An Average Surfer in Costa Rica
There is a variable plethora of travelers and explorers roaming the earth these days. I meet all types of folk while on surf trips around the globe. The soul searchers, the retired couples, the holiday makers, and of course the surfers, the list is endless. Travelling is more appealing, trendy and accessible than ever before and there is nothing wrong with that at all. We can fit all these different types of travelers and explorers into two groups. Those who can afford it and those who can’t but do it anyway. I fall into the second category. I spend most of my spare cash flow on travelling and sacrifice other things people might call luxuries, also I don’t have kids, so that helps. Recently, on average, I manage three decent trips a year.
The latest adventure was planned as a trip for my girlfriend Steph’s birthday. Three months prior, I started researching the best place for her and I to go for an all-out adventure. Somewhere neither of us had been. She loves hiking, yoga, working out and surfing so based off those activities, where better than Costa Rica? After a little more research, the question was where better than Nosara, Costa Rica?
So, there we sat, three months later, on an Alaskan Airlines flight from Los Angeles bound for Liberia Airport. We were flying blind, not knowing much about Nosara, other than it had some great hiking, good waves and was a mecca for yogis. I had also heard it was a little less touristy than the more famous surfing destinations in Costa Rica, mainly due to the fact there isn’t a paved road for 20 miles surrounding the main beach towns.
We arrived on a Saturday afternoon on the last weekend of May. The start of the down season for tourism, or in other words the wet season. We slipped through customs easily enough with one backpack each and a board bag. We walked out of the terminal and breathed our first breath of warm, humid air. It was raining. Hard.
A long line of travel reps and taxi drivers were trying to woo us as we left the terminal. Spotting the surfboard, they yelled things like “surfs up brah” and threw us shakas while promising to take us to the best waves. We eventually settled with Rolando, a mild-mannered Tico who was happy to drive us to our AirBnB located in Playa Guiones, a bumpy two and a half hours away. We arrived late in the evening in the pouring, warm rain and eventually found the surf shack we had booked. We arranged for Rolando to pick us up in 6 days, said good bye and settled in.
I was pleasantly surprised with Playa Guiones. It’s quite hard to define as a place. While it had its fair share of visitors, on first glance it seemed the only people visiting were core surfers or yogis. No real vacationers. I would imagine the journey into the beach areas would put a lot of people off. It was a pothole riddled, washing machine like experience. It’s a 4 by 4 or nothing in Nosara.
The next morning, we rented a quad bike and began to explore. We paddled out at Playa Guiones with chest high waves and a dark cloud cover. The water temp was like a warm bath and the crowd was thin, probably due to the relentless onshore mess that was presenting it self that morning. It began to rain, some of the heaviest rain I have ever seen, even having grown up in England. That was the best thing about that first surf session, being amongst the elements and surfing in a tropical down pour was a fulfilling experience, even though the waves were awful.
Over the next few days, we discovered more of the waves on offer in the area. The weather for the rest of the trip was 85 degrees and sunny, with the occasional tropical shower. The waves were chest high and clean most mornings. I have to say the waves in the area are great. There is something for everyone and Playa Guiones must be the most suitable wave for an average surfer I have ever surfed. What it lacks in punch it makes up for in consistency. I was riding a 5’10 Fitzroy Panda, a wide nosed, cheater, short board with plenty of speed on fat waves. Perfect for Playa Guiones. Based on surf and waves, I would highly recommend Nosara for the average surfer! I would also highly recommend the Panda by Fitzroy Surfboards!
Steph and I are part time adventure seekers, meaning we work our butts off, but always make time to be outside and live. The 6 days in Nosara was our time to go all out, and we did. Having the quad was a great idea, we took it everywhere and abused it as much as one should who rents a quad in a foreign land. On day three, we went on a off road quad adventure tour with a local guide named John. John was a weather
-beaten expat from the US who like surfing and beer. The tour was 4 hours long with stops in the valleys and mount
ains, river crossings and we even stopped in a local village at what I assume was his mistresses house for a few cans of beer. It didn’t seem like a professional quad bike tour, more of a “my mate John will take ya, he knows all the best places” kind of tour, and it was all the better for it.
The next few days were spent surfing, exploring, practicing yoga and even taking some Muay Thai camps. I broke my foot at the latter the day before we left. Because of that I can also highly recommend the Costa Rican pharmacies for pain killers and crutches.
I absolutely love Nosara, I would say that it is the best place I have visited so far on my average surfer travels. But, yes, there is a but. Something bugs me, deep down. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I think it is an anxiety and a fear of what’s to come.
The stereotypes in Nosara are almost comical. You don’t have to search hard to meet all the characters you would expect in such a town. A Hawaiian I once met on the Big Island described these stereotypes best to me, “trust fund hippies”. The ones who live “off the grid” because they are tired of society, yet the are heavily funded by who knows?
I think my fear for the future of Nosara came from my conversations with the locals. You can feel the dilemma they face. Development is good at first. The boutique surf camps and yoga studios, the juice bars and the resorts bring plenty of jobs, but where is the line? I would say Nosara is at the line. Stop now or lose what makes it great. What makes Nosara great is a delicate balance of everything it has. The yogis, the surfers, the bars, the wildlife, the unpaved roads, but most of all the locals. The local Tico culture is what sets the tone in Nosara. Every step towards future development, however well-intentioned is a step away from what the town really is and a step towards a Waikiki like resort town, Waikiki being the extreme result of over development. Paving the roads in Nosara, will bring more casual tourists, casual tourists demand comfort and convenience, which in turn will bring the next high rise, resort and so on and so forth.
Right now, Nosara is the perfect balance of off the grid adventure and traveler comfort. You can still be on your adventure, on a dirt road amongst snakes and crocodiles, feeling a million miles from civilization. Then, three hours later, you can get a craft beer and the best Ahi Tuna you’ve ever had after parking your quad in the mud puddle on the track. I say leave it as is and only attract visitors who really want to be there. It’s a truly special place right now.