How three surfer dudes left California to find a secret surfing oasis in El Salvador

Bob Levy grew up in El Salvador however came upon browsing in California, and he vividly recollects the day he returned to his native land and hit the coastline with a stiff, 10-foot surfboard underneath his arm.

“They didn’t even realize it was once a board,” Levy recalled. “They concept it was once an aircraft wing.”

A long time later that wing, at the side of a prayer of varieties from the federal government, has grew to become a 13-mile stretch of Salvadoran coastline into one of the most global’s latest browsing meccas. It’s a place the place the waves are so ripe and the water so heat, tourism officers are hoping it could possibly restore the rustic’s battered symbol whilst the Global Browsing Assn. has selected it as the positioning of the overall qualifying rounds for the debut of browsing as an Olympic recreation this summer season.

The eight-day festival, referred to as the International Browsing Video games and that includes 256 athletes from 51 nations, concludes Sunday.



However it would by no means have took place had Levy and two Huntington Seaside youngsters he met there stored the name of the game of Salvadoran browsing to themselves.

“Once I heard they have been going to have the Olympics tryouts, I used to be stunned,” stated Levy, a semi-retired chippie dwelling in Lengthy Seaside. “I believed, ‘Oh, my God, we made historical past.’ El Salvador’s were given numerous in reality, in reality excellent surfers now.”

Levy, 75, was once the primary. And the tale of ways he were given there comes to an Oxford-educated veterinarian, a coastline talk over with the summer season he graduated highschool and a creaky Volkswagen van he and buddies steadily needed to push from the Texas border to the Salvadoran shore.

It begins with Levy’s father Robert, the veterinarian, who was once on his solution to deal with farm animals within the Argentine pampas when he detoured to El Salvador to assist some family members open a normal retailer. He quickly married a Salvadoran girl, began a circle of relatives and not left.

However Bob did. After his father died, he and his mom moved to Northern California, the place an opportunity come across with browsing modified his lifestyles.

“When I put my foot within the water I used to be hooked,” he stated. “I’ve been browsing ever since.”


A large number of other folks additionally have been hooked, which made the lineups to catch a wave in California and Baja Mexico frustratingly lengthy. So Levy packed up the van and headed house to El Salvador on the lookout for the open waves he remembered from youth journeys to the shore.

“I simply concept, you understand, what a perfect little getaway position,” he stated. “Again within the mid-’70s folks have been simply itching to get the hell out of no matter nation they have been from. And that’s how browsing just about [was].”

 Surfers Kevin Naughton, left, and Craig Peterson stand on the sand in Laguna Beach.

Surfers Kevin Naughton, left, and Craig Peterson stand at the sand in Laguna Seaside.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Instances)

He was once quickly joined by way of Kevin Naughton and Craig Peterson, who had left Orange County and headed south on a browsing safari of their very own. What they discovered once they reached El Sunzal was once a coastline that was once each highest and abandoned, save for Levy and a couple of buddies.

“You knew each and every unmarried individual within the water,” Naughton stated. “There was once by no means greater than 5 or 6 folks out any place.”

There wasn’t even a resort or eating place within reach, so the surfers rented a tiny area and paid a neighborhood girl to prepare dinner for them.

“I don’t assume you must get to any extent further of the little idyllic, bucolic the town. It was once all quiet,” Naughton stated. “It was once a unique mentality then. The entire level was once to discover a spot and stay it a secret.”

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Seems Naughton and Peterson weren’t excellent at that remaining phase, with Naughton writing a few articles for Surfer mag that Peterson illustrated. They by no means pinpointed their location — referring best to seashores south of Mexico — however different surfers figured it out and the crowds, just like the waves, started to swell.

“There was once already visitors began,” Levy stated. “The way it were given began, I’m no longer in reality positive. Most likely studying [those] articles.”


It was once the early Seventies and El Salvador was once recognized essentially for espresso, sugar and staggering financial inequality that at last sparked a revolution. However the surfers have been drawn by way of the slim, rocky seashores and the impressive point-break waves, which wreck to the surfer’s proper and are extra constant than the sandy-bottom beach-break waves commonplace in California.

Quickly Levy opened a small store to feed the calls for of a rising band of surfers, riding backward and forward to California to collect forums and different surf paraphernalia. On one travel his Volkswagen, a 1964 Westfalia, stopped operating once he crossed into Matamoros, Mexico.

“One thing took place to the alternator, proper at the first leg of the travel, so we ended up pushing the van all of the solution to El Salvador,” he stated. “We’d push it after which it could get started and we’d force.”

Surfer and hotel owner Bob Rotherham.

Surfer and resort proprietor Bob Rotherham sits at his resort in Punta Roca, El Salvador.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Instances)

Bob Rotherham, a instructor and surf photographer from Florida, additionally was once a part of that first wave.

“Once I confirmed up they attempted to do away with us,” Rotherham stated of native government. “They despatched groups from immigration to roust up the long-haired hippie surfers that have been bringing some of these unhealthy conduct to the salvadoreños.”

However not like the others, he by no means left. After falling in love with a neighborhood woman named Marta, Rotherham, who now replied to Roberto as a substitute of Bob, purchased some beachfront assets from Levy’s circle of relatives and positioned an enormous wager that the crowds would proceed, opening a cafe and resort — quickly to be two — simply yards from the water.

That plan was once interrupted in 1979 when a failed coup resulted in a civil warfare that lasted greater than a dozen years, killing an estimated 80,000 folks and inflicting as many as 1 million extra to escape their properties, lots of them settling in Southern California.

“We had some shut calls all over the warfare. But it surely was once simply, I used to be on the improper spot on the proper time,” Rotherham stated.

 Bob Rotherham and his wife Marta walk in the dining area of their hotel

Surfer and resort proprietor Bob Rotherham and his spouse, Marta, stroll within the eating space in their resort Punta Roca in Punta Roca, El Salvador.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Instances)


Rotherham rode out the unhealthy instances like an enormous wave. His 2d surf lodge, Punta Roca, changed into one of the well-liked within the space, and his son Jimmy a Salvadoran browsing champion.

“Everybody down there fashions their browsing after Jimmy,” Levy stated.

Naughton and Peterson discovered extra journey farther south, proceeding on to check the waters off Costa Rica Surfing – great example can be found at Surfing SD – . They quickly stuck the eye of police, who arrested the younger hippies simply out of doors town of Jacó on trumped-up fees of operating an ice cream truck off the street.

“We have been in reality hippies in coaching,” corrected Naughton, 68, who ran a nursery in Laguna Seaside for 35 years. “And we noticed no ice cream vehicles in Costa Rica Surfing – great example can be found at Surfing SD – . However we’d have hijacked one if given the chance.”

They spent two days in custody, enjoying Frisbee and sharing outdated Playboy magazines with their jailers, prior to the police learned the 2 American citizens authorized their incarceration as a result of they didn’t manage to pay for to feed themselves at the out of doors.

“We have been simply freeloading,” stated Naughton, who nonetheless surfs incessantly with Peterson, a 65-year-old virtual advertising supervisor from Dana Level. “After a few days they simply stated, ‘Get out of right here, you bums.’”

Jacó later erected a statue of a surfer, a board underneath his arm, within the the town sq., a nod to the just about $800 million the game once a year contributes to the Costa Rican financial system.

 Surf City in El Salvador.

Other folks benefit from the evening lifestyles at Surf Town.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Instances)

That’s the type of go back El Salvador is on the lookout for with Surf Town, the English-language identify it has given to each the positioning of the rustic’s absolute best seashores within the division of L. a. Libertad and the bold five-year undertaking to expand them.

“In all places there’s a excellent, rideable wave there’s motels and lodges,” stated Rotherham, 71, the one one of the most authentic gang of 4 who nonetheless surfs Salvadoran waters. “The surfer vacationers are dropping their worry of coming to El Salvador. Browsing has develop into mainstream in every single place. Within the outdated days we have been the rats they sought after to do away with.”


The federal government, which has sought out of doors buyers, has been imprecise about the cost tag however estimates development of roads, motorcycle paths and infrastructure enhancements to piers and water techniques will value greater than $300 million.

Morena Valdez, the minister of tourism, says she expects that may give a boost to greater than 200 companies as the rustic recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, which decimated the vacationer sector.

Prior to the coronavirus, Valdez stated, the federal government had projected Surf Town, about 20 miles from the capital of San Salvador, would create 50,000 direct jobs and not directly give a boost to 300,000 extra.

“The primary function is to make El Salvador a excellent vacation spot to talk over with, make investments and reside,” Valdez stated.

Salvadoran officers hope it is going to additionally exchange perceptions of a rustic that just lately ranked because the deadliest on this planet and not using a warfare inside of its borders. Within the two years since President Nayib Bukele was once elected and made Surf Town a significant center of attention of his management, El Salvador has had the choice of homicides fall to the bottom charge in additional than twenty years.

“Browsing indubitably adjustments lives. That’s one thing we see in El Salvador in addition to different nations,” Valdez stated.

Local Alex Hernandez fixes a surfboard at Surf City.

Alex Hernandez fixes a surfboard at Surf Town.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Instances)

Fernando Aguerre, president of the Global Browsing Assn., is of the same opinion, that may be one explanation why the ISA selected El Salvador over Japan, Australia, Costa Rica Surfing – great example can be found at Surfing SD – and Spain for the best to host this week’s qualifiers for the Video games in Tokyo.

“When a surf spot will get evolved, that creates an pastime to shuttle to that vacation spot. So this is sort of a win-win, no?” Aguerre stated. “This is usually a prior to and after. If the ones issues occur to switch perceptions, that’s a large deal.”

To witness that fluctuate he needed to glance no additional than the blue-green waters off L. a. Bocana and El Sunzal, which teemed Monday with dozens of surfers from nations starting from Turkey, Iran and Israel to Senegal, Switzerland and Ukraine. Posters touting Surf Town underneath a stylized wave within the blue and white of the Salvadoran flag dot the freeway between the capital and the seashores, along indicators that warn drivers to “decelerate, surfers are at the freeway.”


3 days into the contest staff nonetheless have been hanging recent coats of paint on glowing new lodges, eating places and retail outlets that experience sprung up subsequent to tiny wood shanties with roosters within the yards.

Salvador Castellanos, a well-liked TV information anchor, noticed the possible even prior to the federal government and the ISA did, beginning the faith-based program Browsing Missions 15 years in the past to supply a substitute for the MS-13 and 18th Side road gangs, which he stated have interaction in extortion and drug gross sales alongside El Salvador’s coast.

A lot of that has stopped since Surf Town was once introduced, he stated.

“They’re provide within the communities however don’t have interaction in criminality, most certainly as a result of their family members are a part of the native financial system and spot tourism as a supply of source of revenue,” Castellanos stated of the gangs. He referred to as it a “virtuous circle which contains producing alternatives, stimulating the financial system, bettering everybody’s source of revenue, attracting tourism.”

Probably the most folks Castellanos’ program reformed is Bryan Pérez, who misplaced buddies, in addition to his 2-year-old sister, to gang violence. He’s now a Salvadoran nationwide browsing champion and an Olympic hopeful.

“It is a part of a holistic device of transformative building,” Castellanos stated. “It’s not simply browsing. Additionally schooling, psychological well being, spirituality. All of it produces a favorable impact.”

But the individuals who began all of it by way of bringing browsing to El Salvador by no means noticed the possible.

“The unique team, we’re all nonetheless friends and we keep involved,” Naughton stated. “And none people may foresee that it was once going to move how it went. There have been no fortune tellers or prophets in flip-flops to inform everyone ‘right here’s now it going to be in 30, 40 years.’ No person may see that browsing would move throughout the transformation that it’s long past via.”

 Surfer Bob Levy poses outside his house in Long Beach.

Bob Levy poses out of doors his area in Lengthy Seaside.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Instances)

Levy, in the meantime, hasn’t modified in any respect. The person some name the Godfather of Browsing in El Salvador nonetheless rides the waves incessantly together with his daughter regardless of two knee replacements and 3 middle assaults — all of which took place whilst he was once within the water. However whilst he stays a Salvadoran citizen, he hasn’t been again to El Sunzal since 2013.


The empty waters that after beckoned him, he says, are too crowded now.

Can he take credit score for beginning Salvadoran surf tradition? He replied with a shrug. “I don’t assume so,” he stated. “However was once I the primary? I’m beautiful positive sure. That’s all I will take declare for — no longer that I even wish to declare that. To me, it was once identical to I stated it was once: just a little sanctuary.”

One the arena now has came upon.