"Don't give anything to Peseta — he'll turn it straight into crack."
"And don't walk up the point with anything valuable, don't drink the water…"
It was my first day in El Salvador and the guy advising me was my new friend, local surfer Jimmy Rotherham. His counsel was sound, and while I knew that the point was sketchy and the water was tainted, about an hour earlier I'd treated Peseta to lunch and given him a T-shirt. As Jimmy continued with the dos and don'ts of life around town, I pictured a crack dealer with a brand-new shirt and Peseta floating the coastal streets looking for a new mark.
"Surf and study Spanish in La Libertad!" The website had said. And I'd convinced my parents that the summer before my senior year was best-spent learning, instead of living the Groundhog's Day of surfing in the morning, golfing in the afternoon and partying at night. It'd be good for my college application, I lobbied. And yes, of course it's legit. Look — they've got a website and everything.
The school was a crock but I decided to stay anyway. A local lady rented me a room in her house for $10 a week and I was a two-minute walk from a Rincon-like pointbreak. I surfed twice a day, using the long rights to learn hone my barrel riding and rail skills. Jimmy and I became good friends; he was gracious in letting a kid tag along with him and his buddies. We fished, surfed and on the Fourth of July launched fireworks off of his balcony. He didn't mind that it was an American holiday. Later in my stay I took the bus a few hours inland to see some Mayan ruins. I saw them — took me about 45 minutes, they were mostly just crumbling stones with grass growing through them — and then hit the casino. I played blackjack and accepted the house's free food and drinks while they accepted my losses. That night I met two Peace Corps girls and we went dancing. The club almost didn't let me in 'cause I was wearing sandals.
I got back to La Libertad as quickly as possible and continued surfing and making friends. One night I accidentally drank the water, got sick, and momentarily hated El Salvador. But when I got better I hiked to the top of the hill and bought custom boardshorts from a pair of deaf brothers. Through hand gestures and wrist taps I learned that they'd be done in a few days, just in time for my return to California. On my first day home I surfed in the morning, played golf in the afternoon and partied at night.
This issue is less about the places we travel and more about the nonsensical and terrific experiences we have while on the road. It's about meeting people like Jimmy and shooting off fireworks and befriending crackheads. And it's a celebration that we as surfers are the luckiest travelers in the world. Surfing is the bait that entices us to leave our bubbles. Surfing is what justifies posting up in the same town for five weeks. Surfing gives us a purpose. Because without surfing all we're doing is looking at ruins. —Taylor Paul