Night Paddles In El Salvador




EL SUNZAL, El Salvador - Standup paddling at night is an awesome experience. While there are many risks to consider when going for a night paddle, the experience can be well worth the risk if you are properly prepared and geared for the trip. Jorge Dominguez has been enjoying night paddles for quite some time, and he decided to send over a story to share with us. Read his story below.


Night Stand Up Paddle (SUP) In The Warm Waters Of El Salvador


“When I lived in the city of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, I did a little bit of standup paddling at night in the water channels that run closer to the beach, and a couple of times I surfed the waves of Honolii. But, I had mixed feelings. The water sometimes got cold and I was told that night surfing could only be done on full moons.

I returned home to El Salvador in 2012 and realized that even though El Salvador does not have the super hollow and giant waves that Hawaii has, it has more consistent waves all year around. It might get small, but never flat. That one was not difficult to figure out, but the one that really clicked was that El Salvador waters are warmer than Hawaii at night all year round. The wetsuit would be a big joke here.

Since 2012, I have realized that night SUP in El Salvador is totally feasible. It means that I can work the second shift in the most crowded wave of El Salvador, El Sunzal. During the day shift, 65 surfers can be found working this wave. At night I can have the waves just for myself, and sometimes with only a couple of friends.



The rumor that you can only surf during full moons is a complete fallacy! In the beginnings of trying to surf El Sunzal at night, it was discouraging. With no full moons and no stadium lights, all I could see were shades of black waves and whitewater. I got a few waves, but most of the time the waves were already too close at the time I tried to turn the board pointing towards the beach, and I got rolled over.

Then, one day I remembered that back in Oahu, I had seen this young Brazilian kid, Derek Rabelo surfing Pipeline, and he is totally blind. 24/7 he lives in total darkness, and El Sunzal is a very easy wave compared to Pipeline. My mistake had been trying to see and use the whitewater as guides for my take off point. Derek Rabelo does not see waves, he feels them. When you catch and ride waves by feeling them it feels like magic. But, it takes plenty of patience. From 20 attempts, I might only make 3 waves during a night session. A lot of trial and error.

Not every night in El Salvador is prime for riding waves, sometimes, I enjoy more distance paddling on my SUP from one surf spot to another. The first one I tried was from La Paz to El Sunzal, more or less 8 kms one way. Going solo, I was getting scared every time little fish were jumping in the water...in my mind I was expecting a shark to jump at me anytime! That is what happens when you watch too many shark movies. It is funny to notice that most people ask me how do I handle the sharks at night, and nobody asks about any other dangers. In El Salvador, the shark population has been decimated by over fishing. There are a few out there. But people kind of believe that sharks sleep all day, and they wake up hungry at 7 pm to start hunting humans.



My biggest fears when doing solo night SUP paddling are getting caught by a thunderstorm, and drifting away from the coast, or being pulled by the current towards the caves full of razor sharp coral. Nowadays, I always watch the weather report for possible thunderstorms. A few times I have been caught half way by the beginning of a storm with high winds. All I have done is cross my fingers and pray.

Another worry I have is what to do if my paddle breaks. One day, my full carbon pro paddle broke, but thank God it happened during day time. I am not a strong arm paddler and took the easy route. I paddled to the nearby beach and hitched a car drive for my SUP and myself.

For these night SUP distance paddles, I am using very primitive equipment by today’s standards. I would love to have a 14ft carbon race SUP, but, I am using a 6 year-old, 10ft C-4 Waterman SUP I brought with me from Hawaii. My purchasing power in El Salvador has gone considerably down compared to what I used to make in Hawaii. Regarding lights for my SUP, I use none. In open ocean, if you do not have super high tech lights, I find them a nuisance. I like using bike lights attached to my forehead in mangrove river trails, but that is another story. Like I said before, the full moon is not necessary for night SUPs, but, I like starry clear-skies. Total darkness is not the aim. Most of the time I use coastal lights coming from the hotels and houses at the beach.

The next route I tried was from El Zonte to El Sunzal, about 5 to 6 kms distance. No major surprises here. The third route was from Punta Mango to Las Flores, about 11 kms distance. I was sweating at night, but other than my feet palms aching in the last 2 kms, it went pretty smooth.



The most fun night SUPs have been when I start paddling from La Paz to El Sunzal, and take less than an hour and a half, and finish by riding waves at El Sunzal for two more hours, and having a nice dinner with coffee and drinks at Kayu Restaurant, belonging to my friend Marvin Flores.

Besides Marvin, other people I need to give thanks for making these night paddles possible are: Saburo Okuzawa, owner of Horizonte Surf Camp for providing free parking for my truck, Luis El Piry Martinez for letting me store my SUPs at his ding repair shop, and Vladimir Flores for letting me park and sleep for free at his hotel Atlakami at Las Flores.

For the future, I am hoping to paint my SUP with fluorescent colors, and acquire fluorescent shirts. It is important to make yourself visible to other sailing vessels and other surfers who want to share the stoke at night.”


Last modified onFriday, 23 January 2015 14:25

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