Learning to surf isn’t just about learning the moves. Like any other sport, there are subtleties involved, like reading the waves, respecting the “lineup” and trying not to be a “kook” in general. Before you hit up a Costa Rica surf school to learn the ropes there are some things you should know before you hit the water.
Don’t be a Kook!
A “kook” is a surfer who has an exaggerated perception of his/her surf skills. Their lack of surf knowledge, especially concerning surf ethics, usually interferes with other surfer’s fun in the water. Surfers have to share the ocean and waves and the kook can interfere with other surfer’s fun because he doesn’t follow surf ethics or doesn’t have the ability for the specific surf spot. A kook can make the surf session dangerous for him and people around him.
Following are some explanations of surfer etiquette that will likely get you some dirty looks or nasty comments if you don’t follow these basic guidelines. Ignoring these guidelines can also endanger yourself and other surfers.
Don’t ditch your board! Stay with your board at all times. You can either turtle roll or duck dive, but don’t just ditch your board as it may get away from you in the surf and hit someone behind you.
Don’t drop in on another surfer’s wave. Whoever has the “inside” has the right of way (closer to the peak, or already riding the wave, or even paddling it for that matter). Cutting someone off is offensive and inconvenient at best, and dangerous at worst.
Honour the lineup. The lineup is the area in the water, away from the swell, where the surfers wait to get their turn at catching a wave. Always respect the line!
Don’t snake. Paddling around other surfers to get closer to the peak of a wave is considered bad conduct. Have patience! Everyone is waiting for their chance at a good wave, so respect the line!
Know your limits. You don’t want to put yourself or others in danger, so it’s very important to be realistic of your skill and what waves you can and cannot handle. You won’t always know until you try, but be sure to learn from your mistakes.
Always be respectful. Respect of the beach, the ocean, and other surfers is of the utmost importance to surf etiquette. Show respect to be respected.
Pay attention. Always be aware of the ocean and other surfers. Don’t put your back to the waves. Know what is happening around you and if the conditions are changing.
Be decisive. If you set your sights on a wave – go for it! Start paddling and don’t stop. Other surfers might have given you the spot, so don’t waste the opportunity when it is given.
Disrespectful or careless surfers aren’t the only dangers out there when you’re surfing. There are other hazards to be aware of, from Mother Nature to your own surfboard.
Surfboards: A wipeout, kick-out, poorly performed duck dive, closeout, or an unattended surfboard can quickly transform your board into a weapon. A surfboard has a pointy nose and sharp fins that can cut your skin, hurt your ears, injure your eyes, and even cause fractures. The leash is also potentially dangerous if it gets tangled around your neck or breaks and hits you in the eyes.
Ocean: It goes without saying that every surfer should know how to swim. Big waves, rip currents, undertows and riptides all have the potential for keeping you under water for too long or throwing your body onto the ocean floor or rocks.
Rocks and reefs: if you’re surfing over bank reefs or rocky seabeds, use caution and avoid staying out alone. Hitting a reef or rocks with your head or any other parts of your body could lead to serious injuries.
Sun: Spending hours under the sun and directly in the reflective water means the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays are at their strongest for surfers. Always wear a coral-safe sunscreen while surfing. A “good tan” is basically sun damage that can lead to premature aging or skin cancer.
Marine life: You can’t wear your flip flops into the ocean to surf, which means you are vulnerable to stepping on a sea urchin or other sharp sea life. Once in the water there is the potential for encounters with jellyfish or stingrays, and even sharks in some waters.
Get to Know the Lingo!
You may have noticed we threw in some surfing terms in that last part. Let’s go over what they all mean.
Wipeout: This one is simple. It’s the act of falling from your board when riding a wave.
Closeout: A closeout occurs when a wave breaks in one long line instead of peeling in sections. They offer no wall to surf on.
Kick-out: This refers to finishing the ride by going over the back or through the wave.
Duck Dive: A technique by which you submerge your board under the water so as to dive underneath an approaching wave. It’s named after the way ducks dive beneath the water when fishing.
Learn The Ropes!
If we haven’t scared you off yet and you still want to learn to surf, we suggest looking into a Costa Rica surf school. Iguana Surf is located on Tamarindo Beach, where the waves are beginner-friendly all year long. We have several options for novices and those whom have never surfed a day in their life. Check out what our Tamarindo surf school has to offer.
Surf Iguana offers both private and group surf lessons. Tamarindo group surf lessons are perfect for first time surfers that may be traveling solo or don’t mind being in a group environment to learn with other beginners. Whereas private or semi-private lessons mean instructors can focus on the skills you need specifically.
Our basic beginner lesson will begin with a 20-minute instruction on the beach focusing on safety, etiquette in the water, and the basics of surfing. After explaining the basics of how to paddle correctly, pop up, positioning on the board, correct stance, and reading the waves, the instructor will have you practice on your board on the beach just to get the overall feel. As soon as you get the hang of it, you and your instructor will head out to sea. The instructor will be with you the entire time offering pointers and tips to get you riding your first wave before you know it!
You Asked, We Answered!
At our Tamarindo surf school, beginner surfers will learn the basics, etiquette, and some of the terminology, but what are our students most frequently asked questions (FAQ)?
The most FAQ are the same time and time again… When is the best time to surf?
Answer: There is no “best time” for surfing, you just need to make sure you are on the right tide each day. Let us explain. The surf is affected by a few conditions, the most important being swells and winds, and last but not least, the tides.
For the swells you can check our Surf Report and Forecastto see what swells will be hitting the area and when.
As for the winds, usually the first few months of the year are windier due to the Papagayo Winds. But that doesn’t really make a big difference. As long as we have offshore winds, which hold the wave and give it form, conditions are good for surfing. Onshore winds make the waves close faster, which is not as fun (less riding time, choppy waves, etc).
And tides! Tides change every day. Every 24 hours the tides move by 40 to 45 minutes, so if high tide is at 1 pm today, it will be at 1:45 pm tomorrow. One full cycle is actually 12 hours and 20 minutes (6 hours from high to low tides and 6 hours from low to high tide is one cycle). In 24 hours we get two full cycles.
This is how we determine the best window to take out our beginner surfers at our Costa Rica surf school. Here in Tamarindo, we generally go out about three hours before high tide and about an hour after high tide.
Just remember, the waves at Tamarindo Beach are very beginner friendly all year long, so unless there is a crazy swell or anything extreme it is always good and safe for our students.
Surfing takes strength, perseverance, some knowledge, and a lot of practice, but if you’re determined to get out there and give it a try, we know you will have fun. And that is truly the mark of a successful surfer…it’s not the one that does the best tricks or rides the biggest waves…it’s the one with the biggest smile on their face!
Written by Jennifer LaCharite