Where: Costa Rica, located in Central America between Nicaragua and Panama, with coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
What: Potentially perfect, peaky, wedging, sand-bottom beachbreaks with dense rain forest as a backdrop.
When: The rainy season (May to October) offers the biggest, most consistent swells, although getting around this time of year can be tricky with washed-out, treacherous roads. In the dry season (December to April), big swells from the south are less prominent, but there’s still plenty of surf on the north-facing beaches. The Caribbean side turns on from December to March, but there are heavy localism problems over there, so without a local, very knowledgeable guide, we suggest you steer clear.
How: A cheap ($300-600) flight from LAX or San Diego gets you to San Jose (Costa Rica’s capital) in roughly six hours. Choose your airline wisely to avoid higher-priced charges for your board bags. Also, make sure you reserve a four-wheel-drive rental ahead of time, because you’re in for a five-hour drive to the coast after you land, and once you arrive at the beach, it’s mostly muddy roads.
The Breaks: There’re so many different waves in Costa Rica, it’s recockulous. In the Southern Pacific region, check out Playa Dominical, which consists of miles of fun beachbreaks and river mouths. Moving farther north to the Central Pacific, you’ll find hoards of different beachbreak setups in Playa Hermosa. North of Hermosa is the bigger town of Jaco, which also has some very fickle but perfect points. Farther north, you’ll find hollow reefs and beachbreaks along the perpetually off-shore-combed lineups of Playa Negra, Playa Avellanas, and Playa Grande. There are other secret spots all along this part of the coast, but if I mention them I’ll be beaten, stripped naked, and tied to a pole. If you’re lucky enough to stumble upon them, you’ll be smiling for months.
Best Places To Stay: In Playa Dominical there’s a whole strip of little hotel/restaurants along the beach that are cheap and serve great food and drinks. Playa Hermosa has every accommodation imaginable, from beautiful resorts to little surf shacks. For middle-of-the-road accommodations, try Cabinas Las Olas. They’ll put you up for around $15-$20 per night (book ahead for these spots-Hermosa is a big tourist destination). Up north near Playa Negra, stay at the Kontiki. It’s a huge tree house that sleeps and feeds groups of traveling surfers. For around $10 per night, the owner, Giovana Martinez, will take you in and treat you like her own. She’s an incredible cook and sweet as chocolate, not to mention her two youngsters and husband can steer you in the right direction for surf. For reservations, give them a call at (506) 658-8117, or e-mail them: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Crowd Factor: It’s more than easy to find empty places to surf in Costa Rica. The locals are on it at all the major spots at all times, so be humble and friendly, and they’ll be more than happy to share the wealth with you.
Best Place To Get Loose: If you’re looking to go surf and party, you’ll want to spend some time in the city of Jaco. They have the party life wired, with plenty of crowded bars and clubs full of traveling ladies slightly sweaty from dancing all night and drunken surfers looking for a good time after a long day in the sun.
Stuff To Bring: All you need are shortboards for Costa Rica’s rippable waves. Make sure and bring tons of sunblock, and aloe vera is a good idea for cooling down the inevitable sunburn. (Note: This is also good for easing your way into a back rub from one of the local ladies). Clothing-wise all you need are shorts, trunks, sandals, and the occasional T-shirt. Most importantly, before you leave for C.R., buy The Surfers Guide To Costa Rica ($21.95 on Amazon.com) by Mike Parise. Almost all of the waves are located at the end of forked dirt roads, so without some maps you will surely get lost.