Why Learning to Surf in Nicaragua Went Beyond Facing The Waves

By: Judy Cogan, Writer, Editor & Journalist & Unsettled: Nicaragua alum

Surfing is dangerous. The huge waves, exposed rocks, risk of sharks kind of dangerous. It’s also really difficult, but crucially comes with the pressure to look cool while trying. There’s a lot to think about! 

Still, the pull towards this sport is real, even for someone like me who grew up in a quaint suburb of London a trillion light years away from the nearest beachy surf scene. I blame Hollywood films such as Point Break, Blue Crush and the classic 90’s TV show California Dreamin’ (any one old enough to remember that one?!) for giving me notions that I could one day catch a wave or two of my own. 

My chance finally arrived on an Unsettled trip to Nicaragua in February 2018: Surf was definitely up! We were staying in Playa Santana not far from one of the best surf beaches on the pacific coast where powerful waves roll in under low hanging clouds and wash up against wide strips of silky sand. If I was going to try surfing for the first time, this was the place to do it. 

For me, my first lesson meant much more than picking up a new skill or working out in a different way. If the urge for self-improvement and embracing the unknown had motivated me to sign up for the trip in the first place, learning to surf was part of seeing that through. 

I was already out of my comfort zone – the exotic faraway location (two flights and approx. 17 hours in the air), mixing with a group of professionals from all over the world, and a program that involves showing up for new experiences, like this one, every day. Now I was throwing a wetsuit and a two metre high foam board into the mix. Blimey. 

My instructor from a local surf school made sure we had lots of fun and put our little group at ease in the water by staying close by to offer up tips and keep us safe. I stood up on my board for a millisecond long enough to hear him shout, “Way to go Judy!” and by the end of the session I had the “casually-straddling-a-surfboard-gazing-out-to-sea” look down like an absolute pro. I looked cool. Mission accomplished. 

I genuinely enjoyed getting splashed in the face by sea water, and hurled around by the waves. It’s humbling to feel small in the hands of nature sometimes and just bobbing around in the ocean as it sparkled in the sunshine way out of reach of emails, social media, and work pressures was a real tonic. I felt part of something really special. 


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I remember arriving back at the ranch with my hair a curly salty mop and my face glowing, still warm and ever so slightly pink from a blast of Nicaraguan sun and sea and painted with a huge grin. Jonathan, one of the founders of Unsettled, looked up from his laptop and said, “Wow that’s happy hair” and he was totally right. 

I haven’t surfed since, and I didn’t take to the waves like Keanu Reeves or Kate Bosworth, but seeking perfection was never my end game. I was happy to have overcome a fear of failing at something new that can so often cripple us. Learning to try new things and push myself out of my comfort zone is part of the quest towards personal growth, that’s what surfing taught me. 

Are you ready to give surfing a try? Join us in Nicaragua this February 22nd – March 7th!

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