Pura Vida!

(Excerpts from The Surfer's Guide to Costa Rica & SW Nicaragua)

“Pura vida!” In Costa Rica it’s the local slang for “great,” “terrific” or “cool.” In English it translates literally as “pure life.” A country whose national exclamation is “pura vida” just had to have been created for surfers.


Take one trip to Costa Rica and you will quickly see why - warm water year-round, tasty and inexpensive food, affordable lodging, friendly locals, and a wide variety of waves catching swells from two hemispheres and two oceans. With all that, Costa Rica has become a popular destination for traveling surfers worldwide. In fact, surfers comprise roughly one out of every five tourists, and there were 2.4 million tourists in 2013, up 25% in the past five years.


Surfers travel for many reasons - to get away from crowds, cold water, and overly familiar waves; to get to uncrowded reefs and points, consistent and bigger waves, warm water and different cultures. We travel to empty our minds of everything but surf. Pure surf. Justifying a surf trip is easy. Making it work often is not. Before every trip most surfers do some sort of research and planning to ensure that precious time and hard-earned money are put to good use, which means surfing the greatest number of the best waves. For many, that means ordering up a prepackaged surf tour. Others want more control, spontaneity, privacy or adventure. They want to merge with the local environment and culture, and do it on their own terms. And still get a lot of great waves.


Maximizing wave count starts with knowing where the waves are, followed closely by knowing how to not squander time that could be spent surfing – usually getting to and from the breaks. Staying at a surf camp pretty much solves those problems, and it would be convenient if there was a surf camp at every great break on the planet, but that’s rarely the case. So an important part of surf travel planning is finding the accommodations closest to the breaks you want to surf to waste minimal time getting to and from the waves. That search is complicated by amenity needs (bringing a non-surfing companion? kids? need air conditioning?) and budget. Budget, of course, is the greatest determinant of wave count. Rich guys can surf anywhere, anytime, and for as long as they want. Hell, they can even buy waves, and do.


But the biggest time-waster comes from not planning at all, and spending your precious surf trip time driving from break to break and hotel to hotel looking for the right accommodations at the right price at the right break. Imagine the typical frustration at home of four-guys-in-the-Tundra checking all the local breaks, arguing about going north or south while the wind turns from offshore to sideshore to onshore and the line-ups get crowded. Now multiply that by the number of dollars your plane ticket costs. That number becomes the aggravation factor experienced by driving around a strange country seeking the right accommodations near the right breaks, if you don’t plan properly or buy a prepackaged trip.


Everyone knows the best way to maximize wave count is to stay somewhere with a direct view of the surf. Chasing surf, especially in unfamiliar territory, is usually a waste of time. But by sitting and watching a break you can jump on when the combination of conditions is just right—tide, wind, crowd—you get two benefits: First, you are not out looking, you are there; and second, within a couple of days you get to know the break well enough to be pretty sure you are out looking for other surf at the right times. Yes, finding accommodations with surf right out front is ideal, but these days it can be expensive, too. But with a bit of research you’ll figure it out. And that research may reveal a secret break or two.


Sorry, but no secret breaks are revealed here. While over 70 breaks are featured, every one has already been exposed in other surf travel guides. True, you would have to search quite a bit to put together the same list. It’s also true that you will find suggestions as to where there may be spots yet to be discovered or talked about. Another truth is there are a few breaks that are pretty well known by the experienced Costa Rica travelers but haven’t yet been written up, so we're holding off on those. The most important truth, however, is that while every inch of the Costa Rican coastline has been discovered, you can still find excellent, totally uncrowded waves any day of the week.


Pura vida!


P.S. Everything here is from The Surfer's Guide to Costa Rica & SW Nicaragua.