Mas O Menos

Mas o menos. It means “more or less” in Spanish. The French say ‘Comme ci, comme ca.” (“Like this, like that.)” We yanks would say “so-so.’ (Or these days, “whatevas.”). It’s an expression that means — somewhat good, somewhat bad — usually in response to, “How you doing?” The Chinese take the concept even further, believing every negative has a speck of something positive – and vice versa – a philosophy calledYin and yang. (They even roll it into a cool, black-and-white rotating symbol of worldly forces called a Taijitu aka the “T& C” logo.) But no matter how you say it, there’s no better way to describe surf tourism right now:

Good: it’s cheap to travel.
Bad: who’s got money to travel these days?
Good: quality forecasts guarantee you’ll score.
Bad: Where’d all these f’in funboarders come from?

Add a business element, and the variables only multiply as an economic crisis plus steeper competition equals fewer customers — but promise a huge return in epic free surfs all by yourself. With the summer travel season up on us — and a south swell striking just in time for International Surfing Day — we checked in with JJ Yemma at Popoyo Surf Lodge to see just how these factors are affecting Nicaragua, one of the ‘surf discoveries’ to see the most ups and downs over the past decade. His take? “Business is slower. And there might be more people, more hotels, etc. But people love Nicaragua and keep coming back. This is a really cool time.” Proof that as long as you’re catching waves, life’s always more “mas”, than “menos.” Here’s more:

SURFINGMAGAZINE: What’s Popoyo looking like right now and how has it changed over the past 10 years?

JJ YEMMA: The most obvious change has been the amount of people in the lineup, and the North and South American/European community that has formed over the years. Then there are the facilities. Back in the beginning the fact that we had outhouses, a bed and a fan was a luxury and now we are seeing high-end condos, golf courses etc. I feel pretty blessed that we have been able to continually improve.

What about the business? How are things now compared to your peak?

Our busiest years were probably 2007 and 2008; this year things seem slower. Although I am definitely not complaining. I think the economy and competition are the main factors. There might be like 12 surf camps from San Juan to Popoyo. But I think everyone is doing OK. I also think that we are making the transition from hardcore surf destination to a place that is also family friendly. There is a whole posse of little gringo kids running around. So more restaurants and bakeries and local crafts shops are all helping this to happen.

What about Central America in general. Are all surf destinations seeing dips do you think?

Talking with some friends it appears some areas are slower but in general surfing in Central America seems to be hanging in there. It is closer than Indo and the South Pacific so people can get there cheaper. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that people are saving a little money and staying closer to home.

Has forecasting made a difference, too?

Yes and no. We do have a major increase in inquires when there is a big swell on the horizon. But a lot of people don’t have the luxury of saying, “It’s pumping, I’m out of here.” And it would be fair to say that there are definitely some legitimate crowded days at places like {{{Colorado}}} Santana and Popoyo but when it’s offshore all day long you can always score with just a few people or by yourself. I still surf with daily with just a few people in the water.

Mas O Menos
JJ Yemma reaps the rewards in Nicaragua

Are land prices and building down, as well?

Land sales are very interesting right now. Prices have dropped about 25% and are back to what they were 5 years ago. People are still buying but it has been a slow year for everyone. There are deals that are unlike anything we’ve seen like {{{financing}}} with no down payment. Unfortunately for the local economy, yes, building is a lot slower now than in the past 5 years. This means a lot of locals in the Popoyo area and all over Nicaragua without work and there’s no food stamps here or unemployment to help them. We’re fortunate we’ve been able to keep all local people who work with us. They’re like family — or more like 20 families.

What about the influx of gringo businesses. Have any come and gone already? Or are they all holding tight? Are there new ones still coming down?

There have been a few come and go. And there are more and more people moving into the area, but only time will tell if they will stay. You know how its is: some people think they are ready for third world living — then a few months go by. But there are a lot more conveniences now. Internet, places to stay, restaurants and don’t forget flush toilets . When we hear people complain that the internet’s down for a day, we chuckle that ten years ago, Kim was pregnant, sleeping in a tent on the ground with no toilet.

What about the next 10 years? Will it ever be “the next Costa” like everyone says?

Right now for 2009 and 2010, I don’t see very many changes. But Nicaragu—a has some pretty interesting plans for the next 5 to 10 years. A big one is the PCH Pacific Coastal Highway or La Coastanera is a done deal on paper and will eventually happen. This is a fully paved road from the South all the way up North. We will just wait and see on that one. I don’t ever see our area as a Tamarindo. Maybe more like a Playa Negra. But the reasons people come to Nicaragua – the reasons so many fall in love and stay —haven’t changed: the land and it’s people are still amazing.

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