Once Surfer’s for Cetaceans’ TransparentSea campaign came to an end I was free to explore. The Californian winter was closing in so I bought a one way ticket to Costa Rica and took the next flight to warm water and sunshine.
Right after purchasing a brand new Bing Dharma. Costa Rica is a country renound for its’ abundant waves, ecology focussed tourism and pura vida lifestyle. I am 5 months into my journey and constantly astounded by its’ natural beauty as well as the unlimited hospitality I have experienced from locals, expats and tourists alike.
The primary purpose for me being in Central America is the upcoming meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Panama City. I like having a primary purpose – I find it gives me more direction!
As co-founder of Women for Whales and avid Surfers for Cetaceans supporter my mission is to create the International Whale Celebration – an event that features whale inspired art, films, music and gatherings. We brought this concept to life last year in Jersey, UK, whilst also representing the voice of the whales and dolphins with fellow conscious activists.
Nori (W4W cofounder) and I took an 18 hour bus ride in order to scout Panama City. We were greeted in the distance by a majestic skyline of skyscrapers fringing an expansive bay, a stark contrast to the colonial style of the old city where we were staying. We were informed not to go past a certain street in the evenings – highlighting dark corners of the metropolis, which every city has. However, our tour guide informed us of the migrating humpbacks from both Southern and Northern Hemispheres. We were in an IWC host country that actually has whales! This had to be a good omen!
Back in Mal Pais we rallied the local community by painting a mural, visiting the local school and holding events where people could join our campaign HandSTAND for the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary.
This is where you can get involved and help support the Beunos Aires Group (within the IWC) who has been submitting this proposal for 10 years! Last year the pro-whaling countries walked out of the meeting to block the proposal, this year we hope to rally enough worldwide support so that can’t happen again.
Through connecting with the locals we found allies in the form of Carolyn of Kika Surf Shop, Roberto, Gary and Dot of Bugbee Surf Adventures – plus many more! Just knowing that there are fellow surfing humans out there able and willing to lend their energy to this cause gives us renewed hope that we will make a difference.
Soon it was time for me to move on. On my last evening in Santa Teresa I came across a tiny turtle whilst walking down the beach. I helped him out beyond the break and felt blessed to have been in the right place at just the right time. I had been talking of turtles for weeks, and the very next day was heading North to visit turtle project Sea Turtles Forever.
After patrolling with the ninja-like conservation team at STF for 2 days I continued on to a Vipassana course in the centre of the country. This is a 10 day silent, Buddhist meditation retreat I have been meaning to do for some time. It was worth the wait, and proved to be one of the hardest yet most liberating things I have ever done.
With much clarity and renewed energy I found my way back to the ocean, and made my way along the Pacific coast to Pavones. A photographer friend of a friend was kind enough to lend me his apartment for 3 weeks, what a legend! Here I was able to digest the teachings, practice and realisations from the course, gently reintegrate back into the world, work on articles and focus on yoga. And surf. Twice a day – every day! Oh yes I fell in love with this wave, yet despite its heavenly form there’s still cause for concern.
As I took a walk to check the waves one day, I felt like I was in groundhog day; endless plastics nestled into the driftwood on the beach. I had experienced it 3 years ago whilst working in Morocco. This time, a lefthander, not a right, and the second longest in the world apparently. It seems from Africa to Central America, regardless of their treasured playground, plastics and waste end up on our beaches and rocks at world class surf breaks.
And this time, rather than try to start meetings or form a committee I decided to just collect trash off the beach every day. Inspired by Marc Ward and the Sea Turtles Forever team who picked up 14, 146 plastic items from their protected zones in 2011 alone, I went on duty! In the spirit of reinvention; The Green Waves Project rose from its beach fire ashes and resumed in Costa Rica!
I collected over 1000 items whilst there and definitely saw a difference by the end of my stay. I witnessed a beautiful pelican clearly in pain with a stomach full of micro plastic, the next day washed up on the shore, dead. And I knew that with the next big swell, new debris would wash in from the Pacific. Inevitably. But you have to try, right? And the response from anyone I encountered was always so positive. I call it my good wave karma.
Thankfully the tuna farm that was due to be built in the area didn’t take into account the extent of how this wave supports the local infrastructure and community. The national NGO Pretoma, local businesses and surfers got behind a massive effort to block the development that would have been devastating to the local environment, and their solidarity proved successful – for now. Check out the story at Savethewaves coalition. Picking up a bit of trash is nothing compared to the damage that might’ve been done!
Whilst in Pavones I heard many stories of whales and dolphins being close by, and even spoke to one guy who had been knocked off his paddleboard by a humpback! My desire to connect with the dolphins and whales of Costa Rica was growing, but first I needed to renew my visa. Synchronicity brought about a job as a surf guide on a remote island in Panama. I achieved a small personal goal of building my first composter for the camp. I soaked up the starlit skies, enjoyed the empty, emerald waves and formed fast friendships that can only arise from adventure and the unknown. After two weeks I said my goodbyes and began the journey to Drake Bay. My W4W partner was meeting me at the aptly named Divine Dolphin, and we had work to do.
Natalie is a surf and yoga instructor who is dedicated to living an environmentally conscious life. Co founder of Women for Whales, member of Surfers for Cetaceans and Roxy ambassador, she lives out of a backpack and is slowly downsizing her board to one which fits on a bus.