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Chancie Pinkerton of Room to Roam: Simplified Surf Travel in Nicaragua

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Do you want to surf in warm waters and heal your mind, body, and soul in one life-changing trip? Room to Roam in Nicaragua is the place to be.

In this episode, Room to Roam’s CEO and co-founder Chancie Pinkerton shares with us all the wonderful things that Room to Roam offers to help you travel off the beaten path with peace of mind and enjoy the best trips of your life with no hassle.

From purchasing the right flight and getting all travel requirements met to reconnecting with yourself with their different retreats and enjoying some great waves, Room to Roam will guide you all the way and make your trip enjoyable and relaxing.

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Location:Playa Gigante, Nicaragua

Transcripts

Saltwater High, what's up? Today, I have Chancie straight from Nicaragua. Chance, what's up, brother?

Hey, how's it going, Derek?

It's going great, man. I'm super stoked to have you on the podcast, man.

Yes, stoked to be here. Thanks for having me.

Yeah. So let's talk a little bit about your journey, dude. It's super interesting. Born in Texas, is that what I saw?

Yeah, that's correct.

All right. I love it. I love it. So from Texas and you made it to California at some point, it looks like?

Yeah. At 18 joined the military, landed in San Diego, so I can't complain with that.

Oh, Oceanside. Were you stationed on Oceanside?

Yup.

Nice. So did you surf before you joined the military?

No, not at all. And I couldn't even swim before I joined the military, so it's kind of interesting that I'm here.

So could we say that the military taught you to surf?

They taught me to give it a shot, but still I wasn't a proficient surfer at that point.

Yeah, nice man. So why did you decide to join the military? Was your family in it or what was the deal?

No, no. We were in the poorer families in small town Texas. And so you kind of only have a couple of routes out. Either you're smart enough to get a scholarship, which who knows if I was or wasn't, or you pull the trigger and just sign a contract and get out of there.

Yeah. Yeah, man. Eighteen, I can remember when I was 18 and I got the phone call, the phone rang at my house right when I graduated. They must release some lists or something. And it was the Marines and it was the Marines recruiter on the phone. And he was giving me his spiel. And when you're 18, you're like, dude, this sounds pretty good, I don't know, it might be a good call, but I ended up not doing it. I can see how for some, though, it's adventure. You get to see the world and probably took you to where you are right now in a lot of ways, right?

Oh, for sure. It was kind of a vessel and a tool to get out and do something different. I definitely would not be where I am now without having joined. But it was an interesting path.

Yeah, very cool, man. So you're in Oceanside surfing the harbor in Carlsbad and all those places down there. Did you get down to Mex at all and into Baja?

So I did that later. Maybe 6 or 7 years ago, I started taking surfing more seriously, I started doing more trips. I actually spent a lot of time in Costa Rica, so I did a lot of travel surfs. And that's where I kind of fell in love with the process of surfing, right? The adventure of it. Not just heading out the ocean side and yelled at by the locals.

Dude, I'm sure you were fine. Yeah, so was that your first international trip? Was it to Costa Rica? For surf trip?

Yeah, yeah. I did a surf school there for 3 weeks and kind of fell in love with Central America and yeah.

Sweet. Where did you land? Where was that surf school?

It was in Jaco. It was School of the World.

Okay, Jaco, yeah. So I also fell in love with Costa Rica early on and I drove down there, bro. I drove from California. I don't know if you've done that yet.

Not yet.

But that was quite a journey, man. Quite a journey for sure. I'll talk about that some other on another podcast. Well, I grew up surfing Mexico and fell in love with all of Latin America. And if you're a surfer, Costa Rica's, it's such a wonderful place, but you're in Nicaragua, so let's pivot a little bit. Costa Rica obviously is a different place these days, right? I call it kind of the new Orange County. So what made you venture out or up into Nicaragua?

I was doing a job for a while where I was basically traveling. I was so detached to the military as a contractor, and I get 3 months off at a time, and so I pop down to Costa Rica, and kind of by my third or fourth trip down, I was committed to buying a place and making it my home. And, as you know, Costa Rica's gone, every trip I went back, prices are skyrocketing, things are overcrowded, it's harder to find a place that was more like home. And then luckily, a guy I was surfing with, he's like, "You really need to check out Nicaragua." And so my next trip back came, I actually stayed in San Juan del Sur, which wasn't really my vibe, but I did a day trip in the area that we're in now, and stayed in this little fishing village and had some of the best surf of my life, everybody was super cool and just fell in love, pulled the trigger on a house. And that's that.

Dude. And so how long ago was?

That was almost 5 years ago now.

Okay, so now you're a veteran. Yeah, so what's it like to decide that you're going to live outside of America? How do you even get to that point? You know what I mean?

Yeah, I think it was easier for me having I got out of the military and immediately went back into contracting for the military being in a lot of deployments, living overseas, and so it wasn't a big barrier for me to say this place is cool and it's cheap and there's surf, why don't I just live there?

Yeah, very cool. So I was checking out a map, besides driving through Nicaragua, I've been back to Los Cardones, and it's a trip because I remember when I went on that trip, basically they picked us up at the airport and I didn't really even know where they were taking us. I was with a buddy and I just wanted, like all surf trips, you just want to surf your brains out. So I think Los Cardones is north of you. So it would be kind of the northern tip if you were to kind of break, I guess, you tell me, you kind of break Costa Rica or Nicaragua into 3 main parts, kind of central, southern, and northern.

Yeah, that's correct.

Yeah. And how does the surf differ in those 3 locations?

So it's seasonal, actually. You talked about Costa Rica being the new Huntington Beach. It's kind of California on this coastline where northern Nicaragua tends to see waves and what would be the American wintertime. And then, of course, our region here in the south, these waves in the American summertime, with the curvature of the coastline and all the other sites behind that. But culturally, I think they're very similar just like there are a lot of smaller towns. Of course, San Juan blew up. But where we're at, I draw the similarity with the Emerald Coast where we're at, Popoyo in Colorado is this being very similar to kind of like North Shore, where you have all these different waves within 10-mile stretch. So you have that here and then you have that in the north. And then in between is kind of a little more Wild West.

And that's where you're at right? You're kind of in the Wild West part?

Yeah, a bit.

A bit, yeah. It's not that far. I guess, probably takes 10 hours to drive from the north to the south if you're driving through? Something like that. So everything's pretty much within striking distance, I would say. And you guys have river mouths and beach break or what's going on there?

We've had everything, again, within 10 miles of us. We get everything from point breaks to yeah, I don't know if you've heard of Colorados with the barreling beach break, Manzanillo's right around the corner, which is kind of a monster left point break. We kind of got it all right here.

Yeah, dude, that's great. And what's your favorite spot? Right out front?

I got to say I have a love-hate relationship with Manzanillo. I say that because it is my favorite wave for a long time. And then I went out on a bigger day and it cracked me.

Yeah. I have some buddies that went down there a couple of years back and it was so big, dude, they just got worked. They couldn't even really paddle out. Growing up in Southern California, we get big surf. But, there are very few days where you can't paddle out. I can probably count maybe one day in 20 years or something, you know what I mean?

Right.

But you guys get so much more swell down there and it's probably super consistent. And yeah, I can't imagine. How many days out of the year do you think, like, you look outside and you're going, "I'm not going out there."?

Quite a few. More where I'm not liking that.

Nice, man. Yeah, tell us a little bit about the resort, Room to Roam. Is that what I saw?

Yeah, yeah. So Room to Roam is I convinced my girlfriend to come down here with me and kind of do this full time. And we bought into a boutique hotel here in this fishing village, which actually is kind of perfectly situated for hopping on the boat and going surfing. Yeah, we've got a paved road in. So the demographics of where we're at and the landscape was kind of perfect to take over this hotel and then flip it into this kind of culturally inclusive surf and yoga retreat destination.

Sweet.

Yeah. So we kind of benchmark this location. We actually had bigger goals to do this, COVID came in, and kind of wrecked everybody's lives. Particularly the hospitality industry. And so we saw an opportunity to kind of come in and rebrand some of the hotels that weren't performing well even before COVID came in. So we figured, I knew this area and we knew that it would be tough to get started here in Nicaragua, so we picked up this hotel as like our proving grounds and yeah, took over in December and we've been charging forward.

Nice. So tell me a little about the setup and if listeners want to book a trip and how does it all go down? What kind of waves? It's yoga and surf, I guess. If you want to bring your lady or maybe she surfs and you do yoga or however it rolls out?

Yes, so we have a pretty diverse selection of retreats so what we did, to kind of boost us as a new brand, is we partnered with a bunch of holistic and wellness retreat leaders. So we've had everything from breath workshops to pilates and self-empowerment retreats. So we kind of came at it with just a wellness focus. But obviously where we're at is very surf-capable. So you can check out our retreat packages on room-roam.com. Our calendar is kind of booked out into early March of next year, which is various retreats, and we're trying to find what the guests really gravitate towards. And then we're going to package that into our full offering for any expansion territories that we go into. We move into Bali and we know people love the breathwork and we'll have on-site breathwork and spa. So we're really shaking out what people want at this location.

Nice, bro. I like that. That's an awesome vision. Are you into the wellness scene and that part of the journey or is that your lady?

Yeah, I'd say I'm getting there. It's definitely Kate brings to the table, my partner. But I'm getting there. I'm participating in some of these holistic wellness things and it's opening some doors.

Cool, man. That's what it's all about, opening the doors of perception.

Yeah, for sure.

Cool. That sounds amazing. So people can come down, take the retreat, do a wellness kind of event and then go for a surf. That sounds like my life, bro.

Yeah, it's pretty great. We got really lucky with this town, too. We found out this surf season that when everything do get insanely big that you can't paddle out, that our bay is very protected. And there's actually this little sneaky wave that comes only whenever the waves are double overhead everywhere else. There's this little shoulder-high wave that breaks inside of our fishing bay. So we've always got something for all levels of surfer.

Nice. Nice, dude. That's great. And are you doing any other kind of eco-tourism? I know I think fishing is really big down there, like trip day trips to Costa Rica or stuff like that?

Yeah. So we have several day trips that we've been doing. We actually have guests right now. And I went on a boat trip and then Kate with half of the group to go to a coffee farm and they went to a natural hot springs .

Oh, nice.

But we usually put together either there's a, how familiar are with Nicaragua, there's a giant lake.

Yep. Freshwater sharks, right?

There are, yeah. So I don't recommend swimming there. But we'll take a day trip out to the islands which are these 2 volcanoes and there's some really cool activities to do over there. So yeah, we curate quite a few day trips and activities. We really lean into our cultural aspect of it. So we'll partner with some local farm that shows people how they harvest things. Still kind of old-world here. So it's kind of a cool way of giving that how to live cultural experience.

Yeah, that's killer. And what's the expat vibe down there? Are there a ton of expats around or are you kind of like the only gringo in the hood sort of thing?

Now that was another strategic thing we did here. So we're in this fishing village, but it's sandwiched between some of the larger resorts on the Pacific coast, which is north of us. A gated community that kind of locks down these 2 waves, but again, we focus on differentiating ourselves from that because here we're in the middle of the town and all of our friends are local Nicaraguans. So there's an expat community here in town that appreciates that. But then, of course, people that are more comfortable with more luxury standards, they'll stay in the resorts.

Yeah, nice. Did you immigrate to Nicaragua or you have a tourist visa or something like that?

Yes, so Kate and I both are on a tourist visa right now, which is fine because we go back to the States every couple of months. But we're filing for residency now that we have purchased the hotel. There's a minimum investment requirement for you to be considered a resident and a retiree. So we're pushing forward with that because we're pretty integrated here.

Yeah, dude, sounds great. And are you seeing more and more kind of investment? In Costa Rica, I remember, there are Europeans all over the place, Italians were opening the pizza place and the Swiss had the hotel in the early days. And then I guess eventually the North Americans kind of came in. But just what's the feeling like in the atmosphere? Is it feel like it's a little bit still the Wild West, or is it the new Costa Rica in a way?

Yeah. I would say like here in town, it's still very much local investment. There's actually a large Canadian population in our town. But as far as these other resorts and communities to north and south of us, there's a lot of North American investment and I think they're just sitting on it for the long haul because they saw, of course, you're discussing and what I've called it, that Costa Rica was really blown up and they were going to run out of just sheer space to keep doing all these resorts and things.

Yeah, nice. And politically, how are things down there right now if somebody is thinking about coming down?

Yes, so this election year and obviously COVID was a massive hurdle for us and the last little hope that we have to get past is this election. And Ortega has been the leader for a while and it looks like that will continue to be the case. So it's fine as far as tourism goes. There's some disturbance, not unlike what happened in the US past couple of years. But there is frustrations and things, but it's not getting to a point of demonstration or anything crazy. So, we actually sit about an hour and a half away from the Costa Rican border. So we typically just shuttle people through Liberia, which is a northern Costa Rica airport. And it ends up being the same case as if they went through Managua.

Yeah, that's cool. It probably makes it a lot easier. I remember driving through Managua, it was not fun.

Right.

Coming up from Liberia. And then people, they can hang out in Tamarindo a couple of days and then come up or something. That would be a killer trip, actually.

Yes. Yeah, we've actually put together a few things because we are looking to expand early next year to Tamarindo area. We're going to find something that's similar to what we have where it's not just heavily touristic.

I love that. Have you been to the eastern side yet?

No. But we have a plan to go to the Corns islands, hopefully soon.

Yeah, they're supposed to be some surf over there somewhere.

Yeah, I haven't found it, but I've heard the same thing.

Yeah, so that's probably the secret spot of Nicaragua's. Dude, if you can figure that out, forget Tamarindo, find some secret wave on the eastern side. That would be killer. No, you get Tamarindo too. I love Tamarindo. I've spent a lot of time there and Playa Negra's a great wave and there's just great vibe down there. Really love it down there.

Yeah, for sure.

Yeah. Dude, you're sitting in the center of so many great waves, from a surfer's standpoint. I've also surfed El Salvador and El Salvador's a lot of point breaks where I think Nicaragua's more famous for its river mouths and beach break. But talk about a plethora of surf at your doorstep. It's amazing, dude.

Yeah, it really is. And we kind of have to kick ourselves. We've only been doing this for, what, 8 months now. We kind of have to say take a minute every once in a while and just let's get out there and surf all day. Guests are coming next week, worry about it then. Because today, it's a great place to be.

Nice. And how are you guys finding clients and marketing the resort? The hotel?

So we started off just kind of go into our personal networks. It's similar here and in Costa Rica where a lot of North County, San Diego people love to surf travel. So we kind of captured our networks and their networks early on and offered a lot of affiliate codes and things to kind of incentivize people to keep talking about us. And then we shifted into more of the traditional ad spending. But we're really just right now, we're doing the campaign where we're just telling the story, right?Because still our biggest barrier in Nicaragua is the perception. And so we're working with the local videographer now, we're just putting out a series of videos that show what it's really like here because I really feel like this is one of the safest places I've ever traveled to.

Yeah. Yeah, I saw the video on the website. I really love the feel of it. Yeah, in that video, it's pretty short, but there's something I don't know, it feels like home in a way is the way I would describe it after watching it. If you can convey that or tell that story and people feel that when they get there, that's an amazing thing to offer because we're all looking for a home, right? We're all looking for a place that fills our hearts and has great surf and good people.

Yeah, for sure. And that's exactly out here. And that's what we're trying to put out there in the world. And one of our best metrics is just our return clients already. We actually have somebody here, it's her third trip out and we've only been active for less than 8 months.

Wow.

Yeah. We've had people extend over a month because it's an easy town to fall in love with.

Nice. Love it, bro. Love it. Cool, man. What else do you want to share with us?

That's all I've got. We're here, we're working to kind of share our vision with the world that you don't have to kind of be stuck in. Because I know a lot of surf travelers, they get to their house, it's on the beach and they surf that wave and they get on the plane and leave. We're a little bit different here that we're just trying to give them a little bit something else. There's going to be kids running in here that say hey to you, there's wild pigs on the street. It's a cultural experience.

I love that, dude. Cool, man. I have a couple more questions I like to ask my guests. Describe your first surfboard.

Ooh, my first surfboard, I bought a 7S. It's because I just saw a little ad on the bottom of the Surfline like daily board.

Wow. It's work.

Yeah, there you go. It wasn't my favorite board. It was way too big, hard to figure out.

What size was it, do you remember?

I think it was a 7'6.

Okay. That's a good first board, I think. Little bit of length, little bit of stability.

Yeah, yeah. I learned it pretty quickly.

Yeah. Cool, man. What's your favorite trip you've been on? It sounds like you've been on a bunch down there. Do you have one that sticks out in particular?

Yeah. I really like the trip I took to northern Costa Rica. I spent so much time in the south. And then I went same thing, surfed Playa Negra, went out to Roca Bruja, that day was amazing. Yeah, that was probably my favorite trip, aside from my day-to-day life here.

Sweet. And the best wave you've had in the last 2 years? Best session?

Playground, here in Nicaragua. Actually this year, we got it kind of chunky, but just kind of like my first little cover-up.

Nice, what's the wave like? Describe it so that people get a feel for it.

Playgrounds reminds me a lot of Trestles. It's kind of an A-frame. It's like a cobblestone break, but it's in the middle of reserves. You can only get there by boat. And I think there is a surf camp there, but it's pretty out of the way. But yeah, it's a wedgy, A-frame, and the right barrels and it gets pretty technical. The left takes you all the way to the beach.

Wow, I want to surf it. I've never surfed it. Sounds awesome.

Yeah.

And if you could go back and give your 18-year old self some advice, what kind of advice would you give? Little Chance running down there in Oceanside.

Get in the water sooner.

Nice.

I think it's taken me a long time to get comfortable out there.

Dude, that's great advice for everyone. I totally agree. One of the greatest gifts of life is being in, near, and connected to the water on a daily basis.

For sure.

Yeah, dude. Cool, man. Let everyone know where they can find you and book a trip.

Yeah, check us out, room-roam.com. We're on Instagram, roomtoroam.retreats.

Sweet, and we'll put links to all of your social and the website in the show notes and the web post. And everyone, please go and book a trip. You sound like a great dude, bro. I'd love to come down and surf with you sometime.

Yeah, man, come out, it's firing right now.

Cool, man. That's great. I'm in San Francisco. I just surfed Big Sur and it's just blown out up here so I could take a trip. But yeah, I'll send you an email, we can talk about that offline. Thanks again, Chance. Super great to meet you, bro.

Yeah, great chat with you. Good to meet you. Take care.

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