Surfing in Costa Rica – It’s Totally Epic!

As I stood on the shimmering sand of Playa Hermosa watching a group of people surfing in Costa Rica, I noticed a college aged girl recording data in a notebook. I couldn’t resist asking her what she was doing. Her answer was surprising. She was in Costa Rica for a 6-week university credit course entitled “The Anthropology of Surfing.” Students in the class learned about the history of surfing and examined the sport as a cultural phenomenon. There were a few written assignments, but mostly students spent their time surfing the best beaches in Costa Rica.

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Related: Check out our post about Yoga Camp at Anamaya Resort in Costa Rica.

An image of a local carrying his surfboard to the beach to go surfing at Playa Hermosa in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is an amazing destination for surfing. The sport is popular with locals and visitors. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

Costa Rica Surf School

You don’t have to be a university student to participate in a Costa Rica surf camp. During my visit I did a lot of surfing in Costa Rica while participating in a yoga/surf school at Anamaya Resort on the Nicoya Peninsula. Costa Rica is ranked by some experts as one of the world’s best surfing destinations. More than 1200 km of coastline, a balmy climate and warm waters, make the destination popular with surfers and beach-goers.

An image of a group of people at surf school in Costa Rica.
At surf school, you will learn how to pop up quickly on a surf board. Photo by Greg Olsen.

Costa Rica – Surfing Two Oceans in One Day

The fact that Costa Rica has two oceans (the Pacific and the Atlantic) within a six hour drive of each other pushes it way up on the list of the world’s top surfing destinations. Costa Rica is one of the few destinations where you can surf on two oceans in a single day. That makes surfing in Costa Rica extra special.

An image of a surer at Playa Hermosa Beach - surfing in Costa Rica
This is a picture of one of the “Anthropology of Surfing” students hitting a wave. Photo by Greg Olsen.

How to Surf in Costa Rica for Beginners

Most of us will never have the opportunity to take a university course about surfing. Some might even question the educational value of such an endeavor. That said; if you would like to study Costa Rican waves a little closer up and maybe even master surfing in Costa Rica, here are some tips for how to do it right.

An image of a beginner surfer in Costa Rica at surf school.
This is a picture of me surfing. Not as good as some, but I did it! Photo by Greg Olsen.

Useful Gear for Surfing in Costa Rica

It’s easy to sunburn when your surfing. It’s also easy to get board rash from climbing on and off the board. My solution for both issues is to wear a long-sleeved rash guard shirt with UV protection. This rash guard shirt comes in a variety of colors.

Get Some Surfing Instruction 

Even if you aren’t sure which side of the surfboard faces up, you don’t have to resign yourself to never experiencing the sensation of catching a wave and riding it. I have always believed that it’s a good idea to do something that scares you every now and then. That explains why I signed up for surfing lessons in Costa Rica.

An image of a surf instructor preparing the boards at surf school in Costa Rica.
Our instructor preparing the boards at surf school in Costa Rica. Photo by Greg Olsen

“We don’t use the word ‘no’ in our lessons,” admonished Mike, my Costa Rican surf instructor when I was about to abandon all hope of actually standing up on my surf board. I was getting tired and my “pop up” was becoming a “roll up” or more technically a “roll off” maneuver. I have to admit; I was glad I persevered – riding a wave to shore was much more exciting from the standing position.

An image of a group of people practicing their surf stance at surf school in Costa Rica.
Before you get in the water, you practic popping up on land and learn how to hold a proper surf stance. (That’s me in the middle.) Photo by Greg Olsen.

I am pretty sure Mike would not give me an endorsement to start a career surfing in Costa Rica. He did get me standing up on the board which pretty much proves that almost anyone can do it.

An image of a beginner surfer  riding a wave for the first time in Costa Rica.
Nothing beats the thrill of standing up on a surfboard and riding a wave for the first time. This is one of my surf school classmates. Photo by Greg Olsen.

Ask the Locals Where to Surf

It’s always a good idea to ask the locals at rental shops and surf schools about a particular beach before you try to surf it. Costa Rica has an incredible amount of coastline. Some surfing spots are really only suitable for experts while some others have riptides that make them unsuitable for everyone. The gold ring of surfing in Costa Rica is the Salsa Brava, a gigantic wave that stretches nearly 5 metres in height off Puerto Viejo beach on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.

An image of a woman riding a wave at surf camp in Costa Rica.
Surfing is all about balance and coordination. No big surprise that our yoga instructor, Kim Goyette, at Anamaya Resort was a natural. Photo by Greg Olsen.

Some surfing beaches in Costa Rica have a tide dependent ride and are best enjoyed at high or low tide. Some may even be dangerous during low tide when rocks may be more exposed. Ollie’s Point on the North Pacific side of Costa Rica, is a popular spot for advanced surfers for example, but it is very tide dependent.

An image of a lizard on the beach stealing our snacks at surf camp in Costa Rica.
This little lizard stole the snacks at surf camp in Costa Rica. Photo by Greg Olsen

Surfing can be a dangerous sport and it’s always wise to minimize risks by getting advice from those in the know before heading out. Even beaches that are considered good spots for beginners can have their hazards. The point break on the north side of Playa Hermosa, for example, has a powerful channel and rocks that can be dangerous at low tide. Swimmers and novice surfers should avoid that side of the beach.  

An image of a surfer carrying his board to the beach in Costa Rica.
There are plenty of great surfing beaches in Costa Rica. Photo by Debbie Olsen

Costa Rica’s Top Surf Spots

November through April is high season in Costa Rica, when those in the Northern hemisphere come to escape the cold in a tropical climate. During peak season, off shore winds provide good swells off the Northern Pacific Coast and certain regions of the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica that are very appealing to experienced surfers. From May through November, the Caribbean Coast is better for surfing in Costa Rica.

An image of a woman sitting on the beach with her surfboard in Costa Rica.
Sometimes it’s great just to sit on the beach and watch the other surfers. Photo by Greg Olsen.

Beginner Surf Spots

Beginner surfers will find Tamarindo Beach on the Northwest Pacific Coast a good bet. The beach is in a very touristy area of the country close to hotels with equipment rental shops and surfing schools nearby. On the Central Pacific Coast, Playa Jaco and Playa Hermosa are good spots for rookie surfers to safely hone their skills.

An image of someone holding a yoga pose at Anamay Resort in Costa Rica.
Yoga and surfing go together at Anamaya Resort in Costa Rica. Photo by Greg Olsen

If You Go:

-We stayed at Anamaya Resort on the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica. Anamaya offers weekly surfing retreats and clinics that can help you learn to surf. These courses are designed for beginner and novice surfers. To get to the Nicoya Peninsula, we flew into Liberia and caught a transfer to the resort.  You might also choose to fly into San Jose, Costa Rica and then connect from San Jose to Tambor (the closest airport to Montezuma area).

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