Paradise Afloat – Six Days off the coast of Costa Rica

Costa Rica Surfing Overview – Written for the Tico Times Travel Guide

It’s hard to write sitting at the back of a 60 foot catamaran, watching two of the crew- Joe and Sean catch head high plus surf at our second “discovered” point break. When the wave hits the rock shelf it explodes in a shower of ivory and turquoise, the rider disappears to the left or right, then pops out with a hoot and grin the size of Texas. Set are arriving in packs of four every ten minutes, the swell arrived this morning. how sweet it was.

The day started at 5 a.m., the night guard at the Costa Rica Yacht Club in Puntarenas tapping at my door. “Es tiempo a llevantarse!” – “Time to get up!” Ten minutes later, I had a cup of java in my hand and my gear sitting on the loading dock- three boards, guitar, video cam, minimal clothes and other necessities for a six day boat trip. Predawn pinks and grays dissipated as the sun peaked over the distant mountains, and a skiff settled at the dock to load the luggage and take me to the Lohe Lani.

I don’t know Hawaiian, but I’ll guess that “Lohe Lani” means “paradise afloat.” It has everything one needs for a sailing surf trip. To get us to breaks as far south as Pavones, a 200 hp Janmark inboard propels us at a 11 kmph clip, while the twin hulls smooth out the bumps of the Pacific. A dinghy sits up front to get the guests right to the break and back with minimal paddling, and in the hulls rest four double beds with individual fans when the day is done. Of course it has a fully stocked kitchen, private bathroom with shower, TV/VCR, stereo w/CD and cassette, board games and videos. The surf hasn’t dropped yet (I’m still in day Uno) but if it does, there’s fishing gear with Penn reels and snorkeling equipment.

And not to be left out is the crew – Pedro, el capitan with the plan who knows where to go and when to get there. Alberto, the host with the most is out surfguide and chef, and his brother Grevin, el mejor pescador, catches our dinner and his own share of tasty waves. He had been working on the boat for eight years as first mate and loves being on the ocean and meeting new friends.

This morning we caught this one point south of Puntarenas firing. A heavy takeoff with a rippable inside section that went about 200 yards, and at first only us in the water. My other surf companions were Joe and Sean, the uncle-nephew duo from San Clemente, and Eduardo from Puerto Rico. Buena gente ~ good people. We are going to park tonight in Herradura Bay and feast on dorado.

On the second day of the trip, I caught some of the biggest waves of my life. At dawn we raised anchor and cruised back to where we found some A-frame peaks, but were disappointed that 25 unknown fiends has already surrounded the peak. Rather than join the pecking order, the group chose to find an empty beachbreak south of Playa Hermosa. An hour later we arrived to an empty lineup as far as one could see. From the back, the waves looked like montañas. The swells that rocked the catamaran were over 10 feet, so it was time to move up in board length to a 6’8″ crafted by Greg Saurich for speed. I’ll never forget that first wave of the session, seeing it come in and block out the horizon, the peak thick yet holding back until it hit the sandbar twelve feet below, the adrenaline I felt as I turned and stroked down the face, standing in a moment of triumph .. right before the lip smacked the back of my head and I faceplanted into an unforgiving wall of water.

I came up disorientated yet calm, knowing I needed to save my strength for the next six waves of the set. Oh, but there were way more than six, more like sixty times I duckdived and paddled, just to find myself only 50 yards from the beach while monstrous waves broke outside. I rode some whitewater to the shore to rethink a game plan and time the sets coming in. Eduardo had been swept to the beach as well, and Joe had disappeared from the lineup (we found out later he had broken his 6’8″ Al Merrick trying to duck dive a behemoth) On the sand, I saw where there was a 20 meter wide channel and timed a four minute window of opportunity. With survival instincts and strong strokes, I made it back out on the first attempt.

With my lesson learned “Don’t drop into closeouts on the first wave of a ten minute long set,” it was time to catch some big ones. Through the three hour session, I dropped into some highrises of water. All one hears is a rush of wind, a hoot from friends sitting by the next peak, the roar of water, and the thumping of your heart. I chose only the waves that had a shoulder, and didn’t get to do too many cutbacks because I would be flying down the line and any weight shifting would have resulted in a crash landing. But it was fun, and amazing to see such big surf breaking clean with the a.m. offshores.

A pasta lunch was waiting at the Lohe Lani and was devoured, followed by a siesta as we motored down the coast toward our second night’s anchorage in Quepos. During the trip there was a hard fought battle on the chess board with Graven coming out the victor (I had thrashed him twice the night before.) Every once in a while a fishing line would zing, and we took turns reeling in a potential dinner entrée. Otherwise we just chilled, watching the swell shuffle towards the coast and shared surf stories. We dropped anchor late in the afternoon and Joe went in the dinghy to scout the nearby rivermouth and beach breaks. Big mushy closeouts was the report, and combined with the knowledge of fecal matter in the water, the vote was cast to wait until morning and travel to Drake’s Bay for clean empty point breaks.

You can’t get to the breaks down there by car, only boat or seaplane. So contentedly we ate a barbeque chicken dinner with all the fixings and chose to hit the town for a beer or three. Quepos that night had an international vibe, Germans and Israelis sitting together at the internet café, Americans filling in the restaurants, and the Columbiana Isabel, who Eduardo befriended quickly and almost had back aboard the boat. Fate had not planned it that way so we finished our round and caught a ride back. The second evening ended late for me as I stayed up reading and listening to harbour sounds – distant music, soft thunder grumbling over the sea, and for a few minutes the gasping breath sounds of dolphins surfacing. A light drizzle signaled it was time to sleep.

We left Quepos at first light, wanting to reach the Osa peninsula as early as posible, before the winds switched. The ride was smooth, the sun dazzling, and midway through the trip Joe landed a mackeral that would be that night’s main course. When we arrived at the left hander south of Drake’s Bay, there was no one in sight, only the sounds of the jungle. The beach itself was small, with rocks jutting out into the lineup due to the low tide. After the preliminaries – stretch, sunscreen, wax on, rashguard on, jump on in – we were on it. Just the six of us, four guests and two of the crew. I had let Alberto use the extra 6’3″ Natural Art I brought and it worked well in the overhead surf that broke in front of two submerged rocks. The takeoff spot was a little tricky and sometimes the cleanup sets broke off a third rock fifteen yards deeper, but it was fun. And all of us know how lucky we were to be there with no other people for miles in both directions. We stayed there all day, catching low and high tide, listening to scarlet macaws and howler monkeys hoot us on from the canopy right by the shore.

We were to spend the evening in Drake’s Bay and arrived just in time to catch another breathtaking sunset. As dinner was being prepared, we took the dinghy to shore to meet some locals and set our feet on solid ground. We drank magaritas and Imperials at the elegant Aguila de Osa while planning where to surf the next day. We decided to check the beachbreaks of Corcovado National Park.

Less than two hours from Drake’s, we arrived there before 7 a.m. and with our stomachs full of gallo pinto con huevos, paddled to some of the most pristine peaks in the country. This area was twice as secluded as the last spot, twenty miles of open beaches. Waves were about 1 to 2 foot overhead with a light offshore brushing the face. Sean told me, “I dropped in on a five foot right and did crazy cutbacks all the way to the beach.” The session lasted about four hours, and we drifted about a kilometer from the boat. We strolled up the beach to get back, trying to get milk out of washed up coconuts and chasing thousands of purple, red, and orange crabs back into their holes.

After an arroz con pollo lunch and another siesta, we made it back to the point we had surfed the day before. The swell must have cleaned up, and the rocks were well submerged, so we enjoyed plenty more waves in the afternoon. About five minutes before taking off, a couple of local kids with battered boards were dropped off by a passing boat. I took one more hedging left before saying “Hastaluego” and paddling for the dinghy. A rain shower refreshed the boat’s passengers as we cruised north, back to Drake’s Bay for another peaceful night in the water. Before dinner, we went to shore and hiked the trail that crosses the tip of the bay. Not a lot of wildlife was to be seen, but the 400 year old trees were impressive and the smells of the flora intoxicating.

We then climbed 100 steps to find the local bar was closed, and with a massive thirst stopped at the first restaurant back for some Cokes and beer. There we traded surf predictions with the bartender and then wearily returned to the Lohe Lani to rest up for day five.

Just like every other surf trip I’ve read about or been on, there’s always one of those rainy, onshore days.. We felt it as soon as the yacht’s engine started. For our return trip north, the coastline was nearly invisible and now we all hesitated a moment when the captain cut the motor and yelled out “Fish!!” So far we had caught dorado, bonita, mackeral, and jacks, but no one wanted to catch a cold from the stinging rain and blustery winds. Eventually the rain died off and the winds slacked a little. Early in the afternoon we pulled up to Manuel Antonio’s beaches to check for surf. Nada. Since the tide wasn’t right, the group voted to continue north to a rivermouth that is impossible to reach by land. When we got near, the winds had restrengthed and the current looked too fierce to battle. The group then turned tail towards Quepos, that evening’s port of call.

Going a day without surf was unthinkable, so we jumped in the dinghy to try out the nearby beachbreak. Spirits were not that high as all of us were caught inside on a two foot overhead closeout set. The onshores kept rides dicey and the lower tide didn’t help either. All takeoffs had to be quick, and the exits quicker. After two hours of split second surfing, conditions slowly improved.

I was thinking at the time – “Seek beauty and you will find it” while singing an old Woody Guthrie tune. The winds dies out to a whisper, the tide filled in, and the four of us were cracking jokes about the flotsam in the water. Since we had no schedule and wanted to savor yet another empty lineup, we stayed out until the sun disappeared behind distant clouds. Once back on the catamaran, Pedro and I sat back as the sky lit up a deep ruby and we exchanged a smile conveying our thoughts on how lucky we were to be out on the Pacific. To further celebrate our circumstances, we went back into Quepos for a feast ranging from sushi to sirloin, chimichangas to calamari, washed down with Imperials and cuba libres. Tomorrow would be the grand finale.

I raised my eyelids when I heard the engine rumble to life. It was 4 a.m., the captain making good on his promise to get to this morning’s surf spot before 7 a.m. With no effort, I dropped back onto the cushioned seat and slept until six. By then the sun was well over the mountains and a light morning offshore breeze greeted my senses. It was going to be a hot, sunny morning. We were in the lineup by 7:30 a.m., once again just the four of us passengers in the water, as well as Alberto and Graven.

Surf was still coming in head high with some sets well overhead – and it was barreling! Not big enough to stand straight up in, but on the right wave, with perfect timing, I had a aquamarine cavern all to myself with hoots greeting me when I dove out the back. Everyone agreed it was the best session of the trip so far. Lots of waves, both lefts and rights, not too heavy or mushy, just right for the size, wind, and tide. By noon, our arms felt like noodles and we knew that it was time to head back home. A few hours later, we stopped back at the first point we had surfed on trip and it looked subdued. The tide was too high and the swell had gone, the sets only hinted at the tremendous peaks we had surfed there a few days before.

The end of trip was as peaceful as the beginning, an amazing sunset backdropped the islands resting within the Gulf of Nicoya. The Lohe Lani cruised backed into Puntarenas quietly, as we traded numbers, addresses, and the promise to keep in touch for out next surf adventure. We unloaded our gear into the water taxi and once back at the yacht club, took some departing photos of the group. It was a boat trip to remember- with a fantastic crew, a group of core surfers from many coasts, and an amazing catamaran that took us to some of the best empty peaks Costa Rica has to offer.

The Lohe Lani, owned by Dave Boyle offers surf charters, ecology tours, and day sails on the Pacific coast. It accomodates up to 50 passengers for a day trip, though overnight voyages are typically six to eight people. You can enjoy seeing waves, dolphins, turtles, monkeys, rainforests, macaws, and crocodiles. The 60 foot catamaran is headquartered at the Costa Rica Yacht Club, a convenient ride from the aiport, and offers fine food and Accommodations. Six day trips are scheduled once a month, leaving Sunday and returning Friday. Private charters are available the other three weeks of the month, including tours to the Nicoya Peninsula, Curú Preserve, and San Lucas Island. It is an excellent option for graduations, anniversaries, birthdays, and employee parties. **As of 2018, Lohe Lani is not running charters. However, there are other great sail boats, catamarans, and yachts offering surf charters along both coasts. Contact us to set up your ‘paradise afloat’.

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