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Costa Rica
12 to Tamarindo

Story and photos by Bill Polick

Tropical morning sunlight peeked through the eastern windows of our jet as it began its descent into San Jose.  With a screech, roar, clunk and whoosh we landed and deplaned, a dozen San Diego surfers ready for a Costa Rican adventure.

Typical Tamarindo Surf

Tamarindo: hollow and fast off the river mouth.

Shots from Endless Summer II ran through our heads as our three 4x4s zipped north on the Pan American Highway, then southwest toward our goal.  Despite our best efforts to stick together in caravan, we ended up straggling into the Hotel El Milagro in Tamarindo.  It took six+ hours of hard driving to get there, but the hotel's staff and accommodations proved worth the effort.  But it was too late and too dark to get even a hint of what the surf gods had in store for us.

Saturday morning dawned sunny, but then every day was sunny!  With only a short walk from our hotel rooms to one of the most famous breaks in the world, we were ready.  The river mouth was 2-3', hollow and very fast.  So fast in fact that most waves thumped in front of us before we finished a bottom turn.  It took a while to get the place wired.  Paddle hard, take off at an angle and hold on tight!  By the afternoon I'd mastered the break well enough to have one of the most rewarding sessions of my life: almost all very hollow lefts, some pretty good nose rides and a near-barrel.  Not having to deal with a wet suit was a major advantage.  Air temperatures for the entire eight days hovered in the mid-80s with the water only slightly cooler.

After a quick session Sunday morning, the 12 of us packed up for a two-hour trek to El Coco, a small fishing village and gateway to Witch's Rock and Ollies.

We'd made arrangements to stay at the Hotel Coco Verde and were pleased to find an American-style facility.  Don, the owner, made arrangements for us to charter his 44' sport fishing boat Wavedancer for the next day's trip to "The Rock."

Wavedancer & Witch's Rock Wavedancer at Witch's Rock.

Believe the veterans when they tell you the offshore wind blows hard at Witch's Rock!  The day we were there, it blew us up the face and over the back of the surf!  Getting a drop meant pushing the nose of the board as far down as possible, standing and moving forward quickly.  Gusts blew spindrift into our faces fiercely, stinging and reducing visibility to near zero.  Hollow waves, 4-6' and fast.  The younger and heartier of our group got super waves, the rest of us settled for what we could get.  I made about ten waves in two hours (and a lot of swearing at the wind).  

Ollie's was a surprise.  As we sailed into the bay, all we could see was a little whitewater near shore.  It looked like a very small beach break.  Surprise!  Eric Pollock told us he'd hop off the boat and paddle in to check it out.  There didn't seem to be much of a swell where we'd anchored.  A couple other guys decided to check it too and when they didn't come back, we all jumped in to find out what was happening.  Well, for many it was the best session of their lives.  Imagine: 6-8' rights, nearly perfect shape, rides that last forever.  Twelve guys in the water (14 once the two poor Aussie shortboarders showed up), two or three guys on each wave, everybody making it.  Goofy foots riding overhead backside, less experienced guys riding waves bigger than they've ever been in, experienced guys screaming and throwing their hands in the air with pure joy.

By Tuesday the whole crew just wanted to rest.  Five to six hours of intense surfing on Monday had worn us out.  Wednesday was another story.Colin at Playa Langosta

Colin Davis at Playa Langosta.  5-7' lefts and rights just around the point from Tamarindo.

With such a large group and three SUVs, we split up.  Some surfed Playa Langosta just around the point from Tamarindo and an easy drive from our hotel along a dirt road.  The river mouth break had powerful 6-8' sets with more strong offshore winds, good lefts but a little crowded.  Just north, over the rocks at high tide, the sets were a bit smaller but still offered good rights and some lefts.Jim Gildea @ Playa Langosta

Jim Gildea on a right over the rocks at Playa Langosta.

Most the rest of our stay in Costa Rica was spent in and around Tamarindo.  We worked our way from one side of the river mouth to the other.  On Friday, John O'Neill, Eric Pollock and I trekked along the back roads to Playa Grande where we found mediocre surf and large groups of shortboarders.  A couple of miles farther and we found Moro Hermosa, the northwest tip of Tamarindo Bay.  For me, the experience was even better than Ollie's because I had the same type of long, overhead rights but no crowd!  I had every wave to myself and that capped off a surfing trip to Costa Rica I'll remember as long as I live.

For more information about travel in Costa Rica, follow the links below.

Trip Log Good, Bad, Ugly Equipment