Stephanie Jack spent 5 days at Playa Nosara learning to surf and finally was able to catch the wave.
On a trip to Costa Rica in February, I decided to spend a few days surfing. I had never surfed before and found a place online called Playa Nosara that seemed like it would be good for beginners for the beach is sandy and without huge swells. It’s on the western coast of the Nicoya Peninsula, south of the popular resort town, Tamarindo.
I went there with a friend, arriving late in the day when the waves are biggest. We didn’t know that waves were smaller at other times of the day so all we could say was, “Oh my god, what have we gotten ourselves into.”
In fact, our first two lessons were at mid-day when the water is calmer. At that time of day the sun is also high and no amount of sunscreen could protect me, especially my eyes. The lessons were an hour long and then we would practice until we were about to pass out from exhaustion. Surfing is physically challenging. My shoulders hurt and I got these huge long bruises on my hips from jumping on the board over and over again. I got rashes on my arms because of the sticky residue on the board. But it was all worth it.
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My friend is 6’4” and his board had a tendency to sink beneath him. It’s easier for small surfers because their centre of gravity is low. We had these big beginner boards that essentially look like a windsurfing board but are relatively stable. When you get better you use a smaller board that is easier to manoeuvre in the water and lighter to carry.
There were people at different surfing levels there but that wasn’t a big problem. We beginners would look out for one another, with “You go over there, I’ll go over here,” sort of discussion. There is a strong current and waves consistently crash over you so you have to be careful.
Most of the time we surfed on the white water, surfing on the wave after it has broken. On the last day, with the help of our instructor, we were able to stay ahead of the white water and drop in to catch the wave. That was a real adrenalin rush and it was then that I understood what surfing was all about. Because when you surf the white water you do it for a short time and the ride is rather unstable and then you’re at the beach. But when you drop in, the ride is smooth. It’s also scary for the power of the waves is unbelievable.
It takes a lot of effort to paddle out beyond the waves but once you’re there it’s calm and peaceful. You can just sit there and watch the pelicans eating fish. Then you drop into a wave. You are supposed to turtle with your board when trying to get out of the wave, dropping down and going underneath it, being like an anchor on your board. There was one moment when I had the board and then I suddenly lost hold of it because the wave just ripped it out of my hands. The instructor said, “You really shouldn’t let go of your board. I don’t recommend it.” But I felt I had no choice.
We stayed at the Gilded Iguana. It was not cheap but well worth the price and I would definitely recommend the place. The restaurant at the hotel is probably the most popular place in the village and they had a live band a couple of days a week. Everyone was super friendly.
Most of the people staying at our hotel were there to surf and the instruction was good. It is nice to stay at least 5 days to get into the routine. We were going to do yoga but ended up napping instead. You’re just so tired you don’t want to do more exercise. Actually, no one does much of anything but surf, drink beer, swim in the pool and lie in a hammock.
There is a sense of community there and once you go you will want to return. It can be addictive because it is such a lifestyle thing. The better surfers are out early in the early morning and late in the day. So the routine was that every evening we would all go out as the sun came down, beer in hand, and watch the best surfers until it was time for them to come in. Certainly, that was a favourite time of the day.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Photo credits Stephanie Jack
© Riding the buses 2011