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Hang Ten! Easy Surfing Vacations from Costa Rica to California

Scared of big waves? Check. Terrified of sharks? Absolutely. Afraid of being wiped out and looking foolish? Yes! These seem like perfect reasons not to take a surfing lesson, still I ignored all of these very rational fears and caught waves in Costa Rica this summer.

I asked wave-loving brothers Alex Faherty and his twin, Mike, who hail from the beach town of Spring Lake, N.J., but have spent more than a decade surfing in Costa Rica, for the inside scoop on great beginner waves.

Hang Ten! Easy Surfing Vacations from Costa Rica to California

At Costa Rica's Witch’s Rock, the waves are a bit intense for beginners. (Photo: Witch’s Rock Surf Camp/Flickr)

Naturally I’d heard about the legendary Witch’s Rock in Costa Rica as “the ultimate surf experience” and wanted to try that out. Thankfully Alex suggested calmer waters until I got my surf legs.

The brothers, who are surf ambassadors at the recently opened Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort in Costa Rica, also have their own namesake surf brand store in SoHo in New York City that has seriously cute bikinis. I snapped up a Japanese navy floral bikini I imagined I could wear while catching waves to the shore — err, if I caught waves that is — at least I’d look good doing it. As it turned out, a rashguard is a must. Even if the water is warm, it’s necessary for sun protection, and for newbies, it helps prevent skin from rubbing against the board.


A vintage surf bus courtesy of Andaz. (Photo: Julie Earle-Levine)

But back to surfing. I followed Alex’s tips to try out Iguanita, a beautiful beach at the back of Bahía Culebra, which is bordered to the north and south by two rocky points.

To get surfing-ready, I had fresh Costa Rican coffee by the hotel’s barista and a light bite — by the way, surfing on an empty stomach and only coffee is not recommended. Iguanita, which is a short trip across the bay from the Andaz property, can be reached by boat. After a brief surf lesson on the beach, where I lay on my board like a turtle and paddled like crazy for practice, it was time to try it in the water. Lying on a big, soft foam board was fun. Actually standing up and catching a wave was even better.

Related: Surf’s Up! We Want to Visit America’s Top 10 Beaches

Costa Rica surfing

The author, fresh from surfing in Costa Rica (Photo: Julie Earle-Levine)

Paddling out from the shore, albeit only 50 meters or so to the surf break, and keeping your head up high (not unlike a lizard looking around) can be tiring but worth the effort. After only a few tries, and I’ll admit a surfing lesson years ago, I was able to pop up on my board and with a little maneuvering, bend my legs and balance my arms — wheeeeeeeeee! I was shredding it, catching waves to the shore and paddling out again for more. All too soon, it was time to head back in for fresh pineapple and watermelon. Back at the hotel, I indulged in a hot stone massage using local sugar cane rolled over the body to soothe tired muscles. It was heavenly.

Do you want to catch some waves? Here are a few other great locales for beginner shredders: 

La Jolla Shores surfing

La Jolla Shores is a great place for beginner surfers. (Photo: Seth Rader/Flickr)

San Diego

For surfing virgins, San Diego offers many great beaches, including La Jolla Shores, which is a safe, gentle spot to enjoy or learn surfing. There are plenty of surf schools as well as year-round lifeguards in case you want to surf on your own – always good to know you’ve got back up! Stay at Hotel Palomar, which has free yoga mats if you want to practice your downward dog (Surfers love yoga for stretching!) and other perks, including free coffee and Wi-Fi.

surfing in santa monica

Santa Monica

Surf and sleep in lovely Santa Monica, Calif. (Photo: Couresty of Le Meridien Delfina)

Perfect Day Surf Camp offers group and private surf lessons in Santa Monica, Calif. When you are learning, it’s nice to get one-on-one attention so you can scream for help if you need it. For when you nail it and want to show off your new surfing skills, they also offer up birthday surf parties so you can show off to your friends. While you’re there, stay at Le Meridien Delfina. The boutique property has its own Surf’s Up package, with discounts on surf lessons and a picnic basket for snacking while watching surfers from the shore. Rooms are available from $269 a night through Sept. 30. 

Related: Who’s Up for Ash-Surfing? Amazing Volcano Vacations

killer waves surfing

This view and killer waves? Sign us up! (Photo: Julie Earle Levine)


Rancho Santana, on the southwest Pacific coast of Nicaragua and three hours from Nicaragua’s capital city of Managua, has some of the best, uncrowded surf breaks in Central America. There are 10 different breaks reachable by boat or car just a short distance from the ranch. This destination has two miles of shoreline, five beaches, and its own surf instructors. 


The Rockaways

Who knew you could surf in New York? (Photo: allisonhasabox/Flickr)

Rockaways – that’s right, in New York. W New York at Union Square has partnered with Locals Surf School in the Rockaways for a cool weekend surf stay that includes a private surf lesson, a weekend stay in the city, and car service to and from Rockaway Beach. After you hang 10, grab a cocktail at Rockaway Beach Surf Club.

bondi beach surfing australia

Surfing at Manly Beach in Bondi Beach, Australia (Photo: Christopher Eden/Flickr)

Bondi Beach in Australia is famed for its surfing at Manly Beach, a hot location across Sydney harbor with culture, great waves, surf schools, and surf shops. Manly Surf School has popular one-day lessons, or longer options if you can stay a week. Relax at the Manly Pacific right by the beach, and enjoy the view on one of its pristine balconies. 

WATCH: The US Open of Surfing Competitions at Huntington Beach:

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