I hadn’t been back to Costa Rica in almost ten years. Due to mixed reports from various friends about the crowds, I wasn’t really sure what to expect this time around.
During my first visit I remember imagining myself living out the same sort of experience I watched Pat O’Connell and Wingnut have on the Endless Summer II. On my first visit crowds were minimal and although I didn’t score waves like the ones I saw on the Endless Summer II, I still felt as though I had surfed some waves off the collective surf radar. Even back then Costa Rica was by no means a secret destination, but it still had plenty to discover within it’s borders. This time I wondered if I’d be horrified to find a surf heaven trampled by commercialism or if the “pura vida” would still be alive and well.
Upon arrival the first thing I noticed was the improvements to the airport. Though technically Costa Rica is still a developing country, many parts of it feel as though you were in as modern a place as anywhere. Malls, casinos, luxury hotels; the government has capitalized on the country’s popularity amongst tourists. The whole country seems to cater to tourism. But just like anywhere in the world, there are always pros and cons to development. I was blown away when we reached the coast and I got my first view of Jaco. I expected that it would have grown but I wasn’t really ready for how much it had grown. High rises and surf shops now lined its shores. Jaco wasn’t some sleepy fishing village ten years ago, it was already known back then for its nightlife; but I couldn’t believe how many buildings had gone up in such a short time.
“That guy is living the dream right there. He’s got his Robert August longboard and he’s in Costa Rica surfing Witches Rock and Ollie’s Point.” The statement got laughs from our little group. I don’t remember who said it, but there was a lot of truth to the remark. Heck, we had been joking with each other all morning about watching the Endless Summer II the night before. We knew it was cliché, and we didn’t mind laughing at ourselves about it. But the joke sort of summed up the equation. And it made me think of the impact the Endless Summer movies have had on our sport. I would argue that they have had perhaps the biggest influence (apart from equipment, i.e. wetsuits etc.) on our sport since the Duke. Which makes Bruce Brown a more influential surfer than even Kelly Slater or Tom Curren. Think about it, even with his confounding number of World Titles Kelly Slater has never caused a global manhunt for new and pristine waves among surfers. Slater’s Titles haven’t caused whole communities in developing countries to open business’ and employ locals by catering to surfers willing to pay to live the dream for a few days a year.
After our day at Witches, we were eating at one of the local resorts in Tamarindo, which also had a surf school. I watched as local instructors taught visiting gringos to surf in the nearby shore break. It could be argued that these locals’ jobs were a direct result of Bruce Brown deciding to make a movie about surf travel. I don’t really think Brown intended for his movies to have such an impact, but here we are decades later and people are still trying to live out there own version of Brown’s portrayed idyll.
I probably wouldn’t even know what surf travel was if it wasn’t for Brown and the Endless Summer movies. In those two films he encapsulated the average surfer’s dream in a way no one had done before. And after years of travelling for waves, one can get jaded from time to time. But as I sat in our hotel room that night watching Brown’s Endless Summer sequel I found myself, if only for a little bit, caught up in the romance of the storyline again. But I also realized this time that what truly made Brown’s movies a success wasn’t simply the idea of surf wanderlust, but also the theme of friendship and camaraderie woven into it. Which is why a good session at home with friends can be just as rewarding, if not more so, as any session experienced abroad.
So here I was in the heart of Costa Rica heading to Playa Negra, one of the featured waves on the Endless Summer II and therefore most sought after. There’s no boat trip needed to get to this spot, you can drive right up. They even have signs along the way pointing you in the right direction. As we drove I thought for sure it was going to look like a good day at Rincon, with loads of surfers clogging the line-up. We parked our car in a relatively empty parking lot, walked down the manicured trail alongside the resort that now fronts the wave, and were greeted with perfectly peeling head high rights running along the reef with only a handful of guys out.
I’d only been in the water for about 45 minutes when, for whatever reason, folks decided to exit the line-up. I was a bit dumbfounded that here I sat, enjoying one of the most popular waves in Costa Rica completely alone. I couldn’t believe it. I remembered all those mixed reports I’d heard about the crowds and thought about how popular Costa Rica is; then suddenly those thoughts vanished—there was a set approaching.