Surfing turtles in Chacocente Nicaragua

Have you ever seen a surfing turtle? Little-known faq: sea turtles are nature’s surfboards and many ride the waves in to shore when it’s time to lay eggs on the beach. And did you know that there is even an underground sport dedicated to riding these surfing turtles? It’s called “tortugaling” and is taking the wave riding scene by storm. And in Nicaragua the Chacocente natural reserve is the place to do it.

surfing turtlesHow to surf a surfing turtle

Surfing turtles isn’t as easy as teenage mutant ninjas make it look. In fact, surfing isn’t even the proper term for it since it’s really bodyboarding. But the idea is to paddle out (preferably with a buddy because safety is no accident) just past the breakers and wait for your ride to come to you. In Chacocente both the waves and the turtles are in your favor; the barrels are consistent and the turtles number in the hundreds on a bad night. Oh yes, and that’s the other exciting element that adds to the adventure. Surfing turtles is a nighttime activity since the turtles like to give birth with some semblance of privacy.

So there you are, just before the wave starts and surrounded by turtle backs. Choose a big one and swim up to its side. Grab on to its shell where its shoulders would be and hang on. Sea turtles are docile creatures and especially so when their bellies are full of eggs and they are getting ready to drop in on a gnarly left-hand break. Most turtles won’t even notice the extra baggage. As the turtle lines up on the wave make sure you spread your legs to balance your weight evenly as the animal picks up speed. Hook your feet over the “ankles” of your surfing turtle’s flippers and enjoy the ride.

See Clark Little’s photos of turtles surfing in Hawaii

Most turtles surf at a relative angle to the waves which puts them closer to shore with less wave crashing on their heads. At Chacocente you can get a good 20-second ride when the tide is right. When the turtle slows down and the ride comes to an end, make sure to float off the animal and let them finish their nightly journey  uninterrupted to shore. And remember to not shine bright flashlights in their eyes or use a flash if taking a photo because the light bothers their eyes. These majestic animals are protected and the guardaparques at Chacocente might get upset if they see you disturbing the animals.

How to get to Chacocente

The Chacocente reserve is a green spot on the southwestern area of the map of Nicaragua.  Hundreds of sea turtles make their egg-laying pilgrimage between June and October with the peaks happening during high tide on a new moon. The easiest way to get there is to follow a map and the signs.

Chacocente prices

relief map of chacocente

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