So you’ve decided that you want to learn how to surf! Well, you’ve already taken a fantastic first step by looking into how to choose a surf camp.
Now, how do you decide which to patronize? There are so many to choose from! Surf camps are spread out all around the world, they each have their own flavor, focus, technique, and offerings. This post will guide you through evaluating which school is right for you so that your experience successfully satisfies your surf stoke — whatever that may be.
Bodhi Surf + Yoga is a surf and yoga camp located in the tropical paradise that is Bahia Ballena, Osa, Costa Rica. We have been operational since 2010, and in our decade-plus history have helped hundreds of surfers improve their surf ability. Whether that was getting over a deep fear of the ocean, taking their surfing up a level or two, learning just what they are capable of, or simply having a memorable experience with their loved ones. For us, surfing is not just an activity or sport, but an entire lifestyle. It is our passion, and it has been a great honor and privilege to be able to share it with others.
What is the difference between a surf school and a surf camp?
Before we get started, we should explain what surf schools and surf camps even are.
What is a surf school?
Traditionally, we would describe a surf school as somewhere that you attend single or multiple surf classes or clinics. They may or may not have accommodations, meals, etc. included. The focus, however, is definitely on learning to surf.
What is a surf camp?
On the other hand, surf camps are likely to provide more than just the surf experience: lodging, meals, other activities, and even transportation. It doesn’t mean that the focus is not on learning to surf, it simply means that it also takes care of your other needs.
The best surf camps will take place over a few days or even weeks. The longer the duration of the camp, the more instruction and consistency you will have, and the better chance of really learning to surf.
Despite having the name “camp” in it, the surf camp doesn’t necessarily mean you’re surrounded with teens or having to rough it in nature. Rather, the term “surf camp” is more common in places where the majority of their guests are traveling internationally and will generally just need a bit more travel support.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s move on to the qualities you will want to base your choice on.
Your surf level
Whether you’re a complete beginner or looking to sharpen more advanced surf skills, you’ll need to take this into account when making a decision of where to go on your surf trip.
What is your current surf level?
If you are a complete beginner, the most important thing you can do is to find a reputable surf camp with qualified and experienced surf instructors. Even better, one that can accommodate your specific background and address any uncertainties you may have. How do you feel in the ocean? Have you had traumatic surf experiences before? Are you nervous to surf? Are you deep-down convinced that you will be unable to do it, even though you really want to try?
At Bodhi Surf + Yoga in Bahia Ballena, Osa, Costa Rica, we start slow. We believe that surfing is so much more than just learning how to stand up on a surfboard and ride a wave, and treat the whole activity with the reverence that it deserves.
Our five day curriculum starts with the basics:
- Understanding the ocean: tides, swells, rip currents
- Learning about waves: why the form, how they travel, their differences
- Learning about the surf equipment: the surfboard, fins, leash
- Equipment management on both land and in the water
- Catching waves from both a prone and standing position
- Turning, stopping, and riding waves successfully
- Surf etiquette
- … and so much more
Even more advanced surfers often have large gaps or holes in their knowledge base, especially if they have taught themselves how to surf. Advanced surfers attending a Bodhi Sessions surf and yoga camp can expect to come away from a week of surfing and yoga with a more robust understanding of the intricacies of surfing as well as improving specific skill sets.
Where do you want to be?
This is a bit of a trick question. We highly recommend going into your surf camp experience with no expectations. At the very least, an open mind to see what happens. Or the attitude to just have fun and enjoy yourself.
If you have indeed chosen a top-notch surf camp that places emphasis on your education, your instructors (who should have significantly more experience than you do), will be able to see the places that you can improve much better than you can. You may need to relinquish your ego. Focus on trying your best and enjoying yourself every single day. You will be pleasantly surprised at how much you have accomplished at the end of the week.
The quality of surf education
Do you know what factors are significantly more important than where your surf camp is located or how warm the water is?
- How qualified the surf instructors are
- How well they are able to impart information
- The exact information they feel compelled to share.
There are plenty of awesome surfers who are terrible teachers. There are also awesome surf instructors who lack a structured curriculum, or quality equipment or conditions. The fact is, a truly exceptional surf school (and set of instructors) can actually be very hard to find.
Here are a few things to look out for to verify you are choosing a high quality surf camp.
Certifications and awards
A surf camp that has a variety of well-recognized certifications and awards that highlight its desire to do business responsibly is a good choice. The governing, international body of surf instructors is the International Surf Association (or ISA), which offers certifications in various levels of surf instruction and coaching. Check to see if the surf camp you are offering has ISA-certified instructors.
At Bodhi Surf + Yoga, we also believe business should be used as a force for good, so we became the first surf and yoga retreat to earn a B Corp certification. We have even won its “Best for the World Award” in the Community category for the majority of our years being certified.
The surf camp’s years of experience
How many years has the surf camp been established? More years should equate to more quality of experience. In addition, the individual surf instructors themselves ought to have at least a few years of teaching experience. This will ensure that you learn a lot, stay safe, and have a positive and fruitful experience.
Surf camp reviews
One good verifier to look out for is customer reviews. They may honestly be more important and helpful than what the surf camp says about itself. Just like any business, they are actively trying to get your patronage and thus will make claims that show themselves in the best possible light.
In this day and age, your surf camp should have several public profiles that allow for public customer feedback. You can gain a lot of information by hearing from those who have already experienced what you are looking to do.
Conditions present at your surf camp
Now that you know what to look for in the school itself, you can narrow down further based on other factors. Whatever surf school you choose should teach you how to understand waves and gauge what conditions are safe for your level. Before you plan your trip, do a bit of research on your own as well.
Some conditions to look out for that will ensure that your learn-to-surf experience is more safe and pleasant are the following:
- A sandy, gently-sloped beach
- Slow and soft breaking waves
- Uncrowded beaches
- Warm water (that won’t cause brain freeze when you put your head under!)
- A clean marine environment
At Bodhi Surf + Yoga, we are avid surfers as well as surf travelers. In all of our collective roamings around the globe, we sincerely believe that Playa Chaman / Playa Colonia (where we hold our surf lessons, within the pristine Marino Ballena National Park) is the best place we’ve ever seen to learn to surf.
Climate and time of year
Once you’ve narrowed down the place you want to go to learn to surf, now it’s time to figure out the best time to go.
Most places have distinctive wave seasons:
- Those with bigger waves
- Those with smaller waves
- Those with absolutely no waves
- Those with more storms and “tricky conditions”
As a complete beginner, it’s best to choose a season where the waves are neither too big nor the weather too stormy. There is a lot going on when you’re just learning how to surf, so you don’t need to add potentially dangerous conditions on to that and complicate matters further.
Costa Rica gets the majority of its visitors between January-March, when it’s the most hot and dry. The rainier seasons are a bit cooler, but the conditions are a lot trickier with storms and bigger swells. We do recommend the dry season or either of the “shoulder” seasons — November-December and April-September.
Location of your surf camp
What is one major differentiator among the many surf camps all around the world? Location, location, location! It will determine the climate, conditions, and the community/cultural aspect. Also, if you are traveling far (or to another country) to learn how to surf, there will be various other components of travel to consider as well.
Local vs. international
First, you need to decide how far you want to travel. Some people prefer to stay in their own country to learn to surf if that option is available. Others decide to make a whole trip of it and go to another country, even one that they have never been to before. If you live somewhere cold, it is natural to want to “kill two birds with one stone” and escape the winter. Who wouldn’t want to visit a warm surf destination, where you can get your body into a bathing suit and your feet into the sand?
If you narrow your search down to a coastal surf destination that may already be on your travel “bucket list”, then you can get even more out of your trip than just surfing. Be sure to look up other cultural activities, adventure excursions, and educational opportunities for those days that you’ve tired yourself out from the surf!
Other considerations when choosing where to learn to surf
There are a few last components to take into account when choosing the right surf school for you…
What is and what is not included in your surf camp
Make sure you understand what’s included:
- The type of accomodations
- The number (and quality) of meals
- The added bonuses (like transportation)
- Other included activities or tours
All of these components carry a unique amount of value and it’s up to each participant to determine what they are looking for in their experience.
The Bodhi Sessions adult surf and yoga camps give guests the the following:
- Seven nights of accommodation (six at our boutique lodge and one at a hotel near the airport)
- Transportation to and from the airport
- Five personalized surf lessons inside the spectacular Marino Ballena National Park
- Five yoga classes at our on-site “treehouse” yoga space
- A guided community walking tour to engage with the local community
- A refreshing visit to a local waterfall
- Eight healthy, homemade, and delicious meals: five breakfasts and three dinners
- … among other things
The yoga itself is not an add-on but rather a main feature of the experience. We know firsthand how valuable and complimentary it is to surf, we have had countless guests over the years reflect that while they might have chosen us for the surf, the yoga classes were the hidden gem of the Bodhi Sessions experience.
We are not all-inclusive deliberately as we want our guests to go out into the community and support local businesses during their time here. As a community-engaged surf and yoga camp, we are thrilled when this benefit is shared with our home community of Bahia Ballena – Uvita!
The social aspect of the surf camp
The surf world is a very broad and welcoming place. It is composed of everyone under the sun: partiers, early morning meditators, and city-dwellers, outdoorsy people, high powered CEOs, alternative lifestyle-seekers, and so many more. You should be able to get a good feel for what each surf camp attracts from their website’s language and photos.
Sometimes it’s a younger, nomadic traveler-crowd that sleeps in late and parties in the evenings. Others tend to attract a more established clientele that want high-quality meals, comfy beds, and early nights. First, figure out the type of experience you’d like and make sure the surf camp you choose fits your various preferences.
Community and culture
We are a huge proponent of interacting with the local community when you travel to a new place, whether that’s in your own country or if you travel abroad. The local community is truly what makes the location! Check to see if the surf camp you’re looking at has any community projects, tours, volunteer opportunities, or other engaging activities. As a visiting surfer, you’re a guest in someone else’s community. If your surf camp engages with the community in addition to meeting all your other criteria, then you’ve definitely found yourself a good match!
Above all, have patience
In a week of surfing at Bodhi Surf + Yoga, you may very well be catching and riding green waves. You may not. For you, it may be an achievement just to get out into the water, to try something new, and to refrain from criticizing yourself. Above all, it’s important to remember that any skill takes time. Surfing is an incredibly difficult sport to master, even if you are athletic or have experience with other board sports.
Many find out that the added elements of reading the ocean, learning surf etiquette, and getting out of your own head can take longer than the actual processes of learning to stand up comfortably and ride waves. The whole surf camp experience from start to finish should be one that is both enjoyable, educational, and an added memory for the bank to look back on fondly all of your life.
From this surf camp to you…
We wish you happy searching as you look for the best surf camp for you. Here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga, we offer memorable vacation experiences for folks that want a beginner or intermediate level, adult or family surf camps. We pair our surf lessons with yoga classes so that you get the proper mindset, stretch, and focus needed to thrive in the waves and in life.
Our guests, many of which return over and over for years, believe that Bodhi Surf + Yoga is the best surf camp because of the holistic, diverse, and balanced experience that we provide. We have always believed in the concept that “small is beautiful,” and for that reason keep our groups small and intimate. Guests often comment that they feel as though they are visiting old friends, and the feeling is mutual.
If you think Bodhi Surf + Yoga is a good fit for you, send us your inquiry. Otherwise, we wish you best of luck in your search. Above all, surfing is our passion and one of the best additions to our lives here, and we are excited for your journey as you awaken the surfer inside of you!