Surfing is popular on the Pacific and southern Caribbean beaches of Costa Rica, attracting professionals who follow storm surges along the coast. Beginners can take classes in some resorts like Tamarindo, Jacó and Dominical, and proficient surfers can get advice on waves from surf shops in these areas.
Hidden away on the south Pacific coast, Pavones is a legendary left point break that rides for up to 800 m on a good swell. It’s the longest ride in Costa Rica, and being a fickle fiend, it’s also the longest wait; when there’s no swell its popularity can lead to a crowded line up. However, as luck would have it, there are a number of other left handers around the point and also a beach break which can be bigger than the point itself. And Pavones is just the right sort of laid-back town you’ll want to wait in on quiet days.
2 Salsa Brava
Over on the Caribbean side, offshore of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Salsa Brava reef break is known for its size and power. It’s the biggest wave in Costa Rica, and definitely not for novices (the powerful wave breaks over coral – you may need to pack a spare board for this one). It needs a swell to work; the best time of year is from December to April. This is one of the most up-and-coming beach spots in Costa Rica.
3 Witches’ Rock
At the northernmost point of the Nicoya Peninsula, Peña Bruja, mistakenly translated in the 1980s as ‘Witches’ Rock’, is a famous break, with fast, hollow rights, and good lefts when it’s smaller. A beautiful, remote and picturesque spot, the wave is off Playa Naranjo, in Santa Rosa National Park. Access is by 4WD during dry season (boat during the wet) and camping is available at the park ranger’s station.
4 Playa Hermosa
Just south of Jacó (itself a great surf spot, well suited for the novice), Playa Hermosa provides a powerful and consistent beach break, with a hollow peak that could be compared to Puerto Escondido in Mexico. Sticking out into the Pacific, the spot is assured reliable swell. At times it’s perfect. Playa Hermosa is your laid-back surf base, while Jacó provides a lively party atmosphere.
5 Playa Grande
Playa Grande, a short trip across the estuary from Tamarindo, provides one of the most consistent breaks in the country, with lefts and rights of good size (it’s the most westerly point of Costa Rica and can get swells from the north, south and west). There’s almost always something happening at Playa Grande except at the bottom of the tide. A few hotels in Playa Grande and lots in Tamarindo make it a good base from which to explore and take side trips.
Slowly and reluctantly emerging into the spotlight, Malpaís, on the southwest tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, provides one of the best all-round surfing experiences in the country. There are several breaks up and down a short stretch of beach, with good transport for moving between them. There are courses for beginners, and a good mix of lefts and rights for all levels of surfer. There’s plenty going on in the area, and enough services to make it a good spot for a surf crowd, or a family looking for more than one activity by the beach.