Written for the Tico Times Travel Guide – 2002
Over 100,000 surfers come from around the world each year to enjoy the waves in Costa Rica. Driving down the Pan-American Highway from Liberia to Jaco, rentals with boards on the roof are seen every few minutes. The passengers are travelers seeking adventure or relaxation in tropical blue waters. Why do so many surfers choose Costa Rica? The reasons are clear from the day you bought your ticket to the day you get your pictures developed.
Inexpensive ticket prices, options for eating out, and lodging is one reason why Costa Rica is high up on the list of surf destinations. Cabinas along the beach stay in the $15 – $40 (5000 – 14000c)a night range, depending on what luxuries one can afford. Restaurants still serve dinners for under $5 (2000c), and ice cold Imperials can still be found for $1 (350c). ** 2018 prices – $15/night for a hostel and $60+ on the beach, dinners are $6 and up, Imperials are $2 (1200 colones). Many surfers have returned with their families and then need a higher variety of services. Probably not everyone surfs, but there are still lots of places to visit and things to do nearby every beach in the country that are inexpensive or don’t cost a colon.
Another reason why surfers love Costa Rica is the warm weather. In California, they wear wetsuits almost year round. In any state north of Florida one needs some rubber on between November and May, and then in the summer the jellyfish are bad. Here it is cool in the morning, the wind offshore. Then as the day heats up, the wind turns back onshore and the breezes feel great while in the shade. Afternoons are a great time for a dip in the ocean, right before catching an amazing sunset.
Costa Rica has never claimed to have the biggest waves in the world, but one could say the country has the best variety of beaches. To start, beaches here are white, pink, tan, brown, or black. There are point breaks, reef breaks, beach breaks, rivermouths, all of them within an hour from Jaco. One can get off the plane in San Jose and be at almost 50 different surf breaks with five hours. Here is a quick breakdown of the most popular spots:
In the North Pacific, there are boat trips to Ollie’s Point, a fast right breaking into a pristine bay and Witches’ Rock, a white sand beachbreak with a nearby rivermouth. Farther south is Playa Grande, another beachbreak, and Tamarindo – with a fast tubing section at the rivermouth. Then just south is Langosta, Avellanas, Playa Negra (a favorite and at times very crowded right, barreling over a shallow rock shelf). Some surfers choose Playa Nosara, another hour south, with tropical beachfront with empty lineups.
The Papagayo winds blow offshore in this region between January and April. You have to time it with a swell, which is hit or miss, but they groom out barrels and long rides. May to November are also good months as southern swells light up the south facing beaches.
In the central pacific region waves can be found year round. The most consistent beachbreaks are Mal Pais, Playa Hermosa, and Dominical. There are also nearby point breaks, and Boca Barranca (near Puntarenas), is a left that goes 700 meters+ with a good south swell.
If you time it right, the southern zone has some of the most perfect waves on the planet. The two favorites are Playa Pavones and Playa Matapalo. Pavones can break 2-3 times overhead and have rides a half mile. Matapalo, on the other side of the Golfo Dulce, is a right point break that has house sized waves.
On the Caribbean, the time to go is between January and April. The first fast barreling wave is at Playa Bonita, north of Limon. Cahuita has nice white and black sand beaches. The jewel of this coast is the reef break Salsa Brava, the hollowest wave in Costa Rica.
The variety of consistently good surf breaks has qualified Costa Rica to be a site for professional surfing costests. Both Quiksilver and Billabong organize weekend long events with live concerts, bikini contests, and over 100 competitors. And now there are also national and regional circuits that give local surfers a chance to show off their talents.
Many friendships have formed between locals and traveling surfers who both believe in the idea of “pura vida”. When the pictures are developed, smiles and scenes of tropical splendor fill each slide; a surf story and adventure shared with each roll of film.