From Bali to Brazil, from California to our home here in Costa Rica, the coronavirus pandemic has shut down surfing. This has been imposed either through outright bans, restricted beach access, or, since other beaches opened on May 18th, from the inability of surfers to travel to them. It’s not been easy. In fact for some, the temptation to ride the waves has surpassed the threat of legal consequences.
This drive to get in the water has manifested in offenses from the comical to the absurd and in enforcement methods ranging between shots fired to nothing at all. In late March, Costa Rican surf culture briefly hit world headlines for all the wrong reasons, when video emerged from Playa Hermosa of a trigger-happy cop taking potshots at a fleeing surfer. The emotional, physical, and economic impact has been brutal. All things considered, it’s been a very tough time to be a surfer, simply because you can’t be a surfer. Luckily, things are set to change.
As you’re likely aware, it was recently announced that beaches within the Ostional Wildlife Refuge will reopen June 1st for a limited period at dawn on weekdays. As the Nosara surfing community gradually wakes from its enforced slumber, we asked some local surfers how the pandemic had affected them.
(The following accounts are individual opinions, which do not necessarily reflect positions held by the NCA.)
“Professionally speaking I’m a surf school owner and a surf teacher. My husband does surfboard repairs. Both our livelihoods are directly connected to the surf industry, so the effect has been enormous because our work has been reduced to zero. It’s also been tough emotionally. The reason my family and I live in Nosara is because we love to surf. I have two young children who love learning to ride the waves. I think for women, especially moms, it’s particularly tough. The schools have shut down, the kids are homeschooled, and even though my husband and I are always busy the housework seems endless. All these things combined just make me miss surfing even more. Surfing is my workout, my meditation, and my stress reliever, and I just can’t wait for the beaches to reopen. Obviously, these things cause anxiety, which you have to find ways to deal with. I used to run all the time and then I stopped. Recently I started again, running everyday, and riding my bike to and from the shop. I’ve also explored the rivers, taken hikes, and had some great family quad rides. This has been a great way to clear my mind and reconnect with nature.”
Extreme Sheep Herder / Under-appreciated Polymath
“When you set your life up around surfing, closed beaches leave you with a pretty huge hole to fill. The first few weeks of lockdown were spent attempting to do just that. Initially baking, which I enjoyed. But trading 3 hours of paddling a day, for 3 French loaves (as magnificent as they were) is an express lane to obesity. And although many underestimate the utterly thrilling spectacle of a steaming, well risen baguette, it doesn’t quite match that of a well timed cutback. Next came walks, then running. Lastly there’s tennis, which has actually become something I very much enjoy, particularly when I obliterate Daniel Brett, which happens daily.”
“But this morning I surfed. Head high, cleanish, right-hand lines at Little Hawaii. Nothing spectacular, but anything looks great when you’re starving. And as I suspected, it was fucking delicious.”
“In conclusion: fuck baking, fuck walks, fuck tennis, and fuck the rest. For me the experience has confirmed that the next time I wake up to an offshore breeze and the sound of waves, it will be a cold day in hell before I reach for anything other than a surfboard.”
Surf School Owner at The School of Surf.
Tel: + 506 8554 6420
“It’s been a rollercoaster, fluctuating between feelings of empowerment and creativity, and other times feeling overwhelmed. There’s been days when I do yoga twice a day, with workouts in between. Other days I lie in bed and binge watch Netflix. It’s been brutal not being able to go to the beach, and just when we thought it would reopen, Playa Guiones remains closed. I’ve respected the laws though. I stayed home the whole time. I’m finally starting to go out again and seeing my friends has been awesome. One thing I love is that here in Nosara, people seem to have respected the Coronavirus laws not out of fear, but out of respect for others, and out of love for the community.”
“I’m impressed with the way the government has handled it, and the way they’ve passed out information to the public. I’m glad that they’ve relaxed the restrictions while making us aware that this fight is not over. The information hasn’t been fear based, like in the US and Europe. When people feel like they’re getting the truth, I think they’re happy to do what it takes to help their countrymen.”
“I’ve been doing much more yoga. This has been a great opportunity to practice. I’m reading more, playing with my dog, and trying to stay busy. That’s essential, because we all have WAY TOO MUCH free time. As a Costa Rican, I grew up poor. We always had very little among a lot of people. That was a wonderful way to figure out how to entertain ourselves. That taught me to adapt and I’m thankful for that. That said, many of the surf instructors have kids and bills to pay and I feel really bad for them.”
“Essentially it’s a question of “Pura Vida”, and what that truly means, which is to accept things and make the best of whatever’s happening. Right now that’s coronavirus. The bright side of that is we have time to push ourselves to the next level, and use this down time to our benefits. It’s a challenge and it often sucks, but I’m confident for the future.”
“Business wise it’s been super challenging. I recently sold my stake in Aqua Tibia, and began my latest business in earnest two weeks before this started. The season was looking great and I was super excited. Then overnight, the industry just dies. No tourists, and even if there were, there’s no beach. Luckily I have some savings, but I reckon I’m luckier than most surf instructors. I’m hoping my business will survive. I’ve been given a break on rent, and others have helped me, which is something I love about this community. Nevertheless, it’s been really tough. My job is surfing. Nothing else, and no surf equals zero business.”
“I have had time to think, adapt, reassess my business, and think about the future. Coronavirus will be an ongoing problem, and it’s impossible to think about the future without factoring this into the equation. Sometimes I just don’t know what to do which is scary. I depend on the ocean. When I don’t have it, I wonder what the hell I’m going to do. Then, I get my head in order and get productive, both physically and mentally, and begin thinking how I can teach surfing out of the water. And there’s much more to teach than people generally think. Surfing is so much more than just standing on a board, and having free time has allowed me to think about how I can teach this, and reinvent myself and my business. That said, it’s been a great opportunity to expand my professional skills outside of surfing, and think about other potential income streams.”
Founder of Jeux De Vagues.
“As a surfer, I never thought I’d be living less than a mile from the beach in Costa Rica, and be prohibited from surfing. Then again, I never thought I’d see a pandemic of this scale put the brakes on all human activity on earth.”
“Like everyone else, I am coping with it. I can’t pretend that the crankiness I feel because I can’t surf is on the same level of suffering as the doctors and nurses working tirelessly to save lives, nor is it the same suffering as COVID patients fighting for their lives in ICU. So with that in mind, I went with the flow of a new schedule. I found other things to do. I formed new habits to replace my surfing habit. I discovered things I probably wouldn’t have found had I not been forced to stay out of the ocean: Hiking the Nosara Civic Association trails, making a damn good buffalo cauliflower. I rediscovered old loves, like lap swimming, biking and tennis.”
“Surfers are a breed of rabble-rousers. We don’t like to be told what to do. But in this case, I did what I was told to do. Because I appreciated the leadership and action that the government of Costa Rica took to prevent a public health catastrophe from breaking out in this small country. Because I am a visitor here, and frankly, I don’t want to be deported.”
“I had come to this conclusion in the past, but I realized it again: There is more to life than surfing. This may sound like heresy to die-hard surfers, but it is a lesson in human plasticity, and serves as a microcosm to the macro problems we face as a species. How can we live differently as humans? What must we do differently, if we know that doing things the same destructive way has caused us to come to the impasse we are at now? Not that surfing is a destructive activity. I am simply saying old habits die hard, and it takes conscious effort to create new ones. Yet new ones must be forged. And that is what this virus is teaching me.”
Steve “Coco Steve” Reyer
Owner of Coconut Harry’s Surf Shop
Tel: 2682 0574
“I’ve been very impressed with how Costa Rica has handled the pandemic crisis. They quickly closed the borders and all public places including the beaches. That made a huge difference in keeping the virus spread under control and saving many lives. After respecting the beach being closed for almost two months I was very stoked to hear that the beaches were going to be partially open from 5-8 a.m. Mon-Fri. Then I found out that Guiones beach was not included because we are part of the Refugio de Ostional and considered a National Park. Only some of the national parks had been given permission to open. The rest had to wait until they submitted proper protocols that insure the safety of visitors and employees. To me this does not make a lot of sense.”
“Playa Guiones is part of the refuge but does not operate like a national park. Being able to walk the beach, ride your bike and surf are all activities that are healthy for the immune system, the mind, and helps with the local economy. We have a big, spread out beach with plenty of room to social distance. Most people do not hang out at the beach anyway. Also, by Guiones not being open it sends more people to smaller beaches where there is a better chance of crowding.”
“I understand that the NCA, the Nosara Surf Association, SINAC, and Minae have been working on satisfying the protocol requirements so we can partially open on June 1st. I appreciate these groups working together to make this happen. Until then, after much thought I think we should abide by the current beach closure and wait until June 1st to surf Guiones. It makes no sense at all to surf now and force the police to drive their trucks on the beach to kick us out. Driving police trucks on a beach that is closed because it’s a turtle refuge is completely ridiculous. I’m no expert but I don’t think that’s good for the turtles or the ecosystem of the protected reserve. So let’s be patient and find other beaches to surf, walk, ride bikes, and go for a swim until we can legally surf.”
Owner at Agua Tibia Surf School
Tel: 2682 5508
“The beach is a place where we can disconnect for a moment or a few hours from our problems and concerns, share a good time with friends and family, surrounded by nature. And that is gone. For many, the waves symbolize fun and freedom. For me, it’s also my office. It’s where I provide for my family, so the economic and personal effects have been significant.”
“Thank God I have my health and I have food, which is more than some people. I feel lucky, and feel that it would be wrong to complain about things. I’ve used the downtime to workout, train, analyze videos, and work on my website and future projects. I hope and pray that soon I can get to work again and we can all get on with our lives, and enjoy the beach.”
“This situation is easy for no-one. Covering expenses with zero income takes planning and savings. Even before the pandemic I wasn’t rich, so the current situation didn’t make things any easier. It’s not all bad. Sure, there’s been some people who have used the situation to behave badly and disrespect the law. But most have shown unity, solidarity, and respect. Also, it’s been a wonderful time to reconnect with family, and to care for ourselves, and just try and be better humans. I’ve spent a lot of time in the beauty of nature, feeling thankful for the land that gives us everything but asks nothing in return, other than for us to care for it.”
Owner of Costa Rica Yoga Spa
Tel: 2682 0012
“The crazy thing is that as soon as the beaches were closed an amazing period of swell came in that lasted an entire month. All we could do was stand there and watch it break. The waves weren’t just uncrowded. They were empty. It should have been a dream but it was more like a nightmare. Seeing no people in the ocean at Playa Guiones made me feel like I’d jumped in a time machine and landed back in the 1980s.”