El Salvador is a sacred place to me. It is where I truly became a surfer, a spanish speaker, a traveler, an idealist, and a writer. I had strove to become all of these things for a long time, perhaps I still do, but my prolonged period in El Sal marked a point of marked achievement in all of my pursuits, which I can only ascribe to the peaceful surroundings, compelling company, and epic waves that this tiny Latin American nation consistently provides.
And so coming back here after nearly two years away was an important event in my life. I had spent months and months learning the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of this country, from the people and the culture to the waves and the weather. I spent Christmas and new years here for two years in a row, the family that ran the hostel where I stayed became like my own. It was my home away from home, that one place in Latin America where I felt I could escape to when I felt homesick as I vagabonded around the continent. And now I was back again, and so much had since changed.
Pulling in to El Tunco the road looked different. It was no longer that rustic little pueblo with beaten down homes, small tiendas, and typical hostels lining the road. It had become a classic, developed surf town, complete with a variety of hotels and hostels, restaurants, bars and even tourist agencies. The night life used to be a single bar, lively only on the weekends when the San Salvadorans left the city to hit the coast, complete with drum circles and fire throwers. Now every night a different bar or disco would throw a huge party, complete with expensive drinks, pat-downs and cover charges.
It was inevitable I suppose, such is the nature of these surf towns. They grow in popularity and begin to lose their uniqueness as they try to emulate every other surf tourism destination. More and more foreigners arrive, more buildings are erected, more parties, more drugs, more surfers... More money. And really that is what it comes down to in the end, money. Sustainability is trumped by prosperity, and the ability to see some sort of equilibrium between the two is distorted by the allure of more dollars and the flawed idea that growth is the only way forward. But in the end who is to blame? Poverty still remains, and with it desperation. At least things hadn't gotten completely out of hand here, and hopefully community leaders will take charge and ensure some semblance of balanced growth. It would be a shame otherwise.
If everything else had changed one thing had remained the same, the wave. I had been out of the water for too long, save for a few sessions in the lakes and some hurricane waves on the eastern seaboard. When I arrived mid-afternoon I checked in to a hostel, grabbed a board, and hit the water. With just a 3 foot swell Sunzal was breaking perfectly, just as I remember it, long and perfectly formed point break waves. Only this time I had a couple years more of surfing experience behind me and I paddled right out back with the locals, catching my first wave, showing them that I deserved a position in the line up. I surfed that first day until the sky was dark, my waves only lit by the settling glow of the disappeared sun and the moon shining brightly in the cloudless sky above.