As someone who has what many call the "travel bug," scheming up new places to zip off to worldwide will always remain a hobby of mine. Even better, though, is when these little ploys actually become a reality. This happened to be the case when, after checking the calendar and peering into the bank account, my bucket list dream of learning how to surf began to take shape in the form of a booked trip to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica.
Why Santa Teresa? After scanning the internet for information surrounding "the best places to surf," and sending emails off to a few known surfaholics, the consensus came down to this tiny town. This decision was made based on Santa Teresa's consistent reputation of pumping out perfect sets of beginner waves, as well as remaining somewhat off the beaten path of the typical gringo vacation hub.
That is how I found myself boarding a Delta Airlines flight bound for San Jose, Costa Rica, with one goal in mind: to learn how to surf.
A couple of plane rides later I found myself jostling up and down in my taxi seat as we, at last, made it to our destination. The mile-long strip through town consisted of a one-way dirt road riddled with potholes only 100 yards back from the beach. As always, I began to feel that thrill of being in a new place as we drove past colorful backpacker lodges and restaurants boasting fruit smoothies and local "casado" dishes (casado is your choice of meat coupled with an assortment of side dishes like beans, rice, lettuce and fried bananas). But it was when we drove past the multitude of quaint surf shops that my anticipation really started to grow.
The next morning I woke up early, walked into town, picked out the perfect surfboard, and began to learn what it takes to Hang Ten surf style. Needless to say, there was no "shredding the pipe" being done my first couple of days. It was more like learning how to eat it hard, hold my breath underwater and paddle through that relentless pounding break.
When I wasn't being absolutely demoralized by how tough surfing is to learn, I would wander through town aimlessly enjoying the local "vibe." Vibe, meaning the people of Santa Teresa lead an exceptionally laid back lifestyle that embodies the surf-culture mantra. I have always been obsessed with this surf lifestyle, especially after watching documentaries about legends such as Greg Noll, Mark Foo, Eddie Aikau and Laird Hamilton. So to finally be immersed in this way of life made me super stoked.
This local vibe ranged from guys clad in board shorts cruising up and down the dirt road straddling bikes, to cafes stacked with surf magazines, to travelers chilling outside surf shops animatedly talking about yesterday's waves, to cars topped with surfboards bumping along. Everyone surfs, whether it is the local construction worker or the international backpacker. Surfing in Santa Teresa is a way of life.
The seventh day into my trip was the day that most distinctly sticks out in my mind because it was the day that the surf town of Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, reminded me of the ski town Breckenridge, Colo.
I was standing on the sand shading my eyes from the sun's rays looking out at the waves, I was thinking about how I was going to paddle out through the unforgiving break. Along came a super-ripped Belgium surfer chick who noticed my hesitation. Before I knew it she was dragging me into the water saying, "follow me" and giving me pointers about how to paddle as well as how to "turtle roll" under waves.
I made it through the break, sat up on my board, and tried to look like I knew what I was doing, but really I just was trying to stay out of the pro surfers' way as they absolutely destroyed waves.
Bobbing up and down in the lineup I noticed a set coming in that looked perfect for me (not too big), so I pushed myself into position and began to paddle with all my might. I caught the wave and tried to drop in, but, bam, I ate it super hard, was flipped in the barrel and spit out into the foam. After that, my adrenaline was pumping and I felt a sudden urge that I HAD to ride a wave today. So, I grabbed my board, jumped on and with all my strength paddled back out through the break. Another glassy set rolled through as the locals pointed, "you look at wave, look at wave, paddle, paddle," (they were really helpful) and this time, as I dropped in, I didn't fall. It was a moment of blissful clarity as I finally rode my first big wave. It petered out and I dropped back into the water with a huge grin on my face extremely fired up about what I'd just done.
I swam back out and happily drifted in the water watching the other surfers continue to rip waves. This was the moment when it dawned on me how similar the surf atmosphere is to the ski atmosphere. Meaning, everyone out in the water was so pumped about the sport of surfing and continually fed off of each other's energy and excitement.
Rewind to one of Breckenridge's epic powder days last year with everyone gathered at the base of the Imperial Chair waiting for it to open. When it finally did, you could hear the whoops and hollers from the lively crowd as the first chair took off leading the way for an unbelievable day of skiing. Everyone on the slopes was so thrilled to be shredding and you could just feel the electric energy as face shots were handed out galore.
Just as that amazingly-waist-deep powder turn left me giggling with glee as my heart raced with exhilaration, so did that perfectly-caught Costa Rican wave.
As I was flying back to the U.S., I pondered how cool it was that both Breckenridge and Santa Teresa were obsessed with the same thing: a lifestyle based around the outdoors and the love of a sport.
Tucker Burton, who hails from Breckenridge, graduated from Middlebury College in 2009 with a political science degree. Following graduation she headed to New York City where she had a job offer in the fashion industry. After being laid off due to the dismal economic climate, she decided to travel the world. This ranged from living and working in New Zealand to backpacking around Southeast Asia.