Greg GordonSurf CR

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.

Pavones – Less convenient to get to and for advanced surfers only when it’s big.

So, if it is your first or second time in Costa Rica then it may be better to go to a surf camp since you do not know the waves well. Even a good surf map with descriptions (like on our website) would not help if you don’t know what swell direction works best at what tide. A surf guide at a camp could tell you exactly where to sit on the peak, where the rip currents are, and often knows the other local surfers. As long as you are respectful to others in the lineup you will get at least a little cred for helping to support the local surf community.
The surf camp guide is not going to take you to the secret spots, so if you do know where the best waves are, how to paddle out there and when to go, then you are going to score more waves. For example, most surfers go to Playa Hermosa de Jaco their first trip, and then after a couple of trips know to go south to Tulin since it breaks a little better and bigger there at lower tides (it is not a secret spot). Same thing if you go to Tamarindo your first trip and venture to Playa Avellanas. Only after a few trips would you know when to walk north and surf some spots between the two beaches and where to paddle out.
The second factor to go with a surf camp or road trip is do you want to be around other surfers? If you are traveling solo, then I would highly recommend a surf camp. The main reason is safety. Costa Rica has some fierce rip tides and lots of unforgiving rock reefs. Add some crocodiles to the mix and you may want to have someone out with you in case of an emergency. It’s also a great way to learn a new culture, especially if you choose a surf camp run by Costa Ricans. There are a few good ones run by expats, but the vibe is different.
At a surf camp they take you to the main breaks and those can get crowded, especially for the months of December through April. They also head to the surf in a group so you may have to wait for the slowest person to hop in the van to get you to your dawn patrol. And possibly your surf camp will have other surfers at a different ability level than you, so you may be stuck catching fewer waves than you wanted. On a road trip you can explore a beach break predawn or surf a point break past dark. You don’t need to wait for anyone. You can paddle out at any peak that is breaking at the size and speed you prefer. And if you are with friends, it’s a great way to bond with them and create new memories.

The third factor is how far do you want to go? Surf camps generally last a week and are based in one spot. They surf out back of their lodging, or drive you about 30 minutes north and south, and maybe include a boat trip. If you fly to San Jose the surf camps in Jaco and Playa Hermosa are less than 90 minutes away—easy to reach. And from Liberia, the surf camps in Tamarindo, Playa Grande, and Avellanas are even closer. Nosara is two hours from Liberia so also convenient, and partly why that spot is so popular with surf camps.
When you are doing a road trip, you may want to have the time to explore the far corners of the country. You want to catch Pavones firing and take the boat over to Matapalo one or two days. You could drive all the way from Mal Pais to Witch’s Rock and surf the best spots along the Nicoya Peninsula. Or during December to March, you may want to drive to the Caribbean side to catch Salsa Brava and take a boat trip to Isla Uvita. With enough time and energy and resources, you can do it all on your own. When I am on a road trip, I want to experience a new culture and pristine landscape, not see a bunch of Americans/Europeans/Brazilians on vacation and overdeveloped beaches.
Surf camps offer expertise on knowing where to go, they have other surfers to get to know, and they are convenient in their locations. A road trip is better if you have experience finding good waves, can be a great way for your group to share an adventure, and allows for a greater possibility to score some epic surf for just you and your friends. There is no best option, it’s up to you to decide. And if you do choose to go on that overnight boat trip to Witch’s and Ollie’s, I hope there may be a space for me to join you. I can even show a couple of ‘secret’ spots.