Beginner Surf Costa Rica: 10 things you need to know

Beginner Surf Costa Rica: 10 things you need to know

Costa Rica is the most beginner-friendly surf destination in the world.

Located in Central America, it boasts over 300 beautiful sandy beaches, water that’s warm year-round and almost no covid travel restrictions for traveling surfers.

What’s more, it receives consistent waves and there still exists surf spots that are relatively untouched by development. This means that for beginner surf in Costa Rica, you’re literally spoiled for choice.

If that’s not enough to make you book a learn-to-surf trip in Costa Rica, it should be noted that it also took out top place on the Happy Planet Index in 2009, 2012 and 2016.

So, if it’s safe traveling, welcoming lineups and mellow on-land vibes you’re seeking, the Costa Rica surf scene and its surf towns will be right up your alley.

But don’t just take our word for it.

Your friends here at Surf Expedition are (just maybe) slightly biased!

With that in mind, we thought we’d put together a definitive guide to give you a detailed overview as to what learning to surf in Costa Rica is all about.

Before we begin though, let’s quickly discuss why Costa Rica is the best beginner surf spot.

Why is Costa Rica the best beginner surf destination?

Costa Rica is a fantastic place to learn surfing for so many reasons.

Proof of this is in the fact that guests are often blown away by just how quickly they progress. But what is it that makes the surf in Costa Rica so great for beginners? Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • There are heaps of gentle wave options
  • The water is warm 365 days of the year
  • There are many friendly surf towns
  • You can still find uncrowded surf spots
  • It’s possible to experience an authentic tropical surf culture
  • Surf coaching is available (learn more here)
  • There’s an ever-present relaxed atmosphere

1. It has perfect waves for beginner surfers

Wave quality is a spectrum and its common knowledge within surfing that some waves are more suited to certain skill levels than others.

The large, steep and powerful waves found in many world-class surf destinations should only be ridden by the most experienced surfers. Conversely, small, gentle, close-to-the-shore waves are more adapted to beginners.

This is because the level of technical ability required to surf a wave is more or less related to the size of the wave.

Generally speaking, the smaller the wave, the more manageable it is for new surfers to ride. And while Costa Rica has great waves for seasoned riders, the high season (Dec-Mar) is perfect for beginners.

The surf in Costa Rica is frequently knee to chest high and the paddle from the beach to the takeoff zone is a breeze.

What’s more, the main beaches nearby our surf resort are sand and stone bottom (not sharp coral like the Caribbean coastline), and given their remoteness, you won’t need to worry about getting in the way of other surfers.

This all adds up and makes the many Costa Rican waves nearby our surf camp safe and comfortable for you to learn the foundations of riding a surfboard.

surfer riding a wave at dawn

2. You can still find uncrowded surf spots

Costa Rica is a renowned surf destination and areas such as Tamarindo and Santa Teresa are full of surfboard carrying, sandals-wearing tourists.

A large percentage of these visiting surfers come from the United States and Canada, however, you’ll also meet groups of Europeans, Israelis and Australians.

This is awesome if you love to mingle with different cultures. But if you dream of learning to surf in uncrowded waves, it can be a bummer.

Fortunately, there still exist surf breaks in Costa Rica that have the trademarks of a good beginner surf spot (rolling waves, easy access, sand bottom) but without the crowds of people.

Most of these types of Costa Rican beaches are conveniently located close to our surf camp. And if you’re serious about riding waves surrounded only by new friends, lifetime mates or family, this is the place to come.

We certainly don’t recommend trying to find them on your own.

Without local knowledge, this will lead to a lot of time-wasting and the chance of missing the perfect surf day.

3. The beginner surf season runs from December to April

As with any surf destination, there are different travel seasons to consider.

In Costa Rica, we divide these seasons up into a high and a low season.

High season (dry season): December to March

Low season (green season): April to November

Prices, wave size, crowds and weather all differ depending on the season. As a rule of thumb, things are a little bit more hectic both price and crowd-wise during the high period.

This is due to a combination of Christmas and New Year holidays plus the fact that many people in the northern hemisphere escape the winter months by flying south.

On the plus side though, the weather is absolutely beautiful with lots of sun. The wave size is also on average much smaller and therefore better for beginners.

Regarding the low season (otherwise known as the green season due to the way in which increased rainfall transforms the countryside), the weather can be temperamental and storms are more frequent.

The waves also grow in size which is great for experienced surfers. However, it should be said that we can still find great beginner surf spots that are relatively sheltered from large swell during this period.

4. Suitable sun protection is essential

In Australia, it’s hungry sharks that you need to worry about.

In Hawaii, its razor-sharp coral reefs and locals.

If you’re surfing in Europe, it’s that cold Atlantic water that gets you.

But if you’re traveling to surf in Costa Rica, it’s the sun that poses the biggest threat to your learn-to-surf experience.

Costa Rica is after all located close to the equator, with average daily temperatures that fluctuate between 72°F and 82°F (22°C and 28°C).

Combine this with the fact that the sun is still powerful on cloudy days and that while in the water, you’re essentially exposed to it from above and below due to the glare, and it’s easy to see why we put a lot of emphasis on being sun smart.

With that in mind, here’s what we recommend you bring in terms of sun protection to ensure you don’t end up looking like a lobster or missing an epic surf session due to crazy sunburn.

  • 50+ reef-safe sunscreen
  • Zinc
  • Surf hat
  • Long-sleeve rashguard

 

For women who are particularly at risk of sunburn, leggings might also help. As will reef booties, which serve a double purpose for people with sensitive feet by both shielding them from harsh rays and protecting them from cuts and abrasions.

girl walking into the water at a tropical surf beach

5. There are heaps of different surf spots to explore

One of our favorite things about Costa Rica is that it has waves to suit all skill levels.

Now, obviously as a beginner, you’ll be looking for smooth and easy waves to ride. But like learning anything, you need to be able to go out of your comfort zone in order to progress.

This is where the wide variety of different beaches in Costa Rica come in handy.

You can begin surfing a beach break or a forgiving slow breaking point break (like the ones around our camp!) that offers slow and gentle rides. Then, as your confidence builds, you can gradually expose yourself to bigger, longer and more technical waves.

This concept of gradual progression will see your surfing skills increase quickly as opposed to if you were forced to surf in less-than-ideal waves or tricky conditions.

The fact that we have 12 surf spots located nearby our surf camp also means you don’t need to travel far to find waves. You’re literally footsteps from the closest beach and we organize the schedule so that you get surf sessions per day during the most optimal tides.

Before you know it, you’ll be riding green waves, doing basic maneuvers and unlocking your inner Slater or Gilmore in no time at all.

Surf uncrowded waves at our surf & yoga retreat in Costa Rica

6. Consistent swell means you’ll progress quickly

Speaking of fast progression and perfect beginner waves, it’s also worth noting that beaches in Costa Rica are very open to year-round Pacific Ocean swells.

Of course, there’s more swell in the green season given that there’s an increase in tropical storms that generate said swell. But the dry season also delivers enough waves to keep you and your fellow beginners in the water.

Plus, it’s not like you need large green season waves anyway. So long as there’s a small pulse of swell that you can refine your technique on, you’re golden. And trust us when we say that you’ll definitely find decent waves to ride.

We know where all the best spots are. That means we know which waves work best depending on the swell size and conditions.

It’s this local knowledge that ensures you can surf the beaches in Costa Rica every day that the conditions permit, which ties in nicely with our goal to maximize your learn-to-surf experience.

Essentially, you’ll progress faster than if you were to visit a surf destination that’s more susceptible to flat spells (long periods of no waves).

monkey lying on a branch in Costa Rica

7. The natural environment is breathtaking

A trip to the Surf Expedition surf camp is about more than just surfing.

It’s about turning off the phone and relaxing and reconnecting with your true self whilst surrounded by family or friends – an act that’s made infinitely easier by the fact that Costa Rica is blessed with a breathtaking natural environment.

After all, despite its small size, Costa Rica has some 30 different microclimates. This includes cool cloud forests, humid mangroves, pristine beaches and towering mountain ranges.

You can see whales breaching, picnic under lush palms on the sand, try to spot as many native birds as possible or pluck exotic fruit, such as mangos, bananas, lemons, oranges, guava, guanabana, papaya or pineapple, straight from the trees or ground.

You’ll also be surrounded by monkeys, iguanas, tropical birds, sloths and an abundance of stunning flora and fauna no matter where you go.

In short, it’s pretty much paradise.

8. Pura Vida is everything

Expect to see and hear these two words everywhere in Costa Rica.

Thought to have originated around 50 years ago, Pura Vida is Spanish for “pure life” or “simple life”. But it’s much more than just a phrase.

Pura Vida is a way of being for many Costa Ricans and the expats who call this wonderful country home. It’s about being grateful for what you have in life instead of dwelling on the negative. It’s about having perspective and the wisdom to know that things will be alright.

In essence, it’s a cultural concept that can help you tune into the rhythm of life… and maybe even catch a few life-changing waves in the process.

man throwing a shaka while in the water

9. Costa Rica has almost no travel restrictions

Last but not least, Costa Rica’s land, air and sea borders are open to international tourism.

Tourists must meet the visa requirements and abide by the country’s relevant pandemic guidelines. However, you do not need to present a negative COVID-19 test or quarantine upon arrival.

Both Liberia and San José airports have flights operating every day and our surf camp is open for business.

We only ask that you stick to the recommended sanitary protocols if you do engage in any tourist activities while staying here. This includes wearing a mask in some public places and washing your hands or allowing your temperature to be taken if requested.

If you’ve been vaccinated, it’s simply a matter of presenting proof of your vaccination and filling in an online form 48h before arrival.

However, there may be requirements from your own government regarding negative COVID-19 tests on return. For example, the U.S Embassy in Costa Rica requests that you carry out a test 72h before heading back to the U.S.

10. You don’t need to bring your own board

Costa Rica has a flourishing surf scene filled with heaps of surf towns and surf stores. We also have a fantastic selection of boards for you to use at our surf resort.

The benefit of this is that you needn’t worry about buying a new board for your trip or paying exorbitant airline baggage fees to transport said board.

Better yet, you don’t need to stress about traveling with a surfboard. After all, it’s not like flying with a skateboard. Surfboards are big, clunky and not at all that Uber-friendly.

When you book with us, you’ll have access to a range of different boards to try. This means that you can sample different shapes and sizes to find what works best.

For beginners this is an awesome advantage, since it means you can experiment with smaller boards as you progress.

Then, once you feel confident enough to own your first board, you can go ahead and buy one. Just make sure you check out our longboard buying guide before you do!

11. Travel insurance is recommended

Naturally, the last thing that you want to think about when booking a beginner surf trip to Costa Rica is being injured. But being hurt isn’t really a nightmare situation.

Surfing is a physical activity and bumps and bruises do occur.

No, what really is a nightmare is if you seriously injure yourself while in the surf in Costa Rica but you aren’t covered by insurance.

There are so many cases of this happening and in the end, the insanely expensive medical bill is what really hurts.

You’ve probably heard it all before, but if you can’t afford travel insurance then you can’t afford to travel.

We suggest getting a policy with a “cancel for any reason” protection, which can be a huge advantage in these uncertain times.

We also recommend checking out the list of travel insurance plans recommended and therefore permitted for travel to Costa Rica on the Visit Costa Rica website.

Note: These policies are merely examples. We have not reviewed them in-depth. Please review them yourself to ascertain whether these policies are right for you.

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