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Costa Rica is one of the leading destinations in the world for surfers, offering warm water and consistent swells perfectly suited for all skill levels. From hosting international surf championships to people learning to surf for the first time, Costa Rica is a great place to learn to surf- especially for families with kids.
If you’re looking to take your surf lessons here, this article highlights some of the best places to learn to surf in Costa Rica and the type of waves to expect to ensure a really fun first surfing experience.
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First Surf Lesson- What To Expect
Seems easy, right? You’ll grab a wetsuit and a board and ride the waves! It’s not quite that easy, but the places on this list will help you stand on the board and ride a wave within your first session.
Costa Ricans are famously patient, and that makes them great surf instructors- especially for kids. There’s nothing more fun than seeing the look on someone’s face when they stand up for the first time on a surfboard and ride their first wave.
When you first start to surf, you’ll use a longboard with a leash on it to attach to your foot- that’s so you don’t lose the board when you fall off. And you will fall off!
You’ll typically take a one-hour lesson, a half-day lesson, or for the very adventurous, a full-day lesson. Surf lessons are usually at low tide to ensure calmer waves. When you are learning to surf you’ll stay pretty near the shore.
You can expect your instructor to start you off on the shore, teaching you how to push yourself up on the board from a prone position. This is the hardest part- and requires a good bit of upper body strength. From there you’ll head into the ocean where you’ll learn to catch the wave. From there it’s just “practice makes perfect.”
I have so many people that ask me about surfing with young kids- the answer I always give is that the kids should be strong swimmers in order to venture out into the waves. An instructor can only help so much in case of emergency, and your kids should feel very comfortable in the water. Otherwise, surfing is a great experience for all ages.
The most important thing about learning to surf? Have fun! Go with reasonable expectations when you’re just getting started and don’t be too hard on yourself.
With that out of the way, let’s now look at some of the best surf spots in Costa Rica for beginners.
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Playa Hermosa (Puntarenas)
Boasting gorgeous gray sands, clear warm waters, and high-quality waves, Playa Hermosa is a great spot for intermediate and advanced surfers alike. The 4.3-mile-long beach attracts thousands of surfers every year with its giant waves that sometimes swell up to five feet.
If you are just getting started with surfing, go to the Jaco area, it’s only ten minutes away. Here, you will find not only shallow, low tide, beginner-friendly waves but also lots of surf schools to help you get atop the board safely.
The little town is also pretty vibrant, with a host of bars and restaurants to keep that nightlife vibe going. We love Jaco so much we go there most years we visit Costa Rica- here are the best places to stay. This is some of the closest surfing to San Jose International Airport.
If you are traveling to Manuel Antonio National Park, then Espadilla beach would be a fantastic spot to take your first surf lesson. Head to the southern end of the beach during high tide and you will find small and gentle waves that are perfect for beginners. Towards the north, the waves get more challenging, and surfing here can be a little intimidating for newbies.
There is a good number of surf shops in town where you can sign up for surf lessons, rent a board, or buy any essentials you need for your sessions. While the town is pretty quiet for the most part, keep in mind that it can get quite crowded in the high season, so I would advise making arrangements for your classes in advance, unless you are coming during the low season.
Playa Tamarindo/Playa Grande
Tamarindo is, without a doubt, one of the most popular surf destinations in Costa Rica. For beginners, however, if you don’t know exactly where to go, you may find yourself competing for surf areas with the skilled lot who, by the way, usually aren’t very patient with newbies. That’s why you need a place that doesn’t have quite as big of waves – a place like Playa Grande.
Located on the Northern end of Tamarindo beach, Playa Grande is famous for its high-quality beach breaks that stay consistent almost all year round. On a calm day, waves here are nice and gentle for beginner surfers, but in rainy season, they can rise to size only appropriate for the more confident beginners and intermediate surfers.
I recommend working with an instructor, as they know the best time to take a surf lesson in Grande waters. Witch’s Rock Surf Camp is one of the most well-known surfing schools in the Playa Tamarindo area and the perfect place to start if you are headed to the area. This is some of the closest surfing to Liberia National Airport.
Playa Guiones, Nosara’s main beach, delivers great waves that are suitable for both newbies and advanced surfers, making it one of the best places to learn to surf. Beginner-friendly waves are found closer to the shore, while the bigger waves preferred by experts break really far away from the shore.
Swells for skilled surfers can get pretty huge, sometimes as high as ten feet, but for the most part, this spot is quite newbie-friendly. Surf camps, surf schools, and surf shops are available to serve all your surfing needs. Plus the beach is huge, which makes it much easier to find your own spot to practice after classes.
Playa Santa Teresa
Santa Teresa, on the Nicoya Peninsula, welcomes surfers with oodles of breaks that accommodate all skill levels. The main break is right in front of La Lora. This one is rather powerful at low to medium tide, with a steep sandy bottom that offers intermediate and experienced surfers a chance to get barreled.
But beginners need not worry either; there are also small, mellow waves that are fantastic for those looking to acquire some surf skills. Calmer days deliver gentle 3-foot tall waves that offer crumbly whitewash to practice your newly acquired skill without feeling intimidated. Whether you want to work with a skilled instructor or take your chance with the waves yourself, surf lessons and board rentals are available at the nearby surf schools.
While Avellanas is known for its warm turquoise waters, gorgeous white almond color sand, and stunning sunsets, the biggest draw of the beach is its incredible surf breaks that offer something for everyone. This beach is as popular with Costa Rican nationals as it is with tourists.
If you are planning to take surf classes, the best time to come here would be during the dry season that runs from mid-December to April. You will find tons of different breaks, the majority of which are great for learning to surf. Check out El Parqueo beach break, in particular – at low tide, you will find long, smooth waves that will make your first time on the board just perfect.
On the south of the Pacific coast lies Playa Dominical, another surfing hot spot that’s famous for its powerful waves. Intermediate and advanced surfers looking for something quiet will definitely love the laid-back vibe of this beach that is not as crowded as the beaches in the north.
While beginners still have great whitewash to practice at Dominical, I would recommend heading to Dominicalito Beach, about three minutes down the road. Here, they can take surf lessons and ride much smaller, calmer waves while enjoying an even more low-key vibe and fewer crowds.
Looking for the best tips for planning your Costa Rica vacation? I can help! I have a ton of knowledge about Costa Rica and I can give you the best tips and tricks for your vacation. Just book a phone call or video call here and we can get you started!
Welcome! I’m Christa, a Spanish teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. We’ve spent over 25 years living in and traveling to Costa Rica with our daughters, and this website is my love letter to all things Costa Rica- and to bilingual parenting too. You can read my full story here. Thanks for stopping by!