REX CALDERÓN (SURF CHAMPION)
by Jonathan Jackson and Anne de Zeeuw
“Surfing is something that was born inside of me, because it was in my blood,” says Rex Calderón, his vibrant sun-bleached locks flowing out of a black Quiksilver hat. Rex and the other members of team Nicaragua are in the capital, Managua, to promote the upcoming Central American Surf Championship that will be held the following weekend at Playa Maderas. It’s the same beach, just outside of San Juan del Sur, where Rex’s uncles began teaching him the ways of the waves when he was a kid. The same beach where from the first time he paddled out he says he knew he would be surfing for life. And the same beach where that weekend the 18 year old surf prodigy would go on to become the Central American Champion.
“When I get into the water and surf my mind changes,” he says. “All I want is to surf, and surf aggressively; meaning surfing strong, motivated and always trying to come up with different tricks to push my limits.”
In person this aggressive style is dynamic to watch. He attacks the waves, yet somehow makes it look effortless at the same time. His biggest asset however may be an uncanny ability to make bad waves look good and good waves look amazing. When Rex Calderón is surfing people take notice.
“Everything stopped,” says Shawn Kelly, a tourist from the States who had been watching the Central American Semi Finals at Playa Maderas when Rex entered the water. “People stopped what they were doing and just watched. Nobody else got a reaction like that.”
According to those who know him, that is typical Rex, in the water he is a fierce competitor, with a style that is radical, innovative, fluent and natural. But all the energy and aggression he demonstrates in the ocean doesn’t reflect his personality on the mainland where instead of a surfboard he often carries a shy smile and getting him to open up can be quite a task. Perhaps that comes from his humble beginnings, sharing a modest house with eight people in San Juan. It was there where his uncles Chelo and Roque, part of the first generation of Nica surfers, introduced him to the rest of his life.
Rex built on the pioneering experience and lessons of his uncles; he became serious about surfing and dedicated himself to it wholeheartedly. But he soon realized he couldn’t do that and live the same life as many of his peers.
“I have to go to sleep early, wake up early, can’t party too much, take care of myself and train…above all, train,” says Rex.
And while it is hard work, there is nothing he would rather be doing. Training provides Rex the freedom to experiment and hone his craft. But it is the thrill of competition that pushes him to the next level.
“Competition wakes something up inside of me, it sets me off,” he says. “You’re there waiting for the moment and then it hits you like an adrenaline rush.”
It’s that fighter’s spirit and a desire to always be better that makes him walk from San Juan to Playa Maderas when he can’t find a ride. It is also what keeps him disciplined and motivated. His whole world and life revolves around surf. The rare times when Rex isn’t at the beach you can likely find him watching a surf video, riding his bike, or better yet, on a skateboard “because I always need to be practicing,” he says with a smile. This is a routine he lives everyday. The longest he has ever been out of the water was two weeks for a small knee injury. He basically lives in the ocean; without it he feels he can’t breathe.
But while Rex is the first to say he was born a surfer, he is quick to add that a surfer without a board is nothing, and in addition to his raw talent and perseverance, he is the surfer he is thanks in part to the many people who have sponsored and supported him. Endorsements are an important part of the sport, as surfing can get very expensive very fast, especially for a kid from San Juan with dreams of competing and training at a high level. Rex says he was fortunate to have developed a relationship with board shaper Tom Eberly, who backs him with his shop Nicasurf and helped get Rex signed with Quiksilver early on in his career. He also recently got sponsorship from Sexwax and his good friend Johnny Goldenberg has been there to pick up the slack when travels and boards have gotten too expensive.
“Rex is our guy, he’s the one,” says longtime San Juan resident Goldenberg, echoing the sentiment of many in the small town and throughout Nicaragua who see Rex as the future of surfing.
Rex’s dedication and natural ability has paid off and though still a teenager he is already the most decorated surfer in Nicaraguan history. He is also the first to compete at a truly international level. In 2009 Rex took part in the International Surf Association (ISA) World Juniors in Ecuador, and while every other country came with a well-prepared team, Rex stood alone, holding a jar of sand from Nicaragua, representing his country proudly with a smile on his face and a fire in his belly.
His dream is to truly bring Nicaraguan surfing onto the international scene by competing at the highest level in the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP). The upcoming 2011 ALAS Tour will be an important step in working towards that goal. After a strong showing in last year’s tournament, everyone in Nicaragua is expecting big things from their champion.
But when Rex thinks of the future he doesn’t only think of himself, his hope is that there will be more Nicaraguans standing there beside him on the world stage. And much like his uncles with him, he already has an eye on the next generation of Nicaraguan surfers.
“My little brother is three years old and I’m already planting the idea of surfing inside his head,” says Rex with a laugh. “I am always showing him surfing videos, magazines and all that. He likes surfing and by the time he’s my age I’m sure can be two or three times better than me.”
Photos by Jairo Ramos