Costa Rican Surfing 101

by Shayne Benowitz

Surfers search the world over for “the perfect wave, ” and Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast is a destination on any serious surfer’s list. With legendary breaks—like Witch’s Rock and Ollie’s Point—and laidback surf towns—like Tamarindo, Jaco and Dominical—lining the coast, there’s always a gnarly wave to catch. The endless black sand beaches and warm waters of the Pacific Ocean also make Costa Rica an ideal destination to learn to surf.

Brett Schroeder of Brett’s Board Rentals is an American ex-pat from Houston, Texas, who’s made this region home for the last decade. He spends his days surfing and teaching others how to surf.

The Lesson

If you are staying near Esterillos Este, Schroeder will bring the boards and instructors to you at a variety of area hotels and beaches. The student to teacher ratio is about two to one, so that means lots of hands-on help.

Credit: Shayne Benowitz

Credit: Shayne Benowitz

Your two-hour beginner lesson starts on land, where you work on the art of popping up. That’s the transition from on your stomach to on your feet. You’ll learn if your stance is regular (left foot forward) or goofy (right foot forward), and learn some basic steering maneuvers, like front side and back side turns. After a few practice pop-ups, it will be time to strap your leash to your rear foot and hit the surf with your long board.

In the water, Schroeder and his team will show you how to position your body on the board with your toes reaching down toward the board’s tail. In the beginning, they’ll help you with timing and push you into the wave, telling you just when to “paddle, paddle, paddle!” Once you’ve caught the wave, it’s time to pop up with a wide stance on the board, knees bent, and arms out for balance. Wiping out is part of the sport, and there’s no need to worry—with beginner waves, you won’t get too beat up.

Credit: Shayne Benowitz

Credit: Shayne Benowitz

Once you catch that first wave and ride it into shore, you’ll soon realize the rush that surfers get hooked on. You’ll be eager to paddle back out and catch another one. As the lesson goes on, Schroeder and his instructors will challenge you to time out the waves and paddle into them on your own. He says that by the end of a beginner lesson, you should be able to stand up and ride a wave into shore. If you opt for a second, intermediate lesson the next day, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a proficient surfer.

Surfing Season in Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s seasons are divided into rainy (May to November) and dry (December to April). While surfing is a year-round sport, conditions in the dry season are ideal. This is also the peak tourist season, which can mean higher rates and beaches with larger crowds. Rainy season calls for bigger and sometimes “messier” surf, as well as afternoon rain showers, but there’s always a beginner break to be found.

Pre-Surf Lesson Tips

Surfing is an athletic sport, and Schroeder says you’ll use muscles you never knew you had, such as the neck, back and shoulders for paddling. If you want to get into peak physical condition before your surfing vacation, he recommends swimming and building cardio endurance.

Post-Surf Lesson Tips

You’ve surfed in Costa Rica and now you’re hooked. How do you keep it up once the vacation’s over? Yes, it definitely helps to live in a coastal area with waves. If that’s the case, contact a local surf school to find out where they’re surfing, and then head to that spot. Make sure you’ve got a big enough board, which for beginners is at least nine feet. For safety reasons, always surf with a partner.

If you don’t happen to live at the beach, you might just have to join the rest of the nomadic surfers of the world in search of the perfect break. What’s next? Australia’s Bondi Beach, Oahu’s North Shore, Southern California’s Huntington Beach?

Surf’s up!