Nosara, Costa Rica, has become a popular surf destination for those seeking stellar waves, or learning to surf for the first time. A surfer walks by at sunset at Playa Guiones.
Nosara, Costa Rica, has become a popular surf destination for those seeking stellar waves, or learning to surf for the first time.
The look of excitement — or fear — on my face must have been apparent as I walked on the dirt path leading to the beach entrance.
A surfer passing by and still wet after finishing his morning session smiled, nodded, and gave me a quick report: the swell was smaller than the day before, the waves cleaner and better.
I must admit, after taking a beating on the first few days of our trip to Playa Guiones in Nosara, Costa Rica, I was a bit relieved.
Until my travel partner Monica saw me and ran up as I walked toward the water, where waves were still a beefy 4-6 feet, some larger, on sets.
“I busted my board in half,” she said, the green surfboard split in two pieces sitting in the sand.
So much for a mellow surf session.
I was on my annual surf pilgrimage, a quick getaway when I could ditch the family and cold California water for a week to think of nothing but one thing: Surf.
Monica, who has become my surf partner the past few years, and I decided on Costa Rica, a fairly quick jaunt with only a five-hour flight from Los Angeles that is doable in less than a week, the maximum time we could pull away from our families and life obligations.
The thought of going back to the country where I rode a wave for the first time gave me sense of nostalgia, thinking about my younger years when a local tico pushed me into a wave, my introduction to the exhilarating feeling of gliding toward shore, balancing on a board for just seconds before I crashed into the salty sea.
I was hooked.
After doing a bit of research, we opted for Nosara for our main destination, first stopping for a night at a quaint town, Samara, after flying into San Jose, the country’s capital.
Samara was a cute city, but not a surf destination unless you’re learning and just want to mess around in the whitewash. Apparently, a big earthquake a few years back raised a reef in the bay, which now blocks the swell from coming toward shore.
Itching to get wet, we rented some boards anyhow and messed around on some tiny 2-footers. Despite the small surf, the balmy water was a like a big, salty hug from an old friend.
The following day we loaded up to take the bumpy, dirt road to Nosara, about an hour drive north up the Nicoya Peninsula.
It was straight to the surf when we arrived, despite the afternoon wind kicking up. As we later learned, most people surf in the morning, take the afternoon off, then return at evening glass-off during sunset.
One reason people may not go to the beach in the afternoon: it’s scorching hot. It was a hard lesson we learned after leaving our sandals back at the surfboard rental shop, Coconut Harry’s, and had to hop our way back as the bottoms of our feet felt like we were stepping on hot coals.
But the pain was all worth it.
Once you get to the water in Nosara and into the waves, you forget about everything else. Except for, in my case, trying to frantically paddle to get past the bombing sets so they didn’t land on my head.
Our trip coincided with one of the first big south swell of the season that drew big crowds out in the water, making the ocean challenging to navigate.
It can be a bit of chaos at Playa Guiones, the main stretch of beach where you’ll find a mix out in the water of local rippers, vacationers, and a slew of surf schools teaching beginners on the inside.
We got to stop into one of the original surf schools in the region, Corky Carroll’s Surf School, which was started in 1998 by pro surfer and Huntington Beach local Rick Walker, two years after he and Carroll launched their Bolsa Chica operation.
Carroll’s no longer involved in those two surf schools but Walker continued to run them until he sold them to his children.
We stopped in for a bit to chat with Walker’s son Colin and Irvine native Pat Robles, who were entertaining a group resting after a long day at the beach.
Colin talked about how much has changed in the past 20 years since they’ve started, a once-rural town that is now officially on the map as a popular tourist destination.
The popularity is apparent on the main stretch of town, where restaurants with international food like Peruvian are mixed with boutique hotels and a few swanky bars. Yogis flock to places like Bodhi Tree Yoga Resort and enjoy the vegan cuisine on offer.
In fact, there was so much tourist influence, that I wish there was more local food offered. Rosi’s, a small colorful eatery, was one of the only joints serving up Costa Rican cuisine of rice, beans and meats at non-tourist prices.
Another cultural favorite you can’t miss are the pipas, cold coconut water for about $1, a quenching relief after hours of surfing Nosara’s perfect, warm-water waves for hours a day.
After a week of surf, eat, sleep — just like the sign outside of the our hotel Sunset Shack advertised — we were ready to return home recharged.
If you go
Flying there: Direct flights from LAX to San Jose International Airport will cost about $500 round-trip. We opted to fly into San Jose, drive up the coast to Tamarindo, then flight out of Liberia Airport. It cost a bit more, but cuts down on time in the car and you can explore the coastline.
Where to stay: Don’t let the name of our boutique hotel, the Sunset Shack, fool you — it’s anything but a shack. It was reasonably priced at about $120 a night, with a pristine pool to cool off in during the hot afternoons between surf sessions. Breakfast at the in-house restaurant, Al Chile Restaurant and Bar, was delicious, my favorite being the chilaquiles drenched in red or green sauce. And the agua fresca drinks, made with fresh fruit or my favorite, hibiscus, are a great refresher, especially if you pair with vodka as a cocktail.
Renting surfboards: Coconut Harry’s has a great selection of boards and is in a prime location with a short walk to the surf. The shop has lockers, a shower to wash the salt water off, and offers lessons for beginners. Board rentals were about $20.
All inclusive: If you want to learn to surf, spend a week with the crew at Corky Carroll’s Surf School, also a short jaunt to the water. You’ll get room, food, and photo and video critiques at the end of each day. Also a great way to meet other travelers.
Yogis: Bodhi Tree Yoga Resort offers drop-in classes, its temple-like setting worth an afternoon getting your zen on. I opted for a stretch class, much needed after surf exhaustion, for relief.
Did you know? The Nicoya Peninsula, where Nosara is located, is one of the world’s five “Blue Zones,” areas where people live the longest. Among the reasons cited could be: diet, the culture’s easy-going nature, or personal relationships with friends and family.