When I lived in the city of Hilo, Big Island, I did a little bit of SUP paddling at night in the water channels that run close to the beach, and a couple of times I surfed the waves of Honolii. But I had mixed feelings, the water sometimes got cold and I was told that night surfing could only be done on full moons.
I returned home to El Salvador in 2012 and realised that even though El Salvador does not have the super hollow and giant waves that Hawaii has, it is more consistent all year around. It might get small, but never flat. That one was not difficult to figure out, but the one that really clicked was that El Salvador waters are warmer than Hawaii’ at night, all year around, the wetsuit would be a big joke here.
Since 2012, I have realised that night SUP in El Salvador is totally feasible. It means that I can work the second shift in the most crowded wave of El Salvador, El Sunzal. During the day-shift, 65 surfers can be found working this wave. At night I can have the waves just for myself, and sometimes with only a couple of friends.
That you can only surf during full moons is a complete fallacy! In the beginnings of trying to surf El Sunzal at night it was discouraging. With no full moons and no stadium lights, all I could see was shades of black waves and whitewater. I got a few waves, but most of the time the waves were already too close at the time I tried to turn the board pointing towards the beach, and I got rolled over.
Then one day I remembered that back in Oahu, I had seen this young Brazilian kid, Derek Rabelo surfing Pipeline, and he is totally blind. 24/7 he lives in total darkness, and El Sunzal is a very easy wave compared to Pipeline. My mistake had been trying to see and use the whitewater as guides for my take off point. Derek Rabelo does not see waves, he feels them. When you catch and ride waves by feeling them it feels like magic. But it takes plenty of patience. From 20 attempts, I might only make three waves during a night session. A lot of trial and error.
[pullquote]In my mind I was expecting a shark to jump at me anytime! That is what happens when you watch too many shark movies.[/pullquote]
Not every night in El Salvador is prime for riding waves. Sometimes I enjoy more distance paddling my SUP from one surf spot to another. The first one I tried was from La Paz to El Sunzal, more or less 8km one way. Going solo, I was getting scared every time little fish were jumping in the water…in my mind I was expecting a shark to jump at me anytime! That is what happens when you watch too many shark movies. It is funny to notice that most people ask me how do I handle the sharks at night, and nobody asks about any other dangers. In El Salvador, the shark population has been decimated by over fishing. There are a few out there. But people kind of believe that sharks sleep all day, and they wake up hungry at 7 pm to start hunting humans.
My biggest scares when doing solo night SUP paddling is getting caught by a thunderstorm, and drifting away from the coast, or being pulled by the current towards the caves full of razor sharp coral. Nowadays, I always watch the weather report for possible thunderstorms. A few times I have been caught half way by the beginning of a storm with high winds. All I have done is cross my fingers and pray. Another worry is what to do if my paddle breaks. One day, my full carbon pro paddle broke, but thank God it happened during day time. I am not a strong arm paddler and took the easy route, paddle to the nearby beach and hitch a car drive for my SUP and myself.
For this night SUP distance paddles I am using very primitive equipment by today standards. I would love to have a 14 feet carbon race SUP…But I am using a six year old 10 feet C-4 Waterman I brought with me from Hawaii. My purchasing power in El Salvador has gone considerably down compared to what I used to make in Hawaii. Regarding lights for my SUP I use none. In the open ocean, if you do not have super high tech lights I find them a nuisance. I like using bike lights attached to my forehead in mangrove river trails, but that is another story.
[pullquote]I know one day the power utility one day is going to cut the lights[/pullquote]
Like I said before, the full moon is not necessary for night boarding. But I like starry clear skies. Total darkness is not the aim. Most of the time I use coastal lights coming from the hotels and houses at the beach. I know one day the power utility one day is going to cut the lights. In this case I will use the red lights from the radio towers to guide me in. I think these towers have their own power generators. If not, I am going to be in trouble pretty quickly.
The next route I tried was from El Zonte to El Sunzal, about five to 6km distance. No major surprises here. The third route was from Punta Mango to Las Flores, about 11km distance. I was sweating at night, but other than my feet palms aching in the last 2km, it went pretty smooth.
The most fun SUP nights have been when I start paddling from La Paz to El Sunzal, and take less than one and a half hour, finish by riding waves at El Sunzal for two more hours, then having a nice dinner with coffee and drinks at Kayu Restaurant, belonging to my friend Marvin Flores.
Beside Marvin, other people I need to give thanks for making this night paddles possible are: Saburo Okuzawa, owner of Horizonte Surf Camp for providing free parking for my truck, Luis El Piry Martinez for letting me store my SUPs at his ding repair shop, and Vladimir Flores for letting me park and sleep for free at his hotel Atlakami at Las Flores.
For the future, I am hoping to paint my SUP with fluorescent colours, and acquire also fluorescent shirts. This is important to make yourself visible to other sailing vessels and other surfers who want to share the stoke at night.