Xcel Presents: “La Loma” Wandering Central America with Christian “Cram” Ramirez and Ryan “Snacks” Valasek
Christian “Cram” Ramirez
Ryan “Snacks” Valasek
Trip Interview: Bryce (Xcel Team Manager), Cram and Snacks
Bryce - Well, boys, tell me a bit about the trip!
Snacks - This trip was a big stepping stone for me and cram. We’ve had trips in the pipeline for almost a year and with covid, our surf trips got put on the back burner as we waited for some travel restrictions to lift and we surfed locally. We’re both freelance photographers and were feeling the financial pressure of covid so we were saying yes to most paid photo gigs that came our way. Before you knew it, we seemed to be too busy to carve out the time for a surf mission but a big part of the reason we both got into our line of work is to have a flexible schedule to go catch waves, shoot photos, tell stories and enjoy beers with locals all around the world.
I was camping up in Bend Oregon with spotty service when I randomly received a text from Christian saying “We’re going to Nicaragua next week. I just bought a plane ticket”. At first I was like fuck and didn’t think I was going to be able to swing it. I had a few other prior commitments in the coming weeks but I was just itching to get out of the country on a surf mission. Ditched everything, bought the ticket and we left in 3 days.
Cram, since the trip was so last minute, how stressed were you to get your passport renewed on time? How does that even work during covid?
-I knew I needed to renew my passport to travel, booking the flight was actually necessary to be able to renew my passport the same day at a government agency during covid. You had to have proof you are leaving the country within 2 weeks of calling to make an appointment, and your appointment had to be within 72 hours of leaving the country. The only available slot in the entire country was in El Paso, Texas 48 hours before leaving for Nicaragua. If anyone wants to experience Tijuana without leaving the country, just go to El Paso. hahah
Cram, you’ve just got to Snacks’ parents house after the passport renewal and are packing to leave for the airport in a few hours….what was that email you got about covid tests? What's the audible?
-After packing my rig with all the gear needed for Nicaragua, driving from SLO to Santa Ana, doing a 36 hour passport mission to El Paso, driving from Santa Ana to Rancho I finally met up with Snacks 2 days after leaving my house in slo. Passport in hand ready to mob, our flight was that night out of LAX.
-Much like trying to book an appointment for a passport renewal, actually getting into Nicaragua was a science project of its own. You need Government approval to have access to the country. The requirements for approval was a covid test taken within 72 hours of leaving, and all your identification docs and covid tests had to be submitted within 36 hours of your flight then you wait to hear back. Around 6 hours before our flight, the rig is packed up and we are getting ready to drive to LAX. I get an email from the Nicaraguan government saying we are DENIED access into Nicaragua. We both spend the next hour on the phone talking to airlines trying to figure out how to get on that flight. It's not possible. The only thing I could think of was to call my friend Jade who was just there a month prior. He tipped us off on a way to get in through a Costa Rica border crossing. Without hesitation we booked new flights into Costa Rica an hour later than our original flights to Nica, hopped in the rig and drove to meet up with Bryce who graciously agreed to drop us off at LAX and keep my rig at his pad for the duration of the trip.
Cram, What's the first thing that happened when you landed in Costa Rica?
-Oh man, big lesson learned here! The bag I packed for this trip is sort of my “daily driver”, its the bag I take on every trip. The week prior i was camping and had some rather stanky giggle bush in one of the pockets. We land in Costa Rica, get through customs, and right before we exit, there is a dog search. Everyone puts their bags on the ground and this dog does a half circle around the luggage and starts going nuts on my bag! After close to 2 hours of questioning, having my bags ripped apart, explaining “I’m from California and my bag STANKS” over and over, and staying strong through multiple bribe opportunities, knowing i had nothing illegal on me i was finally free to go. There was so many moving parts and set backs to actually getting into Nicaragua i feel like it took years off my life, iit almost got to that point where you're expecting more things to go wrong hahah
Snacks, The trip was planned out to be in Northern Nica, but now with being south of Nica, how did that change the plans?
-We just took a loss on our Managua flights and our first few nights of accommodation. Wasn’t ideal but everything was happening so fast as we raced to the airport to catch the Costa Rica flight. We just had to be there by the weekend because that was the best window for the swell. I met this guy at a party in LA who spoke of Nica and I DM’d him on our race to LAX that we’ll be headed to Southern Nica now and if he had any tips we’d be amped. He linked me with a driver and he was gonna pick us at at the Costa Rica Airport and drive us across the Southern Nica Border. Only thing is we didnt have accommodation booked yet so when we got in his van we started some small talk with some other passengers and turns out they had extra room at their place. So we headed there thinking it hold just hold us over for a few nights before getting dialed in to the area. Turns out, we were staying at this place called the “Surf Sanctuary”. Tony is the man. We stayed at his place the entire trip.
Snacks, What were some goals for you on the trip?
-I knew I wanted to tell the story of the trip in some shape or form to bring home some photos for Seager and Xcel. But ultimately I just wanted to get some barrel photos of Cram. I'm so locked into photos, it's my main medium for telling stories. But during the trip, I got convinced to roll some video and I ended up enjoying it a lot. Wish I could take photos and film at the same time!! I also wish I could surf at the same time as those too. Overall, going on trips and documenting the process is what I love most. Each and every mission holding a new set of dynamics and ultimately just keep trying to be more and more present while always trying to improve and challenge myself to be the best photographer I can be. At the end of the day, it’s all about good energy - and with that good things will happen.
Cram, Surfing and photography trip. How’s that combo?
-Photography is what I do for work, I do a lot of brand lifestyle work, it's what funds my surf trips. I’ve always got a camera packed on any trip I take but on this trip I had the opportunity to be the surfer on this trip as well as shoot product and lifestyle stuff for Xcel and Seager. It’s been my dream for awhile now for a brand to say “hey we want you to go on a trip to surf and shoot for us”. This trip was the first of that! Big milestone for both my surfing and photography.
Cram, tell us about that Popoyos session. Was it the best of the trip?
-Absolutely! I really only got one window at the outer reef but it was firing! I had it all to myself, a little spooky to figure out on your own but the wave has an insane slingshot off a boil on the take off, once Ii found that it was game on! I think I surfed for about 2 hours, caught around 6 waves and was ready for a marathon session but right around hour 2 a storm rolled through. It started raining sideways so hard, I could barely see land, it was pissing rain. That was the end of the dream session, definitely have my eyes on that wave for future strikes, some unfinished business!
Cram, what did we do when the surf was bad?
-Ate food and went stir crazy at the hotel but the waves were pretty much good the whole time
Snacks, What cameras do you pack for a surf trip like this?
-For this trip I brought a Sony A7riii, a few prime lenses, 1 surf lens and a water housing with 1 small lens port. Paired that up with some of my favorite film cameras - Yashica-D Medium Format camera and Contax T2 point and shoot camera. This quiver has been my go-to for a few years now.
Snacks, Tell us about the Surf Sanctuary. You painted houses too?
-100% is a surf sanctuary. The owners Tony and Nancy, bought the land back in the 90’s and has been building and maintaining the sanctuary since. Its got it all. Private rooms, full homes, pool, lounge, chef, beautiful plants and even some dogos. Tony and his wife Nancy also play a big part in the local community. With the floods that happened earlier that year, lots of locals homes were destroyed so the surf sanctuary has been building new homes for them. During our stay, we had the opportunity to go help paint a house that was almost finished and it was a highlight of the trip. Tony and Nancy are legends. Cant wait to go back.
Cram, whats the best place to eat in town and how many times did you get there?
-La Loma Linda no question, we would eat there at least once a day sometimes 3.
Cram, What’s next?
-Snacks and I have a few surf destinations on a hitlist! We are always foaming at the mouth for another trip, we’ll be cooking up some rad trips and have plenty of stories to go along with them!
Bryce - Cool story