Jack and Jill, Soma’s Thunder Puppies, waiting for a cuddle session at the infinity pool. Image courtesy of Char Stoever.
Nicaragua: the land of lakes and volcanoes. It’s as small as New York State, but even though I’m a year into my Peace Corps service here, I still haven’t seen it all. So when I was asked if I could go on a press trip to Soma Surf Resort on the Pacific Coast, I jumped at the chance. (See our full disclosure statement here.)
I emailed California native and owner Casey Morton to introduce myself. I admitted that I’d had a few scrapes from trying to surf ridiculous waves a month ago with minimal experience, but that I was excited to try again. Surfing wasn’t something I thought about every day.
I was excited and nervous. Before my trip, I anxiously scribbled two questions in my journal:
- Will I be able to surf?
- What is a surf resort?
You’ll see below how I answered these questions. Whether you’ve ridden 20-foot waves or only wondered how people even measure waves in the first place, here are 10 reasons to visit Soma Surf Resort in Nicaragua:
Soma was the first surfing resort to offer lessons in the area, a trend that other resorts have followed. When I visited, there were two guides for the three of us women. Since I went during the low season (summer in the States), I basically had private lessons.
We were all newbies. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to stand up and that I wouldn’t be “good at it,” but before I knew it, I couldn’t stop jumping back on the board and riding the whitewater (the gentler, post-wave water).
Our two guides, Meelky from Nicaragua and Andrew from Australia, patiently steered us into the correct waves and coached us on our form. They also laughed with us when we wiped out, encouraging us to just “jump back on your board!” with a smile. I was so sore from the first day’s session that I couldn’t go the next morning, but with some ibuprofen and adrenaline, I was riding bigger waves that afternoon.
9. The Owners
Casey and Bill Morton began their project in 2007 and completed the resort in 2011. Bill has worked in speech pathology, and Casey worked in marketing for Calvin Klein for 14 years before pursuing consulting.
Building a resort amidst the 2008 stock market crash was a bold move. “Isn’t it unsafe there? Aren’t you afraid of losing everything?” people would ask the Mortons. Bill and their son, William, had surfed in Popoyo, Nicaragua for years, and they knew the area well. It’s a safe, close-knit community of people who make a living through tourism, raising livestock, and fishing.
The entire resort was built by the neighboring townspeople, whom they continue to have trusting relationships with. As for “losing everything,” Casey reminded me that people lost their jobs and homes back in the States. By focusing on an up-and-coming place with tourism potential outside the U.S., their move wasn’t as risky as others had thought.
8. Caramel-Chocolate Crack
Soma’s open restaurant features coconut pancakes, blue cheese hamburgers, and fajitas with fish caught that day from the beach.
The huge selection made it hard for me to choose what to eat, but there’s only one thing that I had to have twice: Crack. The menu reads: “Yes, crack, as in made with crackers, due to the addictive nature of this stuff. The crackers are dipped in caramel, chocolate, and almond slices. They are later served with vanilla ice cream that’s gracefully adorned with a chocolate swirl.” Yup, my mouth is watering too.
7. A “Camp-Like” Feel
I felt like I was in California’s dry, sunny wine country. There are no TVS in the rooms at Soma Surf Resort, just Wi-fi. This is intentional. Instead of being sucked into watching a Spanish-dubbed version of Transformers, I socialized with other guests at the dinner table.
It’s an intimate atmosphere. We laughed about how we survived near whiplash from those waves we ducked under just in time, or how we couldn’t stop eating crack (See #8). There are only three tables, each with a view of the neighboring rosebushes and mountains, so you’re bound to get to know the other guests.
Also, don’t be surprised if, while you’re basking by the infinity pool, Jack and Jill (AKA the “thunder puppies”) come to cuddle with you.
6. A Level Playing Field
As Casey says, the camp-like feel of the resort levels the playing field. So does surfing.
“We have guests from all backgrounds — doctors, teachers, lawyers — but when you’re out on the water, none of that matters,” she says. After a day of surviving the waves and sharing those “I can’t believe I’m still on this board!” looks with each other, what you do or how much you make at home doesn’t seem to matter anymore.
5. The Ability to Do What You Like
Soma’s mission is to show you the wonders of Nicaragua, whether or not that involves surfing.
One couple from L.A. passed through and stayed for four nights on their honeymoon. They didn’t surf at all. Instead, the hotel’s trusted cab driver took them on a tour of the Mombacho Volcano and the chocolate museum in colonial Granada City. They ended the day with massages and cocktails. Not bad.
Other guests have enjoyed yoga classes, cow-milking tours, and tortilla-making tours.
I also enjoyed other non-surfing attractions, like the local hot springs. After an intense day of surfing, I slowly lowered myself into the springs and felt the thermal water envelope me in a long, warm hug that soothed my sore muscles.
4. The Art-Gallery Atmosphere
Soma boasts large, colorful paintings by Nicaraguan artist Augusto Silva on its walls. Pollock-style paintings with a colorful twist decked out my room. Silva’s work is heavily influenced by Nicaragua’s Afro-Caribbean culture of the Atlantic Coast. In the bathroom hung a beautiful red banner with a profile of a howler monkey. Miskito women from the Atlantic Coast chewed the gum-tree bark that was used to create the canvas for the banner.
3. Solo-Traveler Heaven
I wasn’t alone. I took beginner surf lessons with two other solo female travelers. One of them came from New York City for a four-day work break. Another woman my age came from LA. to enjoy her summer break. She was on her first solo trip, and, although she was nervous at first, she realized that solo travel wasn’t as intimidating as it sounded. She told me this after her massage, so it was easy to believe her when she said she was having a great time!
2. The Wanderful-Loving Host!
Casey is a Wanderful fan; she’s passionate about its mission to encourage women to travel, whether in groups, pairs, or solo.
One night, when a storm knocked out the Wi-fi connection, I asked her what she’d say to a woman who is nervous about traveling to Nicaragua for the first time, whether they are accompanied or alone.
She replied, “Remember who you are. Be yourself. Nicaragua gives you the time and space to discover who you really are. By being here, you’ll realize that you are not your job, your makeup, or your spouse.”
1. An Altered View of Surfing
So, did I find out what a surf resort was? Definitely. I am now a surfing addict, despite the scrapes on my leg that happened as a result of thinking those rocks on the beach weren’t as hard as rocks. I didn’t think much of surf culture before, but that’s changed.
Soma is an intimate, relaxing, and challenging place. Surfing taught me to look at perseverance in a new way. There’s something unique about not knowing exactly when that perfect wave will come along, and the brief regret you’ll feel for missing it. Surfing gives you hope that the next perfect wave will come along eventually. By the time you catch it, all of the saltwater up your nose, in your hair, and all over your face will be worth it. And then it will end. You will probably flounder around, searching for your board, but then you will go right back into the waves and do it again because not knowing what will happen next is exhilarating.
Isn’t that what traveling is all about anyway?
Have you tried surfing? Where’s your favorite place to catch a wave? Share in the comments!