Tamarindo, Costa Rica, capital of surf in the country, was hidden away from the surfing world until the 1994 movie, THE ENDLESS SUMMER II. Which, unknowingly, launched development of the tropical surfing destination, from a tico (local) town, into a top choice for surfers who visit Latin America.
Good thing too, because the surf in Costa Rica is a mule when it comes to consistency, with over 300 surfable days. I was quickly enthralled with the idea of catching barrels along the jungle coast. For our travel, due to time constraints, we were confined in Santa Teresa which is a rough 4-hr drive, on a stiff seat, south of Tamarindo and a quick 45 minute drive to Montezuma.
Surfers flock to major surf towns in Costa Rica:
Tamarindo – The most popular and developed surf town.
Nosara – Waves are the most consistent annually.
Jaco (Playa Hermosa) – Quicksilver hosts an international surf challenge every August.
Santa Teresa – A premiere surf destination in all of Costa Rica.
Like any surf town, from Bondi Beach to Hawaii, Costa Rica has its own vibe. In fact, it’s the entire country’s vibe: PURA VIDA. In a direct translation, from Spanish to English, it literally means Pure Life. Similar to the Aloha Spirit of Hawaii, it’s more along the lines of cheers! or this is (the) life!…live and let live: PURA VIDA! Encouraged by the locals and embraced by visitors like My wife and I, we desired a similar lifestyle when returning home.
We westerners, even in Hawaii, cater to a decision based lifestyle. Schedules, checklists and appointments are the standard for any American family. When the chance for a vacation finally arrives we begin yet another checklist. Our minds create an idea, rather an illusion, of how we expect our trip to be or how travel plans must be followed accordingly. When the heavy rains begin in late May and last until mid November in Costa Rica, plans evaporate and a different way to approach a vacation emerges in the form of the carefree, Pura Vida spirit. The best time to visit Costa Rica is in November where waves are still pumping out decent swells and the forests still a flamboyant green.
Visiting late November also limits your exposure to flash floods caused by torrential rainfall during the wet season (green/winter season), which increases risk as the potential for flooded-out roads become an increasing possibility. This makes every day questionable for exploration. Streams begin to form on the roads, finding the path of least resistance, flowing directly into the ocean; which beckons the visitor to reconsider if surfing after a storm is really worth it. Some surfers, whom outsiders may consider crazy while fellow surfers consider legend, charge the epic 12 foot (3 meters) wave faces.
These waves are a geographical marvel as most of the Costa Rican Pacific coast is covered with surf-able beaches that have formed a gradual, sand bottom upward slope, with a soft near shore break. The waves are nice. The landings aren’t too physically brutal.
In other words, these treasured waters can be enjoyed by all ages at various degrees of surfing ability. Whether you are beginner, advanced, or pro, Costa Rica offers surf lessons, affordable surf rentals, surf classes to hone a surfers ability, surf hotels, and entire surf retreats for the dedicated are available.
If you do garner up enough courage to at least paddle out and live in the present, welcome to a Pura Vida moment. Looking back to the shore, while floating in the turquoise warm waters awaiting the next 6ft/1-2 meter wave, I felt overwhelmed with peace and tranquility. What would typically be a coastline full buildings, moving cars, and hundreds of people in Hawaii was instead a living, green, and thick, tropical jungle with song birds echoing the melody of Pura Vida. Loud noises from above due to airplanes, helicopters and drones that permeate the Hawaiian air is non existent in Playa Hermosa (Beautiful Beach), Santa Teresa. Instead, dozens of humongous Pelicans sweep inches above the water line, over and above the break. As the swells began to form, it’s less of a distraction and a time reflecting to a moment on Dr. Ian Malcolm face, played by actor Jeff Goldblum, in the first Jurassic Park upon seeing a Brontosaurus: jaw dropping. Maybe not as dramatic as a dinosaur sighting but to say it was anything but Pura Vida would be embellishment.
As the waves bring surfers and surfers bring their friends and family, tourism in Costa Rica begins to become more crucial every year and as it is a main source of income for many of these surf towns, it’s important to understand and adapt to this pure life culture. In fact, maybe we can take note from Nosara which is coined as a Blue Zone – areas of the world where people live longer on average. Maybe having no building built within the first 656 feet/200 meters from the beach, making it looked untouched, has something to do with why these people live longer. Or maybe, it’s simply Pura Vida: Living in the moment which is what surfing is about.