The northern Pacific region of Costa Rica, informally called the Gold Coast, is a big draw for surfers, as well as aspiring wave riders, because the ocean offers all kinds of breaks, including beach, reef, river mouth and points.
Although constant offshore winds during the dry-season months of December to March would seem to mean that those are the glory days, Guanacaste is unique because the storms of the rainy season actually bring up larger swells, making the breaks here even more ideal April through November.
In addition, surfers have the option to travel to spots that work in certain conditions when others don’t. Therefore, the northwestern province is a year-round dream come true for board sports fanatics.
We wanted to put together a guide to Guanacaste surfing for this special section on the region. But let’s face it: with the area growing at an extraordinary rate to accommodate its popularity, there’s no way this article can be “Everything You Need to Know about Surfing in Guanacaste.”
After all, how can every surf shop, school and other related business in the northwestern province be counted, and who’s to say more won’t pop up between now and publication day?
However, as Christophe Commarieu reminds us: “All you really need is a brief outline of different surf spots, how to get there and when conditions are best.”
The rest is up to you.
Surfing Potrero Grande
This area is internationally known as Ollie’s Point, for the land location where U.S. Military General Oliver North was said to base his weapons operations for the Sandinistas. It’s even more famous for its segment in the surf flick “Endless Summer 2.” In the water, all that is nonsense, because this right point has an easy takeoff, nice face, fast and hollow waves and works at low tide. With no road or beach access, Ollie’s is only reachable by boat from Playas del Coco.
Although there are no facilities there, camping is a possibility. Just bring all your camping gear, including food and water. Some boat companies are listed under the Playa Naranjo entry below, but any of the Tamarindo-area businesses listed farther down can also contact an appropriate operator.
Surfing Playa Naranjo
In magazines and on postcards and Tshirts, this location in Santa Rosa National Park is called Witch’s Rock, for the celebrated geological formation that acts as a point for strong offshore winds, particularly December through March, creating beach breaks in all directions that work best with the incoming high tide. The waves are simply picturesque when peeling.
The park limits the number of boats that may enter the area each day; however, it is possible to drive to Witch’s Rock. Keep in mind, however, that during the rainy-season months of July through November, access to the shore is closed. As with Ollie’s, contact one of the operators below or the Tamarindo-area companies to set up your boat ride.
Surfing Playa Grande
Inside Las Baulas National Marine Park, where endangered leatherback turtles come to nest, this long, pristine beach just north of Tamarindo offers perhaps the most consistent surf in the area, breaking left and right with multiple peaks that start hours before high tide and keep going well after.
Past and Present renowned locals include Louis Wilson, one of the area’s first Gringo surfers; pro surfer John Logan, known for his helpful advice to the visiting water warrior; and Marcelo Matos, a pro surfer on the National Surf Circuit and a professional surf photographer.
For better or worse, this is the fastest-growing town in the region. Visitors can take advantage of the multitude of surf shops, repair facilities and surf schools and instructors operating out of this town.
Tamarindo is also home to local and visiting free surfers aplenty, as well as the following past and present Costa Rican pros: Isaac Vega, Marco Pacheco, Josimar Fuentes, Brian Vega, Dotty West, Yorjanni Ruiz, Justine Javelle, Natalie Bernold, Julie Javelle, Juan Diego Evangelista, Pedro Cruz and, of course, Robert August and Robert “Wingnut”Weaver.
The beach itself is the best place in Guanacaste to learn to surf, because the bay is enclosed on all sides. This very slow beach break right out in front is where most of the instruction takes place. Be warned: the beach is crowded year-round with surf students.
For more challenging surfing in town, surf in the river mouth with swell at low tide, then, if you have guts, move south toward Pico at high tide, when all the locals go flying off that peak’s right and left, having a blast and hanging out.
Just south of Tamarindo, this is the fancier, greener (for now) area of town, mostly residential, but beyond the homes is a river mouth break with some sand or reef. Head out two or three hours before the tide comes up, sticking to the sand when there’s a small swell. For the more experienced, the reef provides a nice ride when the waves are bigger.
Langosta is home to one of Costa Rica’s most famous surfers, Federico Pilurzu, as well as Giovanni Perini, Jerry Hirsch, Louis Maresca and Nicholas Weber.
If you are living at Hacienda Pinilla Beach Resort and Residential Community, or are a guest at Hotel Posada del Sol, you are lucky enough to have access to the private beachfront in the Avellanas river mouth.
This is Little Hawaii, a right-hand-beauty that is the southernmost of four fantastic surf spots that work best on south swell, for the property’s clients who are in good physical shape for paddling out past the reef.
The public can get here by driving (four-wheel drive required) about 20 minutes from Tamarindo and parking in the lot farther south at Lola’s Restaurant, then taking the long walk and paddling across the river mouth.
Or, simply surf Avellanas’ other wonderful options: the reefy sand left in front of the eatery, a multitude of other beach breaks going north – sometimes with hollow waves – and the river mouth’s right and left reef curls.
You might see Costa Rica’s only International Surfing Association-certified judge, Yeffrey Rojas, in the water at Avellanas, as he lives in the neighborhood, as do Hacienda Pinilla competitors Carl Harwin and Michael Cowart.
Surfing Playa Negra
Five kilometers south of Avellanas, this quality right-hand reef break is arguably the best wave around. Though populated by a lot of locals and experienced visiting surfers, this is a serious spot. Don’t go to Negra unless you know what you are doing on your surfboard; there are very fast tubes here, and the area is remote.
While not a professional surfer, Playa Negra resident John Coopwood uses the sport as his muse. The painter and commercial artist designs for clients such as Quiksilver, O’Neill, Ernieball/MusicMan, Mesa/Boogie, Scorpion Bay, Corona beer and Local Motion, and sells his work in Tamarindo galleries.
From here south, the area is stunningly gorgeous to surf. From the water, the view to the shore is spectacular. Here, within the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge, is a large beach with some good beach breaks that throw rights and lefts with some shallow, rock reefs that get barreling with swell.
Guiones has a reputation like New York’s illustrious Hampton Beach, but you’d do well to ignore that stuff, because here you will find a fun, rideable beach break with lefts and rights and a beautiful beach.
The wave can get very big, though there seem to be a lot of brave beginners paddling out with the more experienced folks. But even with the size, the waves tend to be fatter and slow, making for a really good time. It can get crowded, but it’s a long beach, and people tend to fan out.
Sunny Garcia, world surfing champion in 2000, is a frequent visitor, while five-time U.S. champion Corky Carroll has a surf school here. Top-ranked Costa Rican pro surfer Vilbert Wingrove lives in the suburb of Garza. Other pros living in the area include Luis “Luigi” Montiel, who works at the Nosara Animal Refuge, Kyle Bombard and Francella González.
A picturesque bay, complete with its own forested island, Isla Chora, in the middle, Sámara is a gentle learning area with right and left beach breaks. In a country where pura vida is about slowing down, this is surfing at its most tranquilo, and easiest. Beginners only.