Fitness & Health, International, TravelWaves Up in Costa Rica

Ever since I watched Kate Bosworth in Blue Crush, I have harbored this small fantasy of being a surfer chick.  I already love the look of beach hair – so looking fierce, tanned and mastering the waves was obviously the next natural step.  And I got my first taste of the life of a surfer girl (for two hours anyway) during a trip to Playa Jaco in Costa Rica.

About two hours away from San Jose, Playa Jaco is just one of the many renowned surfer towns in Costa Rica and one of the closest.  Because of its proximity to San Jose, hardcore surfers can often de-plane and surf on the same day if they head to Playa Jaco.

Before I made my fantasy of shedding my life in NYC to sell coconuts on the beach a reality, my friends and I decided to take on the first step of taking surfing lessons.  Taking advice from our trusty guidebook, we wandered down the main road in Jaco, which was a dime a dozen with surfboard rental shops.  We picked the one we thought was the most legit (which was obviously the one with an autographed picture of Kelly Slater, world famous surfer – see right) and asked if we could have a lesson for the afternoon.  The owner told us easily enough that we could have a lesson at 2 pm in the afternoon, and we paid a grand total of $60 dollars each, which we considered very fair as it included a two hour lesson for all of us including surfboard rental.

Taking a brief break for lunch, we had a snack and then wandered back tot the shop to be picked up by Jose, our teacher for the day.  A local to Jaco and a surfboarding fiend, he was tanned, had six pack abs, long shaggy hair, was super patient and was everything we imagined a surfing instructor to be.  After seeing us in our bikinis, he lent us board shirts to put over them to “prevent our stomachs from getting rashes.”  As we drove in his white Jeep down to a local, private part of the Jaco beach, he handed us each a longboard and led us down to the sand, where he instructed us on the basic movement of “getting up” (or the surf technical term, the “pop up”) on the board.

“Getting up” on the surfboard basically is consisted of doing the following steps in one fluid movement:
1. Lie flat on the board, positioning your feet at the end with your hands. (Think positioning yourself in ready push up position, with your hands beneath your shoulders.)
2. Plant your hands beneath your shoulders and push your shoulders up.
3. Spring to your feet by sliding your dominant foot (think the foot you would plant first if snowboarding) to the middle of the board.
4. Position your feet so that your toes face the side of the board and then slide your non-dominant foot closer so that it is shoulder’s with apart.

Or you can try watching this video for a visual representation of how to do the “pop up.”  Factor in doing all of those steps while balancing on the water and trying to find the board’s natural sense of gravity, and you will understand why the pop up is so hard.

After practicing the pop up a few times on dry land, we strapped the leg leash onto our ankle, and headed to the shallow waters where we each went one at a time.  As not to tire us out too much and give us the most time to practice, Jose was nice enough to do the paddle out for us and would push us out toward the water, spin us around when a nice wave was coming our way, and instruct us when to stand and do the pop up.

Swallowing about four gallons of salt water after falling off my board about 20 times, I finally got the fleeting feeling of balancing on my board for the first time and was so excited that I promptly fell off my board again in two seconds.  I managed to stand up on my board again a few more times and relished hearing the seawater streaming in waves alongside my board, and the lightweight feeling of actually standing on water.  I would equate the sensation of standing on the board most like snowboarding – except your balance on the surfboard is a lot more precarious since water is an unsteady, flowing force.

Our lesson was perfectly timed to coincide with the coming of the sunset, and we saw a gorgeous view of the Costa Rican skyline whenever we were being paddled out and the azure blue water and the coastline as we glided towards land.

We all managed to stand up on our boards at least once, thus further ensconced in our dream to stay surfer girls forever.  As a bonus, surfing is totally valid exercise, as it works out your core, upper body, and legs, explaining why  surfers have such thoroughly toned bodies.  After an exhausting few hours of surfing, we then headed over to Taco Bar, an open air, casual eatery with a selection of fish, chicken, calamari, or shrimp hard and soft tacos, with a plentiful bar of fix ups, including corn relish and different varieties of cheeses and hot sauces.  My favorite was the coconut topped fish, along with the one liter papaya milk smoothies, which I downed while sitting at one of the outdoor swing seats, while hoping that one day I would be able to rock the waves like the girl in the above picture.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4


  1. Arianne  |  31 January 2009 at 8:00 AM

    My boyfriend and I are going to Costa Rica to learn surfing this summer as we’re both graduating from University. I’m super excited! Thanks for sharing your experience. It looked like a lot of fun! 🙂

  2. Nina  |  25 March 2009 at 11:02 AM

    I’m thinking about a trip to Costa Rica, so I just re-read your post. It sounds amazing! I want to learn to surf 🙂 I may email you soon for some more details on your trip!

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