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Sunday, May 12, 2024

The charmed life of surfer Andrea Díaz

From the print edition

Andrea Díaz went to Playa Colorado, Nicaragua, last month with the intention of winning a medal for Costa Rica in the International Surfing Association’s (ISA) World Master Surfing Championships. The 36-year-old surfer from Tamarindo knew what she had to do. Without much preparation before last year’s El Salvador’s Masters, she had surfed her way to the No. 5 spot for women over 35 – in the world. 

This time, however, the Tica trained. Díaz worked out in a strenuous boot camp with Tamarindo physical trainer and surf instructor Scott Kadowaki, and was often seen running from her home in the nearby town of Villareal to her Waves Costa Rica surf shop at the Best Western Tamarindo Vista Villas.

“In Nicaragua, I was passing first in all of my heats and getting the highest scores,” Díaz said. She had to pass one more heat, the Repercharge Finals, to place into the principal finals, which award medals for every position. (Repercharge are the second-chance heats surfers in ISA events compete in after they fall out of the principle heats.)

But it wasn’t to be. During the ISA Aloha Cup – a tag-team event featuring surfers of the best eight teams from last year – Díaz popped her ankle doing a floater maneuver during her turn in the water. “It was okay because we brought home a bronze medal for Costa Rica,” she said.

Still, Díaz wanted more than anything to rally for her individual heat the next day. “It was really painful to surf, and we were in such a remote place that there wasn’t access to a real doctor,” she recalled. “I was hoping that adrenaline would kick in, or I’d be able to manage on a really perfect wave, but I didn’t have any luck. At least I was third and not last in my heat.”

Andrea Díaz

Díaz placed fifth in the world again, which she still considered an accomplishment. The placement, along with the fine surfing of former gold medalist Craig “Tequila” Schreiber, who this year took home a copper medal for his fourth-place finish in the over-50 Grand Kahunas, allowed Coast Rica, as a team, to place 10th among the 26 countries invited to compete in Nicaragua.

Back home in Tamarindo after a doctor’s visit, the petite Díaz discovered that she had dislocated her ankle, and is now in a splint. This does not deter the champion from her day job, which is running Waves Costa Rica, the only Roxy/Quiksilver surf shop and camp in Costa Rica, and the first in Latin America. Being the top in the world, she said, helps her credibility with students. Plus, she is a former national champion, having earned that title in 1999.

Díaz has always been competitive. Before learning to surf at 17, she was a swimmer, and she competed with the Costa Rica National Team the year they were vying for the Atlanta Olympics. She didn’t make the Olympic team, but it wasn’t too much of a bummer. She preferred to be at the beach. 

Born and raised in San José, she volunteered to be a park ranger in Playa Grande, just north of Tamarindo, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste. “That was the only way to get my parents to give me permission to go to the beach,” she said. “I ended up spending one month in Playa Grande and one month in Tamarindo, which is when I learned to surf. No one taught me; it was easier for me because I was a competitive swimmer. I was such a fast paddler, and I was up and riding my first time in the water. Right then I developed a passion for surf.”

Díaz was good at it from the start, free surfing around Tamarindo, the only girl at the breaks. The boys would see her paddling out and shout that she was going to get crushed. Not only did she show up the local guys, but she also went on to enter national competitions – in the men-only open categories – and winning them.

As the surf contests evolved, they eventually developed a women’s category, but it featured only Díaz and Jacó’s Lisbeth Vindas, now a nine-time national women’s champion. In 1999, following the year she competed in Venezuela, Díaz was challenged by a few more women but still secured the Costa Rica womens’ national surf trophy. As the champion in 2000, she joined the national team in Brazil.

For Díaz, surfing permeated every aspect of her life, whether she was in the water or on land. She drew notice of Roxy, one of the biggest surf clothing and accessories companies in the world. In 2002, Díaz became a Roxy-sponsored lifestyle athlete and the world opened up to her. Now there were surf photo shoots in places like Hawaii and Trinidad and Tobago, sometimes alongside big-time surf champions like Sofia Mulanovich and Kassia Meador.

As time passed, Díaz began to embrace other, more land-based priorities. When she became a mother, her taste for surf contests diminished, she said. But with Roxy’s financial support, she convened with fellow national champions Gilbert Brown and Germaine “Nino” Myrie to open Waves Costa Rica in Playa Hermosa. The idea was to have a surf camp and school that reflected a love of surfing and Costa Rica. After a few years, Díaz moved the surf camp and her family – a husband, two girls and a boy (Lia, Sol and Kai) – to Tamarindo and the Best Western Tamarindo Vista Villas.

At Waves, she offers specialty packages designed for women, men or mixed surf camps, as well as daily surf lessons for drop-ins. Packages can also be designed with daily yoga classes, or with excursions such as canopy, estuary or ATV tours. Experienced surfers can get guided tours to any of the many surf breaks located in the area.

Díaz’s status as a national champion and a world-renowned surfer sets Waves apart from other surf schools in the area, but according to Díaz, it’s the vibes and passion of the team that really draws clients. Since Díaz started Waves nine years ago, she has always found it rewarding.

“I believe it’s my instinct to be a teacher or mentor,” Díaz says. “I have always been around sports. I realized that to teach surf is not just a physical thing, there’s a psychological part. I’m a great motivator.”

Never one to remain idle for even a moment, surfing’s cheerleader also works diligently in the community, and recently started weekly surf lessons for underprivileged kids through CEPIA, (Culture, Education and Psychology for Infants and Adolescents). Pro surfers who participated in Díaz’s recent surf contest and activity day, Surf for Youth, donated equipment for those lessons.

When she’s not doing philanthropic work, running Waves Costa Rica or spending time with her family, Díaz can still be found out in the water, power surfing. While she won’t do the circuit anymore, feeling it takes too much away from her life in Tamarindo, there is still hope she will join the Costa Rica National Masters team next year.

“Who knows, I’m pretty settled with my life here in Tamarindo,” Díaz said. “My life, my business and my family revolve around surfing. It is what helps bring food to the table. We love our job to the point where it’s not a job anymore.”


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