To the dismay of Nosara’s seasoned local surfers, the area is quickly becoming one of the hottest spots to learn in Costa Rica. No fewer than 10 surf schools are stationed around the four beaches collectively known as Nosara, and The New York Times recently named the area one of the top 45 places to go in 2012.
“With sandy beaches, warm, jade-green waters and rolling waves that rarely get too big, the remote jungle community of Nosara on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica has become the ideal spot to learn to surf,” The New York Times reported. The Grey Lady gave special mention to Safari Surf School, a long-standing Billabong surf camp, and Simply Surf, a newer operation with a unique, sports-centered approach and an excellent podcast (www.surfsimply.com).
These are two fine surf schools, and – like most businesses in the area – they both happen to be owned by Gringos. But as Nosara becomes a prime surf destination, approximately doubling its tourist intake each year, Ticos are looking to soak up some of that business, too.
The locals who grew up in Nosara have watched their remote jungle paradise transition first into a haven for aging Gringos seeking soft rides on long boards, and eventually into a tourism hot spot for surf, yoga and wellness. But the town has thus far managed to retain its dusty, laid-back charm, which is part of the draw for what locals call “the right kind of tourist.”
As more of the right kind pour in, Ticos who have worked for Gringos for years are getting bright ideas of their own. Some have followed the lead of the first visionary Tico surf entrepreneur in the area: Juan Surfo.
Juan Surfo is a mop-headed blond Tico who bears a striking resemblance to Jeff Spicoli of the 1982 comedy “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” and he embraces the comparison. Surfo often wears a Spicoli T-shirt, and can be overheard around town reciting quotes such as “You dick!”
At the north end of Playa Guiones, Surfo has his own surf shop, El Punto, surf school and recently opened restaurant, Soda Hola. He’s also got his own brand of apparel, Surfo, and he manages and rents homes in Nosara. Surfo started renting boards out of his house 12 years ago, and his business has helped him master enough English to teach surfing.
Surfo likes to say he’s the only Tico surf-school owner, but that’s true only if you stay in the north end of the beach. As the demand for surf lessons in the area has grown, Ticos who once worked for Gringo surf-school owners have created their own schools.
Instructors Become Owners
Nosara Tico Surf School opened in December 2009 with just three boards, a computer and an office space. The owners, Esteban López, a 24-year-old International Surfing Association surf instructor, and Luis Montiel, a 23-year-old who is sponsored and competes nationally, were both raised in Nosara and put in their time working at plenty of local surf schools and shops. Now in their third season as owners, they’ve come to own 60 boards of all different sizes and brands, most of which are suited for beginners.
They’ve also made connections with operations such as the Del Mar Academy, a local Montessori school that refers its students to Nosara Tico Surf School for discount board rentals. Blue Spirit, a popular yoga center in Playa Garza, also sends its clients to the school for surf lessons. López and Montiel pay it forward by occasionally diverting business to an even newer Tico surf school owner, Andrey Gonzales, better known as Cacho.
“He just got his start,” López says. “We’re definitely supporting him.”
Born Here, Baby
Gonzales’ establishment is a thatch-topped slab of concrete just before the southern entrance to Playa Guiones. When he’s not giving lessons, networking or constructing signage, Gonzales, 24, can be found in his shop on a green hammock, his long, dreadlocked ponytail cascading down his back. In just one season, Gonzales has gone from two boards to 20, all of which are NSP brand.
Asked about his background, Gonzales gets excited.
“I was born and raised here, baby,” he says. “More local businesses will be better for the community.”
Although the new surf schools create more competition, veteran surf business owners are outwardly positive about the growth. The owner of Coconut Harry’s, Steve Reyer, aka Coconut Steve, says the scene is friendly.
“Yeah, those guys used to work for me,” he says of Gonzales and López. “They’re local Tico guys who have gone out on their own. I think it’s nice that they have their own businesses.”
When Coconut Steve took over Coconut Harry’s five years ago, he was one of four schools in town, he says, including Safari Surf School, Corky Carroll’s and Surf Divas. Now there are 10.
“Every year, though, more people discover Nosara, so we’re all doing pretty well,” he says.
On a warm weekday morning, I took a surf lesson with Oscar Vargas, a Tico instructor with Coconut Harry’s. Vargas, 25, has been teaching surfing in the area for many years, and he has definitely noticed the area is growing. He’s been thinking about starting something of his own – maybe a horseback riding adventure with a tour of old sugarcane plantations.
When I ask him about starting his own surf school, he shrugs and acknowledges that it may be too late.
“The surf school would be a nice idea,” he says. “But maybe there are too many already.”
Empresas Alfaro offers daily bus service from San José to Nosara (Ca. 14, Av. 3/5, 2222-2666, 5.5 hours), and domestic airlines Nature Air (www.natureair.com) and Sansa (www.flysansa.com) both serve the Nosara airport.
Private surf lessons cost about $60 a person, while group lessons cost about $45 a person. Generally, lessons last about 90 minutes, and most schools offer packages of lessons at discounted rates.
Contact information for the schools mentioned here: Juan Surfo’s Surf School, 2682-1081, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.surfocostarica.com; Nosara Tico Surf School, 2682-4076, email@example.com, www.nosara-surf-school.com; Cacho’s Surf School, 8311-4937, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.wix.com/cachosurf/cachos; Coconut Harry’s Surf Shop and Surf School, 2682-0574, email@example.com, www.coconutharrys.com.