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In 1986, a crew shooting for a Surfer Magazine TV show scored the first footage of Ollie’s Point in northern Costa Rica. They named it as such for the Cold War geopolitics playing out in earshot of the place. Photo: The Surf Network


The Inertia

On July 7, 1987, Lieutenant Col. Oliver North gave his first of several days of testimony to a joint congressional committee investigating what would later be known as the Iran-Contra affair. A New York Times report from the next day gives an instructive description of North’s testimony: “Through the smirks and winks and teary eyes, through the ‘Peck’s Bad Boy’ grins and the earnest altar-boy gazes, [North] seemed to be starring in his own movie.”

Through North’s remarks, and those of fellow conspirators in a series of televised hearings that captivated the American public during the summer of ’87, details of a plot to sell arms to Iran via Israeli intermediaries and divert the funds to support Nicaraguan Contra forces fighting a leftist revolution came to light. North admitted lying to Congress, shredding documents, and ultimately called the scheme a “neat idea.”

Around that time, a crew comprised of Matt George, Chris Berk, Ira Opper, and Rick Slade embarked on a trip to Costa Rica to shoot for a Surfer Magazine TV show set to air on ESPN (it ultimately won an Emmy for Original Sports Production). The episode chronicles a 5-day jaunt through Costa Rica, concluding at a right pointbreak described as “just south of the Nicaraguan border.”

Ira Opper and Matt George ultimately named the spot “Ollie’s Point” both to not give up the spot’s location – which, by now is well known as the beach of Portrero Grande – and as a nod to Oliver North and the Iran-Contra scandal whose layers Congress and the American public were in the midst of peeling back like an onion.

“Basically, we met up with this local surfer Mario who had a huge cigarette boat, and knew about a few spots north of Tamarindo,” said Ira Opper of the first time documenting Ollie’s on film. “We actually almost ended up at Roca Bruja (Witch’s Rock), but as essentially a beach break setup, it would’ve been too difficult to get our camera gear on the beach. So Mario told us about this point break a little further north and we ended up there.”

But what spawned the connection between an innocuous surf trip looking for a fun wave with no one out and Iran-Contra? Turns out there’s more to it.

“Mario was pretty plugged into what was going on, and when we heard gunfire in the distance he told us how around the Nicaraguan border the CIA was training Ticos in the event they needed to help fight the Sandinistas in Nicaragua,” Opper said. “He told us not to give away the spot on the show, so when Matt and I were writing it, we thought it would be funny with everything that was going on to name it Ollie’s Point.”

Photographed in 1986 by Julio Laínez for the Tico Times, this secret airstrip was damning evidence in the Iran-Contra affair. Photo: Julio Laínez/Tico Times

A year earlier, journalists discovered a clandestine airstrip not far from Ollie’s Point, the full significance of which only later came to light. According to a former CIA pilot, it was used to traffic guns and drugs. In 1989, both the airstrip and Ollie’s became part of newly-formed Guanacaste National Park and remain so today.

This map shows the proximity of the airstrip to Ollie’s Point. Photo: Google Earth

The revolution in Nicaragua has since concluded, of course – the place becoming a destination for surf tourism in its own right. And the Costa Rica of today is seemingly unrecognizable compared to the country documented in the episode of Surfer’s TV show. Tamarindo, for instance, is now densely populated with surf camps and shops to capitalize on a sharp increase in surf tourism over the last few decades. But the name Ollie’s Point, in particular, will always be steeped both in the purity of discovery and the Banana Republic foreign policy of the U.S. during the Cold War. An unlikely pairing, sure, but a reminder that not even surfing is insulated from global politics.

Be sure to check out the entire episode of the Surfer Magazine TV show and the rest of the series on The Surf Network.



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