Costa Rica is one of the most popular destinations for beginner surfers. The water is warm, the people are friendly, surf tourism is a significant piece of the local economy, and there’s no shortage of waves.
This is a list of waves that are generally awesome for beginners and perfect places for anybody who’s learning to surf.
Tamarindo is the most popular beach in Costa Rica for learning to surf. It has bright and soft sand, and a long stretch of beach with only a few rocks in the lineup (in front of the Tamarindo Diria and then farther south). The wave naturally segregates advanced surfers from beginners because more experienced surfers will gravitate to the rocks or the river mouth on the north end of the beach. From November to April, the waves are typically waist high or smaller. And with the popularity of Tamarindo, the town has a dozen surf shops full of instructors and boards to rent.
2. Playa Cocles
Playa Cocles is another light sand beach with no rocks in the lineup. From April to November the waves are small, but most often there is something to ride. When it’s big, beginners should beware as the rip currents are strong. There are two places to rent boards right on the beach, and they will offer lessons. And one unique thing about Playa Cocles is there’s no development right on the beach, so you can walk south and see nothing but the jungle, the mountains, and the sea.
Playa Nosara is now recognized internationally as one of the best surfing beaches in the world. Its wide, light brown, soft, sandy beach is bordered by rainforest-covered hills. The town has a laid-back vibe and the beachfront is tropical due to their policy of not allowing construction within 200 yards of the beach. The bigger swells do come through, but after the wave breaks on the outside, the reformed wave has less power and is great for learning on.
Jaco is a growing surf town, popular with both tourists and Ticos from the capital, San Jose, who spend their weekends here. The beach is bordered by steep hills shrouded in tropical foliage, and at the south end is very wide with almost no slope, helping the waves break evenly. The south end is also sheltered from the Southern swells that typically light up most of the Pacific coast here, keeping the waves smaller than other places. Farther north along the beach are bigger waves that work well around higher tides.
5. Manuel Antonio
This amazing stretch of beach has soft volcanic sand and has offshore islands that block most of the swell. You cannot surf inside the park boundaries, but the beach just to the north is great for learning. The bottom is sandy and the surf does not break too far outside.
When the waves are big in Dominical, most beginners head to this little bay sheltered from the South Pacific swells. It’s popular for keeping the waves small, and at knee high has just the right amount of power to get a beginning surfer up and riding waves. It has some small rock formations that show at lower tides so the local surf schools often catch it at high tide. The best part of surfing here though is sitting in the lineup, looking back at the rainforest and towering emerald mountains in the distance.
7. Boca Barranca
Although it’s not a pretty beach, the length of your rides at Boca Barranca more than make up for its grit. The river mouth is about 200-yards wide and the sandbars set up perfectly for south swells, creating some long, long rides. Beginners can sit as far as they want inside to catch the last part of the left-breaking wave and still get long rides that are not too fast or hollow.
Like Boca Barranca, Pavones is a really long left that is bordered to the south by a wide river mouth. When it has size, the beginners sit toward the end of the wave. But due to its location inside the Golfo Dulce, this place needs a lot of swell to get big. Most of the time it is a knee to chest high wave that is easy to catch and ride for long distances.
9. Playa Carmen
The salt and pepper colored sand spread over a beach that is soft and wide, making it ideal for learning to surf. Waves are generally no more than waist to chest high in size, and there a few rock ledges that are easy to spot and navigate around. During bigger swells, learners can still stand up on the reforms. The mountains here push right up against the coast, helping create offshore winds in the morning to groom the surf. The beaches of Santa Teresa to the north and Mal Pais to the south offer steeper waves, luring away the more advanced surfers.
This beach, officially called Playa Chaman, is protected from large swells by offshore islands and the “Whale’s Tail,” an amazing coastal formation of sand and rocks that looks like a whale’s tail. The waves will break in knee to waist deep water at higher tides, giving learners a safe and long ride to shore. Since there aren’t many hotels or houses nearby, the beach is often empty, save a few surf camp groups and locals on holiday, looking for a secluded getaway.
Samara is another beautiful beach on the Nicoya Peninsula that’s popular with the locals. It never gets big here, mostly staying in the knee high range with the rare bigger day. The horseshoe bay is protected by the tropical hills, blocking most swells from entering. The beach itself is very wide and slopes gently, with light brown sand and gently peeling waves.
Of course, any of these beaches can get the right swell at the right time, and with that comes added danger and challenged in the water. If you are taking lessons, seek out an ISA certified instructor from a reputable surf school. Use a surfboard that does not have a lot of damage and has a secure leg rope. If you get caught in a rip current, do not fight it. Wait for it to lose power and then paddle parallel to the shoreline. Before paddling out, don’t be afraid to ask a local where the safest place to paddle out may be. And of course, always surf with a buddy.
Note: You can learn more about the author and his life in Costa Rica online here and on Instagram here.