The moment I decided I would learn how to surf, I was pumped! I was also incredibly nervous.

Coming from the Midwest region of the United States, surfing isn’t a typical pastime for most of the people I know. I had so many questions. Once I arrived at Dreamsea Surf Camp of Costa Rica, I realized the camp was full of newbie surfers from all over the world who were equally excited and anxious about catching their first wave.

To help future dreamsea-ers, we sat down with two of our instructors Steff Mags from New Jersey, United States, and Catharine O’Boyle from Hampshire, United Kingdom, to answer the most commonly asked questions for first-time surfers. Together, they have more than 16 years of experience on the board and 10 years of experience teaching it.

How Deep In The Water Do I Need To Go?

Don’t worry, we won’t be throwing you in the deep end your first time out. At Tamarindo beach, you’ll most likely start in water shallow enough for you to stand up in. Surfing in white water, the foam-like waves you see crashing onto shore, is the best place to get familiar with your board and perfect your pop up. Once you’re able to get your feet underneath you – literally – you can move further out to catch some green waves, slightly larger waves that haven’t broken yet. O’Boyle stresses that as you progress, you should remain aware of your limitations. If the waves seem too intense for where you’re at, wait it out, head closer to shore or find a new spot. The worst thing you can do is knock your hard-earned confidence on the board.

What Type Of Clothing Should I Wear?

OK, so you may not ask yourself this question, but you should. The tropical climate of Tamarindo is too hot for a wetsuit, but you may want to consider bringing a rash guard. Rash guards, or rashies, are compression shirts that protect your skin from sunburns and irritations caused from skin-to-skin chaffing and board-to-skin abrasions. You also want to make sure you lather up on the SPF. Afterall, the surfer look isn’t complete without a thick application of zinc to the nose. If buying a rashie isn’t in your budget, Mags says a tight-fitting, long-sleeve shirt, or something you can tie back to make tight, will work fine.

Once In The Ocean, How Do I Know The Right Time To Catch A Wave?

The thing about oceans is that they are rarely consistent. Learning which waves are best for riding is something that takes a lot of time to get the hang of. Even then, you’re going to mess it up sometimes. Ideally, you want to catch a wave at its peak, the highest point of the wave that breaks first. O’Boyle suggests taking some time to watch the waves from the shore before paddling out to see where you might want to position yourself in the water. Both instructors also recommend paying attention to the waves when you’re out swimming. Take notice of how the waves feel and try to body surf them.

“You have to just go out there. Get to know the waves, go on a date,” said Mags. “You’ll get the feel for it.”

You’ll also get the green light from your instructors during your lesson. They’ll let you know which waves are worth going for, how long you should paddle and when you should pop up and enjoy the ride.

Why Do I Keep Nosediving Off The Front Of My Board?

Everyone experiences a nosedive or two (or several) when surfing – and they’re actually a really important part of learning. Wipe outs are normal and help you understand what does and doesn’t work for you. But, if you want to avoid dipping the tip of your board in the water, check your weight distribution and keep your eyes on the prize. Your weight should always be concentrated toward the back of your board, even when paddling. This prevents you from putting too much pressure on the front and scooping your board into the wave. Another reason you might be falling down is because you’re looking down. Wherever your eyes go, your body follows, so keep your head up and stare in the direction you want to go. If you do find yourself in a wipe out, though, be sure to use your arms to protect your head from any rogue boards.

How Long Will It Take Me To Stand Up On My Board?

Mags says that almost every student starts with doubts that they’ll get up on their first day, and every single time they do. Every instructor’s goal is to see their student ride their first wave. They spend plenty of time with you on land and in the water to make sure you fully understand the pop up. They’ll also give you the extra push you need, sometimes literally when the force your board into the break to make sure you catch that wave. Having a goal of standing up is incredibly obtainable.

“I didn’t really have any expectations when I started,” said Dreamsea guest Pierre-Olivier Paquette from Quebec, Canada. “I told myself that if I was able to get myself on a board after two weeks, I’d be happy. I managed to do that in a couple hours. I was really happy and felt like I was really progressing fast.”

What Board Should I Be Using?

Choosing the right board can be a long and thoughtful process for a surfer. There are many variations in length, width, weight, thickness, material, etc. When you’re a beginner though, the decision is easy. You’ll likely start off on an eight-foot soft-top board. Long boards are easier for paddling and maintaining balance, and can work for almost any type of wave you’ll be surfing. The soft top is also safer when it comes to wipe outs because well, it’s softer. If you get through your lessons and think you want to try out a different board style, your instructors will be happy to talk specs with you and make a few suggestions on what you might want to try.

How Long Does It Take To Be A Good Surfer?

If you’re pumped about getting on the board, you’re already a good surfer. Ask any pro and they’ll tell you that the best surfers are the ones having the most fun. It doesn’t matter if you’re skimming through barrels or nosediving into your first green wave, it’s all about the amount of energy and excitement you bring onto the water. We love to see other people having a good time out there.

“You can have the most skilled surfer out on the water, but what we consider to the best surfer is the person who’s the most stoked to be out there,” said Mags.

When Is The Best Time To Come To Dreamsea To Learn How To Surf?

The beautiful part about the Tamarindo coastline, is that there’s never really a bad time to get in the water. Some seasons are more ideal than others, but there’s almost always a wave worth catching. That said, the waves tend to be smaller from December – June, making it more ideal for newbies. The weather is also dryer and can be more ideal for hanging at the beach in those months. On the other hand, while July – November can be a bit wetter, because of that climate they offer the best waves of the year. There are 4-5 beaches within a 30 minute radius of Tamarindo that offer different levels of surfing for both the beginner and the advanced surfer, so in the end, there really is no bad time of the year to surf here. So, if you’re stuck to a specific set of dates, don’t let the slightly larger waves deter you. The Dreamsea Surf Camp of Costa Rica family will be here ready to teach you and cheer you on throughout your surf journey.

Mark your calendars, pack your bags and book your stay at Dreamsea Costa Rica today!


THE WORDS: This post was written by Amanda Knaebel, a freelance writer who believes that life is just one big story waiting to be written. She loves yoga, nature, hammocks and meeting interesting people from around the world. She is currently traveling solo through Central America and plans to continue her journey around the world. You can follow her adventures on Instagram or read some of her other work through her Online Portfolio.


Interested in coming to Dreamsea Surf Camp of Costa Rica, and  joining our community here in the jungles of Tamarindo, Costa Rica? Check out more of the Dreamsea Experience by hitting the “Learn More” button below! 
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