Despite having lived in the Costa Ballena area for over four years, I have only surfed in Dominical — a mere 20-minute drive away, and one of Costa Rica’s most famous surf spots — a total of two times. Why haven’t I taken advantage of its proximity and surfed there more, you ask? It comes down to fear. I am a fairly risk-averse sort of person and an even more risk-averse surfer, and I have always either sat out out entirely on going to Dominical, or have sat out on the beach with my board if the waves seemed too big or too fast.
Fear is an interesting instinct. It keeps us out of trouble, yet often becomes all-encompassing, and prevents us from doing things that may actually benefit us. I believe that conquering one’s fears, and getting out of one’s comfort zone, is pivotal in developing one’s potential. Plus, what good is living if you don’t conquer your fears, bit by bit? With this in mind, I will be spearheading a forthcoming blog series, addressed mostly to surfer girls (who, in my experience, struggle more than their male counterparts when it comes to fears about surfing).
To me, surfing in Dominical is an easy way I can conquer the fears I have out in the water, and I can build up to it slowly, surfing there during the season when the waves are smaller. Here is my guide, the “apprehensive surfer’s” guide to surfing in Dominical if you will, and a few tips on conquering your fears!
What to expect when surfing in Dominical
Dominical is a popular beach break in the Southern Pacific Zone of Costa Rica, and of the few places in Costa Rica that pretty much always has waves. Since waves are dependent on swells (usually in the form of storms off the coast), the biggest waves in the South Pacific of Costa Rica come in the summer and fall, though usually they are accompanied by stormy weather, meaning sometimes the conditions aren’t that great. Dominical, because of the orientation of the beach, gets swell all year round. Additionally, in the winter (typically November through March), it also gets offshore wind — a surfer’s dream: wind that blows from land towards the ocean and makes the waves stand up longer and have a cleaner and more open face. The topography of the beach at Dominical goes shallow to deep quite quickly, which causes waves to stand up and break rather quickly as well.
My personal experience
The two times that I have pulled it together and surfed in Dominical have both been in the month of December, after the rainy season, and when the wind is offshore. On both occasions, we have left Bahia Ballena before 6am (making the ever-important first stop at the bakery for some treats). Both times have been beautiful and sunny with offshore wind that dies down as the morning goes on, and waves in the 1-3 feet range.
There are always many surfers out at Dominical — there’s no getting around that — including very advanced surfers, garden-variety kooks (a person who doesn’t have any surf experience or clue as to what they’re doing), and everything in between. However, early mornings and weekdays see fewer people — an essential if you’re an intermediate surfer or a newbie to this break.
I always have trouble catching waves here at first, probably because I ride my 5’11 shortboard — which I often don’t get to utilize as the waves are too soft at my regular beach break, Playa Chaman, and also because I’m not used to the offshore wind which can make it difficult to get into the wave at first. And if we’re being honest, when I surf at Dominical (or anywhere else that has fast waves), I always feel a little intimidated at first, and will back out of several waves in succession. Being at the top of a wave that feels like it literally came out of nowhere and looking straight down is daunting. However, I have found, that if I can just get out there and catch a wave before I have time to overthink it, my session will be a successful one.
Once I get going, I always have a great time, getting out of the water only when my stomach protests, needing food or drink. Those feelings of achievement and exhilaration are just so very addicting. So what do I like most about surfing in Dominical? The waves challenge me in a way that I know is incredibly beneficial to my growth as a surfer, and, poquito a poco, I want to conquer my fears!
Experience level required
My personal opinion is that Dominical is an intermediate to advanced surf break. I would not advise people who are in the beginning stages, even if they can stand up and ride waves, to surf at Dominical. Not only because the wave is more technical, but also because having people out there who don’t know how to handle themselves or their equipment can be hazardous to everyone (this is one reason why I didn’t go out for so long — I wasn’t ready)! It’s sort of like skiing or snowboarding: there are the bunny hills and there are black diamond runs (and everything in between) and it’s up to each individual to ensure that they don’t get themselves in over their heads.
It’s a fine line between pushing your limits to allow for personal development and getting yourself into situations that you don’t have the proper skill set to handle, but with surfing, it’s one that you have to balance. For the sake of your own and other people’s safety, I would recommend this break only to people with significant surf experience.
A few tips
- Best time: Early mornings are best, when the tide is near high (either upcoming or on its way out) and the crowds are smaller; and waves in the 1-3 foot range are perfect for someone like me who is getting acclimatized to surfing here.
- Recommended for: Intermediate to advanced surfers. If you’re coming to the Costa Ballena area to learn to surf, consider our own break in Bahia Ballena – Uvita — Playa Chaman!
- Best location: Right in front of the town of Dominical, located a 20-minute drive north of Bahia Ballena — I like to surf on the southern end of the beach (near Domilocos Hotel).
- Important notes:
- Don’t bring anything too valuable to the beach, even if you are locking it up in a car
- Bring a little money to get a “pipa” or fresh coconut after surfing