The Original Surf Shack – Est. 2009

Gimme Shelter October 28, 2009 • Kassidy Mefford

“He is the happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

After much inspiration of my Nicaraguan neighbors and their humble roosts, I sat down to try to create a beach tickled shack of my very own. Last December, a good friend of mine Mike Gimmeson (knows as Gimme) and I, deciphered a plan for a lofted one- room, screened- in porch dwelling. The rough plan came from an online article on modular homes appropriately titled “Gimme Shelter”. With housing on the skim here in Gigante, and the surf lodge overloaded with employees, the Gimme Shelter was to be my sanctuary from the my 14 hour work days (yes some people do more than sunbathe and surf all day), and keep me cool under the shady trees in the midday Nicaraguan heat. It was to be just a quiet, perfect place for me to sleep and read and hold my things and get away from the world a little each day. .. and thus the Gimme Shack was born.

This is my original drawing to show the basics of my idea.

The original inspiration for the shack that I saw in Ready Made magazine…the Gimme Shelter.

Gimme made the trek from Anchorage Alaska with only one pair of board shorts, the shirt on his back, and his suitcase stuffed with tools. We began the project immediately, digging through Dale’s old wood to find something suitable for the frame, and then varnishing, termite proofing, troubleshooting, jimmy-rigging, brainstorming, and taking many breaks for cold Toñas. We drove to Rivas (the nearest city, 30 minutes away) sometimes twice daily searching through the dark corners of market hardware stores and begging the lumber yard manager to open at odd hours. We scoured back alley shops for specific nails and screws and tools that would be so conveniently located at your local Home Depot in the states… but here these parts sit on shelves unreachable to the public, shelves un-conveniently located behind a large counter with at least five store clerks to go through to get it. It became like a twisted game of charades meets a scavenger hunt, struggling to find what we needed, using drawings and sign language and trying to figure out how the hell to say the fangled tool names in Spanish. If anything, this was our comic relief, and no strange theme to Mike and I who grew up in a very remote town in northern Wyoming, where similar shenanigans happen everyday.

This is Gimme, and the only clothes he had for ten days.

His only luggage he brought down…. tools and nails.

The construction site on day one. The house was to be built under the trees for natural cooling.

Here is Gimme assessing the wood at a local lumber yard in Rivas. We begged the security guard to open for us (it was Sunday) and he happily obliged. Only in Nicaragua.

The design was simple: 12 x 24 ft, lofted ceiling, on stilts to provide airflow underneath, built under the trees for natural cooling, and a screened-in porch in front. One window was placed on the offshore breeze side of the house, and another above it on the ocean side, creating a vacuum effect for hot air to be sucked out the top, and deplete the need for air conditioning. I also wanted an outdoor shower to be made of PVC pipe running from the water tank already on property, constructed from corrugated metal, and one all star western authentic outhouse made from sheet rock and one simple hole in the ground. Many days, many beers, many surf breaks, buckets of sweat and sunburns made the first, most crucial stage happen in the ten days we had Mike, and surprisingly, the frame of the house stood strong on the day he flew back to to the cold.

Mike (Gimme) and Kassidy takin a Toña break.

He taught Kevin, and some of the other locals, a lot about construction.

Like I said, I’m still surprised we got anything done.

Our Nica crew dove right in to help.

To us, the amount accomplished was astonishing, and to me the fact that it was actually happening was a miracle. This was a dream I’d had since my early college years… To build a surf shack on the beach in Latin America. It seemed so simple to do when I dreamed of it years ago… squat a piece of land, and scrape together some scrap and logs to build a tropical cabin. Hasn’t everyone thought of that at one time or another?

Months and months of slow moving work by several different hack job carpenters, contractors, and our own employees, made the project seem never ending, but eventually all that pain would put together the pieces of my little palace. Truth be told, it probably could have been completely finished in ten days, if we had all the materials ready when we began, and Gimme to guide the way. See that was the point. We made this for us to see what it would take, and get the hard knox experience to make other Gimme Shacks great for you all.

This was when it became a reality for me. I actually slept in it a couple nights this bare boned.

Here’s Dale and Jolyon assessing the progress. Jolyon designed my shower and built my out-house and toilet paper holder.

The house was almost finished at this point, just after the shower was fully functioning. The base of the shower is decorated with flat rocks we collected on the beach and set with cement. We also made some sweet stepping stones to help decrease the dirt tracked inside.

The final stage of paint (which just happened a couple weeks ago)!

A good eight months and around $9000 later the tiny little house was ready by Nicaraguan shack standards. I moved in before it had electricity, a shower and bathroom just to satisfy my excitement. That first night was a test to see if my plan had worked… to see if all the shoulder- clenching stress and countless hours and mind melting translation was worth it. To see if this bundle of sticks would hold up against all odds, and my adult size fort was liveable. The room was stark empty except the one candlelit cot where I laid my head, and the echo of the frogs in the river outside my window. I settled in, knowing it had so much more work to go and it was less than ideal for the average woman, but dammit, it had character, and it seemed comfortable. The following glorious morning gave value to my efforts. I woke up under the trees, beneath the comfort of my plywood roof , with only the sounds of howling monkeys and crashing waves, and I knew… that i was home.

And the finished product! The Gimme Shack in all her glory.

I painted it two shades of green, the exact colors of the leaves, in hopes that my house would blend in with the foliage and no one could find me.

The living room / bedroom / den / library / closet / nap and reading room.

There is incredible natural light and cool breezes that flow
through. I rarely even have to use the fan.

The screened in porch is a perfect mud room and chill zone
for the kitties.

My porch light is attached to the limb of the tree with shelter from some scrap bamboo.

My outdoor shower is made from corrugated metal, bamboo
posts, and PVC pipe.

The PVC pipe is run from a neighboring water tank (Dale’s house)
and the spout is attached to the tree limb. I have christmas lights wrapped above for light when showering at night. There is nothing cooler than showering under the stars in the fresh air.

And the glorious out-house, complete with custom made cowboy door and handle.

I would love to thank Gimme for his undying work ethic and undeniable sense of humor, Dale for sharing in the vision and of course the funding, Jolyon for his artistic genius and engineering with my shower and out-house, Jared for his foreman skills, Rich and Clint at La Vista for the bamboo, and Rene and Julian for fixing what the hack jobs screwed up.

Come visit us and see what all the talk is about!

Well, that’s it for my little house. It’s a happy place for me and my 8 kittens and 9 puppies (I’m not crazy, we just love to help adopt the animals!). Come visit anytime and feel free to write if you want a surf shack of your very own. Mine cost around $9,000 with our salvaged material and our own labor. Good news is that Gimme is coming back and we can build you one for $15,000… even better than mine!

*This is an old post from 2009, the first surf shack we built. Materials, pricing, labor and experience have all changed vastly since then. It is where Gimme cut his Nica building teeth!