Costa Rica Surfing: Walls of Wonder in Playa Cocles, Puerto Viejo

   

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My Costa Rica surfing experience

I stood on the black sand beach, surfboard tucked under my arm, watching the local surfers slash and attack the curling beach break. Costa Rica surfing appeared to consist mostly of kids, who charged the waves with a fearlessness I never had. Each ride lasted only a few seconds before the pounding waves swallowed the surfers, leaving behind a trail of spray and bubbling froth that rippled towards the expansive beach. Although the waves violently crashed in the shallow water, I felt at home. This picturesque Costa Rican bay, lively jungle stopping abruptly at the first crab holes on the sand, reminded me of a simpler time in my home state of Hawaii when the only thing I cared about was surfing. It was an activity that brought solace, and I yearned to feel that way again.

Costa Rica surfing epitomize the pura vida lifestyle

As I baked in the dense humidity under the midday sun, a surfer walked in front of me, waved, and said, “Pura vida.” Literally meaning “pure life,” this common Costa Rican phrase exemplifies the lush beauty of the country and, more so, its residents. I likened pura vida to the word aloha, something that I had heard a great deal of growing up in Hawaii. This passing Tico, local Costa Rican, whistled at me and pointed a hundred yards offshore to a large rock, which was rich with umbrella trees, protruding roughly forty feet out of the water. Waves collided with the tip of the rock and peeled towards the beach. I strapped the leash around my ankle and jogged into the lukewarm Caribbean Sea.

Playa Cocles surfing

In general, Costa Rica surfing reminded me a lot of surfing Bali, but the waves in Playa Cocles were unlike any others I have seen. Even the most experienced surfers know there is always a high level of risk when surfing a break for the first time. The current, water depth and waves themselves remain mysterious until you’re out in the surf. But these breaks may have been just as intimidating had I surfed them hundreds of times already. It can be frightening, but even a familiar break can be unpredictable. Part of the beauty of surfing is the gratifying sense of accomplishment I get after conquering a new wave. While the rides are exciting and ever-changing, the ability to read the waves and be in tune with the ocean’s movement is what brings me joy. Every wave differs, and it took time for me to analyze how those waves broke at Playa Cocles before I caught one. I had to romance every rolling wall of water I caught. Some of the eight-foot waves tossed me over the falls and punished me below the surface in the washing machine of swirling currents. The beauty of those waves on the surface did not equate to the dark thundering underneath the water. The ability to relax and let the crashing water toss you at its will is incredibly humbling. After years of countless wipeouts, I have discovered the sheer force of the ocean under the waves. Waves are frightening creatures and there’s a sense of courageousness I get from confronting my fear of them.

Catching my first wave surfing in Playa Cocles

 

About seven rides into my session, I saw the wave of the day creeping towards me. I paddled ferociously until the wave lifted me up and pushed me down its face. Water splashed in my eyes as I planted my feet on the board to take the drop. Adrenaline rushed through me as I carved into the bottom turn, rode up the face, and snapped my board back down. Looking down the line, I saw the wave about to barrel. I pumped my board as quickly as I could, crouched down, and the lip of the wave curled over my head, enclosing me in a serene tunnel of rushing water. The world became distant. Sadly, that tube engulfed me and spit me out the backside of the wave after pummeling over me.

I paddled to shore and sat on the beach, admiring the spot I had just surfed. I am not the best surfer, but I held my own out there. When I surf, I am free from the typical competitiveness associated with sports. I surf to surf, and because of the memories it has given me ever since I was introduced to it twenty years ago. Surfing is my escape.



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