Surfing takes strength, perseverance, practice, and some knowledge. The ocean is a big place with a lot of things to be aware of, from rip currents, to sharks, to other surfers. While our instructors at Iguana Surf will teach you all you need to know to surf safely as a beginner, it doesn’t hurt to come into your surf lesson with a little knowledge on surf safety.
There are a lot of things you can control when you’re surfing but the ocean is not one of them. It has its conditions and all you can do is be aware of them.
There are a few different types of Costa Rica surf breaks. Beach breaks occur when rolling waves break on the sandbank of a beach. This is the type of break you will be learning about when you take a lesson with Iguana Surf. We teach our students on the main beach break in Tamarindo, located directly in front of the Iguana Surf Shop. The soft landing of a Costa Rica beach break is ideal for beginners as injuries are rare.
Costa Rica point breaks occur when the wave swell strikes a point of land, whether it’s a section of jutting rock or headland. One of the best examples of this is Ollie’s Point, which is a right-hand point break located about 60 kilometers to the north of Tamarindo. Ollie’s Point is only accessible by boat and is about two hours away from Tamarindo.
Reef breaks occur when wave energy breaks over coral or rocky reef areas. Playa Negra is a well-known surf spot close to Tamarindo Beach with a right-breaking, barreling reef break.
Another good wave to learn if you plan to surf the Tamarindo area is a river mouth. Similar to point breaks, river mouth waves are produced where the river deposits sand onto well-defined sandbars and, along that point, the wave peels off in a predictable and neat manner.
If you have questions about Costa Rica surf breaks any Iguana Surf staff member can explain them to you in detail!
Unlike waves, a rip current is when water flows out to sea at a very strong rate. It is almost impossible to swim against a rip current, which makes them particularly dangerous for beginner surfers and weak swimmers. The most important thing to remember if you get caught in a rip current is not to panic. If you are on a surfboard, stay on your board. You will have a better chance of getting to safety paddling with a surfboard than without. Never swim against a rip current as it will deplete your energy. Swim or paddle parallel to the shoreline and eventually you will swim out of the rip current and into an area where the current is not so strong. From this point you can swim towards the shore.
You can have access to the surf conditions before you head out on the water, right in the palm of your hand. One of the most common apps that people use here in Costa Rica is called Magic Seaweed. Be sure you have it downloaded on your phone before you arrive in Tamarindo and you can impress your new friends with your knowledge of the waves. Not to mention, looking at the app every day to check out the height, wind, and swell will help you learn how to read the water so that you can decide for yourself when the conditions are ideal.
You don’t need much protection to go surfing in Tamarindo Costa Rica. With an average water temperature of 28 degrees Celsius (83 F) the water is warm, so no wetsuit is required. It is important, however, to make sure your swimsuit of choice is appropriate for surfing. Iguana Surf Shop will give you a rash guard to wear during your surf lesson. This will protect your skin from the foam top boards and also shield you from the sun.
As for swimsuits, a good pair of board shorts will do the trick for guys. As for the ladies, it is a little more important to make sure everything is going to stay in place. Choose a tight-fitting swimsuit with straps that stay in place so you don’t lose part of your bikini when you hit a wave. Whatever you choose, you will need a good water-resistant, reef-safe sunscreen. Everything else you need can be rented at Iguana Surf Shop.
There are a few more things you should know before surfing in Tamarindo Costa Rica. For one, we have lifeguards in Tamarindo and their tower is located right in front of where Iguana surfing lessons take place, but you have to be careful when they are not on duty, which is very early in the morning (before 9:00 am) or after 5:00 pm, when they go home.
At other beaches you may see signs that warn you where conditions are potentially dangerous, so be aware that swimming at those beaches is at your own risk, that’s why it is important to know a few things about safety beforehand.
One thing worth knowing is that crocodiles inhabit the waters between Tamarindo and Grande beaches. The Tamarindo Estuary flows between the two surf beaches, on the north end of Tamarindo Beach. This estuary is a known habitat for crocs, however, it is still a popular surf spot in the area. That’s why the best time to surf the estuary (estuario in Spanish) is when there are other surfers nearby. While a crocodile attack is uncommon, there was a report of an attack on a surfer in 2016 when he attempted to cross the estuary. If you want to cross the estuary to get to Playa Grande, it is best to pay a few dollars for a water taxi. You will likely see a warning sign where crocodiles tend to be seen, however, since they are good swimmers, they can potentially be seen along any shoreline at any time. Remember, estuaries anywhere in Costa Rica have the potential for crocs.
Even rarer are shark attacks in Costa Rica. The country has only recorded 12 shark attacks in the past 400 years, with only six being fatal. You won’t hear much about sharks if you’re surfing in Tamarindo Costa Rica. It’s the scuba divers that speak of sharks, and in their case, they want to see them!
Certain words or phrases will be helpful to know before surfing in Tamarindo Costa Rica. These are things you might read on signs or hear people calling out to you if something dangerous is spotted:
Be careful – Cuidado
Zona peligrosa – Danger zone
Cocodrilos – Crocodiles
No nadar – No swimming
Peligro – Danger
Toxico – Toxic
Corrientes Peligrosas – Rip currents
No pase – Do not pass; Do not trespass
Out in the water, you will likely meet people from all over the world and hear English phrases like, “that one’s mine!” or “dropping!” when surfers are claiming their waves. But if you want to sound more like a local, you can toss out a little bit of surf slang in Spanish. Here are a few of the basics:
Wave – La ola
Surfboard – La tabla
High tide – Marea Alta
Low tide – Marea Baja
Left – Izquierda
Right – Derecha
Crowded – Llena
Mellow – Tranquilo
Don’t worry if you don’t get all of these terms down before your trip. Being it’s a popular tourist town, almost everyone in Tamarindo speaks English as well as Spanish. If you want to impress the regulars though, you can toss a few of these words out. If all else fails, just say “Pura Vida” and you will fit right in!
Now that you know what to watch out for, you’re all set for your surf vacation in Costa Rica. Book a spot at Iguana Surf Camp today!
Written by Jennifer LaCharite