With warm water, beautiful jungle backdrops, surf on both coasts, and waves suitable for all experience levels. Costa Rica is truly a surfer’s paradise. Unlike Hawaii, where most of the waves break over dangerous coral reef and are frequented by advanced surfers only, Costa Rica has plenty of safe waves for beginner surfers. And if you are trying to avoid California’s overcrowded, often hostile lineups, then a surf trip to the home of the Pura Vida lifestyle might be exactly what you are looking for.
Warm, clean water makes Costa Rica an ideal place to learn
If you wish to skip the hassle (and additional cost) of floundering around in a constricting wetsuit during your initiation to the sport of surfing, then look no further than the warm, tropical waters of Costa Rica. The ocean temperatures on both the Pacific and Caribbean sides of the country hover around 80 degrees fahrenheit (26 °C) year-round. This means you can paddle out for a surf wearing little more than a swimsuit and rash guard (though don’t forget to apply some mineral sunscreen!).
Not only is the water warm and often clear, but it is also relatively clean due to the country’s lack of large-scale development prevalent in most coastal tourism destinations. This is because Costa Rica is a world leader in both eco-tourism and environmental protection. In fact, the government invests over $100 million per year into its environmental policies and initiatives. Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, and over a quarter of the country’s land is protected in national parks and wildlife refuges.
Of Costa Rica’s 28 National Parks, 11 are located in coastal areas — where many good surf breaks can be found. What’s more, the Costa Rican government recently declared surfing a sport of public interest. This “represents an allocation of funds that will go to improve beaches where this sport is practiced, the training of lifeguards, and the generation of new employment opportunities related to the sport.” Evidently, the government has finally recognized what surfers have long known about Costa Rica: the country’s “rich coast” is abundant with great waves and optimal surf conditions.
Costa Rica’s uncrowded surf breaks
Costa Rica has over 800 miles of coastline, a population of just five million people (over 80% of which live in cities), and more than a hundred surf breaks to choose from. This makes the country an ideal place to learn to surf if you are looking to avoid a crowd. As a beginner surfer, it is best to take to the water with the fewest amount of people around as possible. For your first couple of surf sessions, you should be looking for a beach with a gentle, sloping, sandy bottom where you can avoid getting in the way of other more advanced surfers.
Sand bottom breaks are typically the best for learning, as you don’t have to worry about falling over rocks or reef. Furthermore, most reef and point breaks only have a few (often crowded) takeoff zones, whereas beach breaks have plenty of room for surfers to spread out. That being said, there are several beach breaks in Costa Rica that should be avoided by beginner surfers, such as Playa Hermosa in Jaco.
Playa Hermosa is home to some of the best surf on Costa Rica’s pacific coast, thanks to a steep sloping shoreline that results in powerful surging waves and dangerous rip currents. As a rule of thumb, the gentler the slope of the beach, the less powerful the breaking waves will be. “Crumbling” waves suitable for beginners can be found at Playas Tamarindo, Jaco, Bahia Ballena – Uvita, and more.
The famous Pura Vida vibes of Costa Rica
Pura Vida is a widely used Costa Rican slang term that translates literally to “pure life,” but can be used to express a wide variety of sentiments, all of which with positive connotations. Similar to the Hawaiian expression aloha, Pura Vida is used both as a greeting and a goodbye, and serves as an apt descriptor of the Costa Rican lifestyle: simple, laid-back, and happy.
Many local Costa Rican surfers have embodied the Pura Vida lifestyle, as exemplified by their generally positive attitude toward foreigners and beginner surfers out in the lineup. Nonetheless, it is a good idea to find a surf instructor to accompany you for your first couple of outings. Surfing is a sport abundant with unwritten rules and taboos. The last thing you want to do on your surf vacation is accidentally offend an unsuspecting local by stealing their wave.
When looking for a good surf school, make sure to find instructors that are certified by the ISA (International Surf Association). They are sure to be the best trained and have the most technical knowledge about beginner surf instruction. In addition to teaching the fundamentals of surfing, ISA surf instructors are also trained to discuss surf theory, including topics such as proper surf etiquette and how to identify potential hazards.
Written by Spencer Dunlap