Get initiated in the Guanacaste region.
Words and photos: Ryan Miller
Where: South of North America and north of South America. Costa Rica is in Central America. And the northern part, well that is in the north on the Pacific Ocean.
What: The safest and most peaceful country in Central America. It will definitely be an easier sell for your first surf trip if you have stressed-out parents or a paranoid travel partner. And with all the expats that have relocated there, it's the most tourist-friendly destination in the region.
When: Prime time is from spring break until the dreaded school bell rings again at the end of summer, but you can still shred year-round. Summer is south swell (and rainy) season but don't be discouraged because this area is drier than the rest of Costa Rica making it an ideal summertime destination.
Why: Costa Rica is a grand place to pop your surf-trip cherry. It's a great place for a family surf trip as the waves are pretty mellow and user-friendly, though there are some thumping waves to be found as well. There are a wide variety of point reef and beachbreaks for every level of surfer. The surf tourism infrastructure is top-notch, making it an easy spot for the rookie traveler. In lots of other places in Central America, your best bet is to stay at a surf camp, but Costa is so mellow and developed it's easy to make your own adventure.
How: For the least amount of driving, get a flight into the medium-sized airport at Liberia, although the cheapest option is to fly into the capital San Jose and drive up. A 4×4 SUV will really come in handy when exploring via some rank dirt roads, which you'll need to travel down if you want to get some waves to yourself.
Places To Stay: All levels of accommodation can be found here, so you can pitch a tent or ball out sipping pink drinks in an oceanfront infinity pool. Options are varied, and there is something for you no mater how thin or thick your wallet is. Tamarindo, Nosara, and Samara are your best bets for bedding down. Tamarindo has the most options and crowds, while Samara is the most laid-back.
Places To Eat: All three towns have plenty of open-air restaurants where you can stuff yourself silly for five to ten dollars. Chicken, fish, rice and beans are the staple. Give your mouth a treat and smother every dish with Lizano—this local sauce goes amazing with everything. Make sure you finish off every meal with a Trits, these little ice cream sandwiches are legendary and are like an orgasm in your mouth.
Babes And Bros: Tons of co-ed backpackers make their way to Costa Rica from all over the world. It should be easy to make out, especially if you have AC and your Swedish princess is sick of sleeping in her grimy tent. For the ladies, if you are a five in the U.S. then just by clearing customs you will jump to a nine.
Crowd Factor: Crowds vary widely. You can surf a mushy burger with 40 freaks on soft tops, or get barreled alone. The coastline is huge and accessed mostly by dirt roads. It's up to you how much you want to explore. The farther you drive from Tamarindo, the fewer gringos you will be splitting the peak with.
Stuff To Bring: The surf tourism infrastructure here is perfecto—you can rent boards, find wax, buy trunks, and get a lesson. If you're bringing boards, besides your normal shortboard, you might want a small-wave stick too. And check the South Pacific swell charts before you go; if you see a big red blob spinning down there, you could pack a step-up. The water temp hovers at about 80, so bring your trunks, rashguard, sunscreen, and all the other stuff you'd bring to a tropical locale.
If The Surf Is Flat: You better hope it goes flat for a couple days, amigo. There are more activities here than you are going to know what to do with. Try hitting up rainforests, cloud forests, waterfalls, volcanoes, ATV adventures, canopy tours, golf, fishing, white-water rafting, skydiving, scuba diving, abusing your rental car, horseback riding, and get hammered and dancing the night away.
More Information: A Lonely Planet guidebook and a solid road map are about all you need. Have a look at the ads in the back of this mag for a slew of Costa Rican surf camps. Check out vivalareserva.com if you want to buy your own piece of paradise and be Benny Bourgeois' neighbor.