and they’re already surfing. It’s head high…smaller and a bit more infrequent than the previous few days. There is still swell in the water. The coffee slowly dilutes the fog in my eyes, then sun helps clear my vision as well. A quick trip to the bathroom for some business and I’m out again with my uniform on…a pair of board shorts and a rash guard, half stick of wax, a fin key and some Waterman’s “face stick” sunscreen in my pocket. I am complete. It’s now 7am and I call Marvin, “Necessitamos la lancha a 9:00″… “Claro” he answers. “Dale pues”, I retort. Who the hell is Dale Pues anyway? Marvin shows up a bit early…we arrange the coolers, get the cameras and other gear in the truck, guests are cued and Marvin heads out for the port. 30-40 minutes until the boat arrives. In the mean time at 7:22 the brazzo boat heads out with 6 people. The formula is looking good. By the time we arrive, they’ve been there 1.5 hours, the tide is coming up and the waves are getting better. With just an hour of overlap time we’ll have the place to ourselves. Never mess with math, it’s never wrong.

Fast forward 15 hours…I’m ready for bed, writing this blog. The title of this blog, “Working 5-9″ doesn’t even do the day justice. It’s really 4:30am to 11pm and often then some. After surf we got lunch, did some surf lesson, went to Leon, had dinner, did the chores and then I retired to do this… it’s been a long day, tomorrow is another and I wouldn’t trade it for any 9-5!

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5 Oct

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We have seen some amazing waves today! It was not the easiest wave to surf, but there was no lack of effort. There were some great successes and some amazing failures, but everybody came up smiling and amazingly no boards were broken. Shit…I just jinxed it…hopefully it’s not my board that breaks!

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3 Oct

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That’s not a thunderstorm, that’s the waves pounding out front. The swell filled in very nicely this morning and we had a bit of a scramble to figure out where we wanted to surf. We started with a quick mid-tide session out front at Punta Miramar and then had the boat take us to Freight trains. The sand bar is a little sick right now…not really sure what is going on with it. There’s waves breaking, but they’re kind of all over and the perfecto meter is really low…like a 3. So we headed back to Punta Miramar which was at least a 6 and surfed there until it got swamped by the tide. We then went back to Freight Trains and checked again. It was slightly better, but we opted out and headed back for home. Some guys stayed in and chased some rights at Rick’s Right and others chased a few at pipes. Stay tuned for the afternoon update…

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3 Oct

That’s not a thunderstorm, that’s the waves pounding out front. The swell filled in very nicely this morning and we had a bit of a scramble to figure out where we wanted to surf. We started with a quick mid-tide session out front at Punta Miramar and then had the boat take us to Freight trains. The sand bar is a little sick right now…not really sure what is going on with it. There’s waves breaking, but they’re kind of all over and the perfecto meter is really low…like a 3. So we headed back to Punta Miramar which was at least a 6 and surfed there until it got swamped by the tide. We then went back to Freight Trains and checked again. It was slightly better, but we opted out and headed back for home. Some guys stayed in and chased some rights at Rick’s Right and others chased a few at pipes. Stay tuned for the afternoon update…

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2 Oct

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We just had a busy week and that’s not including the Drone Zone episode. We had a lovely group of 7 that came down from San Diego, plus another couple of guys from Ventura and then a token New Yorker?! We had chemistry to say the least and it was the kind of chemistry often found at the bottom of a bottle, or many bottles in this case. The waves were consistently good and while surf was a priority during daylight hours, in the night however, the silence of the lambs was drowned out in other ways. What was happening behind the door to room #2 is anybody’s guess, but I don’t think Marshmallow the miniature donkey is talking. Penny, my lone chicken is blushed with embarrassment and I don’t even think she got a phone number out of the deal. I did learn something last week. When this group returns I need to go buy liquor, lots of it and just triple up the order because how much I thought I needed was not enough. Then double the order again so the rest of us can get a drink after Lee is done:-) Love you guys…now I have to go deglaze room #2.

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1 Oct

Some years ago we came up with the acronym T.N.O. which stand for Typical Nicaraguan Operation. This is in reference to how sometimes or, quite often, things are done a little different down here and that’s not always a good thing. In general TNO means it takes three tries to get something done and usually with only mediocre results. It’s not a high standard.

The latest example of TNO involves our buddy Mike Gentile attempting to bring his drone into the country. He was stopped at customs, one of his bags was searched and in it he had a new DJI Phantom Drone with all the trimmings…about $2000 worth of gear. The customs officer told Mike that he needed special permission from INAC (Nicaragua Civil Aviation) to get the drone out of customs and into the country. Of course it was late on a Friday night and the office wouldn’t be open until Monday. Monday we set off to see what we could do. We asked at the airport where the INAC office was and we were directed to Gate 9 just a few hundred meters away. At Gate 9 we were told there was no INAC office there. We pressed a little harder and found out INAC was at the ‘other’ Gate 9 another 50 yards down the road. Both gates access the same parking lot, but we had to back out and enter at the ‘other’ Gate 9?! Now at Gate 9.5 the next guard tells us that nobody is there and we have to come back at 1pm. It’s about 11am so we go get lunch, pick up a guest and make plans to return. We’re back promptly at 12:55 and we wait until about 1:15 to get in the gate. Once in the office they’re pretty helpful and I write a letter saying that we need to get a drone out of customs so we can take pictures and video of surfers. This office needs to be signed my the Director General who is conveniently out sick. They also need a copy of the customs claim ticket and Mike’s passport…but they don’t have a copy machine of course! (what office doesn’t have a copy machine? They had one, they just didn’t want to make a copy for us). Now back in the car we get a copy made at the Best Western Hotel and get back to the INAC office within about 5 minutes. This was apparently fast as they were surprised to see us so soon. The woman at the desk, Juana, takes the letter and copies and says to come back tomorrow and she’ll have the letter signed for us. Fast forward to the next morning (yesterday). We arrive at the office at 10am…thinking we would give the Director General time to get his cup of coffee, have some water cooler chat, waste some time and eventually get to signing our letter of permission. Upon arrival there are tents covering the parking lot, a stage is set up and a large audience of people are listening to some important looking person on the stage. The Director General is in the audience. We’re asked to come back at 1pm! We get a long lunch and return promptly at 12:55 and get in the office again at 1:15. We only waited about 15 minutes and a woman comes out with another type written letter with a couple of paragraphs and asks Mike to sign it and tell him it’s only good for one time…we’re elated. We’ve gotten out permission slip to get the drone out of customs! They tell us to go to Gate 5 where customs is to retrieve the package. The drone is not at Gate 5…we’re told to go to the airport. We go to the airport and talk to Copa Airlines to give us a translator/representative to help us through the mess. A guy shows up and after some brief explaining takes us to another customs office. The customs agent says, sorry, the permission slip says “no you can’t have the drone” and, by the way, you owe us $35 for storing the drone here at customs during your week vacation????!!!!! We did some arguing, studied the letter again, which did quote a law from 1946 saying that no unmanned aircraft can fly over Nicaragua without special permission. Then at the bottom it said flying the drone in Nicaragua was prohibited. Oddly enough, another Nicaraguan man, was trying to receive his drone at the same time. He had the same letter and he caught the error at the INAC office and they told him the letter was good and to take it to customs. He didn’t get his drone either. He lives here, so $2 a day for 10 months until he was leaving the country again meant he owed $600 in storage fees for his drone!!!!

I don’t think Mike wants to go back to Managua today. I think he’s over it. I’m still hurt and confused and I’ve spent three years dealing with TNO on a regular basis. Hopefully some day Nicaragua realizes that nobody is trying to spy on them. Drone footage is a new hot thing and good videos coming out of Nicaragua will only strengthen the growing tourism industry. In the mean time they’re turning away drones at a cost the already labored economy here. This is not to mention that you can go the local mall and buy a remote control helicopter in any number of colors and sizes, the larger ones easily could be fit with a Go-Pro camera…some even have low res cameras built in already…and I’m pretty sure they’re just like a drone, but just lesser quality. In the mean time, a note to all of you out there. Nicaragua is a no drone fly zone and you won’t be allowed to bring it into the country. So if you’re thinking of trying, disassemble it into as many small pieces as you can and tell them it’s a remote control car or parts for a dishwasher. Tell them it’s anything but a drone or you’ll suffer a little TNO yourself.

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