Nicaragua Surf Trip Checklist

Headed to Nicaragua? Make sure to check all the boxes on this handy travel guide

Photo: Hurtado
Welcome to Nicaragua. Take our advice, and keep your eyes peeled. Photo: Hurtado

Offshores 300 days a year? Flights for a few hundred bucks? A wide swell window, diverse reef complex, and permanently tropical lineups? Any of that tickle your fancy? It’s all within reach with a quick jaunt to Nicaragua, a booming exotic surf destination for plenty good reason. With swell almost permanently on offer and the option for paradisiacal lodging just one up-sell away, it sounds almost too good to be true. Which, for Corban Campbell, it was. He recounted his Nicaraguan nightmare for us, then we took the liberty of putting together this all-too convenient checklist for you. Here are five simple steps to make sure you enjoy your trip:

1. Don’t Get Speared in the Eye by a Needlefish
While packing for a trip to sunny Nicaragua, it can be helpful to write out a list of travel necessities. One thing that’s occasionally overlooked by visitors to tropical locales is not getting speared in the face by a living missile of bone and teeth. This should be the first thing on your checklist.

2. Don’t Get Speared in the Eye by a Needlefish
Ablennes hians, common name: flat needlefish. Found in tropical oceans all over the world, grows up to 4 feet long, and can jump out of the water at speeds that reach nearly 40 miles per hour, which—holy shit. That’s awfully fast for a fish with a pointy medieval torture device for a beak. Imagine that you toss a tomato off a boat, and then a needlefish leaps from the water and explodes into that tomato at 40 miles per hour. The tomato thing basically happened to Corban Campbell’s face.

3. Don’t Get Speared in the Eye by a Needlefish
Campbell, a Dana Point, California, resident, was in Nicaragua on a surf trip recently when, failing to heed the rules laid out in this checklist, he nearly lost his eye after it was pierced by a 2-foot needlefish. Sitting innocently on his board at Colorados, waiting for a wave, Campbell was smacked right in the head by the would-be assassin. Unsure at first of what had happened, Campbell knew only three things: a fish attacked his face, he couldn’t see out of his left eye, and his bleeding eye socket was freaking out fellow surfers in the lineup, who told him he should probably go in. Campbell did, then endured a breakneck dash to a local clinic where he was given some antibiotics and sent on his way. That was just the first part of Campbell’s gruesome adventure, all of which would have been thoroughly avoidable had he simply adhered to rules 1–3 and not been hit in the eye by a needlefish.

4. Don’t Get Speared in the Eye by a Needlefish
Turns out, Campbell was relatively lucky. People often die when struck by needlefish. A fisherman was killed in the Philippines in 2013 when a leaping needlefish stabbed him in the throat. A teenager died in Vietnam a few years earlier after getting impaled through the heart by a needlefish. In April of this year, a Russian woman on vacation in Vietnam was briefly paralyzed and nearly died because a needlefish speared her in the neck.

5. Absolutely Under No Circumstances Get Speared in the Eye by a Needlefish
Campbell’s eye is now fine. After two surgeries in two different states (long story), his vision is back to 20/20. All he has to deal with now is a slightly lazy eyelid, a little bit of scarring on his eyeball, the terrible memory of the attack, and a perpetual fear of the lineup at Colorados. So turn Campbell’s story into a learning experience and follow this checklist when prepping for your next trip to Nicaragua. Or Vietnam. Seriously, Vietnamese needlefish sound like real assholes.

Corban Campbell
The ocular carnage from Corban Campbell’s Nicaraguan jaunt. He’s still heading back the next chance he gets.
Photo: Ellis
Have you followed steps 1-5? Congratulations, go ahead and book your ticket to surf paradise now. Photo: Ellis
Photo: Lowe-White
A short commute from Managua gets you to the coast, but don’t expect to be the only surfers there. Photo: Lowe-White
Photo: Glaser
You, stiff offshores, groomed sandbars, and the occasional asshole needlefish. Photo: Glaser