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Cliff Notes: Big Choices in Little Nicaragua

Interview by: Cliff Kapono (@cliff_kapono)

Whether it is the annoyance of another sibling, the comforting touch of an elder, or the simple smile from a distant relative, family can easily be taken for granted. Raised the second oldest of 5 children, I quickly assumed my role as “bruddah” from an early age. Although there were times it may have seemed like a chore, staying true to the values of ‘ohana was mandatory. As I travel to distant shores and experience different cultures, it is apparent that these values aren’t unique to Hawai‘i. On a recent trip to Central America, I met up with good friend Eric Nicholson who has recently relocated to the quiet Nicaraguan coast. We talked about the surf, community dynamics and most importantly the significance of family life.

Great to see you again Eric. It’s been a minute. Is it weird to be so far away from home? I mean, where is home exactly?

Southern California born and raised. I was born in LA, but moved to Ventura County when I was six. It’s cool to now be living in southern Nicaragua.

Seems you couldn’t stray too far from the Pacific Coast. When was the first time you came to Nicaragua?

I first visited Nica in 2009 during spring break my senior year of college. My friend Dane and his girlfriend at the time had driven down to Nicaragua from San Diego in a VW wagon. They were living in the city of Granada, which is about an hour south of Managua. I stayed with them and surfed around the San Juan Del Sur and Popoyo area for a bit.

Ah the good old days. Has it changed much?

It’s changed a lot but then again it hasn’t. Obviously surf and fishing tourism has grown.

Why do you think that is?

There’s a few reasons. Nicaragua is a fairly peaceful country these days where your dollar goes further. The southern region generally has 300+ days of offshore winds and it’s SW facing coast picks up swell pretty consistently. The offshore winds also provide upwelling along this stretch of coast that creates a lot of life for the fisheries.

Sounds like an ocean-lover’s paradise. Seems like there are a lot of US citizens here in Nicaragua. What is the dynamic between the newly relocated residence and the local people?

I guess it varies. like anywhere in the world, some locals hate foreigners and resent them living in their home and taking their resources. Others embrace the jobs that surf and fishing tourism has created for the local people.

That sounds pretty similar to a lot of coastal communities. Do tensions ever arise?

Definitely. Just last week this local cut in front of me in line at the grocery store, and when I politely asked him if he was aware of the line, he told me to go back to my country where I came from. Obviously that doesn’t mean everybody is like that, but it happens. Still, I have lots of good relationships with locals.

That’s a tough one. Especially since because that local probably didn’t know why you live in Nicaragua now. Can you talk about why you are living here and what it was like making that choice?

After I graduated from UCSD in 2009, it was super hard for me to find a job with the recession and all so I came down here for an extended surf trip. Nica may not have the world class waves that say Indonesia and other major surf destinations have, but it’s got incredibly consistent surf day in day out. And it’s a beautiful country with a very interesting history and culture. I ended up staying down here longer than I had imagined and got involved with a local woman. The next thing I knew I was having a son.

Wow. That’s a pretty big life change. Especially right out of college.

Yea, but being a father is tremendously fulfilling. I think kids have a way changing your perspective on life and bringing out the best in you. My son Dylan has undoubtedly given me a true sense of purpose. Initially, I wasn’t at all prepared to be a dad. It didn’t help that my parents weren’t supportive of me when they found out. I was 21 years old, fresh out of college with no money, and about to have a kid in a foreign country. It was tough for me. I struggled with a lot of internal conflict and self-doubt. Once I decided to really go all in and be a proud father to Dylan, I really grew. I found a sense of confidence and purpose I never thought I would have in my life.

It must have been difficult to leave the States.

Leaving my life in the states was actually the easiest part. So, I was here in Nicaragua when Dylan was born back in 2010 and shortly thereafter I went back to work in the states. I was a field biologist working as an environmental inspector. I made a few trips down to visit on my vacation time, but when Dylan was 2 I had a major falling out with his mom. We lost contact and I just felt like the world was against me. I gave up on trying to be a father, but eventually the stress and emotions caught up with me. Last year I went down to visit after all of those years of no communication. Once I finally reconnected with my son and saw the pain he had been going through all those years not knowing what had happened to his father. Like I said, the decision to leave my life in the states was easy.

That’s solid. How long do you plan to stay down in Nicaragua?

Right now, my plan is to live here and put Dylan in an English grade school for the next year or two. It’s the easiest transition for both of us and I enjoy the lifestyle down here. I never thought I’d say this, but raising Dylan in a developing nation like Nicaragua is actually a lot more stress free than being back home in the states. It just gives you perspective on how much we get caught up in the rat race.

I know you’ve travelled and experience a lot of the Hawaiian culture. Do you see any parallels between your lifestyle you are living now and your time spent in Hawai‘i?

Definitely. Aloha is the essential element in every ‘ohana. Loving and caring for each other is the glue that holds families together. It’s easy to get sidetracked with all the noise in today’s world, but if we make a concerted effort to come back to these values of ‘ohana, life rewards us. I try to remind myself of that and the rest takes care of itself.