PSA: Surf Filmers Not Welcome In Nicaragua - Stab Mag
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Take a mental picture. Photo: Red Bull media pool

PSA: Surf Filmers Not Welcome In Nicaragua

Cameras and drones are being seized on arrival, Stab spoke with two recent visitors.

news // Aug 11, 2022
Words by Ethan Davis
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Nicaragua is known as the “land of lakes and volcanoes” but is far from tranquilo at present. 

Bordering Honduras to its north and Costa Rica to its south, Nicaragua has gone through several cycles of social and political unrest since it gained independence from the Spanish Empire in 1821, and high rates of violent crime (armed robbery, assault and express kidnapping) and corruption persist to this day. In 2018, despot Prez Daniel Ortega announced social security changes that increased taxes and decreased benefits whereafter the deadliest civil conflict since the end of the Nicaraguan Revolution began and still continues.

Despite that, many surfers (particularly from the States and Europe) regularly flock to its 350 km stretch of warm Pacific coastline riddled with punchy beach breaks and trade winds that blow offshore for 300 plus days of the year, where the conflict actually feels quite far removed. For those who have not been on a surf trip to Nica, it’s got much of that Indonesian muchness i.e. tropical, consistent, affordable, easily accessible etc. 

In the past two weeks however, multiple anecdotes have surfaced involving surfers having their possessions seized as the government attempts to control and censor the narrative around the country’s civil unrest. The general vibe is that it’s getting a little “gnarly” at the border, to borrow a term from one of our sources who visited last week. 

The following is a word of caution to surfers traveling that way in the near future.

NicaraguaThunderbomb
Probably worth the hassle. Photo: Thunderbomb Surf

Our first account comes from American Ben Doughty, who visited Nicaragua two weeks ago and entered the country via Costa Rica.

“At the border, they tried to confiscate a lot of our camera gear. I guess you’re only allowed to bring one camera down there. And drones? Forget about them. We also had a water housing and some other stuff and the lady at customs tried to take that too. Hypothetically, you should be able to collect your stuff on your way out of the country, but because there’s so few people authorized to return items at the airport, and they work at weird hours, we had to leave the stuff there otherwise we’d miss our flight…”

“Once I posted about it on social mediam a bunch of people reached out to me. One guy said they’d confiscated more than 100 water filters. All they took was our drone, and from my understanding, that is because of the security situation. It’s a weird feeling at that border right now. I recommend to anyone traveling there to leave way earlier than you planned because the border crossings are chaos right now, and everything takes longer than expected.”

Our second account comes from American Cameron Vurbeff, who visited Nicaragua this week, flying in direct to Managua.

“In the past, I have gone through Costa Rica and I’ve never really had problems. I’ve never brought drones, because I know they’ve been extremely strict on their regulations for quite some time, but this time they went after everything. I had two Pelican cases — one with a tripod and a camera, another new one with a water housing and a different camera. Thousands and thousands of dollars worth of camera gear. They took both of those.”

“This was the first time I’ve flown in through Managua, and everything was running smoothly. Most of my Nica trips have had roadblocks, but I remember thinking, ‘This is the one where it all goes to plan.’

Of course, I jinxed it.

By the time we got to Managua airport (redeye via LAX and El Salvador), I have already walked through seven or eight scanners, multiple security checkpoints, customs, immigration and so on and it’s all run smoothly. Now there’s just the final hurdle at Managua customs where they check for prohibited items like plants, seeds, and whatever. So I throw all my stuff on the conveyor belt, not at all concerned, and the woman stops all three of my bags…”

“She says something to me in Spanish and asks me to wait while they go through my luggage. As she’s going through them, she’s just shaking her head. In my best Spanglish I try to explain that it’s for a work trip, that we’re surfers and I’m a filmmaker and this is what I need to do my job. Meanwhile, both my buddies Liam and Kirt have gotten through with no qualms and our driver, Rafi, is waiting for us on the street out the front.” 

Walking away from $30K + of camera gear in a Central American airport? That’s gonna give you some head noise. Photo by Cameron Vurbeff

“The woman hands me a ticket and directs me to a room down the corridor. When I get there, there are maybe 30 people crammed in this stuffy hot room, all of them have been told they can’t bring their belongings in with them. I end up calling Rafi (taxi driver) to help me negotiate with the border officials in Spanish because my Spanglish is not getting through. After five minutes or so he turns to me and says ‘I’m so sorry, there’s nothing I can do. You’re not getting any of your stuff back.’”

“You can’t bribe these people. They’re so strict and they won’t bend the rules at all. So after hours of trying to negotiate, we call it quits. I call Brock Crouch (who Cameron is making the edit for) and let him know what’s unfolded. He’s in just as much disbelief as we are. So we end up getting in the car to Playa Colorados and, long story short, my work trip has now turned into a vacation. We can’t shoot at all and so instead we’re drinking beers and surfing. To be honest, it’s actually been pretty nice because I’ve been grinding for so long, it’s actually nice to put the feet up.”

“I’ve since called some local lawyers and they’re all like ‘This is going to be at least a three-day process to get your stuff back, it’s going to cost you a tonne of money and by the time you get it, the trip’s going to be over’. So look, all I want from this is for people to know how crazy it is at the borders right now. If you are planning on coming down (particularly if you’re bringing lots of gear with you), I would suggest emailing the government well in advance and trying to get stuff cleared, because I had no warnings or information that could have prepared me for this. Times are changing quickly in Central America and they have their own rules and regulations.”

Returned just in time to leave. Photo by Cameron Vurbeff

To close the loop, Cameron was finally able to get a hold of his possessions after five days of negotiating with border security and customs via countless emails and phone calls, he now has two days to film Brock’s surf clip…

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