Paddle Boarding (SUP) in Costa Rica
If I had to choose only 1 fitness activity to do for the rest of my life, stand up paddle boarding (SUP) would be top of the list. From a training standpoint, paddling works your upper body, core, leg stabilizers, balance and cardiovascular system. And it’s fun!!! Don’t get me wrong, I still love going to the gym and getting a good sweat, but given the choice, doing something I love in the outdoors can’t be beat. As Laird Hamilton said, “you’ll do more reps in nature than you ever will in a gym”.
WHERE you paddle is a big part of the experience. Anywhere with good conditions can be fun, but why not be in a tropical area with lots of unique areas to explore? My first paddle boarding experience was in Maui. My wife Michele and I took a private lesson and our instructor took us north up the coast by Ka’anapali. Not knowing any better, we went in the afternoon and the trade winds had already started to rustle up the water surface. I fell off many times, but in the 80+ degree water it felt great. I might add that my wife barely fell at all and she had a fun time teasing me each time I took a dive. (I’d later learn that bodyweight in relation to the size of board will effect your stability). After just 1 experience I was hooked and knew this would be a sport I’d be doing much more.
Back in my hometown of Hermosa Beach California, I purchased 2 paddleboards. My wife and I would cruise together in the nearby Redondo Harbor or out in the ocean on calm days. One board is larger, 10’ long, 34” wide and very thick. The width makes this board very stable even when the water is a little rough. I also got a 9’6” board, 30” wide and a bit thinner. This board is more maneouverable and I can do distance paddling or some surfing. I soon became a bit of a fanatic about SUP surfing and have since bought 4 more boards of varying sizes, generally trending smaller for better surfing.
As my passion for SUPing grew, my wife and I also started running fitness retreats to Costa Rica. I’ve been a fitness trainer for over 20 years and running these retreats is my dream job. Having been to quite s few locations paddling, we found an incredible gem of an area in the northwest “Guanacaste” region of Costa Rica. The beach is called Playa Danta. With points on either end, the beach sits in a naturally protected bay. With a gear shop Pura Vida Ride right on the beach, you can rent quality boards and launch safely right there.
Since wind, water temperature, weather and waves all play a major role in the fun factor, finding the right environment is key. The most important consideration is probably wind. The windier it is, generally the less fun. The only exception would be for those doing a 1-way, “down-winder” where experienced paddlers can ride the wind-swell waves and use the tailwind to cover lots of ground. For every one else, do what you can to avoid the wind. Usually, wind picks up in the afternoons so I like to get an early start. Michele and I often do a paddle first thing in the morning when the water is super glassy. We also try to stay near the coastline. Not only is the scenery great to see, but also when you stay close to shore the land acts as a windbreak. As we wind up and down the coast, we look for secluded beaches and bays to further explore. Some days we will pack a picnic and park ourselves on a deserted beach for a few hours!!!
Water temperature is also important, especially if you are a beginner. Almost everybody gets wet learning to SUP. The first few times you will probably be in and out of the water quite a few times as you get used to the balance aspect. I’ll admit I’m a complete wimp when it comes to cold water. In Hermosa, people seem to get all excited when the water gets UP to 73 degrees. Are you kidding me, that’s just bearable! In Costa Rica it gets DOWN to 77 degrees, and usually in the 80’s. Now we are talking! No need for a wetsuit. With warm, clear water we often take a snorkel, mask and a mini anchor. Then we stop anywhere that looks good, drop anchor and snorkel around.
When it comes to waves, depending on what you like you may be looking to avoid or find them. While I love to SUP surf, Michele prefers the calm water. If there is a big swell and the waves can’t be avoided, Michele will stay home while I go surf. The biggest concern is getting these large boards through the surf. If you are at a marina, you can usually launch from the dock and paddle out by a break wall and completely avoid and waves and whitewater. If you are taking off from the beach, getting through the surf can be tricky. The classic “duck diving” or “turtle roll” techniques surfers use do not work with a large board. So make sure you have a good leash, give yourself plenty of room, and dive under the waves with your paddle and your board behind you at the end of the leash. Coming back in is a bit easier but use caution. I’ve seen a number of people get tossed around with their board. Make sure you never have your board between you and the crashing wave. Better yet, don’t go out during a swell or hire a guide and you don’t have to worry about all that.
If paddle boarding in Costa Rica sounds like fun, I invite you to join us for one of our luxury fitness retreats. Every retreat offers some paddling, and several times a year we run a trip that has a SUP emphasis. This way you get to paddle every day, learn new techniques and hone your skills. You don’t need any experience or gear, we provide everything. For information, see www.CostaRicaRetreats.com.
Rich Roe, Certified Personal Trainer