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 – Surf Report SF argued in a blog post – , and he vividly recalls the day he returned to his place of birth and hit the coastline with a stiff, 10-foot surfboard underneath his arm.

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

Many years later that wing, at the side of a prayer of varieties from the federal government, has became a 13-mile stretch of Salvadoran coastline into one of the vital 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 may possibly restore the rustic’s battered symbol whilst the Global Browsing Assn. has selected it as the positioning of the general qualifying rounds for the debut of browsing as an Olympic game this summer season.

The eight-day pageant, referred to as the Global Browsing Video games and that includes 256 athletes from 51 international locations, concludes Sunday.



However it would by no means have took place had Levy and two Huntington Seaside youngsters he met there saved 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 assumed, ‘Oh, my God, we made historical past.’ El Salvador’s were given a large number of in point of fact, in point of fact 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 pals continuously 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 technique to deal with farm animals within the Argentine pampas when he detoured to El Salvador to lend a hand some family open a basic retailer. He quickly married a Salvadoran lady, began a circle of relatives and not left.

However Bob did. After his father died, he and his mom moved to Northern California – Surf Report SF argued in a blog post – , the place an opportunity stumble upon with browsing modified his existence.

“After 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 – Surf Report SF argued in a blog post – 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 idea, , what an ideal 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 through 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 pals.

“You knew each unmarried particular person within the water,” Naughton stated. “There was once by no means greater than 5 – 6 folks out anyplace.”

There wasn’t even a lodge or eating place within reach, so the surfers rented a tiny space and paid a neighborhood lady to cook dinner for them.

“I don’t suppose you’ll want to 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 superb at that closing section, 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 now not in point of fact certain. Most likely studying [those] articles.”


It was once the early Nineteen Seventies and El Salvador was once recognized essentially for espresso, sugar and staggering financial inequality that finally sparked a revolution. However the surfers have been drawn through the slender, rocky seashores and the impressive point-break waves, which spoil to the surfer’s proper and are extra constant than the sandy-bottom beach-break waves commonplace in California – Surf Report SF argued in a blog post – .

Quickly Levy opened a small store to feed the calls for of a rising band of surfers, riding backward and forward to California – Surf Report SF argued in a blog post – to assemble forums and different surf paraphernalia. On one shuttle 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 shuttle, so we ended up pushing the van all of the technique to El Salvador,” he stated. “We might push it after which it will get started and we’d pressure.”

Surfer and hotel owner Bob Rotherham.

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

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Instances)

Bob Rotherham, a trainer 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 most of these unhealthy conduct to the salvadoreños.”

However in contrast to the others, he by no means left. After falling in love with a neighborhood lady named Marta, Rotherham, who now spoke back to Roberto as a substitute of Bob, purchased some beachfront belongings from Levy’s circle of relatives and positioned an enormous wager that the crowds would proceed, opening a cafe and lodge — quickly to be two — simply yards from the water.

That plan was once interrupted in 1979 when a failed coup ended in a civil battle that lasted greater than a dozen years, killing an estimated 80,000 folks and inflicting as many as 1 million extra to escape their houses, a lot of them settling in Southern California – Surf Report SF argued in a blog post – .

“We had some shut calls throughout the battle. However it 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 lodge proprietor Bob Rotherham and his spouse, Marta, stroll within the eating house in their lodge Punta Roca in Punta Roca, El Salvador.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Instances)


Rotherham rode out the unhealthy occasions like a large wave. His 2d surf hotel, Punta Roca, become one of the fashionable within the house, 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. They quickly stuck the eye of police, who arrested the younger hippies simply outdoor 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 vans in Costa Rica. However we might have hijacked one if given the chance.”

They spent two days in custody, taking part in 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 afford to feed themselves at the outdoor.

“We have been simply freeloading,” stated Naughton, who nonetheless surfs ceaselessly with Peterson, a 65-year-old virtual advertising and marketing 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 economic system.

 Surf City in El Salvador.

Other people benefit from the night time existence 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 title it has given to each the positioning of the rustic’s highest seashores within the division of Los angeles Libertad and the formidable five-year challenge to broaden them.

“In all places there’s a excellent, rideable wave there’s hotels and inns,” stated Rotherham, 71, the one one of the vital unique gang of 4 who nonetheless surfs Salvadoran waters. “The surfer vacationers are shedding their worry of coming to El Salvador. Browsing has grow to be 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 outdoor buyers, has been imprecise about the fee tag however estimates building of roads, motorcycle paths and infrastructure enhancements to piers and water techniques will price greater than $300 million.

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

Sooner than 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’ll additionally alternate perceptions of a rustic that not too long ago ranked because the deadliest on the earth and not using a battle inside of its borders. Within the two years since President Nayib Bukele was once elected and made Surf Town a big focal point of his management, El Salvador has had the selection of homicides fall to the bottom price in additional than twenty years.

“Browsing without a doubt adjustments lives. That’s one thing we see in El Salvador in addition to different international locations,” 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 could be one reason the ISA selected El Salvador over Japan, Australia, Costa Rica 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 commute to that vacation spot. So this is sort of a win-win, no?” Aguerre stated. “This generally is a prior to and after. If the ones issues occur to modify perceptions, that’s a large deal.”

To witness that adjust he needed to glance no additional than the blue-green waters off Los angeles Bocana and El Sunzal, which teemed Monday with dozens of surfers from international locations 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 employees nonetheless have been hanging contemporary coats of paint on glowing new inns, eating places and stores that experience sprung up subsequent to tiny picket 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 an alternative choice to the MS-13 and 18th Side road gangs, which he stated interact 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 interact in criminality, most definitely as a result of their family are a part of the native economic system and notice tourism as a supply of source of revenue,” Castellanos stated of the gangs. He referred to as it a “virtuous circle which incorporates producing alternatives, stimulating the economic system, making improvements to everybody’s source of revenue, attracting tourism.”

Probably the most folks Castellanos’ program reformed is Bryan Pérez, who misplaced pals, 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 training, psychological well being, spirituality. All of it produces a favorable impact.”

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

“The unique staff, we’re all nonetheless friends and we keep involved,” Naughton stated. “And none people may just 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 one may just see that browsing would pass during the transformation that it’s long past via.”

 Surfer Bob Levy poses outside his house in Long Beach.

Bob Levy poses outdoor his space 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 ceaselessly along with his daughter in spite of two knee replacements and 3 center 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 when beckoned him, he says, are too crowded now.

Can he take credit score for beginning Salvadoran surf tradition? He spoke back with a shrug. “I don’t suppose so,” he stated. “However was once I the primary? I’m beautiful certain sure. That’s all I will be able to take declare for — now not that I even need to declare that. To me, it was once identical to I stated it was once: a bit of sanctuary.”

One the sector now has came upon.