A huge swell reached the coast of Central America over the first weekend of this month. I'm sure some guys with guns loaded in their trucks were frantically driving around to find the best spot depending on the forecasts of the day such as Santa Catalina and Pavones and even Puerto Escondido, while others were compromising or dodging the direct hit of this swell somewhere within the Gulf of Panama.
I wish I were the first, but the latter. My reasons for it were; a) I didn't have a car or could not rent one as I had no valid driver's license. b) I thought that the swell might be too big for even Santa Catalina and for me. c) The World Cup 2014 was still on, so I didn't wanna spend the weekend somewhere in a stone-age village without any TVs.

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The swell kicked in on July 4th (Fri) and I found myself travelling from Albrook Terminal in Panama City to a resort-boom town called Coronado by a public minibus. It was packed with full of Panamanian commuters and my bulky coffin took over a few seats! It reminded me of my minibus trip in Sri Lanka nearly four years ago.

Geographically speaking, Coronado is on the coast of the gulf of Panama, about 1 and 1/2 hours of driving southwest from Panama City, and it offers a few spots nearby to surf such as Playa Malibu, Playa Serena and Playa Teta.
Furthermore, all major forecasts were looking promising for Coronado over the weekend (For Santa Catalina and Playa Venao the swell-sizes were almost double the below.)
@ July 4th (Fri) 2.5 - 4ft with 20sec
@ July 5th (Sat) 4 - 5ft with 18sec
@ July 6th (Sun) 3 - 4ft with 16sec

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I really wanted to surf Playa Malibu, an open beach with a river-mouth, but it turned out that the swell was too big for this spot as I observed a wave after a wave closing out there with a thunder-like bang.
Quite disappointed with Playa Malibu, I moved on to Playa Serena, a righthand pointbreak located on the beachfront of Coronado, and I had quite a few long rides on Friday and Saturday. The above photo shows the outside of Playa Serena, which doesn't go off very often unless a big swell comes in. The downside of it is that waves tended to slow down halfway and I had to do lots of cut-backs: it was probably more suitable for long boarders and beginners.

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On Sunday morning the size of the swell dropped quite a bit. I didn't wanna surf Playa Serena again as I found the waves a bit boring and I also expected some weekend-warriors to flock in there.
I decided to just wander to the west along the beach with my BOA 5'6 Manta in my hand, hoping to find a spot to surf, any spots where there would be no long borders nor beginners!
It took me nearly an hour from my B&B in Coronado to a spot called Rocky Point (shown in the photo below). I became super-sweaty by then, but lucky me, there were only two guys on the outside line-up.

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Waves at Rocky Point were breaking faster and hollower than those in Playa Serena (And less crowded too!) I had a fun session here, but spending two hours in the water, plus an hour of walking along the beach from Coronado to Rocky Point, and vice versa, fried my aging skin (I only had my board shorts on.) I couldn't go for another session in the afternoon.... Bugger me!

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On the following Monday while my skin was still trying to rehydrate itself, Josh who I met at the B&B in Coronado drove me to a couple of spots in the morning.
Rio Mar was the first spot we checked, but it didn't look surfable due probably to the rapidly shrinking swell. We moved on and eventually paddled out at a spot called Costa Esmeralda as shown in the photo below.
It was clean with no wind, but the waves were tiny: maximum 2ft on a set. Nonetheless, we had the waves to ourselves until two other guys showed up an hour later.

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So this was my experience in surfing the gulf of Panama, but my real intended destination for the past couple of months was not this gulf: it was Playa Morrillo.
While keeping myself entertained with the World Cup games in Panama City, my favourite swell-forecast finally started showing a big yellow-and-red dot around the southwest of Central America. It was time for me to hit back on the road.

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To travel from Albrook Terminal via Santiago to Playa Morrillo was very straightforward. In fact, I didn't stay in Morrillo but I ended up in a tiny town called Torio, about 2 hours south of Santiago by minibus and 7km north of Playa Morrillo: Torio is the last stop of the minibus, but I could have gone down to Playa Morrillo if I had asked the driver to take me there by paying him extra money.

Nothing special about Torio apart from the fact that there is a could-be-surfable deserted beach and that several crazy expats had bought a few pieces of land here and were boasting how cool it was to own them in a foreign country. None of my business anyway....

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One notable thing about this village is that there is a hostel called White Spider Hostal, which I found the cheapest in Panama with only USD7.00 for a 6-bed dorm and I was the only guest for my whole stay there :-)

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I would completely have screwed up in Torio because I didn't have a car, but I ran into Mike, a French body-boarder, who I first met in Playa Venao in May and then in Santa Catalina in June coincidentally. He happened to be staying in Torio for a few weeks and was renting a car! I was lucky enough to go surfing with him whenever he wanted to go.
At the same time the forecast was showing something for Playa Morrillo at least for the next three days;
@ July 16th (Wed) 2.5 - 3ft with 18sec
@ July 17th (Thu) 4.5 - 6ft with 15sec
@ July 18th (Fri) 4ft with 13sec

My first surf in Morrillo was on Wednesday morning with Mike and another French guy called Sebastian. It was sunny with light cross-shore winds and the waves were max 2.5ft on a set. Of course, nobody else was in the water. Such an easy and hassle-free session then

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The peak of the swell was on the following Thursday: the waves reached 4 to 5ft on a set with almost no winds. Unlike Playa Venao and Santa Catalina on a good day, Playa Morrillo was the least crowded I've ever surfed. I must also admit that the waves in Morrillo are a little more powerful and hollower than in Playa Venao: it was like a small version of Playa Zicatela, Mexico. Sebastian who claimed to be living in this area over the last ten years told me that this Thursday was still an average day for Morrillo.

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On Friday the swell was still sticking around. Mike and I went checking Playa Morrillo, but the wind-direction was a bit funny combined with seemingly too much water on the high-tide. We drove north to a spot called Mariato.
Strangely enough, Mariato looked just okay when we arrived, but it all changed as soon as we paddled out: it got better! Nothing big during this session, but the waves were fun and rippable. It also kept us busy as we constantly had to paddle (Mariato is a river-mouth).

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Roaming cows, restless roosters, sleepy cats, stinky dogs and laid-back Panamanians are the main attraction of Torio and its surroundings. Moreover, there were only two decent restaurants (one of them can be a bar), one bakery (with only sweets), no shop to buy any vegetables or fruits, no electricity for two days after an intense thunder storm and no Internet.
Don't worry! The slow-lifestyle is what this part of Panama could best offer you and I really enjoyed it. We should be more concerned about the upcoming huge swell here which is a whole bunch of crazy expats and retirees with money. Scary, isn't it?!

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!!!!! Note !!!!!
Big thanks to Mike, the French body-border not "boogie border", for introducing me to the very interesting community of Torio and for driving me around in search for waves.


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