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The 1st Annual Gringo Independence Day Raft Race and Festival

Surf CR logoPhotos: Sarah Wohlford, Toni Carter, & Helen Evans

On Sunday July 2nd, the 1st Annual Gringo Independence Day Raft Race and Festival took place in Playa Dominical. The entire community showed up to cheer on the rafters and celebrate both the United States and Canada’s independence. The purpose was to raise money for the Costa Ballena Lifeguard Association and the non-profit Arbol Generoso, who donate funds to community projects like the beachfront playground.

It started at 10 a.m. with nine raft teams floating down the Rio Baru. It was not just a race to see who could reach the finish line first, each time was judged on the creativity of their rafts as well. There was a VW bus, a group of ‘Aquamen’, Team Canada, The Flintstones cast, a pirate raft, a Viking raft, and many other inventive forms of watercraft. They all shared one requirement, four 90 gallon water barrels used for floatation.

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25 Years Ago in Costa Rica

Surf CR logo25 Years Ago in Costa Rica – Greg Gordon

Happy 25th Birthday Quepolandia! Your magazine has been a part of my entire time living and visiting Dominical and has always been a bulletin of what was happening around Quepos and the entire southern zone.

I started my surf report in 1998, twenty five years ago. I had a tiny Canon printer and a chunky Toshiba laptop, and would print out the tides, a color model of the NOAA forecasts and text surf reports from friends around Costa Rica. I owned a cheap 50 mm telephoto lens and a worn Nikon for taking photos of the locals and tourists surfing. This was pre-digital, so I would have to take the bus to San Isidro, drop off the film at the photomat, and then take the trip again a few days later to pick up the prints.

Me, 25 years ago

I would get up predawn and be in the lineup at sunrise, hopefully with the rising tide as that is when Dominical has better shape. At low tide it can be sketchy—sand sucking death barrels, only ridden by the most experienced riders at the time like the Montoyas (Alan, Jose, Junior, Vinny on his boogieboard), Ronnie Obando, Brad Baron, or Mike McGuiness. After an hour or so I would paddle in to get some shots of these guys getting shacked or hucking spray.

It was hard to get out of town to surf, since most of the coastal highway was not paved. It would take up to two hours to get just from Dominical to Quepos. Every small bridge along the way was a life or death experience, with only some rusted train track leftovers used for the crossing. Sometimes it was easier to just drive across the riverbed. And from Quepos north it was a slalom course of potholes, where either lane could be the best one. My thoughts on each harrowing drive was, “The bus always wins”.

Ferry crossing

The drive south from Dominical to Uvita was only slightly better, and when you drove it at night you would witness thousands of purple and orange crabs race across the rutted road. When I headed to Pavones, it was easier to take the bus from San Isidro. It took about 7 hours, and you would have to take a very precarious two-car ferry across the Rio Coto, and then sometimes help the bus driver push the bus up the steeper muddy roads towards the end.

Site of the marina

Twenty-five years ago there was no marina, and no jetty, and although it does light up from time to time, it used to be more lined up at the Quepos Rivermouth. But who would want to surf it? That water used to look foul, from nearby cow and pig farms, plus gutters that were basically latrines. Now, even with more development, it appears to be less polluted.

Twenty-five years and over 1000 surf reports later, I am still amazed at how beautiful this country is, and how relatively uncrowded our corner of the country is. I can surf at beaches near Quepos and not see another surfer for miles. So Shhhhh. Let’s appreciate what we have for the next 25 years.

Costa Ballena Lifeguards Update

Surf CR logoCosta Ballena Lifeguards Update – Greg Gordon

The guardavidas of Costa Rica have been protecting the beaches of Playa Hermosa and Dominical for years. They were the first program to be awarded a contract by the Municipality of Osa for four lifeguards, but that agreement had expired on January 1st. So for 2023 they are currently relying on community funding to keep the group afloat (pun intended).

In 2022 they had over 3000 preventions to keep swimmers from the dangerous rip currents at both beaches. They performed 13 rescues and another 10 first aid applications. Without them many lives may have been lost.

Also in 2022 the Costa Ballena Lifeguard association was awarded a $30,000 grant to build a new lifeguard tower in Playa Hermosa de Uvita. That gave them more visibility along the beach and a more comfortable area to perform their jobs. The work was completed by Tarzan Construction.

Uvita Brewery also hosted a summer benefit that raised over $5000 for the program. There were dozens of prizes donated by local businesses for their raffle and silent auction and Drew Laplante and DJ Bosque provided excellent music for the event.

A GoFundMe project was able to raise enough money to buy an ATV for the lifeguards in Dominical. And other one organized by Punta Gabriela is helping pay for the lifeguards’ end of year bonuses.

This year they are already active in new projects. The first was hosting an open water rescue led by Swim Safe, an international program for lifeguard training. Seventeen participants performed rigorous swimming and running tests, learned CPR, surfboard rescue techniques, and then had to log 24 hours of volunteering on the stand before they were certified. The goal is to have a larger pool of trained candidates to be employed.

On April 7th and 8th will be the 10th annual Semana Santa Classic surf contest in Dominical. Dozens of businesses are sponsoring the event and the best surfers in the country will compete for cash and prizes with all the proceeds going to the lifeguard program. Later in the year will be a 4th of July party and hopefully a second edition of the Uvita Brewery Summer Benefit.

If you want to get involved with any of these events, please email lifeguardscostaballen[email protected]. And if you wish to make a donation, use this link, paypal.com/donate/?hosted_button_id=ACBS9J3CKSHFS. It is tax deductible in the United States, too. Or follow the links on their website, lifeguardscostaballena.com.

Costa Rica Non-Profit Groups We Supported in 2022

Surf CR logoCosta Rica Non-Profit Groups We Supported in 2022 – Greg Gordon

I review which groups I donated money to every year. I want to be sure I am fulfilling the benefit mission statement of my business, “To help surfers unite their communities by promoting sustainable tourism and protecting coastal ecosystems.”

Each year I pay dues to be a 1% for the Planet member. They encourage partnerships between businesses and non-profits globally and facilitate donations and do marketing for those non-profit organizations. The group I support with my 1% of my profits is called CREMA—Conservación, protección y Restauración de Especies Marinas Amenazadas (Conservation, Protection and Restoration of Threatened Marine Species).

This group I have supported for over 20 years. On one of the first surf trips to Costa Rica I met Randall Arauz and through the years we have worked to identify sea turtle species that came up on the beach, both alive and as carcasses, and to protect the endangered species from trawling, tuna farms, and turtle egg thieves. I sponsor five turtles a year through their website, crema.org and I get a certificate showing the geolocation of each turtle that was tagged and a photo.

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5 Tips to Get Ready for Your First Surf Lesson

5 Tips to Get Ready for Your First Surf Lesson – Greg Gordon

Surf CR logoWhen you are visiting Costa Rica, one of the first things you notice when you head to the beach are all the good surfers. They paddle out so easily and catch almost any wave they choose, riding it effortlessly to the sand. It makes you want to learn and enjoy the feeling of riding a wave successfully. You sign up for a surf lesson and then want to know how to prepare for it. Here are five tips to help you make the experience fun and more rewarding.

1 Stretch and do some pushups

Getting your body ready to surf is very important. When you see the pros, they often sit or stand on the beach preparing their body by stretching while watching the waves. I stretch first by spreading my legs wide and leaning towards each foot a few times. If you do yoga, it’s like Side Angle pose. I also do some Up and Down Dog poses for my back, and then sit and do some groin opening stretches and twist my lower back. Then I touch my toes with legs stretched.

The pushups help with the motion of ‘popping up’. Ideally you want to get to your feet in one motion, but many instructors teach you to come up one foot at a time. Then the key to keeping your balance is to stay low. Your stance is similar to a Warrior Two pose. The stronger your triceps and shoulders are, the easier it is to stand up.

2 Dress Appropriately

For both men and women, I recommend wearing a rash guard top. This helps prevent sun burn on your back and prevents your stomach and chest from getting a rash from the wax on the board. I prefer a short sleeve rash guard since it is more flexible and does not restrict arm movement as much. Wear a bathing suit that is comfortable and not too loose so it does not come off if you fall. Bathing suits should also stretch around the thighs for flexibility. If you have long hair, bring a hair tie so it stays out of your face.

3 Wear sunscreen

Be sure to apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 about 10-15 minutes before you get to the beach. That way you are not sweating in the sand while trying to apply it and it has time to soak in. Many surfers prefer sunscreen with zinc oxide since it is more reef friendly and you can see where you applied it your face. Others like a lotion since it does not burn their eyes and stays on even after rubbing your nose or neck. Whichever you choose, try it out before your lesson so you see which works better for you. You want one that does not make your eyes burn. Remember the sun is more powerful when it is cloudy and when it reflects off of the ocean.

4 Hydrate

It is surprising how much you sweat when you paddling for waves and riding them. So it is imperative that you drink a lot of water (I recommend at least 16 ounces) before paddling out. And after surfing be sure to drink more water as you will have lost of lot of fluids from your exercise.

5 Check the surfboard

Many surf schools have quality surfboards to learn on, but a few do not. You want to check that the board does not have cracks in them that could cut you. Look at the leash to see that does not have any knots, or is fraying where it attaches to the board. Check the fins to be sure they will not come out (they do at times and the school may charge you for it). And be sure it has enough wax on the top so you will not slip off. Slide your hand across the top to feel how grippy it is. Also, lift up to see that it is not way too heavy for you to control. If it is an old board, it may have water in it which makes it unstable. If you feel uncomfortable in any way, ask for a different board. You need the right board to help you catch and ride waves more easily.

Post lesson tips – Remember to stretch! This way your arm, shoulder, back, and leg muscles do not tighten up the next day. If you did get sunburn or a rash, remember to hydrate more and apply aloe. Coconut oil also helps with sunburns and rashes.

For tips on how to find the best surf instructor, read this article on my website –crsurf.com/travel-blog/what-makes-the-perfect-surf-instructor/

5 Great Things About Being A Surfer In Costa Rica

Surf CR logoWhy do so many surfers make the journey to Costa Rica? These are the top reasons why over 200,000 come to this tropical country each year. 

1. It is uncrowded.

Some beach breaks, like to the south and north of Manuel Antonio are completely empty for kilometers. The popular surf spots may have 5 to 10 surfers on each peak, compared to the hundreds of surfers in the lineup in San Diego, or Santa Cruz, or South Florida (when it does break). And premier spots like Bali and Hawaii are overrun with surfers.

2. The water is tropical year-round.

You never have to put on a wetsuit. Just throw on some baggies or a bikini and some sunscreen and you are set. This gives you maximum flexibility when paddling out and blasting turns off the top. 

3. The local surfers are friendly.

Because the breaks are not that crowded, when you paddle out you often get a smile or a “Pura Vida” greeting from those already out. On the most crowded breaks like Pavones or Playa Negra there may be some aggressiveness, but if you respect the locals you will always get to catch your share of waves. 

4. There is excellent surf year-round.

You can always find some place breaking at least head high, and most often there are swells pushing in waves well overhead. For the beginners there are dozens of protected coves and bays that offer smaller waves and long rides. From December to March the Caribbean side has consistent swells, and from April to November the Pacific Coast lights up. 

5. The food options post surf are delicious.

After a dawn patrol where you have burned hundreds of calories, nothing beats gallo pinto con huevos, chorizo, y pan with a hot cafe con leche. Plus, there are fresh mangos, pineapple, and papaya growing year-round to make that perfect refreshing smoothie. 

I’m sure I could come up with many more reasons why being a surfer in Costa Rica is so awesome. However, I will let the reader find those out for themselves the next time they paddle out here. To get the best travel help advise, check out crsurf.com/travel-blog/trip-planning-help/ and sign up to get our free Costa Rica surf travel guide. 

7 Things a Surfer Needs to Surf at Their Best

Surf CR logoHave you ever been watching the waves and see one girl or guy just shredding it? Or styling out on a longboard? They seem to be in the flow, focusing solely on what’s coming down the line and how perform the next maneuver flawlessly. The key for them is preparation and mindset. Now I am not the best surfer out there, or even close, but after 35 years of experience I’ve found these seven things crucial to help me surf my best.


Boards can be short and light for doing tricks, or long and heavy for bigger surf with thicker cloth, but they need to be constructed and maintained well. The board can’t have dings that could potentially cut my feet, or dents that could eventually buckle. Also, I surf best when I have the right board for the conditions. Too many times I’ve pulled up with a shortboard when I needed a longboard or vice versa. A great tip would be whenever possible bring two boards, or if you are traveling, stay at a beach town that has shops with quality board rentals.
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Car Rentals in Costa Rica: Deciding on Insurance Options

Surf CR logoWhat does this have to do with surfing in Costa Rica? A lot, since when you are planning a vacation, it is one of the most important decisions to make. You have decided to rent a SUV with 4wd and now you have to decide which insurance option to take.
A. Full collision coverage with a $0 deductible and a very low deposit (usually $100).

B. Basic collision coverage with a $1000 deductible and a higher deposit (usually $500-1000).

C. Use the collision coverage on your credit card and just get the minimum insurance required, called third party liability, which covers the other person’s vehicle and injuries and has a $5000 deductible. Your deposit is the highest (from $500 to $2000+).
Option A costs the most and option C the least. The actual costs vary with each car rental company, but for this article I will choose Alamo for my explanation. Their rates when I book the reservation for you are $30/day for option A, $15/day for option B, and $10/day for option C for midsize and standard SUVs. The larger Fortuners, Prados, and vans are $40/day for option A and $25/day for option B.  
To determine which is best, it depends on your tolerance to risk and your budget. Driving in the city a lot or well off the paved roads in the countryside would have more risk for damages. If you are driving in the peak of rainy season, late September to early November, then the chance of muddy roads, bigger pot holes, and flooding are possible. One way to determine your risk is to confirm with your Airbnb hosts exactly what the road conditions are leading to their house. And even though the weather forecast is going to show rain every day on your trip, be sure to check that there is not a tropical storm or hurricane that will cause heavy rain fall.

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My First Surf Trip to Costa Rica

Surf CR logoIt has been 26 years since I first visited Costa Rica. I had been surfing in Cocoa Beach, Florida and was ready to take on some larger swells. I flew down with my friend Ron and we rented an SUV with U-haul Car Rental (the name sounded respectable). Our first stop was the Caribbean coast.
We made it to Puerto Viejo and ran into Johnny Futch who had been an expat in Costa Rica for many years. He showed us how to get out at Salsa Brava and helped us find a boat to Isla Uvita. Hurricane Cesar just passed through and the Caribbean Sea was filled with small branches and wrack from the storm. We were nervous about the boat driver as he had two sea turtles tied upside down in his shed and he dropped us off in the middle of nowhere with giant tankers passing by. The waves were way bigger than I had ever surfed and we were lucky to make it back alive, as the captain used the swell to ride right over the shallow reef back to shore.

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How Much Cash Do I Bring To Costa Rica?

Surf CR logoIn my 50+ trips to Costa Rica I would always be concerned with how much money to bring and then exchange once I’m there. These are my recommendations. I would take down $300 in USD in twenties and some ones for tips when you get there. Then I use the cash and get change in colones. Be advised that it is 687.50 colones to one dollar (on July 6, 2022), but a restaurant or store may give you only 650. That is still better than the currency exchange at the airport. When I’d run out, I would get more colones out of the ATM. The best exchange rate will be with the bank (you need your passport for that) and then the big grocery stores give the current rate. The toll operators also give change in colones, but don’t give them anything larger than a twenty dollar bill.

A lot of stores will have a calculator and they decide on the amount in colones if you give them dollars. It is not worth arguing with them since they also may factor in the time and resources (gas) to get to the bank and exchange dollars back or deposit them. Some banks can be an hour away and the wait time in them could be hours.

Now some situations call for bringing a lot of cash, like paying for a house rental or buying a new surfboard. It is easier to get it the U.S. than using the ATMs in Costa Rica. First most ATMs have a max of $200 withdrawal daily. You are also getting charged the ATM fee there and at your home bank (in most cases—some credit unions give refunds). And if you get colones you already lose on the exchange rate as the buy and sell price is about 25 colones difference.

If you are bringing over $1000, make sure you hide it well. or make sure your room has a safe. Hide some of it in a different place. Get travel insurance that covers theft. I would not carry it on me when I am out. And I would rather pay the international wire transfer fee than carry a lot of cash in the first place. However, each traveler has a different risk tolerance.

Send me a note and I will tell you three of my favorite places to hide money. You can find the tide charts on our website for the whole year, crsurf.com/costa-rica-surf-report/costa-rica-tide-charts-2022. Safe travels!

How to Find Waves Around Quepos and Manuel Antonio

Surf CR logoSo you are a surfer who is visiting Manuel Antonio with your family or friends. They don’t surf but they don’t mind if you wake up early and go for a session before breakfast. How do you know where to go?
The first thing to check is the tide. Manuel Antonio is a high tide break. At low tide is mostly closes out. The only spot that does work well at low tide is the Quepos river mouth. To get there, you drive to Quepos and head towards the Pez Vela Marina. Right before the marina there is free parking and you can see the break straight out front. Be sure not to leave anything in your vehicle as break ins are common.
The Quepos rivermouth needs some swell in order to work and is mostly a longboard wave unless it gets to be chest high or bigger. When there is a massive swell, it still is not that scary and is a left breaking wave that you can ride for 300+ yards. There are a few locals who dominate the peak, but there is a second peak farther to the north and on the inside that is easy to sit on. And you could surf the break at mid tide or high tide, but after catching a long ride it is harder to get back to the peak. At low tide you can belly it to the sand bar and then walk up to the top of the break and use the river mouth rip to take you right back to the peak.

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How to Maximize Your Time Surfing – Budget vs. Luxury

Surf CR logoOh, the good ole days. When you could find a cabina with a fan and mosquito net for $10 right on the beach, get $1 Pilsens, and $3 casados with the freshest fish. Now those places have been replaced by hotels charging over $200/night with loud a/c blasting artificial air all night, $7 craft IPA brews, and $30 a plate for a filet of yesterday’s catch.

Pavones photo: Greg Gordon

Rather than argue which route is better, budget versus luxury, I’ll give two examples of each—perfect surf trips (this would be experienced surfers).

Budget #1

Fly to San Jose, since with more flights the airfare is cheaper. Bring your surfboard as there is only one surf shop in Pavones—Sea Kings—and their board selection is limited. Take the bus to Pavones and camp right on the point (find the bus schedule at centrocoasting.com). The paddle out is right on the sand to the south and you can sit out front of your tent and stare at perfect lefts coming through all day. Walk up to the supermarkets in town to get your food and stop by the fisherman’s camp to see what fish they caught. Buy some 6-liter bottles of water as you will need a lot of water to drink. Remember the mosquito repellent and the rain tarp.

Encanta La Vida photo: EncantaLaVida.com

Luxury #1

Fly to San Jose and then take a local flight to Puerto Jimenez. Bring your shortboards but keep the board back under 7 feet for the smaller plane restrictions. Then pick up the Prado rental and drive to Encanta La Vida resort or your own private villa. Drive or walk between Cabo Matapalo and Pan Dulce, surfing whichever spot is working best depending on the swell direction and tide. Enjoy your meals by the pool, prepared by the restaurant or your own private chef.

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How to Maximize Your Time Surfing – Road Trip vs. Surf Camp

Tamarindo – Covenient and beginner friendly waves.

Surf CR logoHow do you decide which is a better option to maximize your time surfing? If you are a beginner, I would say go to a surf camp 100% of the time. It will be safe, you will be well coached, and you will have support from others to get you up and riding. But what about if you are an intermediate or advanced surfer? First is how much about the waves in Costa Rica do you already know? Second is do you want to spend time with other surfers? Third is how far do you want to go?
I did not make how much it costs a reason since you can spend an endless amount on either option, and it may still not lead to more surf time. That is unless you did an overnight boat trip to Witch’s Rock and Ollie’s Point, then you get to surf both spots for at least two hours in the morning and afternoon, before the other boats arrive and after they leave—totally worth the >$2000/night price tag for the boat.

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How to Plan a Successful Surf Trip – Part 2

Surf CR logoIn the last issue, I explained the first of many factors to consider when planning a Costa Rica surf vacation—finding the best time of year to go based on what type of waves you are looking for. In this article I will discuss whether to bring boards or rent them while you are there. Some points to consider are where you are going, what type of boards you need, what are the airlines going to charge you, and the convenience of each option.
Some beach towns have a dozen surf shops (Tamarindo) while others have only one (Pavones – Sea Kings Surf Shop). Nosara has a half dozen places to rent boards, my favorite being Coconut Harry’s. Santa Teresa has Denga Surf Shop with a decent selection of long and short boards, but they are quite used. Manuel Antonio has some board rentals on the beach, but they are mostly beat up. Manuel Antonio Surf School has a few nicer long and fun boards to rent, but supply is limited. The Caribbean side has two places to rent boards in Puerto Viejo, and on the beach in Playa Cocles.  
So, if you are a beginner surfer then these locations will have a sufficient longboard to ride. There are options for soft tops and hard top surfboards at many spots, and at this stage in your surfing progression you just want to catch waves and lugging your longboard from home may not be worth the hassle. If you are an advanced surfer though, you may want to bring the boards you ride at home since you know how they perform and you may not find a similar board at even the bigger surf towns of Jaco, Nosara, and Tamarindo. And if the waves are too small or too big, you could always find a board to rent (or buy used) to fit the conditions. There are a few Facebook groups that buy and sell surfboards in Costa Rica.

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How to Plan a Successful Costa Rica Surf Trip

Surf CR logoWhether it is your first surf trip or your 50th, it is important to plan where and when you want to go. You do not want to get skunked or find waves too big for your comfort level. You need to have the right boards to ride. You want to maximize your time surfing, and not driving around looking for waves. And you want to make sure you are safe and comfortable when you are not in the water. In the next few articles I will discuss each factor and provide tips on how to have the best time surfing in Costa Rica

Check the Season and Tides

Most travelers know Costa Rica has two weather seasons—rainy season from May to November (rainiest in October) and dry season from December to April. But there are also wave seasons. Swells from the South hit the Pacific coast from mid-March to mid-October. Some Northwest swells hit the Pacific from December to March. And East swells hit the Caribbean coast from December to March. 

If you want a better chance of catching bigger waves, travel between late March and early June to the Pacific side, and mid-January to mid-February on the Caribbean. There are other good months on the Pacific, but the later in the season you go the more chance it will be rainy and the winds won’t be in your favor. May is my favorite month on the Pacific since the first rains make everything greener, and it is no longer high season so there are less surfers in the lineup, but before summer when families go on vacation. 

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