The first time I was traveling in Costa Rica I rented a surf board on the beach of Tamarindo determined to learn to surf, with absolutely no prior experience. There was no knowledgeable instructor in sight, just me, my board and a bucket list goal that needed to be conquered. The reality of what happened that day was a little less than inspirational. The result was swallowing ridiculous amounts of water, lemon sized bruises on my hip bones and pure exhaustion after an hour of attempting to stand for a mere half second.
So, it was truly appropriate that the very next time I traveled to Costa Rica that I would learn to surf, the right way. With a proper lesson. Taught by a hot surfer boy.
While spending the week perfecting my downward dog at Blue Osa Yoga Retreat in the Osa Peninsula, there was an opportunity for an afternoon ‘learn to surf’ excursion.
Yoga will have to temporarily be put on hold. I smell redemption.
Just a half hour ride from the retreat was our surfing spot, Playa Pandulce. When we arrived, there were only a few other surfers and the waves seemed mellowly manageable, even for a clumsy novice like myself.
We were greeted by Pollo, from Pollo Surf School, our trusty instructor with sun-bleached hair and a wicked tan. He fit the part. Our lesson immediately started on the sand as he taught us the three step approach to riding a wave.
Step 1, lay on your board in a position similar to yoga’s cobra, put your dominate hand forward and lift yourself up into a modified downward dog position. Step 2, plant your back foot and exchange your front foot with the hand that was there. Step 3, stand up keeping your feet and arms perpendicular to the board. At this point you should look like you’re loosely doing a version of warrior. Every step of this lesson seemed to remind me of yoga pose, this was probably subconscious since I was playing hooky from my daily yoga class to learn to surf.
Most importantly, don’t fall.
Sounds easy enough, for someone who actually has coordination. Not me. Certainly this had to even be easier for the beach pooches who seemed to be watching my lesson in disappointment. Were they shaking their heads at me? I practiced the moves a couple dozen times on the beach before even taking to the water, I didn’t want a repeat of my first ‘learn to surf’ experience.
Besides, It took time for my body to keep catch up with my brain.
Finally, we were ready to take to the ocean. Heading towards the Costa Rican beach with our boards in hand, the water was calm with small waves, which our instructor said was perfect to learn to surf. We paddled out far enough to catch a wave, but close enough where Pollo could still touch the bottom in order to properly instruct.
He held my board with me facing the shore.
When the wave approached, just before it was underneath me, he pushed the board to help me along. Though I quickly tried to execute what I had just learned ten minutes prior, my first wave was a total bust. As soon as he pushed me, me and my board tipped over. I quietly started to get worried that I wouldn’t even be able to stand up for a second, but Pollo must have seen the concerned look on my face and told me not to be concerned, just to take my time.
The second wave: up for half a second. I needed to be quicker popping up.
The third attempt: up for a second and a half. I needed to bend my legs more.
It was already time for a short break, surfing was very hard work.
I laid on my floating board for a five minute breath-catching pause and let the waves crash over me, until I was ready to try again. My mind gave myself a pep talk, “Come on Annette, get it together, you can do this”.
The fourth & fifth try: On both tries I stood up, rode the wave and took it almost to the shore.
It was like a Rip Curl commercial.
Okay, maybe not quite, but every wave after that didn’t matter because I had just officially surfed and it turned out to be a great addition to my list of the top things to do before you die.
After about a dozen times, with successes and failures, my body was too tired to carry on. There were five adventurous (& totally awesome) ladies in this class, including two other fabulous travel bloggers: Angie from Angie Away and Camille from This American Girl…and EVERY ONE OF US was able to catch a wave.
We totally rock.
Of course, as with many adventures that include myself, there had to be a small injury involved. As I was walking my surf board toward land, triumphant, I kneed a large stone underwater.
. . . Check it Off Your Bucket List . . .
Costa Rica is a Central American country bordered by Panama and Nicaragua, plus the coasts of the Caribbean and Pacific. The Osa Peninsula is the rugged southwestern headland that has the Pacific Ocean to the west and Golfo Dulce to the east. It is a primitive haven of about five thousand where the rain forests are pristine, many of the streets are unnamed and white-faced capuchins swing in the trees.
The Osa Peninsula can be reached by plane via Costa Rica’s capital city of San José, The daily flights to Puerto Jimenez airport takes roughly 45 minutes. My flight was with Nature Air (www.natureair.com) who is known as the world’s first carbon neutral airline, reducing their carbon footprint to zero. Alternatively, you can fly with Sansa Air (www.flysansa.com). It is also possible to drive from San Jose, by renting a car with Solid Car Rental (www.solidcarrental.com), the trip would take about 6-8 hours. Taking a bus can be tricky if you speak absolutely no Spanish and are not an experienced traveler, but it can be done. Transportes Blanco Lobo offers a daily bus service from San Jose to Puerto Jimenez, the main town in the Osa Peninsula. The cost is currently $13 and departs from the intersection of Calle 12 and Avenidas 7/9 Blanco Lobo Station at 8:00am and 12:00pm (tel. 2257-4121).
Spanish is the official language, though English is widely understood.
Costa Rican colón, US dollars are widely accepted.
Plug Type A/B, 120v. Most outlets are the same as the two-prong American-style, though some will not include a spot for the third prong. So your 3-prong devices may need an adapter, though you shouldn’t need a converter.
When to Go:
The Osa Peninsula consistently sees average daytime temperatures between the high 70s to low 80s throughout the year, though there are two seasons; dry and wet. The ideal time to visit is during the dry season (mid-November to late April) when the rainfall is very limited. Though this time is also the peak tourist season, the Osa Peninsula doesn’t draw the same crowds as the mainland, so you will still be able to enjoy lounging on the nearly empty beaches and hiking barren rain forests. Wet season is from May to mid-November, and during the peak months (September and October) the rainfall may prevent you from traveling to the more remote parts of the area, especially when the potholed dirt roads become challenging even for the most rugged sports utility vehicle. If you are looking for a bit of a bargain, traveling off-season in early May or November may be your best bet. The rains will have just started or ended during these months and retreats may offer discounted rates.
How to Visit/Planning:
Surfing lessons are offered as an excursion at many of the hotels and resorts, or you can book directly through Pollo Surf School.
The Osa Peninsula is a remote location and has very limited transportation choices while there. Some hotels will provide shuttle service from the Puerto Jimenez airstrip to the lodging and excursion operators will offer pick-up/drop-off services (fees may apply). Between spending time at the retreat and the extra tours your time should be pretty well filled up. But, if you have an interest in exploring on your own it will require either renting a car, hiring a driver or catching a ride in one of the few taxis.
Where to Stay:
If you’re visiting the Osa Peninsula on a very special ocassion spend the night in Drakes Bay stay at the luxury eco-resort Copa de Arbol Beach and Rainforest Resort set amongst the tropical rainforest (from $633). For something a little more reasonably priced and still very nice try Iguana Lodge (from $92). If you need a night in San Jose before catching your early flight home, try Adventure Inn (from $94) who includes an all-you-can-eat breakfast and a free shuttle to the SJO International airport. If you want to do a little exploring in the city, enjoy a night at the historic Grano del Oro (from $167) or Aranjuez Hotel (from $46), just a short walk from the city center.
Where to Eat:
Head to the coastal town of Puerto Jimenez and indulge in the ceviche at the oceanfront Marisqueria Corcovado (www.marisqueriacorcovado.com). Or opt for a taste of Italy with a thin-crust, wood-fired pie at PizzaMail.it (piazza central; 506 2735 5483). For a special treat head north to Drake’s Bay for a meal of fish tacos and tuna at Gringo Curt’s Seafood (Agujitas de Drake;506 6198 5899). If you spend extra days in San Jose try Ram Luna (www.restauranteramluna.com) for Tierra Tica (Typical Night) where every Wednesday and Thursday evening you can not only eat traditional casado, but also listen to marimba music and see authentic Costa Rican folk dancing.
- Spend a few hours meeting the inhabitants at the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary (osawildlife.org), a center focused on rehabilitation. There will be opportunities for have contact with the animals, whether it be feeding a sloth playing with a monkey or petting a porcupine.
- Take a tour through a traditional cacao plantation at Finca Kobo (fincakobo.com; $32). See the different species and taste the fresh fruit from a chocolate tree.
- Hike amongst the monkeys and toucans at Corcovado National Park (corcovadoguide.com). With over 100,000 acres of tropical rain forest there are many picturesque trails to choose from.
- Take a guided kayaking tour through the Mangroves with Aventuras Tropicales (aventurastropicales.com; $45). The paddle will take you through the Preciosa Platanares Wildlife Refuge to learn about the ecosystem through your experiences with nature.
- Americans are not required to get a visa to enter Costa Rica, though they do need one upon exit. It can be purchased at the airport and the cost is $26 per traveler.
- If you only learn a few Spanish words before you go, make sure that two of them are “pura vida”, as it is worked into almost every paragraph, if not sentence. This literally translates to “pure life”, but it goes beyond this definition. It is really a way of life in the Costa Rican culture, encompassing a mindset of not sweating the small stuff, letting go of what you cannot control and understanding there are many people in worse positions than yourself.
- The Osa Peninsula is a rural area, so don’t expect to be able to get your morning triple shot latte at Starbucks — this is part of the charm.
- If you rent a car, be cautious while driving because the dirt roads can be filled with potholes and there are virtually no street signs.
- If you forget anything, make sure it is not bug repellant! The tropical, humid climate attracts many little pesky bugs that would love to eat you for dinner.
- Costa Rica is another country where the strength of the sun can be deceiving, so bring lots of sunscreen.
Costa Rica Experts (www.costaricaexperts.com); Go Visit Costa Rica (www.govisitcostarica.com); Book Yoga Retreats (www.bookyogaretreats.com)
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Disclosure: I was a guest of Blue Osa Yoga Retreat + Spa, but all the words I write come straight from my, sometimes distorted, mind. Just as it should be.