Iguana Surf is the fist Tamarindo Surf Shop and has been around since 1989. After nearly 30 years in operation, the experience and care that the Iguana Team provides to every customer really shows. With amazing staff and a premier location right across from the beach on the main street in Tamarindo, it has been number one since opening. Iguana offers Tamarindo surf lessons, surf rentals, tours, and an all-inclusive Costa Rica surf camp with lodging conveniently located right upstairs in the new beachfront hotel. All of this is with the care and stoke you would hope for in a sport like surfing. It takes a special group of people to run an organization like Iguana Surf, which starts with Chad and Lindsey Gaston, the current owners of the whole operation.
Meet Chad & Lindsey Gaston (Owners)
Chad and Lindsey grew up in a small farm town called Oregon in Illinois, USA, which is about 90 miles west of Chicago. The population is only about 2,800, and the town is about as far away from the ocean as you can get. Growing up, the only surfing Chad and Lindsey were able to do was on family vacations in places like Hawaii, Australia, Fiji, and of course, Tamarindo. Tamarindo was by far one of their favorite vacation spots, and they had rented surf boards from Iguana Surf while visiting. Chad even had the chance to meet the owner of the shop on one trip and was very inspired. He had always wanted to live abroad, so when an opportunity presented itself to make Tamarindo more than just a vacation spot, he was intrigued to say the least.
His mom noticed that the shop was for sale and suggested that he give them a call. He didn’t, because he thought she might be kidding and he was still in school. But mom always knows best. She gave them his email address anyway and the shop actually reached out to him. After that, it wasn’t hard to see that moving to Tamarindo wasn’t something he could pass up. It ended up being an incredible adventure.
Chad decided to purchase Iguana Surf while he was a senior at Arizona State University, three months before his graduation. It wasn’t a very hard decision. If the year-round summer weather and killer surfing weren’t enough on their own, the kind people he met in Tamarindo sold him. He officially made the move in 2002. After Chad turned in his last final, he was on a plane without a second thought (he didn’t even wait for the graduation ceremony!) The family business in Tamarindo has since expanded to include a construction company and Iguana Surf Vacations, which includes a number of condos that are rented out to visitors. Chad’s focus is mostly on the construction company now, and his sister Lindsey came in to run the surf shop and hotel in 2014.
Lindsey had visited Chad a number of times after he moved to Costa Rica, and ended up deciding to move as well in 2007. Lindsey was not planning on living in another small town like Tamarindo. After growing up in rural Illinois, she moved to a big city as soon as she was of age and swore she would never live in a small town again. Tamarindo only has a population of about 6,000 permanent residents, but it is unique in the fact that it has a lot more going on than most small towns do. Lindsey thrives on the constant influx of tourists that keeps the town lively with their “vacation mode” energy. There is a ton of influence from all over the globe, with a huge array of restaurants, shops, and activities. Tamarindo is ever changing and there is so much going on every single day that it is almost impossible to get bored. Now, Lindsey can’t imagine living anywhere else.
She started out running AQUA, a very successful discoteque in town. It was located above Iguana Surf in the building that has now become the Iguana Surf Beach Hotel. It was an exciting job, but when she came in to run the surf shop in 2014, it was a welcomed change. She enjoyed switching from getting home at 5 AM from the club to getting up at 5 AM to open the shop.
Meet Ale (Operations Manager)
Between Iguana Surf and the hotel upstairs, Lindsey has a lot on her plate. Her right and left hands are Ale, the operations manager who greeted us when we first arrived, and Paris, who essentially shares Ale’s position. Both Ale and Paris have a level heads and positive personalities to keep everything under control.
Ale has been with Iguana Surf for two years and there are many more to come. She is originally from Venezuela but she fell in love with Tamarindo and has lived here for four years now. Before starting with Iguana, she was a tour guide with Go Adventures (a regional tour provider) and a P.E. teacher at a local school. She is also a dentist by trade and practices outside of town. As the operations manager, Ale works closely with Lindsey and guests in the hotel and also takes care of all operations for the surf shop.
“Iguana Surf is more than just a job,” she says. “It is a family. It is a way of life. And that makes all the difference.”
The staff is grateful for Ale as she keeps everything functioning smoothly and remembers every little detail that most people would forget. The goal of Iguana Surf is to make people happy, and she works tirelessly to make sure that is the case. She loves working for Iguana Surf because it is a very unique work environment, and that is because of the people. It has a strong sense of belonging and family, and coming to work is always enjoyable. One of Ale’s favorite parts about working for Iguana is being around young, fun, committed people and being part of such a team.
Meet Paris (Operations Manager #2)
Paris has worked at Iguana Surf for about two years, but there was a bit of a break in between. He started out with Iguana loved it, but he studied mechanical engineering in college and wanted to try something more related to his degree. So after working for Iguana for about a year, he left for an engineering job. “To be honest, it got miserable pretty fast,” he says with a chuckle. When he got the opportunity to come back and work for Iguana again, he had no hesitations.
“You feel like you are part of a family, so it doesn’t feel like a job environment but more like just hanging out with your friends,” he says. “It’s the pura vida lifestyle. There is no place like Iguana Surf.”
He is extremely happy to be back with the Iguana family as he is able to surf everyday and work at the same time. Paris notes that he doesn’t have any intention of leaving again soon. Paris works in the office with Ale on operations for the hotel and the shop. He is the one answering any emails and questions that come in about the hotel and the surf shop, taking care of hotel reservations, and making sure everything is perfect for the guests. As a man of many talents, he will also come down to the shop and teach the occasional surf lesson. Clearly being able to surf every day is a major perk of the job, but what he enjoys most about working at Iguana is meeting new people from all over the world. And of course, the work environment that is unlike any other.
At The Surf Shop
While everyone is busy upstairs in the office working behind the scenes, there is an incredible team that keeps the surf shop under control with board rentals and lessons every day. Christian and Manuel are the main guys in the shop, along with an awesome group of surf instructors. When visitors come into Iguana Surf to take a surf lesson, often they either have never surfed before or have only tried it a few times. Most people think that there is no way they will be able to stand up on the first few tries. However, people are almost always surprised when they are riding all the way to the shore on the first few waves! All of the instructors are attentive, caring, and extremely experienced. Their love for the sport is contagious and they truly enjoy sharing it with others.
Meet Christian (Shop Manager)
Christian is the shop manager and has worked with Iguana for almost 13 years. There isn’t anyone else in the shop who has been around for as long as he has, and he has built strong, lasting relationships with the team, and also customers that come back to see him year after year. Christian started working as a concierge selling tours for Iguana at a hotel in Langosta beach. “I wasn’t very good at it, to be honest,” he says with a laugh. So the manager at the time gave him the chance to try working at the shop in customer service, renting boards and helping visitors. As it turns out, he excelled in the active environment surrounded by people and was much happier. He also started to teach surf lessons occasionally when he wasn’t covering the shop. For the last four years, he has been the manager of the shop and loves his job.
“It doesn’t even really feel like work,” he says. “I don’t really feel like I am dealing with customers. I feel like I am dealing with my friends.”
Christian always greets everyone with a smile, and loves talking to people and making new friends from all over the world. “After a while, customers become friends to me,” he says. “And that is the best part.”
Meet Manuel (Most Attractive Guy In The Shop – A Self-Given Title)
Manuel is the other main person you will see when you come into the shop. He is from El Salvador and has been living in Tamarindo for about three years, and working with Iguana Surf for almost two. He can be found talking to visitors in the shop, answering questions, and taking care of rentals. He can also be found out in the water teaching lessons or just surfing for fun, and that is his favorite part of the job. He also enjoys talking to people and following the Iguana motto of making people happy.
“Sometimes if I come in to work feeling stressed, seeing happy people absolutely makes my day,” he says. “It is a lot of fun to watch people come back energized and excited from their surf lessons.”
Iguana Surf also houses two interns on a rotating basis to help out Christian and Manuel in the shop. Currently, they have two girls from the United States.
The interns help out with rentals and selling tours, and cover the shop when the guys are out teaching lessons. They get to surf in their free time, show visitors to the hotel around Tamarindo, and create amazing, lifelong friendships. Iguana Surf encourages interns to learn the ins and outs of running a business and experience the culture of a new country. It is a great opportunity for college age or recently graduated individuals to immerse themselves in a place unlike any other. Anyone who is interested in interning with Iguana Surf can inquire via email!
Shutter Shot Photography
One of the best ways to remember an experience of a lifetime like surfing in Costa Rica is with some nice photos. However, iPhone photos from the shore don’t really do it justice. That is why Iguana Surf has photographers to make sure your trip and your board tricks are captured properly.
Abraham, the main photographer in the shop, bought the company Shutter Shot just over a year ago, but it has been established in Tamarindo for about three years. He and his team of photographers go out onto the beach during the lessons and take photos that can make almost everyone look pro, or will bring laughs all around by capturing epic wipeouts and funny faces.
Abraham, who grew up in Costa Rica, started taking photos about two years ago. He loves surfing and enjoys translating that passion into his work. He often travels to take surf photos to other nearby surf spots such as Avellanas, Witch’s Rock, and Ollie’s Point. When not surfing, Shutter Shot also provides photo services for yoga classes, sports teams, and other a wide variety of other activities and groups.
Not Just A Surf Shop – The Iguana Family
It is clear that Lindsey and Chad have created something special. Iguana Surf is an extremely successful business thanks to the strong family bond between both brother and sister, and the entire team.
“The shop thrives off this family dynamic and our clients can see and feel the vibes,” – Chad.
When employees finish their shifts, they usually stay longer in the shop after just to hang out. When someone has a day off, it is almost certain that they will still be around the shop, surfing and hanging out with the team. Iguana is a hub for visitors and locals alike and you will never find it empty. On any given day in the surf shop, you can find it bustling with people getting ready for lessons or getting their questions answered about what kind of board they should rent. Music will be playing and jokes will be tossed around among the team.
When not helping customers, sometimes the staff will share gallo pinto from a local restaurant or enjoy a hot empanada, plan the next time everyone can go out for a surf session together, or play some guitar. It is always a warm, inviting atmosphere with a fun mix of people from all over the world.
“They (the Iguana Family) are truly some of the best humans I know,” – Lindsey.
At Iguana Surf, it is all about making people happy and sharing the love and knowledge of surfing. They try to make surfing a life experience rather than just a skill or something to check off a list. Between their many years of experience, prime location, and most importantly, the incredible staff, it is no wonder they are the best Tamarindo Surf Shop
Chad and Lindsey plan to “keep on riding the wave until the next twenty-one year old from a university takes it over, but that will be a lot of sunsets from now.” Lindsey especially is excited to focus on growing Iguana’s new Tamarindo Surf Camp and beachfront hotel. You cannot not pick a better place to spend a summer. So what are you waiting for? We’ll see you soon and welcome to the Iguana family!