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Learning to Surf in Tamarindo

Surfing in Tamarindo

Beginner waves at Playa Tamarindo.

Paddle, paddle, paddle. Push up. Plant left foot. Plant right foot. Stand up. Oh my god I’m actually doing it… I’m surfing! After proudly hopping off the board in the knee-deep water I looked around expectantly to see who had seen and recognized my brief moment of glory and triumph. Not a bloody soul. Solo travel sucks sometimes. The first time I successfully rode a wave it was hardly impressive to anyone but me, but since I was the only one I had to impress that was alright.

Taking a surf lesson was a must-do my first time in Costa Rica. I did some research and decided that Playa Tamarindo was probably my best bet of all the beaches that dotted the north Pacific coast. The town was easily accessible without my own car, had good, consistent waves for beginners like me and contained a plethora of surf shops willing to teach me.

I booked a group lesson with Tamarindo Surf School, which ended up being just me and a woman from Switzerland. I guess March wasn’t a popular surf time since she told me that her first lesson two days before had been just her. The school guaranteed that we would be able to stand up during our first lesson or the next one was free. I planned to hold them to it. After being outfitted in rash guards we were given giant blue longboards. While we struggled to carry one surfboard between us trudging through the sand, our instructor handled the other like it weighed nothing. Were we just wimps?

Surfboard and leash

This is how most of my attempts ended. Photo: Bengt Nyman

We found an empty patch of beach where our lesson began. We were taught the proper stance and how to get into it, then practiced paddling and popping up into our surf stance. “This isn’t so hard,” I thought. After 4 or 5 dry-land runs, we were ready to try the real thing. Our instructor would take turns with us picking out a suitable wave and helping us catch it. We walked our boards out into chest high water, climbed on and waited for just the right wave. They may have only been two or three feet high, but they looked huge as I saw them barreling down on me. I was a bit nervous but still confident. Suddenly my instructor gave my board a shove and shouted “Paddle! Paddle! Stand up!”

Paddle, paddle, paddle. Push up. Plant left foot. Plant right fo– *whoosh* I lost my balance and was unceremoniously dumped into the Pacific, smashing my knee into the sandy bottom. I came up sputtering with a nose full of salty ocean. My second and third attempts went much the same way. This wasn’t much fun. The fourth time though…oh the fourth time was magic. I took my time with this one instead of trying to pop up. It took me a moment, after cautiously taking my hands off the board and getting into a crouch, to realize that I was actually somewhat balanced and riding that little wave in to shore. Despite no one witnessing it, I was grinning ear to ear as I walked my board back into the surf, eager to try it again. I was hooked.

As I left the beach that day I was sunburned, battered and bruised but I was happy. I may yet run away to Costa Rica to become a surfer chick.

Fact Sheet

  • Who: Tamarindo Surf School
  • Where: Just before the circle on the main road (trust me, it’ll make sense when you’re in town – roads aren’t named)
  • When: Whenever the surf is good
  • Cost: Group lessons are $35/person, private lessons will run you $65. You’ll pay $10-$15 more if you don’t reserve online.
  • Gear required: Swimsuit

Be sure not to go surfing without travel insurance. In case an injury means you need to cancel all or part of your trip, travel insurance will help you when you need it most. I recommend World Nomads as travel insurance for surfing in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.

Book Your Trip to Costa Rica

Book Your Flight

Find a cheap flight by using Expedia. It's one of my favourite search engines because it allows you to search for and compare flights from multiple airlines.

Book Your Accommodations

You can book your hotel with as they have the most comprehensive inventory so they are best for booking a hotel. If you want to stay in a vacation rental or cottage in Costa Rica, use VRBO to find the perfect place for the whole family.

Book Your Car Rental

You can enjoy Costa Rica without a car but if you want to travel on your own timelines, you'll want to rent something. Be sure to book your car rental with Discover Cars early to make sure you get your choice.

Book Your Travel Insurance

While Costa Rica is generally a safe country, you never know when something could happen. Be prepared with travel insurance from SafetyWing. Travel insurance has certainly saved my butt before.


  1. Suzy says:

    September 2nd, 2012 at 11:31 pm (#)

    I have always heard surfing is so hard. Congratulations on actually being able to stand up! I’m not sure I could do that on the fourth try, probably more like the 150th try.

  2. 2012: A Year in Travel - Suitcase and Heels says:

    May 17th, 2013 at 9:06 pm (#)

    […] I challenged myself by doing things I’ve never done before: whitewater rafting, zip lines and surfing. I can’t wait to visit again. I still need to see a monkey, hold a sloth and prove myself on […]

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