A Beginner's Guide to Surfing in Costa Rica

Surf | © Matt Hecht/Flickr
Surf | © Matt Hecht/Flickr
Photo of Jenn Parker
5 May 2017

Costa Rica’s warm waters, consistent swells, and diversity of surf breaks on both coasts make the country a top destination for both seasoned and beginner surfers. Learn more about what it takes to surf in Costa Rica.

Surf Etiquette

Not following rules in surfing can result in personal injury, injuring another surfer, damaging your surfboard, conflict (physical or verbal) with other surfers, and unpleasant, frustrating experiences for everyone around you. A few rules:

There should only be one surfer per wave. Like driving, you need to pay attention at all times and always look twice before you go.

This is probably one of the worst things that you can do in a line-up. This rule is directly related to rule #1. Don’t take a wave before a surfer who has the right of way.

Don’t paddle straight out from the beach right into the heart of the lineup. Aside from this being dangerous, you are in the way of the surfers who are already in a position to catch waves. Paddle around wide and off to the side of where the waves are breaking and people are surfing.

Evening Surf Session | © Chris Hunkeler/Flickr

Unattended surfboards are incredibly dangerous. As a beginner, you might be tempted to ditch your board and dive underneath a wave that is coming toward you, but this action should be avoided at all cost. When you ditch your board, you are putting everyone around you at risk of being hit by it.

White Surf | © M.C.D.L C.D.L/Flickr

First-timers need to surf in beginner-friendly areas. It is dangerous to surf a break that far exceeds your level and experience. Aside from the inherent danger, it will frustrate the other more experienced surfers. Work your way up. Costa Rica has a great selection of beginner-friendly surf spots.

Everyone is in the water for the same reason. Don’t take off on any and every wave that comes your way if there are other people surfing around you. The essence of surfing isn’t rooted in aggression, greed, ignorance, and rude vibes. Surfing is pura vida.

Surfing | © Pierre (Rennes)/Flickr

Take Surf Lessons

Beginner surfers or or surfers new to Costa Rica should take lessons. A good surf instructor will walk through the above surf etiquette, teach you basic maneuvers, give you pertinent information about the specific surf break, and guide you while you are in the ocean. They will also help pick the best surfboard to start with. In beginner-friendly surfing towns like Tamarindo, Nosara, and Santa Teresa, there are are plenty of great instructors. Ask for local recommendations from the hotel or place of lodging, as there are plenty of non-professional instructors as well.

Surfing Lesson | © Tim Green/Flickr

Know the Ocean

Following surf etiquette and taking lessons with a professional surf instructor is great, but it is also good to prep with a bit of knowledge about the ocean, too.

One of the biggest issues inexperienced surfers and swimmers in the ocean encounter are rip currents. A rip current is a strong flow of water that rips out from the beach to the open ocean. Rip currents are one of the leading causes of drowning. See the guide below for invaluable information on fighting rip currents, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Break the Grip from the Rip! | © NOAA

Be observant of the weather. Leave the water when a storm is approaching, winds start increasing, or conditions become less than ideal. Use high SPF sunscreen, as the sun in Costa Rica can be strong. Oftentimes, surfers also wear rash guards to protect themselves against the sun.

When you enter the ocean, you are entering the territory of sharks, jellyfish, stingrays, and crocodiles. Stay away when baitfish, like sardines, gather in large numbers near the shoreline and attract more animals.

Certain surf breaks are located near the front of river mouths where crocodiles live. While crocodiles in Costa Rica are typically avoid human interaction, they often hunt near dawn and dusk. Stings by stingrays occur most often when a person accidentally steps on one. Shuffle your feet when walking into the water; it will alert any stingrays of your approach and give them time to move away.

Have Fun!

Famous surfer Phil Edwards, credited as the first surfer to ride the Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii, once said, “The best surfer out there is the one is who having the most fun.” Have realistic expectations and know surfing takes years of practice to surpass the beginner level. There will be countless wipeouts, bathing suit mishaps, waterlogged ears and noses, knotted hair, and many laughs.

IMG_4167 | © Leah Fowler/Flickr

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