Surfing & Life in Costa Rica

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A surf journal discussing surfing and life in the southern zone of Costa Rica. I live in Platanillo, a small  town of a few hundred people in the mountains above Dominical Costa Rica. Playa Dominical has the most consistent surf in Costa Rica. Platanillo is a quiet rural community, a short drive of under 15 minutes to Dominical and 25 minutes to San Isidro del General. is a free online surfing guide. Go to our home page to learn How To Surf. There is also a Costa Rica section of the website. You'll find surf videos of the top 10 surf spots in Costa Rica.

March 21, 2011 - Supermoon Surfing

Saturday brought some of the best surfing in a long time to Dominical, Costa Rica. At least, so I am told. I wasn't there. I had over-indulged on Friday and was feeling the affects of my stupidity on Saturday. One friend who lives in California and comes down here 4 months each year told me that he caught the best wave of his life on Saturday. Another friend who went surfing with me on Sunday, kept using the word amazing to describe his Saturday surf session.
I haven't looked up how the moon affected the surf around the world, but it sounds like I missed a great day out in the water Saturday. On Sunday, the waves were averaging 5 feet and depending where you were sitting you could catch consistent lefts and rights. Up north by the river mouth, the break was serving up right after right like a machine. I sat further south in front of the cell tower and caught left's for two hours straight. We were catching the bigger waves of the sets and they were staying open all the way to shore. A good day, but from the sounds of it, Saturday was a heck of a lot better.

January 24, 2011

Since the last entry, I have been down to Panama and also made a trip down south to the Osa Peninsula, Playa Matapalo. I've been across the bay before to Pavones, but this was my first time to Matapalo. What an amazing place with three different breaks close to each other. Playa Matapalo, Backwash and Pan Dulce. The swell wasn't high enough for Pan Dulce, but the waves were fast and fun at Matapalo.

I was reading my previous entry about surfing with Dolphins back in December, which for me was so amazing. The other experience I always thought would be cool was to be able to be around a sea turtle when I was surfing. I finally got that experience at Playa Matapalo. To be honest it was not nearly the same, it was somewhat like surfing and seeing a piece of wood with just the tip floating up in the water about 30 feet from you. Anytime I got closer it would just go back under the water, I'd lose sight of it and then a few minutes later, the "little piece of wood" would pop up somewhere else in the area.

Matapalo is an wild place with no electricity, the homes in the area mostly on solar power. We saw Scarlet Macaws, Howler and White Faced monkeys. Getting there requires a 4WD so the place still has a remote feel to it. The nearest town for supplies is 18 kilometers away, so bring in whatever you need for your visit. There is nowhere to buy day to day items at Playa Matapalo.

December 11, 2010

Well, it is finally the end of the wet season and the surfing has been fun in Dominical. The waves have not been very large, but the swell is coming in under 200 degrees which usually makes for great waves in Dominical and they have been good this week.

I had an amazing experience on Monday, as a pod of dolphins were swimming within 50 feet of me for 15 minutes. The waves were great too. Wednesday was the best waves of the week for me. Again a small day, but in the late afternoon, the waves picked up a little to around 5 feet and the were producing some very clean lefts and rights one after the other. I don't know how many waves I surfed in the two hours I was out, but by the time I was done, my arms were worn out. This morning was a gorgeous sunny morning and the waves were around 4 feet. Not as good of a day as earlier in the week, the waves were breaking softly and not very fast.

November 15, 2010

Sheesh, that was a long weather system. The weather is getting back to normal. Today was the first sunny morning in two weeks. I did get down to Dominical three times last week. It was like surfing in pumpkin soup with all the mud flowing in from the rivers. I surfed near low tide on Saturday. I don't usually surf Dominical at low tide, but it was a smaller day and the largest wave didn't get over 6 feet, the majority were 4 1/2 to 5 feet.

The storm has created a new sandbar in front of the lifeguard stand in Dominical. This all started a week ago or so on a Sunday. A few guys went out and were getting barrel after barrel. By Monday, news spread and it was crowded. The break is in very shallow water, only waist deep so people were breaking their surfboards. Who knows how long it will last, get it while it's working.

The beginner beach Dominicalito is no longer the same. If you have ever been there before, you would be disappointed with how the beach has changed. The sand has shifted exposing many rocks at the shore.

Dominicalito has always been a beach that you could only surf above mid tide due to rock further out. Now there are many more rocks exposed, and you are in danger of hitting rocks at all but high tide. It will make it difficult for the surf schools who used to be able to come to Dominicalito was not having good conditions for beginning surfers.

November 8, 2010

What a mess! Little did I know that a week ago today was going to be the only day I'd be out surfing for the week. I had gone out early Monday on November 1 and had a great morning surfing down in Dominical. By noon it started to rain and it didn't stop until yesterday (Sunday). This was the most rain I have ever seen fall in Costa Rica. It was relentless and has left the countries roads in rough shape.

The coastal road from San Jose to Dominical is open today, but the Inter-American between San Jose and San Isidro is closed. On the road between San Isidro and Dominical, it is very dicey. The bridge in La Palma is warped but vehicles are still crossing. The part of the road between Tinamastes and Platanillo is close to collapsing in two places and I am amazed they are letting big trucks on the road. Between Platanillo and Dominical there are four landslides that are being cleared. The traffic is getting through, but a trip that normally takes 12 minutes is taking between 1 ½ hours and 2 hours. I don't know how long it will take for the main roads and highways in Costa Rica to be repaired.

From what I have seen of just this little corner of Costa Rica, the task ahead of the government to get the roads repaired is huge and will take several months. It wouldn't surprise me if six months from now that there is still a substantial amount of roadwork still needing to be completed to repair the damage from this huge storm.

Sadly, our neighbor lost his home to the ground sinking more than two feet and then sliding. Not only is the house a write-off, it looks like the lot will not be safe to build on again.

October 25, 2010

Yesterday was one of the bigger days we have had this year for waves in Dominical, Costa Rica. A friend of mine who just moved here from the US, was in Dominical in the morning at 10 and was watching the waves. It was close to low tide, and Dominical is not usually a place to surf at low-tide. The waves close out and crash down onto shallow water. He couldn't figure out why nobody was out in the water. He asked a local why nobody was surfing and I love the answer he was given. The guy simply said "Dude those waves will snap your surfboard".

In the afternoon, I drove with my friend down to Dominicalito. It seemed like all the regulars from Dominical were there. It was crowded and there were a couple of collissions, but everyone was friendly. The surf in Dominicalito was very good and it was doing something unusual. The waves were breaking in different distances from shore. There were 4 spots you could set yourself up in. When the sets came in, the waves were breaking quite far out. These waves were close to closing out, but some people were catching them. One younger local kid around 15 years old who usually just seems to be in the way, earned my respect. He was taking real late drops on the biggest waves and making it. He had a huge smile on his face the whole time. On one drop, another kid snaked him and he had to bail out and eat the wave. When he came up he was still smiling from ear to ear and when the other kid paddled back out they were just laughing away. It was great to see.

The other spots to set up were producing more frequent rides and the waves were holding their shape nicely. The wave height was high for Dominicalito and normally when the waves are bigger like this they close out. But yesterday the swell was coming in from under 200 degrees and the waves were great. You had to paddle into the waves in what felt like a very late approach to make them. When you caught them, there was so much time to pop up and get going. An easy, fun day for everyone out there surfing yesterday.

August 24, 2010

Yesterday afternoon I went surfing in Dominical Costa Rica. The surf in Dominical was great. The wave heights were around 6 feet and when a large set came in they were about 8 to 9 feet high.  The 6 foot sets were staying nice and open and it was easy to catch some fast lefts and rights. 

Update: Aug 26. Sometimes I think I am guilty of underestimating the size of the waves. I just read the Costa Rica surf report and this is what is said for 8/22, the day before I was out surfing. "Just a mild mannered pleasant crowd watching the spectacle from the beach. Ten to twelve foot faces are common with maybe an occasional fourteen or fifteen footer rolling through just for fun".

We have been having a lot of rain this month, but the last few days felt like summer.  What a relief, the previous Tuesday I went down to Dominical with a friend at 8 in the morning.  You can almost always count on early morning sunshine this time of the year.  Not this year, when we got there, it was raining hard and there was a strong wind.  We stood there in the rain shivering like idiots for 5 minutes while we checked out the surf.  Then paddled out and had a great time in some awesome waves.  The waves made up for the lack of sunshine.

August 4, 2010

I went surfing this morning for close to 3 hours in Dominical Costa Rica. The surf in Dominical today was tough. The waves were moving fast today and it felt like a freight train was pushing them as I was paddling out. There were waves with good shoulders, but it was hard to be in the right spot to catch the waves. The majority of the larger waves were closing out, making life difficult if you were in the wrong place.

One hour in, I got caught in the impact zone of a large close-out wave and took a beating. It slammed me hard, then tossed me around like a rag doll under the water.  I tried surfacing too soon and came up when the water was still really moving and swallowed a lot of water and then got slammed back under by the next wave. Belly rode in on my surfboard thinking that was enough for the day.  I was sitting in the shade for 5 minutes and then the waves started to look nice and open and I saw a few great rides. Paddled back out and had a blast for the next hour and a half.

A few days ago we went to the Panama border in Rio Sereno. The border was quiet and only a few people were crossing, so it didn't take long to get across the border. The trip to Rio Sereno is beautiful and the scenery as you drive along the road to San Vito is very beautiful. It's too bad that San Vito is so far from the ocean, I really like the mountains there.  t l

August 1, 2010

Playa Hermosa 5 km's north of Uvita, Costa Rica. There must be at least 5 Playa Hermosa's in Costa Rica. The more famous surf beach of Playa Hermosa is on the Central Pacific Coast a few kilometers south of Playa Jaco.

Playa Hermosa near Uvita is a beautiful sandy beach with no development nearby. It's easy to look around you and get the feeling of what Costa Rica would have looked like 100 years ago. The waves at Playa Hermosa break harder than at Playa Domincalito and softer than Playa Dominical. The surf is only good near high tide. The waves close out between mid-tide and low tide.

It isn't a crowded beach and there is room for everybody out in the water to surf. There usually aren't a lot of surfers in the water anyway, so you can almost always have your pick of the waves.

I went out surfing Playa Hermosa a couple of times this week and the surf was great. Nice open waves and I caught some good lefts.  I met the owner of The Refuge, Mike, this week at Playa Hermosa. He's a good surfer, originally from California. He was getting some late drops and making the rides on waves that would have pitched me for sure. I'll have to try and go out with him sometime and learn a thing or two.

July 22, 2010 Dominicalito

The surf hasn't been that consistent this past month. I haven't been able to get down to Dominical Beach to surf as often as I would like, about twice a week. The weather has made the waves choppy, and not very good at all most of the time when I've come down to Dominical Beach. Two days ago, I went down an hour before high tide and the waves were HUGE, but closing out. Grand total of all surfers out in the water....Zero.

So once again I headed on down for the short drive to Dominicalito Beach to surf. When I first got there, it was before 9 AM and I pretty much had the Dominicalito to myself. There were some new surfers getting lessons at the south end, but I hung around the north end of Dominicalito and there was only one other surfer in the water near me. I caught some nice size waves for Dominicalito, probably 5 feet, but they were closing out fairly fast, so you had to be to your feet quick. As high tide hit around 9:30 more and more cars began to arrive. By 10 the surf was crowded. One of the problems when you are at a surf beach where there are more beginners is the new surfers often don't know where they should be out in the water. A few more lessons would really help them know where to position themselves if they want to surf outside. You'll be ready to catch a wave and right in front of where you are going to make the drop is someone looking up at you like deer in the headlights. Everyone has to learn, so I don't get uptight about it, I just move along a little and look for some free space. Many times the person recognizes they have committed a “foul”, and will joke about it. This is great,because it gives a chance for some friendly conversation and perhaps the chance to help them out, if they seem like they want help. I like to help out people who are new to surfing when I'm out in the water. The thing is, many people don't want to be critiqued, so you have to go about it gently. It's easy to tell if someone has the easy going attitude and they are out there to have a good time and want to learn to catch more waves. It's easy to tell when someone doesn't want to be bothered and that's cool.

As I was saying, it was crowded and one time when I was paddling back outside a guy about 18 years old who was almost at an intermediate level caught a wave close to me. He was a little to my right when he made the drop and I wasn't too concerned until I realized he had his eyes focused solely on the nose of the surfboard and wasn't looking where he was going. I hollered out, but it was too late, so I just had time to flip off my surfboard and turtle under it. We had a good collision and he smoked the front of my surfboard and I took a good hit to the top of my hand where I was holding my surfboard over my head. Here is a case where everyone's attitude out in the water dictates what will happen next. When I surfaced the kid was so apologetic there was no way I was going to get mad. I made a couple of jokes with him and told him no worries, and to remember it can happen, if it should be him that gets hit one day in the future. When I got home, I realized that my surfboard that is only 4 months old took some damage where his fin hit the nose. Darn it. Love that smell of resin :)

A week ago, I was surfing at Dominical Beach and the tide was very high. It made the entrance and exit to the beach interesting. The beach normally has a slow gradual incline, but at the very high tide the slope gets steep and the waves were crashing right onto the shore. You had to time your entry just right to avoid getting hammered by a sandbuster. The same goes for the exit at the end of the session. I rode the largest wave of a set right up to shore and then kicked out at the last moment. Waited for that wave to retreat and then hauled it out of the water before the next wave came crashing onto shore.

I have been thinking about adding a page to the learn to surf part of the website on how to perform the kickout. It is an important maneuver to learn, as you advance in your surfing abilities. In a couple of days, I will have the kickout maneuver added to the site.

June 26, 2010 – Platanillo, Costa Rica

We had a new addition to our family this month. We had a stray dog show up at the house with three wounds to it's head and it was starving. Heidi did a great job of treating her wounds and fixing her up. We put notices up in the “Super” in Platanillo and neighboring homes, but nobody claimed the dog. She is a beautiful dog, part Siberian husky and part who knows what. There is an excellent organization down in Uvita on the coast about 20 minutes south of Dominical.  The Tripod Foundation. They are dedicated to improving the lives of domestic animals in Dominical, Uvita and Ojochal Costa Rica. They were very helpful and took care of the dog's check-up, vaccinations and spaying.

My son goes to the local school in Platanillo.  We live only 3 km's from the school, but the road is dangerous for anyone to walk on because there are sharp corners, no shoulder and everyone drives like a bat out of hell, passing on corners and no thought to pedestrians.  Each day I take Dalton in to school we have 8 – 10 other kids pile into the car with us. It's not exactly safe putting all of the kids in the car this way, but it is better than the alternative of the other children walking on the road. The teachers call our Izusu Trooper, el tren because of all the kids that get into it each day.  If the cops ever pull me over, it's going to be a hell of ticket. The country raised their fines for seat belts last and they also have a law now that kids under 12 have to be in a booster seat. If we get pulled over, I'll have to head back to Canada to get a job just to pay the ticket :(

Surfing the past couple of weeks has been good.  One day at Dominical Beach was awesome. I was even lucky enough to catch a small barrel. Time in barrel was probably half a second :) but it was still a great wave. The waves have been holding their shape well when I have been down and the rides have been long, all the way from outside to just about the shore if you want.
I went down to Dominicalito last Sunday and the waves were okay, nothing special, and while I was out there, the swell picked up a bit and the waves far out at the rocks to the north of Dominicalito started to break. This break is referred to as the A-Frames.  It's a bit of a paddle out to the rocks and it always feels and smells “sharky” to me when I go out there on my own. Just as I got out to the rocks a wave came in and I was in the perfect spot and caught  a 9 foot face. It was my best ride of the day. The waves here break differently than Dominical and Dominicalito. When they do break, they don't have the same push as the shore breaks. It's more forgiving if you wipe out on the face than if you were to wipe out in Dominical. You get some nice peaks as the wave comes in near the rocks, which is why it's called the A-Frames.

June 9, 2010:

On May 20 we had a strong earthquake and then on May 31 we had another one. Both earthquakes measured 6.1 on the Richter scale and were centered about 30 kilometers from where we live. The first earthquake actually felt much stronger to me. It knocked things over in the house. The second earthquake was longer, but didn't feel nearly as strong.

The earthquakes were centered near Quepos and it appears on June 1 they may have had a small tornado take out several trees. Much of Quepos center was flooded and debris on the road between Quepos and Manuel Antonio held up traffic.

Last year in August, we were down at Playa Quapil, which is 3km north of Dominical and we saw a waterspout out in the ocean, probably no closer than 5 km's. We watched it for several minutes before it dissipated. Then we headed for cover as heavy rains and winds arrived.

The month started off well for surfing. I got down to Dominical one day and the waves were head high and holding their shape well. It seemed everyone out there was catching as many rides as they wanted. There was good wave after good wave rolling in. Naturally, after such a great day, I headed down to Dominical again the next day, but it was a completely different day. It had been stormy and the water was choppy and the waves were closing out. It required good wave selection and patience to wait on a good set that wasn't closing out. In two hours out, I probably only had 10 decent rides.

Then I was struck down with a stomach virus, which kept me away from the beach for almost a week. A friend called early on Sunday morning and set to get going. I wasn't feeling too strong, so wasn't that disappointed when we got down to Dominical and saw that nobody was surfing because the sets were all closing out. We headed down the coast and caught some fun waves at Dominicalito. In fact, they were so good, I headed back yesterday, but it was a small mushy day. Next trip down, I'll head to Dominical again.

May 29, 2010 - Platanillo & Dominical, Costa Rica

I went down to Playa Dominical a couple of days ago with my friend Oren, and nobody was surfing. The waves were big and closing out.  When this happens, you know that it isn't because nobody wants to go surfing.  It's just not happening. Dominical is very consistent and it's not very often that you come down an hour before high tide and nobody is out in the water.

So we headed down to Playa Dominicalito to see if there was anything ridable there since we were already down at the coast. Dominicalito is a small beach just south of Dominical.  The "ito" in Costa Rica signifies "little".  When we got to Playa Dominicalito, nobody was out in the water. The place was deserted except for a guy next to the campground taking a 9 ½ foot surfboard off of his scooter. We sat around for a few minutes to see what it was like when a set came in and when the set arrived, what a surprise. The waves were nice.  So we paddled out and had a great time and had the place to ourselves for the next two hours.  We had a ton of decent size waves around 4 to 5 feet high that were staying open quite well for Dominicalito. The only other surfer to come into the water was the guy on the scooter. His name is Adam, he's living near Quepos and had just driven down on the just finished, paved highway between Quepos and Dominical.

One of the things I like about living in this part of Costa Rica is we meet a lot of interesting people. Adam is one of those.  He lives in Austin Texas and had driven down here in an old blue schoolbus.  After surfing, he tagged along with us for lunch in Dominical at the new kabob place. He is a working on a documentary on his trip down through Central America.

Surfing in Dominicalito is much easier than Dominical. The waves here have much less force. Sometimes the waves are faster to close out, but you don't pay the same price in Domincalito for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You can only surf Dominicalito when the tide is above mid-tide because of rocks.

Many of the surf schools in Dominical will take their students out here when conditions aren't good in Dominical.  It's a good place for beginning surfers who are wanting to progress from riding inside in the whitewater to riding outside on the wave faces. You'll see the Green Iguana Surf Camp out here many days with surf students.

May 26, 2010 Paddling Fitness

I got back from a 4 week trip to Canada on the 15th.  I went down to Dominical a couple of days later for my first surf in over a month. I have said that paddling fitness is one of the keys to catching more waves and my first time back in the water reinforced my opinion.

The sets were coming in about a foot overhead and the paddle out seemed to take a lot longer than I was used to in Dominical.  It took me about 10 minutes just to get outside.  Within 40 minutes my arms were burning and my pride was hurting.

I couldn't get up enough speed on my surfboard and the waves were either passing me by or I was too late and kept getting hammered as the waves closed out on top of me.  After an hour and a half, the paddle to get outside was getting so difficult, that I just packed it in for the day.  A month ago, I would have been out for another hour and would have had some great rides.

The rainy season is here in full force, the last three days have seen heavy rains. Normally you can count on several hours of sunshine in the mornings before the clouds roll in, but that hasn't been the case this week. The grey weather is actually responsible for this page's development.  I was going to go down to Dominical late this morning, but the rains just didn't stop and I wussed out and decided to stay home and work on this page. 

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