The surf community attaches many stereotypes to the nationalities of its surfers. Australians, Hawaiians, Brazilians; every group has its reputation. There is one country, though, that may well become the next surfing powerhouse and their beloved pura vida philosophy might be the reason why.
The good word about the Costa Rican brand of stoke travels fast in the surfing community. It’s why I wanted to dig deeper into what makes surfers from Costa Rica stand out from other surf teams, particularly the younger generation that will spread the pura vida spirit.
Costa Rica has been running on 100% renewable energy for 100+ days and they have some of the most eco-friendly regulations on the planet. Having the government back such initiatives and amazing sustainable development can only mean one thing when it comes to the reflection of such values on sports and lifestyle. Surfing seems to bind so well with their educational system and their economy, which is heavily intertwined with tourism. With an abundance of surf-yoga lodges in the rainforest opening up their shalas to those seeking a spiritual experience, Costa Rican philosophy of life has been a perfect match. I believe this will propel ticos to the international surfing spotlight in the next few years.
This is why I reached out to the junior professional surfer Emily Gussoni, who shared some meaningful questions with her teammates during the ISA Junior World Championships, hoping they could tell us where they are now and where they are headed as the humble and pure-hearted humans they have been raised to be. Here are some highlights:
Being a young professional means more than training hard and eating healthy. In your collective opinion as Team Costa Rica, where do you see more potential for recognition between the WSL, ISA, and in a few years, the Olympics ?
Both the ISA and WSL offer amazing opportunities to succeed as a professional surfer. Being a part of a national surfing team in Costa Rica is pretty rad. The public and the press give a lot support and they value our efforts. This is why it is important for young surfers to seek and earn the spot in the team–it’s not like some other countries where the representatives are “hunting” for talent. Here you have to make sure you’re seen and demonstrate your desire to compete.
Furthermore, the government and the surfing federation work hand in hand so the surfers who train hard and show their commitment can succeed. We see the benefits in the form of scholarships and economic support. Some other countries rarely see the financial support we receive to go compete in ISA world championships, and that’s why we’ve already been world champs.
Nowadays, to compete in the World Surf League means more than having the support of the surf federation or the government. Basically anyone who goes on tour with the WSL earns it with their surfing proficiency and the marketing work you put in towards getting sponsors who are backing your tour expenses year by year, which can be pretty costly.
What would it take to see more Costa Rican representatives on tour ?
Carlos Muñoz and Noe Mar McGonagle were the first surfers to represent Costa Rica on tour. And although the younger generations still yearn to reach the prestige of the WSL, there are some financial shortcomings that surfers from California, Australia, Brazil and Hawaii don’t seem to struggle with as much.
Sadly, it all comes down to money because there are so many talented surfers in Costa Rica and they rarely get to go abroad, surf other waves and improve their skills because they lack the resources. Some of the best Costa Rican surfers grew up living a humble life by the beach where there isn’t much else to do but surf and live off the land. So we definitely have the spirit but our pockets aren’t as deep.
There’s a lot of speculation on how surfing will be held on the upcoming Olympic games, but if you get a chance to go and compete as a team, how do you feel you can show the world what pura vida is all about on the scoreboards?
By ripping, of course. Outstanding surfers like Malakai Martínez, Aldo Chirinos, Joseph Méndez, Oscar Urbina and Leilani McGonagle will be turning 20 around the Tokyo Olympics, but for now we’re representing as Juniors. The competition we’ll have among Costa Rican surfers just to get a spot for the Olympics will be amazing.
Professional surfing is much more than winning heats and getting on the world tour, so how do you think Costa Rican surfers contribute to the sport?
Around Central America, Costa Rica is a pretty strong reference point and somehow we have been able to contribute to paint a good picture of what surfing the region is all about. Surfers like Carlos and Noe have become stars in Costa Rica because of their achievements on the World Tour and ISA World Cup. That’s what the younger surfers are aiming for. Because we grew up dreaming of such accomplishments, we don’t reckon anything less is possible and we strive to be an example for the younger surfers in the future as well. They are the ones that have the most potential, we are just carrying the torch and kindling more fires.
Costa Rica has many world class waves, but there aren’t many big events held there. Why do you think this is happening and how do you believe this can change in the future?
This is basically the same reason there aren’t many Costa Rican surfers currently on Tour. There are many countries that have world class waves and don’t get big events. Little by little, transnational brands like telephone companies, banks, insurance agencies, sport drinks and surf apparel brands have understood that surfing in Costa Rica brings the most medals back home among many sports. The lifestyle and motto of the tico, be it a consumer or a sponsored professional surfer, is a potential multi million dollar business.
This year, we represented Costa Rica on the VISSLA ISA Junior World Championships, which broke the records on public and online audiences. There is also the arrival of a WQS event that a private enterprise has brought to Costa Rica, so we’re definitely making good progress, slow but steady.
If the scoring criteria for world class events was having fun you would all be scoring perfect 10s, but the judges are looking for radical maneuvers and big airs. How do you find balance between the two ?
Young surfers had and still have their idols. Whether they are freesurfers or heat grinders, they all give us some sort of reference points. If we want to be like them one day, we have to emulate their style and put in the work, training hard in the gym and being patient in the lineup, picking the right waves. The scores will eventually show a reflection of that.
Pura vida means so much to the people of Costa Rica, and any professional surfer knows that traveling the world can have an effect on how people perceive your culture. With this in mind how do you think the pura vida spirit can have a long lasting impact in the worldwide surfing community ?
People who come to surf in Costa Rica go back to their homes with their eyes and hearts open wider. After surfing our waves and hanging out with the people they become ambassadors of pura vida for the rest of their lives. It’s like a surf stoke epidemic that transcends the surfing itself. One is never the same after a Costa Rican experience.