Words by Rebecca Parsons
With the United States experiencing one of its coldest winters in recent history, I opted for a change in latitude and boarded a plane with my sights set on warm water and empty waves. Five hours later, I touched down in Liberia, Costa Rica. From there, it was a bumpy two-hour ride through the jungle to my home base for the week: Playa Guiones, Nosara.
Nosara is located on the Guanacaste Peninsula and is considered a blue zone, one of just five in the world. A "blue zone" is a term coined by best-selling author Dan Buettner and is defined as a region of the world where people live much longer, on average, than in other parts of the world. The ticos have a glass half-full mentality; they don't have much but they're happy with what they've got and they'll brag about their country any chance they get.
Upon arriving at Nosara Paddlesurf, an all-inclusive SUP surfing and coaching retreat, the pura vida vibes were quickly evident. The employees and coaches were overtly friendly, smiles a permanent fixture on their faces. I was given a quick tour of the property and introduced to the nine other guests I'd be spending the week with—a lawyer from Puerto Rico, sisters from Brazil, a cold wave warrior from Rhode Island, a handful of Floridians, and an older couple from the Boston area. Despite our differences in age, hometowns, and careers we were all united by our passion for the ocean and goal to become better SUP surfers.
After exchanging handshakes, we swapped stories while enjoying a traditional Costa Rican casado, the first of many healthy and delicious meals to come. After retiring to our rooms in preparation of an early morning surf, I quickly drifted off to the sounds of the jungle.
Nosara Paddlesurf prioritizes giving guests the opportunity to ride as many waves as possible while simultaneously maintaining a positive image for standup paddling. Out of respect to local surfers and a thirst for empty waves, they shuttle guests to lesser-known breaks and generally score spots entirely to themselves.
After a day in Nosara, we quickly settled into a routine. We woke at first light, scarfed down a quick breakfast, and headed out to whatever secret spot the coaches deemed best that day. We'd surf for ninety minutes, the videographer on the beach capturing our waves (and wipeouts), while our coaches offered tips and words of encouragement. We'd then return to the Nosara Paddlesurf home-base and enjoy smoothies poolside followed by a home-cooked lunch, oftentimes made to order.
Once our bellies were sufficiently full, our coaches would break us into groups and review footage from the morning's session. Next, we'd sit through a brief seminar and a much-needed instructor-led stretch. After that, we'd hit the beach for a second session, armed with feedback from the morning surf and a new set of skills to work on. With sore muscles and sun-drenched skin, we'd head home, enjoy another five-star meal, and hit the pillow with visions of waves dancing through our minds.
The folks at Nosara Paddlesurf have coaching down to a science and they tackle it from every angle. They offer on the water coaching, video feedback and analysis, informative seminars on surfing, and targeted stretch sessions. If you've never seen yourself surfing on film, you should. You may have a vision in your head of what you look like on a wave, but the reality is an entirely different, and slightly less pretty picture (at least for me). Video footage allows you to see exactly what your coach is talking about and helps you visualize what you could do differently on the wave.
My week at Nosara Paddlesurf was eye-opening and life-changing in more ways than one. The combination of on-the-water coaching and video analysis helped me better understand the physics of surfing and what I need to do to improve. Although I wasn't able to implement all that I learned in one short week, I am heading home with an arsenal of newfound knowledge that I know will propel my surfing to the next level over the coming months.
Nate and Layla Smieja, the owners of Nosara Paddlesurf are pioneers in the world of SUP surfing and coaching. In 2011, they left behind the towns of their childhoods and joined the ranks of ex-pats settling in Playa Guiones to create a business from the ground up. They worked hard to implement a fun and informative program and fill a niche that they felt was missing in the SUP community. So far, it's been a hit.
Nosara may not provide residents and visitors the opportunity to run to Trader Joe's for a cheap, frozen dinner but what it lacks in creature comforts it makes up for with warm water, perfect waves, and plenty of good vibes.
As they say in Costa Rica: pura vida.