I spent all of last week on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast. Admittedly, this was less a photo trip and more about the surf (one of my other passions in life). I usually find a way to mix in some photo time, and the rocky reef which made for excellent waves would turn into a photographic wonderland at low tide. That’s what I call win-win.
It just occurred to me that surfing is a lot like nature photography. I would wake up super early for a morning session (the so-called dawn patrol) and then paddle back out for a sunset session in the evening. Timing is key. Being out on the water during the golden hour can be a very peaceful, contemplative experience. Except for those times when a big set rolls in, and you’re forced to paddle as hard as you can to avoid being pummeled into the reef.
Like photography, surfing requires a lot of patience and you’re really at the mercy of the weather conditions. When the waves are bad, it can feel like an enormous waste of time. If you’ve watched Step Into Liquid or The Endless Summer or any of the other popular surf movies, you might think that surfing is all about this soulful, almost meditative state that you just fall into by virtue of being in the water. Some call it the stoke. Personally, I think that’s a bunch of overly-romantic hogwash. I’d say that surfing is no different than photography. When the conditions are poor, it can be pretty frustrating. But when the conditions are right… A perfect wave is an amazing experience indeed.
If you’re wondering why this reef is called Hemorrhoids, allow me to explain. It’s a shallow, powerful reef break that also goes by the name Meat Grinders. I’ve read that it’s Nicaragua’s version of Pipeline (the famous break on Oahu’s North Shore). You can tell a lot about a break based on the name. Banzai Pipeline. Mavericks. A few years ago, I surfed a wave in Bali called Lacerations. This isn’t Malibu, and falling is not recommended.
Each evening, as the tide would drop, Hemorrhoids would transform into a slabby shelf of tide pools and rocky outcrops. I set up for some long exposures at sunset, using the incoming waves to create a wash effect over the reef. It was a bit unnerving to think that earlier in the day, I was paddling a few feet above these rocks.
If you’re interested in seascape photography, I’d recommend that you experiment with different shutter speeds and just shoot a lot of images. Fill up that memory card! It’s really hard to figure out what shutter speed will work best, and the difference between 1/4 second and 1/2 second can make or break a photo. I like the above image for it’s crispness, and I used a fast shutter to freeze the incoming wave. I captured the image below a moment later (same beach, just a different angle of view). The 1/2 second shutter created a pastel, dreamlike effect that reminds me of a water color painting.
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit most of the countries in Central America, and Nicaraguans seem to carry themselves differently than the rest. Perhaps they aren’t as accustomed to tourism like the Ticas to the south. Or, it could be the systemic corruption of their government (no doubt exacerbated by decades of U.S. influence). It could be the poverty; I just learned that Nicaragua overtook Haiti as the most impoverished country in the western hemisphere, with per capita income of less than $500 a year. I got a sense of their fierce independence and, in subtle ways, their distrust of foreigners. The people of this beautiful country seemed to exude a raw emotion that I haven’t seen before. Surf and photography aside, this is the real reason that I travel. I always return home with a different perspective on life, and renewed appreciation for the comfort, convenience, and opportunity in America. I also feel a bit of envy for those that live in these wilder, undeveloped places.