Surfing with Pelicans

The rising sun cast long shadows across the cool sand. I stood on the same stretch of beach where the evening before I had watched the release of several hundred Olive Ridley baby turtles and looked west out over the Pacific. How many of the little creatures were still out there, so small, so new to the world, out there in all that vastness. Water rushed around my feet as a wave broke much as they had the evening before, except then they had helped to carry the little creatures off into their highly uncertain futures.

The sand here in Jiquilillo is a gray-beige so the water does not have that deep Pacific blue one sees elsewhere. What it lacks in colour, the ocean makes up for in temperature: at a heady 29C it will not raise even the slightest goose-bump. Throw in a 4-foot swell brushed to perfection by a steady off-shore wind and you have pretty much all the ingredients needed to keep a mature surfer happy.


I walked in to the bright, bubbling water and easily paddled out to sit beyond the breaking waves. Turning to look inland I caught sight of Cosiguina the shattered volcano at the end of the peninsula we are staying on. I could make out the rim of the crater and realised that 24-hours earlier we had been making our way up there in the cooler dawn. From the top we had looked to El Salvador, Honduras and the Nicaraguan highlands across the Gulf of Fonseca. But that was yesterday.

Gazing out to sea to keep an eye on the swell patterns my attention was suddenly caught by something coming in low on my right side. Turning to look north up the coast I was momentarily taken aback. Heading straight for me in perfect linear formation were six large Pelicans. Using the uplift caused by the offshore breeze on the face of the waves they were gliding effortlessly along, wingtips often mere inches from the water. Thus from my perspective they were zeroing in on where I was sitting in the water at about chest height with the wave looming up on one side of them. Then, as the wave rose up to break, they cut up and away in the same tight formation to pick up the next wave behind that. With only the odd flap or two between waves I watched as they glided in the most economical fashion the whole length of the long beach.


With their large bills held just off the horizontal, heads tucked aerodynamically back into their bodies and wings set in a flattened M-pattern they seemed to me to resemble rather stately flying boats. Pelicans have been a regular attendee at many of the coastal locations I have visited, often sitting atop a wooden post as they survey the scene in a quiet and dignified manner. There is a hint of the comical to them when standing or swimming but when in the air all that ungainliness falls away and they assume an elegance greater than the sum of their parts. There is also a prehistoric look to them, something of the Pterodactyl, that speaks of distant ancestors roaming the earth’s skies and waters for millennia.


Later, with the sun arcing ever higher, I spied a lone Pelican gliding away from me on a smaller wave nearer the shore. Just as the wave was feathering before breaking the bird banked sharply up and left to fly straight through a small trace of rainbow created in the fine spray being blown off the crest of the collapsing wave. Levelling off the Pelican flew straight for a few moments, and then, perhaps due to a flash of silver in the water, he banked very steeply down, tucked his wings tight alongside his body and knifed into the water. Emerging, he sat on the water whilst manoeuvring his catch with a bobbing motion of the head so that it moved from the folds of skin below his long bill to a suitable swallowing position at the back of his throat.

Constantly distracted I was an under-performing surfer that early morning but will always treasure being out alone in that beautiful light with the Pelicans.


3 thoughts on “Surfing with Pelicans

  1. Sounds sublime David.
    I’ve loved Pelicans since my Caribbean sailing days…they wouldn’t win any beauty contests but are special in other ways!
    Keep the posts coming…


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