April showers have started earlier than usual, due partly to La Nina, and with them have come the first big Southwest swells. The surf looks perfect from the beach, and the temptation to paddle right out is overwhelming. Stop – think safety first.
First, getting to the break. Repeat after me – “Just because it is a rental, it does not mean I have to drive like a madman.(or woman)” The speed limit is in KILOMETERS per hour, not miles. I say this because I was guilty in the past. One $1100 hit to the credit card deposit puts a damper on any vacation. And what if you accidentally killed someone, or became a new hood ornament for a bus? They don’t call part of the Pan-American Highway the “Cerro del Muerte” (the Ridge of Death) for nothing. If you’re guilty of speeding, you are probably guilty of running full speed through river gullies and trying to drive the beach at low tide, too. It is not worth the risk to life and Rav4.
So you made it to the beach. Jump out, grab the stick or log, wax it up, and race to the shore. Wait a sec – Safety Check. At a few popular breaks, thieves wait for unsuspecting surfers. Make sure you left everything of value back in your room, in a safe if possible. Before locking up, check the weather. Even if it’s cloudy the sun is strong, so lather up with some sunscreen or you’ll be a poster child for the World Skin Cancer Foundation. If the ocean looks more like a YooHoo drink, putting in some earplugs would be worth not getting an ear infection. And if there’s lightning around, just wait it out. No sense in becoming a statistic for the nearest hospital, which is most likely over an hour away.
Check your leash, and check the lineup. Where are the heavy rips? Where are the rocks? What’s your exit strategy and who is your paddle buddy? A buddy should be there to witness the waves you made, the wipeouts, and if you are in trouble. The local surfers in Costa Rica are friendly if you don’t invade the break, and can help you spot the easiest place to paddle out, and the safest take off zone. Remember that on the Pacific there can be 12 foot tidal surges, so it can from smooth seas to sketchy reefs and rocks in an hour. That’s where having a CRSURF surf tide chart always helps.
Dominical, Playa Cocles, Jaco, and Tamarindo are safer since the towns currently support a lifeguard program. They make as many as 40 saves a year, but there are still lots of empty beaches. This is because the funding for the program is limited, so lifeguards don’t have the full resources they need. That’s where you, the surf traveler, can help. CRSurf has donated $100 to the Dominical lifeguard program for the last five years. You can support those businesses that fund the lifeguards. And if you have a little extra to give, in money or time to train other lifeguards, send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the most recent surf news, reports, and forecasts, check out www.crsurf.com.