Costa Rica Surfing Experience: Cultural Capital, Flow Are “Pura Vida”

A Costa Rica Surfing Experience is legendary… A trip to Costa Rica has the potential to elevate the status of a surfer within the subculture. For the surfer as an individual, it gives him the opportunity to immerse himself in numerous flow experiences.

Costa Rica Surfing Experiences

Costa Rica Surfing Experience As Cultural Capital

Every year, more than three hundred thousand surfers walk through customs at Costa Rican airports on their way to small coastal communities scattered in the country, especially in the Pacific Coast. And with direct flights landing in Liberia Airport, Guanacaste, from the United States, it’s easy to skip a trip to the capital, heading straight to the waves of Guanacaste and Puntarenas. Renting a 4×4, tourist surfers take on coastal trails with the mission of finding unpacked beaches with the perfect waves.

Visiting Costa Rica is a necessary pilgrimage for every young surfer, a real rite of passage. This is especially true for young Americans, as Costa Rica offers the optimal surf experience while being more affordable than Thailand or Hawaii.

Costa Rica is also ideal because the waves from the East Coast are small, and the waves from the West Coast are too cold. In Costa Rica, there is a constant stream of large and powerful surfable waves, and the tropical water is always warm, so it’s perfect.

Indeed, through the mediascape of the subculture, surfers have learned that this is a destination where adventure seekers can land. Searching for waves on beaches where crocodiles are roaming, living among monkeys, sloths, toucans, and iguanas, it’s all part of the trip.

Traveling to Costa Rica then becomes symbolic of many things surfers can’t seem to find at home. This includes a slower pace of life, adventure, a connection with nature, and even some danger. This creates cultural capital in the form of accumulated stories, photos, and videos of themselves in the waves.

Costa Rica Surfing Experiences

Costa Rica Surfing Experience And Flow: It’s All Pura Vida

Arriving at the airport in Costa Rica is crossing the threshold, a separation from the profane, from the structured rat race at home, where hierarchical disputes over waves and beach territory are constant. Surfers are also escaping their stressful jobs or careers, finding in the local uncrowded waves and the laid-back vibes of Costa Rica a sense of awe, of “pure” flow. It’s… Pura Vida…

It’s an inversion of social norms, an escape from the boundaries of mainstream society, a homogenization of surfer status, where there is no distinction of classes. It’s the spontaneous formations of groups of total strangers, sharing stories, playing games, just waiting for the best conditions to get back in the water. These gatherings build bonds between people that would otherwise not associate themselves back at home.

These surfers leave their hierarchical structures behind for a while, dressing simply, and assuming a relaxed behavior. It’s their brief escape from the mundane, embracing nature and the spirit of community in an exotic location on the periphery.

Indeed, those that come to Costa Rica are likely to return. Because the flow that is felt when riding a great wave in an isolated beach, with other surfers cheering from the sand, it’s something they can’t experience at home, and so it’s addictive.

Let’s consider this: During a one-hour surf session, a surfer spends just seconds on the waves. The rest of the time is spent fighting currents and constantly maneuvering to actually catch the wave. This means that in a one-week trip, a surfer spends less than an hour riding waves. So, the journey itself, its meaning, its symbolism, is quite significant.

It’s an opportunity to grow, to meditate with nature, to reassess their own individual narratives on existence.

Costa Rica Surfing Experience: Pura Vida

Ticos’ carefree lifestyle is reflected in their most famous motto: “Pura Vida.” This popular local saying is related to how Costa Ricans are happy with little possessions and eating humbly, always showing a smile, and thankful for living in their country.

So, for locals “Pura Vida” is all about living a satisfying, happy, aesthetic life. The surf tourist embraces this, and mix it with a connection with nature, a “pure” experience.

Back in the States, everything is related to the motto “time is money,” or the tyranny of time, as everybody’s in a rush, and everything is driven by the clock. In Costa Rica, surfers enjoy the more laid-back style from locals, an attitude they embrace as their own while in the country. It’s like their whole world goes on pause. Indeed, time slows down in Costa Rica, contributing to the overall “flow” feeling.

It’s the feeling they can’t seem to achieve at home, it’s the Costa Rican way of life as a model for a more ideal existence.

Costa Rica Surfing Experience: Asceticism Over Luxury

Most tourist surfers that don’t come with their families come with a single mission: to have safe, unforgettable trips to perfect waves. So, luxury is not on the map for them. Instead, they are budget-minded and choose inexpensive places to eat and stay. Most of the preferred beaches by the surfers have just a handful of cabinas (cabins), and small Tico eateries (sodas), both perfect for budget trips. Those surfers coming with their families or with their couples are likely to pick a luxury resort or vacation rental, and great options abound.

Enjoying this article on Costa Rica Surfing Experience? Check out this one on Top Ecotourism Costa Rica Hotels

Costa Rica Surfing Experience: The Beach

The beach, just like the airport, is a threshold for the surfer. It’s the middle point between civilization/culture, and nature, represented by the immensity of the sea, raw and untamed.

It’s a place full of unpredictability, of transition, which defies permanence, with its shape constantly changing, and people always on the move. It’s also the area where the surfer stays most of the time in between surf sessions, resting, drinking water, and checking the waves for the best conditions. It’s the middle point for two different “flow” experiences.

Costa Rica Surfing Experiences

Costa Rica Surfing Experience: Background

Costa Rica is a country located between Panama and Nicaragua and is about as large as West Virginia. Surfers started to arrive in Costa Rica in the early ’80s. Those early surfers returned home with many stories of their travels. Besides the good waves, those reconstructions included events such as surfing in dangerous areas, the bad shape of the roads, and even getting robbed!

Many of those young pathfinders came back to Costa Rica, with plans to stay. And so surfers have always been the early developers on beaches with consistent, quality waves. They are the first to create infrastructure, setting in motion a process that prepares those areas for larger numbers of visitors.

But this has an interesting effect: with the arrival of mass tourism to beaches previously populated mostly by surfers, the latter decides to move to other underdeveloped beaches, starting the process all over again. And this certainly sets US surfers as American cultural ambassadors in coastal areas of developing nations.

Costa Rica Surfing Experience: The Modern Surfer Expat

Hardcore surfers move to be as near as possible to the waves, even picking up jobs with flexible schedules. Some even decide to stay in Costa Rica. First for a while, with jobs at restaurants, hotels, instructors, or even as surf photographers. And some now call this country home, becoming ex-pats in a land that has opened its coastal marvels to them.


If you enjoyed this article on Costa Rica Surf Experience, we invite you to read the Best Travel Costa Rica Guide, thank you for visiting!