Stepping off the plane after 35 hours of travel, dressed head to toe in Irukandji’s green I was quick to stash away my Australian team tracksuit as I was hit by tropical humidity. Lugging 9ft longboard coffins halfway around the world was no mean feat, but coming this far for a surf contest is becoming something of a regular trip. In 2019, recently elected President of El Salvador Nayib Bukele began investing heavily in his signature campaign “Surf City”, which aims to reshape public perception of a country ravaged by gang violence, into a surfer’s paradise. To promote this campaign and draw in tourist dollars, Bukele has invested heavily in surf events, coastal infrastructure, and tourism programs to spread awareness of El Salvador’s abundance of world class waves. This investment has seen El Salvador secure a WSL CT shortboard event, the ISA longboard Championships, the ISA junior championships and the WSL longboard finals this year alone. 

While there is a lot to be said about Bukele’s style of governance, long chats with locals and people who have been making the surf pilgrimage through central America for decades were grateful to now feel safe here. Since my last trip here in September 2023, I was blown away by the large amount of development and growth. Particularly in and around the stretch of coastline identified as ‘Surf City” which stretches from Mizata in the North to Punta Rocas in the South. While much of the development seemed to be aimed at bringing Western comforts to these once small villages by the coast, local culture and central American flare still shone through. We were quick to try the local dish Pupusas from a roadside stall, a thick corn tortilla which can be stuffed with a variety of fillings, my favourite being bean and cheese.  

Paddling out for my first free surf back at El Sunzal, the event location for the ISA World Longboard Championships was a bit of a shock to the system. With 32-degree water and 35 degree air coupled with a 400 meter paddle out there was no time to feel weighed down by jetlag. Dressed in the best sun protection I could layer; A long sleeve ocean rash vest and the ocean shorts softened the blow of the hot sun. After making it out the back I was quickly reminded about one of the reasons I love what I do, reconnecting with friends from all over the world who share a love for surfing. While everyone rides slightly different shapes, we are united in our shared joy of travel and fun waves, expressing our unique styles often representative of the waves we surf, and the surfers we look up to. 

This sentiment was evident at the opening ceremony, a real gathering of everything that is so cool about surfing. The president of the ISA appeared on a pre-recorded video to welcome a record breaking 129 athletes from 39 countries and 5 continents. Representatives from each nation took to the stage flying their flag and pouring a jar of sand from home into a larger container to symbolise the peaceful gathering of nations of the world through surfing. To conclude the opening ceremony all 39 nations took to the stage to wave their flags, and a catchy song came on which successfully ear wormed everyone and went a little something like “ A better worlddddd through surfinggggggg”. And in a world that has seemed so overwhelming and upsetting in recent times, this moment was quite impactful for everyone present.  

This kicked off 6 days of surfing with long days at the point supporting our teammates and friends. To share some personal highlights from the event, some honourable mentions would be Geoff the taco eating stray dog which turned up for every heat. I shared a stacked heat with fellow Aussie Kirra Molar, where we followed through with our plan to ‘just win and knock out the other surfers’ keeping us both in the draw. There was also a hilarious nail biter in which I had a 8 point ride but no back up and managed to boog down the face of a 5 foot set before eventually stumbling to my feet on the buzzer to secure the heat win. All in all I finished up 13th out of 61 women, and the Aussie team all put together a great effort finishing up a respectable 6th place overall. 

It was an incredible week of watching the global level of longboarding soar, including seeing representatives from lesser-known surfing nations shine in super fun conditions. Friendships were formed on the beach and in the water, with crowded line ups and long waits between waves forming the perfect setting to meet new people and learn about different cultures, all while sharing a familiarity in a mutual love of surfing. You couldn’t help but feel that the surfing competition had brought great opportunity for El Salvadorians too, and that they were grateful for our presence on their coastline. Whether it was buying a coconut from “Super Coco” after a fun surf, chatting with local tourism guides, accommodation hosts, drivers or engaging with local media, everyone greeted us with a smiley “Hola!”.  

The event wrapped up with an all time after party, complete with fireworks and an international dj set which saw everyone dance for hours, despite the humidity.  While a nearby water feature became a swimming pool respite for those that started off too strong, the South Americans proved that they would win every time if this was a dance contest. This saw the end of a fun week in El Salvador and was a great way to say goodbye to all the new friends which we had made, before starting the long journey home. 

A poquito bit of Spanish sure goes a long way, so I hope to get a bit better before I head back! I really enjoyed my time in El Salvador and look forward to watching it become a meeting place for the surf tribe for years to come, here is to a better world through surfing. 

Take a look at Tully's Project Blank packing list.

June 06, 2024 — Nick Hrdina