Surfing is a an essential part of Costa Rica adventure travel, thanks to the country’s array of stunning beaches, year-round warm waters, and consistently reliable waves. This glorious country we call home is one of the world’s best destinations to learn how to surf.
In this comprehensive beginner’s guide, we’ll cover all you need to know to learn how to surf step by step. We’ll cover everything from choosing the right board and the right Costa Rica beach to getting a grip on surf etiquette and staying safe while mastering the basic techniques.
If you dream of standing up and riding your first-ever wave in paradise, then a Costa Rica surfing adventure is precisely what you need!
Preparing for your surfing adventure
Research your ideal destination
Among the professional surfing crowd, Costa Rica is renowned for offering some of the best and most wicked waves on earth. Yet there’s an abundance of surfing beaches that are also ideal for beginners.
So, what kind of beach is perfect for those learning to surf? Ideally, you’re looking for a beach with calm, 1-2ft waves. You need some breaks, of course, but barely enough to classify as a wave. When you’re first learning to balance on a board, you definitely don’t need the added challenge of dealing with big waves.
When searching for the ideal beach for beginner surfers, look for a beach protected from the harshness of the open sea THAT has small waves near the shores. You also want a soft sandy bottom for gentler landings.
Costa Rica’s Tamarindo beach is revered for being the best beach in the country to learn how to surf step by step– find out more about this and other amazing spots on our best beaches to learn to surf in Costa Rica blog.
While at it, learn more about what to look for in a Costa Rica surf camp.
Pack your other essential gear
Believe it or not, there’s more to surfing than a board! While you can easily rent boards (and leash) at your chosen destination, it’s an excellent idea to take the other surfing essentials from home – like a swimsuit and rash guard (rashie) if your surf school doesn’t include it with their board rental.
Always pack an eco-friendly sunscreen, and don’t forget a reusable cooler water bottle to minimize single-use plastic waste.
At Iguana Surf Camp and Surf Shop, we offer an array of surfboard rentals to suit all skill levels and tailored surf lessons to get you up and riding those waves in no time. All this, in Tamarindo, the very best beginner surf beach in Costa Rica. The best part? When you take a surf lesson with us, you’ll receive a 50% discount on board rental for the remainder of your stay in Tamarindo.
How to choose the right surfboard
Moving on to the most essential bit of kit: the surfboard.
Foamboards & longboards
Most beginners use foam and longboards because they have the greatest buoyancy on the water. It’s much easier to paddle out on a super-floaty board! Longboards also offer a greater surface area on which to lie, kneel, and eventually stand, making it much easier to learn how to balance.
When learning how to surf, opt for a board about 8 to 9ft long. Note that foamy beginner boards can feel a little scratchy on bare skin – that’s why we provide a rashie with every lesson – find your ideal rash guard at the Iguana Surf Shop.
Hardboards & shortboards
Once you are comfortable surfing on a longboard and feel you have the knack for it, you can progress to a shortboard. Don’t feel discouraged if, at first, it feels like you are starting from scratch!
Shortboards are pesky things to get used to, but we promise you will also perfect your balance on them in no time. Since shortboards are much smoother than beginner foamboards, you might want to apply some surf wax – this will help you keep some traction on the board.
Understanding surf etiquette (what helps you stay safe!)
Surf etiquette isn’t just about being courteous and having good manners – it’s also about ensuring everyone is safe on the water. But yes, good surfing etiquette helps maintain a happy vibe within a local surfing community. to this end, know that respect and priority come first.
Priority & respect – This is about respecting those who have come before you. Don’t crash on someone else’s wave, don’t try to catch a wave that someone is already riding, and patiently wait your turn. The Right of Way rule dictates that the surfer close to the break has first dibs on riding it!
Don’t go out there alone – To ensure everyone’s safety, do not attempt to learn to surf on your own. It is dangerous not only to you but to everyone around you. Arm yourself with an experienced surf instructor, and you will learn all about surfing etiquette and the basics much faster and more efficiently.
Paddle wide – Don’t paddle out right in the middle of the action! Take it wide and leave the surfing spot free.
Be a considerate surfer – Rather than furiously paddle to catch every single wave, let others have a go. That’s a basic etiquette rule you must remember as your confidence and skills improve. Share the waves!
Safeguard the environment – Surfers are consummate lovers of the sea and nature, and you’ll find them among the most environmentally conscious people on earth. Soon, you will be too. Do not litter the beach you’re learning to surf from, and if you see something that should be picked up and thrown away safely, do just that. The surfing community thanks you!
Chill, you have ‘beginner privilege’ – One of the most respected etiquettes is for experienced surfers to steer clear of beginners, help them if they can, and cut them some slack. Everyone stuffs up at some point when learning how to surf, so beginners are usually shown some leeway at first. So don’t stress too much, and if ever in doubt, just ask for advice from your nearest pro surfer!
Mastering basic techniques
It may seem like surfers just paddle willy-nilly, but it’s not all that simple. There is a technique for paddling on a surfboard that maximizes efficiency and minimizes exhaustion.
A surf instructor will show you, but basically, it’s about making long and powerful strides with your arms while gently paddling with your feet – keep a balanced position with your body so the board, rather than tilt from side to side, glides forward smoothly.
You’ll first practice the pop-up technique on the board on dry land before heading out to sea. Your instructor will teach you how to stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, your gaze pointed forward, and your knees bent.
To start, you’ll want your hands right under your shoulders in a classic push-up position. As you begin to push yourself up, bring your less-dominant foot forward and plant it, and use it to propel your body upright. Keep your knees bent and both feet firmly planted on the board. Position is key: too far forward, or back, and you’ll slide right off. Get it just right and you’re on your way to surfing that wave!
Did you know? It might seem counterintuitive to beginners, but your dominant foot should be at the back, with your less dominant foot at the front. It is the opposite of snowboarding. That means for right-footed folks, the right foot should be behind them and the left foot in front. Why? Because the rear foot is the ‘driver’ when surfing, the foot that pushes and turns so it needs to be the strongest foot and leg.
Now, just because you are normally right-foot dominant doesn’t always mean you will automatically be dominant with that foot when surfing. The cool thing is that when you quickly stand on a board without much thought, your body will automatically place your feet where it feels more comfortable – it does this subconsciously.
When you first try to stand on a surfboard, be mindful of where your feet naturally land. Which one’s at the front and which at the back? Get a feel for it and switch them around. One stance will feel infinitely more natural than the other.
To catch a wave, turn your surfboard toward the shore and your face to the upcoming wave. Watch it intently and start paddling forward – always toward the shore – trying to match the speed of the wave. Just as the wave catches up to you and you feel your board slightly rise, employ the pop-up move. Keep your gaze firmly on the shore, your arms spread wide for balance, and enjoy the exhilarating ride!
Practice, patience & perseverance – the real surfing essentials
Riding a wave takes skillful precision, impeccable timing, and perfect positioning. It takes time, practice, patience, and perseverance to perfect those skills, and the learning curve is different for everyone.
Yet you will be amazed at how quickly you can go from on-land-wobbly to confidently surfing with the proper guidance and mindset. Sometimes, it feels like you’re perfecting the art of ‘falling’ but, trust us, keep at it and IT WILL HAPPEN!
Learning to surf in Costa Rica is not only about catching waves; it’s about immersing yourself in the “Pura Vida” lifestyle and developing renewed patience and perseverance. With the right guidance and the incredible company of fellow surfers, you can enjoy a truly transformative experience.
So, what are you waiting for? Costa Rica adventure travel and Iguana Surf are waiting to offer you the ride of a lifetime.