Art Of Epoxy : Surfing Nicaragua
Shaping Nicaragua’s new surf culture; empty waves, off-shore winds, Volcanoes and Swedish country music. We spoke to local surfboard artisan Mr Jon Waagstein for the inside line on Central America's newest surf destination.
What happens when Scandinavian craftsmanship meets contemporary surfboard design in the Republic of Nicaragua. We caught up with Danish nomad Mr Jon Waagstein to talk about expat life, the evolution of Nicaraguan surfing and the stunning W by Waagstein epoxy surfboards he creates.
What is your background?
My professional background comes from woodworking. I studied to be a Cabinetmaker in Denmark and Sweden. In the years after I graduated I created my own company in Copenhagen, designing and crafting customized interior solutions.
My interests have always been on the creative side and I’m pretty hands-on, not scared of trying out new things, materials and techniques. I have pursued various interests in the past, such as tailoring clothes and fashion photography, before becoming a cabinetmaker.
Now I finally feel that everything is coming together. All the different experiences and skills I’ve picked up along the way can be joined into this new venture of creating surfboards.
How did you get into the surfing world coming from Denmark?
I’ve lived in Denmark for most of my life, but my family moved around a bit when I was growing up. I spent some time in Buenos Aires and later on in Leon, Nicaragua, where my father stayed behind. Over the past 25 years, I’ve frequently travelled to Nicaragua.
Several years ago, when I was still doing furniture, I wanted to get away from the cold, grey winter in Copenhagen and decided to take a couple of months off to learn how to surf. Surfing had become more popular in Nicaragua since the time I was a kid. Back then, you didn’t hear about it at all, but since my father and his family were still living in León it was natural to discover this new world of excitement here.
I guess it’s no surprise that I fell in love instantly. At least when I got my first green wave. At that point, there was no return. The frustration and agony up until that point, I could have done without. But after getting ahold of that first wave, I knew I’d be surfing forever.
How did you start shaping surfboards?
Well, after my trip to Nicaragua, my mind was contaminated and surfing was all I thought about. It didn’t take me long before I found myself hand planing my first board. It was an EPS core with a 5mm Cedar wooden skin and rails. It worked surprisingly well, but I had to go buy a 5mm suit with a hoodie and boots to try it out. 5-degree Celsius water and small mushy waves are not for me…
I thought about it for a good while and decided to close down my business, sell most of my stuff, and leave Denmark to go back to Nicaragua. I left for an undefined time, to become a better surfer, but I always had the idea of making surfboards in the back of my head if the possibilities and demand were there.
What is your inspiration when designing a surfboard?
I get inspiration from many things and many people. I guess it’s a matter of being open to new input, whether it’s ideas, materials, or visual content of other people or what you see around you.
There are so many theories in surfboard design and people’s expectations vary as to what they think a board should look like. I try not to think too much about the look of a specific shape, but rather its performance and the kind of wave I’m designing a board for.
In general, I like them to be shorter and wider, with a lower rocker and more parallel rails. These details make very fast boards, especially with a concave hull. However, the real design lies in balancing the board so that you get the most out of it regarding performance and manoeuvrability. They are all eps/epoxy with parabolic carbon rails which give a really strong, light, and responsive feel while adding great flex.
On the visual side, I love to mix things up with some old school resin colours and laminating techniques. I have a specific colour palette, which I’ve developed based on my own tastes and the ones I see around me day to day.
Starting up a business in Nicaragua, what are the challenges?
The challenges are almost endless, but not in a headache kind of way. There are always setbacks because it’s just the way things go around here. So you just have to adapt. Materials and climate are the main issues I would say. Everything has to be imported, which takes from 2-6 months, and it’s a challenge to work in the tropical weather for many reasons. Humidity and heat are the main factors, but bats and smaller flying insects can also be challenging. Especially when doing the final gloss coat.
On the upside, the constant warm weather and the pacific coast make it very easy to go test new shapes, and Nicaragua has changed a lot in the last ten years with its fast-growing tourism market. People are coming to Nicaragua for surf and the more cultural and adventurous kind of tourism. Many ex-pats have started new ventures within that market, especially in regards to surfing, creating many jobs and growth to meet the new demand. Over the past decade, Nicaragua has developed immensely in its infrastructure. New roads make the country much more accessible and better internet and communications make it easier than ever to connect to the rest of the world. It’s also now one of the safest countries in Central and South America to travel.
How do you blow off steam?
Well… with waves at least 300 days a year and warm waters I go as often as I can to catch some. The Nicaraguan pacific coastline is packed with surf spots and you often find yourself alone in the water or alongside a little handful of other surfers to share the waves with. I am yet to have surfed all the spots, but hopefully, I will someday.
The best beaches to go surf are down south. The great lake of Nicaragua makes ideal offshore wind conditions all day long so the only thing you have to think about is the tide and swell size. There are many new surf camps, resorts, and hotels, in beautiful surroundings offering the best waves.
Further north where I’m based in Leon, you have the beaches within a 20k reach. They pick up a lot of swell and the wind is usually offshore in the mornings and afternoons. Miramar, Las Penitas, and Poneloya are my go-to beaches. They are all beach and point breaks going left and right.
What does the future hold for W by Waagstein?
Designing and creating is what drives me, so hopefully, I will be able to keep developing. I also hope to be able to take my shaping to Spain as well, getting the best of both worlds.
Work Music: I’m not very particular in my taste of music, but I’ve lately been listening to a lot to Jill Johnson. A Swedish country singer living in Nashville. She did a Swedish tv show doing cover songs with different artists, so it’s the soundtrack from that, “jills veranda“
Lesser-Known App: sketchbook express. I’ve started using it to test colours before I laminate or just to sketch down an idea
Late Night Gas Station Purchase: In Denmark, it would be liquorice, but in Nicaragua its more chips and snickers
Bucket List: Surf trip from France to Morocco and ending with some paragliding
Not all roads lead to Rome especially when you are surfing Nicaragua with W by Waagstein.
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