Surfing in Costa Rica

Get schooled on the Nicoya Peninsula

Oct 18, 2011
Outside Magazine
Surf Simply's Gemma Yates rips it at Playa Gujones

Surf Simply's Gemma Yates rips it at Playa Gujones    Photo: Surf Simply


From $2,570 a week, all-inclusive; HOW TO GET THERE: Delta, American, and Continental fly to Liberia; from there, a Surf Simply rep will drive you the two hours to the resort. WHEN TO GO: The dry season, December through April, and the green season, June, July, August, and November; the resort is closed May, September, and October. ALSO CHECK OUT: Spencer Klein, Jack Johnson’s former tour assistant, spent years traveling in Central America. In addition to one-day kayaking, birding, and SUP outings, his adventure outfitter, Experience Nosara, offers weeklong SUP and paddle-surfing tours in the area and guided charter-boat surf trips in Costa Rica, Panama, and Nicaragua; experience-nosara....



The Surf Simply Resort

The Surf Simply Resort

Nosara's wild coast

Nosara's wild coast

Owner Ru Hill

Owner Ru Hill

THE WAVES have gotten bigger, and Ru Hill, owner of the Surf Simply Coaching Resort in Nosara, Costa Rica, can see that I’m focusing more on not getting clobbered than on riding one. “Instead of thinking, How can I avoid that wave crashing on my head?, start thinking about where to be positioned to catch it,” he says. “There are the hunters and the hunted. Turn yourself into a hunter.”

I’m learning how to find Spot X—the best place to be to catch a wave. Over the years, I’ve been to two other surf camps and had numerous individual lessons, where I’ve paid $75 an hour to hear “Stand up like a champ!” Thankfully, Hill, a 33-year-old expat from Bristol, England, takes a functional, almost scientific approach to surf instruction, breaking it down into logical, obtainable steps. He’s been gathering data for more than ten years while teaching the sport in Polzeath, Cornwall, and Costa Rica, where he moved in 2007. “You’ve got beginner lessons, and then you’ve got professional coaching, and nothing in between,” Hill says. The point of Surf Simply, which Hill opened in March 2010 with his wife, Gemma Yates, is to bridge that gap.

Hill and Yates searched the world—from Portugal to Bali—for the perfect location. They chose Nosara, on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, because of the consistent, year-round waves at the undeveloped four-mile stretch of white sand at Playa Guiones, 800 yards from the resort. The surrounding jungle and protected nature reserve didn’t hurt.

Each day of the weeklong ­program includes two 90- ­minute surf sessions (morning and afternoon), family-style meals, a theory class (on everything from how to read a storm forecast to how to judge a surf contest), and afternoon yoga. With a max of 14 guests—from Facebook execs to athletes to families—there’s a three-to-one student-coach ratio, divided into groups from level 1 (beginners) to level 4 (advanced).

Earlier in the week, the coaches filmed my level 2 group—which is how I found out that I sometimes surf in the poo stance, with my rear end sticking out—and analyzed what we needed to work on, including proper stance, how to trim and carve turns, and where to put the board on a wave. Each day, we’ve learned a new skill by studying video of surfers doing it right, deconstructing the mechanics of how and why a move works, and practicing the techniques in front of a mirror, on the beach, and in the water, coaches by our side, their feedback constant and specific. “You see a lot of guys saying, ‘Feel the rhythm of the ocean’ and ‘Just go with the wave,’ and that’s terrible coaching,” Hill says. “We wanted to get away from anything that’s ambiguous and cool about surfing and make things accessible. ‘You learn these three skills in this order, this is how you do them, and then you’re going to be able to do these things.’ There’s no magical connection with the sea.”

All five Surf Simply coaches are highly trained lifeguards with International Surfing Association instructor awards. They’re also fun, enthusiastic surf geeks. Coach Harry Knight’s theory class on board design is spot-on, because he’s designed surfboards himself. In the yoga studio, Hill unveils a 10-by-6-foot surfing Tree of Knowledge poster he spent years creating. It’s a detailed road map of the steps from ­beginner- to advanced-level surfing and confirms my suspicion: he’s a methodology maestro.

This isn’t a vacation for sloths. I’ve been thanking the surf gods that every detail, from delicious meals to airport transfers to equipment, is taken care of by Surf Simply so I can focus my energy on paddling. Most guests tuck into bed in one of the resort’s four luxe chalets by 9:30 p.m. Between surf ­sessions, we all sneak chill time by the cerulean-bottomed pool (with howler monkeys roaming the trees above) or watch surf movies in the open-air rancho, raiding the stocked fridge. On the midweek day off guests can choose adventures, from a canopy tour of the jungle to stand-up paddleboarding the flatwater Rio ­Nosara, thick with roseate spoonbills and 500-year-old great kapok trees. And—no-brainer here—schedule a massage.

While I haven’t mastered ­every skill in five days, I’m leaving with a wealth of knowledge that would’ve taken years to acquire through one-off surf lessons, and a massively renewed stoke. At the end of the week, I find myself battling my way “out the back” through 12-foot walls of green water, bigger than anything I’ve ever seen. Coach Martin Reynolds, from Exmouth, England, turns to me after I catch my breath. He sees a nice double-overhead wave ­approaching and cheerfully asks, “Shall we have a go at this one?” Holy hydraulics! I decide to go for it. “Paddle hard!” Reynolds yells, helping me along as I dig into each stroke. I catch the wave, drop down the face, and have the ride of my life. Then I start planning my return visit.

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