As Mike Parise states in the introduction to A Surfer’s Guide to Costa Rica “A country whose national exclamation is ‘pura vida’ (pure life) just had to have been created for surfers.” With hundreds of kilometers of beaches, points and river mouths on both Pacific and Caribbean coasts it certainly seems likely. (see destination summaries below)
Nearly 20 years after its debut, Parise’s guide is still the best resource for maximizing Costa Rican wave count with excellent descriptions of the breaks and seasonal variations. It’s well worth clicking the Amazon link above and adding it to your kindle for five bucks or picking up the paperback. The lodging, bar and restaurant info has aged since the last update in 2010 so you’ll also want a copy of Lonely Planet to cover logistics.
Waves mean rip currents and if you don’t know what you’re doing rip currents kill. Please use caution especially if you’re not familiar with the ocean.
Until we saw the pros on some massive waves off the coast of Portugal we always thought of boogie boards as the nerdy little sister of surfing. A couple of aerial barrel rolls and drops down 3o foot walls of water showed us that boogie boarding can be a sport for grown ups too.
The initial slope of the boogie board learning curve is much shallower and it’s much easier for novices to start having fun. Walking out to smaller waves can provide thrilling rides and as boarders improve they graduate to flippers and waiting for the sets of larger waves out with the surfers.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Stand up paddle boarding (SUP) is rapidly gaining popularity as a calm water and wave sport since its introduction to the mainstream ten years ago.
Beginners start in calm water on their knees but quickly graduate to standing out past the break. We took friends and their 8-12 year olds a few years ago and within 20 minutes we were all headed out to the island in Sámara bay.
By the time we headed back to Sámara beach everyone was confident enough to try lining up a wave to ride in. Of course the adults went immediately head over heels while the kids were rock stars.
SUP is also popular on lake Arenal near the volcano in the north central region but the same winds that make it famous for windsurfing mean it can be a real workout for stand up paddlers.
Surf Destinations in Costa Rica
There are way too many surf breaks to go into details here but it’s worth describing the highlights of where to seek waves for whatever board you may be riding.
Starting in the northwest, Tamarindo is a great surf beach in its own right, fun town and home base for boat safaris to the famous Witch’s Rock (Endless Summer II movie set) at Playa Naranjo in Santa Rosa National Park as well as playas Negra, Avellanas, and Marbella to the south.
Moving down the Nicoya Peninsula, Nosara (Playa Guiones) and Sámara beaches are smaller towns and less crowded sessions. All the way to the south on the Nicoya Santa Teressa and Mal Pais have skyrocketed in popularity for walk out lodging and great atmosphere.
On the main Pacific coast the surf picks up at Jacó which is just past the wave shadow of the Nicoya peninsula. Condo towers and nightlife abound after the sunset session and if you want a quieter scene just move around the point to Playa Hermosa which may have the most consistent medium to large waves and most surf personality of any beach in Costa Rica.
South from Jacó beginners can take lessons at Manuel Antonio and the next surf town is Dominical.
The Osa Peninsula is quite rugged and rough on the Pacific facing shore but around the point at Matapalo a string of great intermediate and beginner breaks face the Golfo Dulce and continue north towards Puerto Jiménez. On the opposite side of the Golfo Dulce the Burica Peninsula is home to the legendary second longest left in the world at Pavones.
The surf destination on the Caribbean coast is Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Salsa Brava (mean sauce) right out in front of the beachside bars and restaurants lives up to its name and great waves come in at Cocles and Uva to the south and Playa Negra and Cahuita to the north.