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Costa Rica on its way to ocean supremacy

One of the strongest forces on our planet is the ocean. Countless animals evolve by its hand, and humans are no exception. Costa Ricans have always been connected to the ocean in many ways, but now more Ticos than ever are becoming immersed in ocean culture. And the environment seems to produce champions.

Shawn Larkin

Shawn Larkin

Not too long ago in Costa Rica, surfers were often unwelcome, divers were rarer than jaguars, kayaks were for the Arctic, superyachts and cruise ships thought we were Puerto Rico, and marine conservation was a foreign language.

Not anymore, baby!

Costa Rica has quickly surfed through the ranks to become an ocean contender. We are not yet quite on par with Hawaii, California, Australia or France, but every day, Ticos are charging our oceans full on, diving, captaining, paddling every nook and cranny and getting slotted in epic waves. And we keep getting better and better.

This is nowhere more evident than in all the recent toasts to “Tequila” and Costa Rica around the world, thanks to the World Masters Surfing Championship win by Craig “Tequila” Schieber (see story on Page W1). The dude’s gold medal reverberated stoke and pride here from sea to shining sea, making San José kids who have never seen the sea proud of their country’s ocean prowess.

Costa Rican kayak prowess is also legendary, and every paddler sits up a little straighter when kayaking with a Costa Rican, in ocean waves or raging rivers. Many Costa Rican kayakers consult for other countries that want to duplicate the success here. Kayaks are now like rice and kayak guides like beans in Costa Rica. The low-impact, widely distributed economic generation of kayaking is ideal for wild places that want to keep their wildlife.

Divers have brought the incredible, priceless wildlife of the big blue to the world’s awareness, with Isla del Coco National Park launching a worldwide love affair with sharks decades ago. Countless outfits now take snorkelers and divers all over Costa Rica’s coasts, and underwater images have become standard in publicity like brochures and websites. A Costa Rica-based diver guiding a group of Russians called in the report of a recent shark massacre at Malpelo Island offshore of Colombia (TT, Oct. 14, 27) and helped the world remind us of our role as shark stewards, not slayers.

Just as Archie Carr in Tortuguero began the change to stop turtle slaying, Randall Arauz of the marine conservation group Pretoma is championing the effort to save sharks and making waves around the world. He is leading a sea change of perception of what Costa Rican sharks are for and becoming a world leader in marine conservation.

Costa Rican captains are becoming world leaders as well, as international cruise ships hire many to drive their excursion craft. These Ticos are driving groups of high-paying VIPs through some of the most challenging ocean conditions in tourism, all over the globe. Drake Bay lodge owners frequently lament cruise ship headhunters poaching their captains.

Captains from other countries want to hone their skills in Costa Rica’s waters too. More cruise ships and yachts are visiting than ever before, bringing in a giant segment of tourism. Costa Rica is among the hottest cruising waters on earth for adventure yachting. The internationally renowned Transat Jacques Vabre trans-Atlantic sailing race will end in the Caribbean port city of Limón soon, with one captain claiming serious bragging rights to one of the greatest challenges in sports while standing on one of the most expensive and advanced competition vessels in the world.

The victory will be extra sweet because the ship will be floating in Costa Rican waters, with the race now in its second year finishing in Limón. And you can be sure that a boatload of young Ticos will be watching the victory, and keeping their eyes on the big blue prize.

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